Closed RP Mechannibal

This RP is currently closed.

Phoenix

Member

There was a loud fwwwwrp sound as Sam pressed down on the pedal of her Volkswagon Beetle GLS TDI. She cursed loudly and turned it into the shop. It had been making horrible noises the entire way to the shop, which was the closest one to the gym and her apartments.

She would be damned if this car died. It was one of the last things from Alice she had left. The car had been hers, and Sam had just inherited it after she died. Camilla, Alice’s mother, had been insistent that she take it. It had run fine for the last eight years, and then when she had driven from her hometown out to Pittsburgh, it had started making funny noises and dying on the road. She’d been lucky it hadn’t stalled out in the traffic on the way to the shop. She was almost certain that the timing belt was about to snap, and that the alternator was about to go. Those were the only things that made sense.

She had saved some money for emergencies like this, but if it really was the timing belt, it was going to cost a pretty penny to fix it. Likely half of her savings. Now that the gym was up and functional, she’d likely have a good source of income coming in soon. People had been passing by all week and asking her when it would reopen, so clearly there was a need for one in the area still. The previous owners just hadn’t been able to keep it updated or cleaned. Hopefully, with that money, she’d be able to replenish her savings as well as make enough to pay the property taxes and live comfortably.

The car died about three feet out of the parking space, and she banged her hand against the steering wheel and cursed even louder than before. She left it as it was and pushed her red curls out of her face as she unbuckled. They fell in long rivers down her back, tangled as usual because she didn’t have the patience to properly maintain them. That, coupled with the deep under-eye shadows and her concerning thinness, left her looking like some sick Victorian child who was about to pass out on the steps of the auto shop.

She slammed the door shut, not bothering to lock it– she had nothing worth stealing in the car– and she stomped with her big combat boots into the store. She used her leather-clad shoulder to open the door instead of her hands, and pushed her way past the doorway, hearing it jingle. She looked around the shop and didn’t immediately see anyone. She called out, her face polite and calm despite the fiery anger boiling in her stomach.

“Hello? Is anyone here? It’s Sam Walsh, I called earlier and was told to come in?”
 
Todd heard the dying Beetle before it pulled past the open bay doors, where a customer had insisted on coming to inspect his own vehicle following a routine tire rotation. The sound of something loose in the engine compartment grated badly even from that distance, but he was used to vehicle sounds and was already working through a diagnostic. Given it was a newer Bug that drove past the open doors, he’d guess the timing belt, it was a common enough problem with that model.

Mr. Haley was starting to insist that there was something wrong with one of the tires when heavy boots echoed outside and the front door rang with a jingle that let even normal people know when there was someone in the vacant shop. He saw her through the window out of the corner of his eye – a redhead, black leather – but he had good manners with customers, and didn’t divert his attention from the sour old man trying to haggle with him for a free tire. Vikram, the shopowner and head mechanic, had warned Todd that Mr. Haley had once been told that if he haggled hard enough he could get anything for free.

“Just be patient with him,” Vik had said. “He’ll wear himself out and pay when he’s got a good sense of you.”

Todd couldn’t smell any anger from John Haley, really. The smell of age, of his old golden retriever, his favorite cigar, and his 1985 Nissan Pathfinder were stronger than any emotion, which made the haggling feel more like the banter it was, rather than a real confrontation. The added, familiar smells from the garage of oil, gasoline, and machinery reminded Todd that this was his element. All in all, for a situation he usually tried to avoid in his retail jobs, he was really enjoying himself.

Finally, Mr. Haley handed over his card, and Todd left him to inspect the Pathfinder’s tires while he went back into the shop to charge it.

She smelled strongly of apples and cinnamon, more spice than sweet. Vanilla, too, the fake kind used in lotions, and faint enough that it wasn’t her soap. There was a bit of leather in there; not car leather, or the leather of her coat. Familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Paint and drywall topped it off, and almost hid the undercurrent of rage, probably at the misbehaving Beetle, although it could’ve been the wait.

Just in case it was the wait, Todd put on his best customer service smile as he came into the shop and around the counter. “Morning! Sorry about the wait, just a sec while I ring this out.”

Vik had tried to insist that Todd wear a uniform until Todd’s first day, when his odd physique became clear. He was insisting on ordering Todd a uniform, but in the meantime, Todd was wearing a durable Western-style buttondown, blue jeans, and boots, all of which had layers underneath that just barely turned weirdly thin into lanky. It helped that he’d eaten recently, which rounded out his face so the bones weren’t too obvious, and kept his inner demons in check while at risk of conflict.

