AN: Sorry, I know, I'm so behind on all my other stories! You can blame the Dark Insomniac, she's the one who insisted I post this so you guys have something to read while I'm working on my other ones.
Disclaimer: This story is written strictly for entertainment purposes. If you even remotely recognize something from somewhere, I don't own it (except in the case of my original characters.)
Summary: They were each looking for a home, a place to belong. But memories were missing, their courage failing in the face of their pasts. And when they needed it the most, the heart to stick together as friends and as a family seemed to all but abandon them. But in the end, looking back, there was one thing they could never look past: how it all started with a storm.
Wyatt Cain sighed in aggravation, trying not to lose sight