He started to ring up Mr. Haley’s Pathfinder, then looked down at the counter, flipping through a pad of random notes in Vik’s hand as if looking for the next appointment, as if he hadn’t heard her pull up quite so clearly. Todd punched in numbers with his other hand. Once the system started to process the card, he looked up with the same warm smile despite his cold eyes.

“So, you must be the Bug. Mind telling me what’s wrong with it?”
 

“It’s fine, take your time. Not like I’m going anywhere.” She chuckled a little, despite her barely concealed rage. While the mechanic rang the other customer up– she didn’t look at him quite yet– Sam tried to get her anger under control. She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment before breathing out. There was a soft hiss as she did so, and a sudden wave of warmth radiating out from her. She maintained it as she meandered her way toward the counter, her anger dissipating slowly until she felt neutral enough to interact.

Then she looked up as she got close to the counter and blinked a bit. The guy was tall, and about as thin as you could be and still be healthy. He was close to a foot taller than her, and Sam was on the lower end of average. By the time he addressed her, she was a sea of calm and she gave a polite smile.

“I am the Bug, yeah. I think I know what the problem is, but I’ll tell you what the problem is and you can tell me if it seems right.” She shrugged her backpack back up her shoulder, and a faint clinking of her hammer against the police scanner could be heard, metal against plastic. She heard a staticky noise and winced, hoping it wasn’t as loud as she thought it was. The hammer had clearly clicked the on button on the device, an unfortunately common occurrence when they were in the bag together. She quickly kept talking to cover up the sound of the scanner.

“The check engine light clicked on when I was moving here from Columbus, and over the last week, I’ve been hearing noises coming from the front of the car. It’s been starting hard and misfiring, which it’s never done before, and it keeps dying and stalling out when I stop at lights or slow down. It’s honestly a miracle I made it in.”

She shifted her bag around a bit while she spoke, and then the static stopped. She’d have to be careful about moving it around while she spoke to the mechanic.​
 
The laugh was a cover for the anger that still boiled in her. From where Todd was standing, the anger smelled like adrenaline, sweat, and heat –

Heat?

It flowed over his body, unmistakable when it cut through his own blanket of cold. To his credit he didn’t shiver, just noticed the release of energy. If she wasn’t a metahuman, he’d eat his hat.

Metahuman or not, though, she was still a customer, and he didn’t make a habit of scaring off customers. He listened to her describe the issue was his car, and he would’ve written off the soft click if it wasn’t for the wave of static that came from her backpack.

Underneath the static were voices. Street names, by the cadence. He couldn’t make them out clearly, but he recognized the sound, because he had one, too. A police scanner.

She didn’t smell like a cop. Cops carried the smell of gunpowder, stale coffee, and some things unique to their vehicles and armor. That left the next best conclusion: metahuman vigilante. Not that it was any of his business, and his observations hadn’t distracted him from work. He could multitask. And it wasn’t really like he was in a position to judge other people’s moonlight activities.

“And thank God for small miracles,” he said with a laugh, to acknowledge he’d heard her. “Sounds like an alternator issue. Timing belt, maybe, but I’d rather get under the hood and check. How long have you had the car?”

The credit card beeped, and he pulled it out and waited for the receipt to print while she answered.
 

He hadn’t heard it. Or if he did, he was carefully ignoring it. Either was fine by her. A comment about it would have been an issue, one she wasn’t entirely sure how she’d handle. Probably the same excuse as last time: “Oh, it’s an old radio I carry around. Damn thing like to turn on and off sporadically. Was my grandfather’s, and he, well. I like to keep it on me”. That had worked at least three times, so it was a safe bet it would have worked here as well.

She smiled in return to his laugh, warmth still radiating off her like a furnace as she kept her emotions in check. She didn’t bother concealing it or directing it behind her. Usually, people just took it as the heater kicking on, or the temperature outside getting warmer. She had never been asked directly about it, so she had never had to come up with an answer for it.

And she definitely never let someone get close enough to touch her and find out her skin burned like a fever.

“Thank God for small miracles, yeah. I also think it’s the timing belt or the alternator. Maybe both. The car’s a 2002 model, and I- I got it in uh, 2015. Not new, used. The original owner had it since 2010.”

Her voice cracked a bit, and a different feeling sliced through her like a knife. Pain. Emotional pain that still hadn’t managed to fade, not even eight years later. Maybe it was because she didn’t allow herself to properly mourn Alice. Or maybe it was just because emotions were a bitch and losing your other half, watching them die, that was traumatizing.

Maybe. Sam didn’t know, that was for sure.​
 
He made her smile, which was a good sign that the anger really was gone, even if traces of it remained. She was pretty, now that he focused on her face. Her hair was unruly and would probably be in the way if she tried to do anything practical, but the volume framed her face and helped disguise the unusual golden color of her eyes.

The crack in her voice did catch his attention, and he didn’t credit that to the predator in him anymore. The warmth helped keep that in check even more than the familiar inanimate scents of motor oil, gasoline, and machinery. So instead of hunger, sympathy softened his face and smile.

“Must have good maintenance if it’s only stalling out now.” In his experience, it was better to leave sensitive subjects alone and create a distraction. He’d had his fair share of problems with his Malibu, and that was an American make. “You ever work on it yourself?”
 

Sam was thankful that the mechanic hadn’t commented on the crack in her voice, though she noticed the sympathy in his voice and smile. She didn’t like that. She didn’t like sympathy from anyone. No one knew what she had gone through, not about Alice, and not about… after. What she had done to “cope”. She didn’t want or deserve anyone’s sympathy. Not now, not ever.

“Yeah, I do most of the regular maintenance. I take it into shops only when it’s outside my ability to handle it. And a timing belt is… outside my ability to handle it.” She chuckled again, even as some of her expression sharpened.

She had displayed weakness in front of someone. That wasn’t okay. She was the strong one, always. Even during the day, she needed to be strong. Even though there was no one for her to be strong for anymore, those words would always be deeply engraved in her soul, leading her onward. You’re the strong one, Samantha, not me. You’re the rock.
 
Her body language changed in response to his. Tightened, shifted. Defensive. She recognized that she’d shown weakness, and even without knowing he was a hunter she’d responded in the other direction, sharp with just a twinge of that returning anger. He didn’t have any trouble hiding his own spike of irritation. She wasn’t angry with him, he didn’t think, because she kept the edge on her face out of her tone. He wondered if normal people would even recognize the subtle shift. He wondered if she recognized his lack of response.

He wouldn’t know. What he did know was that the car was a safe subject, and the system was done with Mr. Haley’s card. He gave it a second to print off the receipt, then took both in one gloved hand.

“Alright, just wrapping up here and we’ll be able to get it into the garage to take a look. If you bring it around front, I can roll it in for you.”

The offer wasn’t gentlemanly, but professional. It was his job to bring it in, not hers, not that he didn’t think she could manage it. With another smile and nod, back to customer-service-brisk, Todd slipped back out to the garage for Round 2 of bickering with Mr. Haley, who immediately greeted him by complaining the tire pressure had to be off, and so it was off to the races again.
 

Sam nodded in return to the mechanic, her eyes dropping to the name tag on his shirt. It was an iron-on that was a shade off from his shirt. In big, looping red letters, it spelled out “Todd”. She caught it just as he was turning to leave. It didn't seem to fit him all that well. She imagined a tight font, maybe like a typewriter. That would fit. She watched his tall figure disappear through the door before sighing softly. She was doing the thing again.

The thing was where she was unnecessarily sharp with people who didn’t deserve it. He hadn’t seemed to notice it, or if he had he had chosen to ignore it, but that still didn’t mean he deserved it. She took in another deep breath and let a roiling wave of warmth out, much bigger than the last one. Enough that the room around her suddenly felt uncomfortably warm. But she felt better, so she turned and walked out the front door.

She hopped back in the front seat of her car and turned the key. It took three turns before it caught and then made a horrible noise as she backed up and drove it around to the front of the garage bay door. It almost immediately died and rolled to a stop just a little ways away from the garage. She made an aggravated sigh and then looked around. The street was rather barren right now, given it was a work day at ten in the morning. She looked at the steering wheel and then got out and left the front door open. She unzipped her jacket’s sleeves and then pushed up the hoodie’s sleeves. The red of her suit showed, but that didn’t roll, so she’d have to leave it.

She strode to the back of the car, and with one more quick look around, she pushed as hard as she could against the back of the car. It rolled slightly, as she had left it in drive, but not nearly as fast as she would have liked. She shoved her shoulder into it, hard, and pushed. The small car started rolling and made it to the front of the garage. She darted quickly back to the driver's door and closed it loudly, making a big show of it, like she had just gotten out of the car. She pushed her curls back out of her face and called out, “It died again. I think if we turn it over again, it might be able to make it all the way in.”
 
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The tire pressure argument was a much shorter one, because Todd gave in and gauged it for free, just to satisfy Mr. Haley, who grumped and groused at the meter but finally took his card and let Todd roll the Pathfinder out – just in time to park it next to the deceased VW Beetle. He left the engine running for John to take the car the rest of the way out while Todd circled around to the driver’s seat.

The Beetle was a beautiful vehicle. Clearly well-loved, as well-maintained as promised. The exterior was in a deep forest green, detailed something closer to the classic Beetle seafoam around the edges of the doors. He whistled low as he came around to – her name, she’d said her name when she first went into the shop. Sam? That was right, that sounded right. Sam –

A first name was better than nothing. The rest was probably on her actual appointment sheet. He leaned on the roof, and nodded to Sam.

“Just shift it to neutral if you can, I’ll roll it the rest of the way in. No use pushing the engine too hard and risking more damage. Just steer it until I say stop.” He patted the roof twice, the way cops did sometimes, then circled around to the back of the car and waited for her to indicate she was ready.
 

Sam nodded to Todd and smiled softly. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

He liked her car, which was good because she also liked her car. He whistled at it, that kind of appreciative whistle you made when you were impressed by something. She felt a bit of happiness at someone appreciating the old thing the way she did. She climbed back into the front seat and shifted the car into neutral.

She had learned to drive in this car. Alice had taught her how, had guided her hands on the manual drive as she taught her where each gear was on the 5-speed manual stick. This time, the slicing pain didn’t come and she simply breathed out into a wistful smile. She allowed the rare warmth to wash over her and maintain her output of heat. If she had to guess, her internal temperature was probably closer to 103 now, and she was definitely putting off at least 90 degrees worth of heat.

She waved a hand out the window to indicate that she was ready to move the car.​
 
When the signal came, Todd put his shoulder against the back of the Bug and pushed. Like the well-maintained machine it was, it responded to his pressure. He gave a slight show of having a little more trouble with it than he really was, just slower movements and slightly heavier breathing than he really felt. Superhuman strength served this almost as well as hunting.

This was much more productive than hunting.

He did notice some things that he might have while hunting, though. Like how what peeked out of the end of her jacket sleeve was red leotard or spandex. Summer used to use the same type of clothes, not as practical but much more mobile than his choice of armor. That was simple confirmation of his suspicion about her moonlight activities. He had better things to do than speculate on what exactly he did with heat, though. He had a project, and like any hunt, he’d see that through to the end.

He moved with her steering as Sam guided them into the garage. He could feel the exterior of the car taking on just a little bit of warmth, like someone had left the heater blasting despite the warmth outside. Finally, they came into position, and he knocked twice on the trunk to let her know he was stopping, and to turn it off. He dusted off his jacket as he came back to the driver’s seat.

“Alright,” he said, with a nod, “thanks for that. I’m not sure how long I’ll be on it, even for shorter stuff I’ll say at least half an hour just to be sure I can manage everything back in place. If it is the timing belt, it’s going to be a few hours, maybe the rest of the day and into tomorrow while I take other appointments with Vik out. I think we’ve got your number on the book. If you want, there’s a cafe the next block down where you could wait, or you can stay in the lobby and hover. For liability reasons you can’t be out here while I’m running the machines, sadly. Best I could do for that would be ask you to stand at the entrance and shout at me when you think I’m doing something wrong.”

The last was said with a joking smile, although some people – like Mr. Haley – insisted on inspecting the cars themselves before and after just to make sure he hadn’t broken something just to make more money off the replacement parts. This wasn’t the dealership, and Todd, despite being a new face, knew his way around a car. Whatever Sam was going to do, he’d wait for her to do it before he leaned in and popped the hood.
 

Sam killed the car when they made it in and hopped out as Todd came around to the door. Heat was still radiating off of her, though maybe a bit less than before. She was still smiling when he finished talking, and she smiled even brighter as she answered, “Oh, well, in that case, I would love to stand in the entrance and watch. I’d love to see how the process works. If that’s okay, of course. If I’ll be bothering you, I can totally head off to that café you mentioned.”

She pushed her hair back again as it fell in her face in a puffy cloud. She’d tie it up, but god knew how many hair ties she’d already broken over the years. It was just pointless to try. The only thing that worked was braiding the mess and then hoping it stayed put, but Sam had neither the inclination nor time to do such a thing. There was a time she’d worn a braid every day, but that her was gone.

She looked up at Todd, reminded again of how tall he was. This time, she noticed his eyes and caught how blue they were. She would have described it as maybe an ice blue if she had still been painting. But again, that was another part of her that had been lost in the process of becoming who she was now. She pushed the thought from her mind and waited for Todd to answer her before moving.​
 
“Wouldn’t bother me at all,” he said, honestly, as the warmth washed over him. “The rules are Vik’s, for your safety. I just enforce them. But you’re free to stay in the bay door, that’s not an issue.”

She seemed to be looking at his height, and he looked down at her without looming. Maybe he could’ve hidden some of it with a slouch, but he was making good impressions in spite of physique, and he wasn’t going to change it now just because she was making him self-conscious of it.

He leaned into the driver’s seat and popped the hood of the VW as soon as she was out of range of danger. He fetched a couple of tools to start looking into his suspect and a few others of the usual sort, chatting while he did so.

“So, Sam, did you grow up in Pittsburgh?” Might as well maintain a conversation while maintaining the car. “I can’t remember seeing you before, and I thought Vik would mention a Bug as pretty as this one.”

He gave her a warm smile as he mentioned the car was pretty. Flirting, casually, was something he’d learned tended to either make people nervous, or help settle them down. He didn’t want a relationship by any stretch, for reasons that he thought of as very obvious. But a little fun was harmless, most of the time.
 

Sam smiled and walked to the edge of the bay doors, standing well out of the way. She crossed her arms and leaned against the little bit of wall the railing for the door ran down. She snorted a bit as he asked if she grew up in the city and she shook her head. Then she paused when he… was he talking about the car, or was he making a comment about her by extension?

She chose to believe he just liked her car.

“Ah, no. I’m actually from Lockbourne, out by Columbus? Do you know where I mean? I only moved out here about… a month ago. It was that drive that almost killed my baby here.”

She nodded in the direction of the car. She smiled back, a little more warmly now that she was getting comfortable. She chuckled and added, “To think, this car made it 13 years to almost die leaving fucking Ohio.”
 
She ignored the flirt, which was probably for the best, since he didn’t have a second one.

Columbus. Oh, he knew Columbus. Not as well as he might have growing up there, but he knew it well enough. Columbus was where Summer was from – Columbus proper, not one of the dotted suburbs.

A metahuman vigilante from Columbus? He was actually surprised she’d never crossed paths with him. Then again, it was a big city. Pittsburgh was a big city, too. There was a good chance she’d only ever know him for working at the nearest mechanic to her home address.

He blinked into the engine like he’d forgotten what he was doing. Summer was… no. Summer, Breeze, was gone. It wasn’t like he could change things now, was it?

Again, unlikely he’d ever cross paths with her outside this shop, if he could help it, flirting or not. He was glad he’d kept a low profile that side of the border, or he’d probably be fucked. He shook his head, then exaggerated the shudder with a smile that started forced and ended relaxed.

“Fuck, yeah, I came out from that way. I don’t blame her. Maybe her timing belt’s fine and she just died of boredom.” He started to get to work in earnest, which kept his face away from where she could see it. Voice was a lot easier to control, because he could hear his own tells. Combined with the smell of metal, motor oil, and whatever wafted from the car through the engine filters – mostly her scent, but he kept his nose open for anything curious – he regained his verbal footing. “Spent your formative years in Lockbourne, then? Hard to imagine someone unique coming out of Ohio.”

Maybe it was a compliment, or a redirect, or a subtle mention about her abilities. He’d said the same thing… no. He hadn’t said the same thing. Similar, not the same. Months later he’d thought he’d shaken thoughts of Summer, and by golly he was going to keep it that way.

She’d better take it as another flirt, because that might be the redirect the conversation needed before he bent something he wasn’t supposed to.
 

Okay, that one was a flirt. Sam balked a little bit, trying to hide her reaction which was… flustered. Sam wasn’t used to being hit on. Not that she hadn’t been before. She’d been hit on by both men and women before. But a relationship was the last thing on her mind, ever. Being a vigilante wasn’t exactly conducive to a relationship. Outside a spectacular failure when she was 19, she had never even dated. Hell, she’d never even kissed the guy.

It wasn’t like Todd was unattractive, either. He had pretty eyes and dark hair, and despite his thinness, he was strong enough to push her car into the garage. The fact that he was attractive made it worse, really.

With the fluster came more heat, and also a feeling of… remorse, almost, but not quite. It was more complicated than that. She decided not to get the man’s hopes up. Her smile stayed warm, but she didn’t address the comment about her “uniqueness”.

“You came from out that way? Lockbourne specifically or Columbus? I imagine I would have seen you around if it was Lockbourne. You grow up around there too?”

She couldn’t help the change in her voice’s pitch. She winced a bit at the raised pitch. Maybe he was going to get the wrong idea.​
 
She brushed him off again, this time with a wave of warmth that blew into the bay and rolled over him. The chill he’d started to feel with more force dissipated again, just long enough for him to get ahold of himself. Dwelling on the past wouldn’t change it. Here and now, focused on the present, hands on metal, head on straight.

He definitely heard the change of pitch. He took it more as embarrassment than encouragement, and he decided to let that lie for a while. Unless there was a really good chance to slip a comment in, just to keep up the facade, but he left it alone for the time being.

He laughed when she suggested he was from Ohio, a real laugh without malice or nerves. He still didn’t want to talk about Columbus in any great detail, but it made for the best small talk right now. “No, no. I’m from farther out west. North Cali, by way of Montana. Passed through Columbus on my way here, though. Nice city.” Lots of crime. “Plenty of parks. Not enough trees, but that’s the Midwest for you.”
 

She snorted again, this time loudly and involuntarily, before covering her mouth with her hand. She laughed softly, a tinkering laugh like bells, despite her somewhat rougher voice. She smiled as she pulled her hand away, a genuine smile, not the polite veneer she had been wearing up to that point. Her face got bright, her eyes growing warm in a way they hadn’t been before.

“Columbus? Nice? Why the fuck do you think I moved? One of the top fifty cities for worst crime in the US, five years in a row. That city is as nice as a dumpster fire. You’re funny, Todd.”

She leaned further into the wall, freeing one of her hands to point at the blue-eyed man. She folded the hand back into the crook of her arm afterward, her eyes rolling over his figure as he worked on her car. Then she caught herself and the little light in her eyes seemed to die. The smile remained, still warm, but less open.

Sam was a master at bringing herself down. She found every way to ruin a good thing or to ruin a good mood. Her ability to self-isolate was Olympic-level. Which was why all she could think of at that moment was how she couldn’t open herself to anyone, ever. How she couldn’t have friends, couldn’t have a relationship, couldn’t have acquaintances. Anyone around her could get hurt. And she’d already done enough harm in that department.​
 
She had a nice laugh. Todd smiled down into the engine as she did so, not looking up from his work. He didn’t need to. The joke wasn’t intentional, just a passive kind of compliment, but that didn’t change the momentary release of tension.

It came back, though. He heard the laughter die, and once again didn’t have to look at her. He sensed her pulling into herself, felt the withdrawal in its absence. She watched him work, but he had no self-consciousness about that. If being rail-thin had ever bothered him, time would’ve cured him of it.

“Hey, even a dumpster fire has a bright side,” he quipped lightly into the weight that settled over the garage. It was very likely only he could detect it through the subtleties of his wider senses. Some sound in her breathing, or some shift in her scent that wasn’t anything he could pinpoint.

Todd was used to keeping people from being too tense around him. He’d met a few with good instincts, good enough to feel something off about him, but he’d learned deflection and good behavior could get him a long way even with the wariest of people. Keep working, keep the conversation flowing.

“I get what you mean. Billings wasn’t on that list, don’t think it ever has been, but I’d never recommend it to anyone. If you’re going to put up with a Montana winter, go to one of the smaller towns. You’ll have enough trouble without adding violent crime and drug trade to the mix.”

He was a lot less nervous about sharing his details than he was when he first got here, too. Nothing too intricate, but travel was one of the favorite conversation topics of drivers, and it helped his rapport with customers to discuss roads and cities far away from Pennsylvania. He’d once gotten a guy to talk to him for an hour about different overpasses through the Rockies. That’d been a good day.

He didn’t think Sam had ever been to the Rockies, but if he could make her laugh like that again, real and genuine, he’d consider his mission accomplished. Not because of anything specific about her. More because he’d been in that deep, dark place that kept him away from other people, whatever the reason, and he hadn’t had someone to make a bad fire pun or say that Billings had been a nice place to live.

All things in balance. Help where and whenever he could, to make up for what he couldn’t change.
 
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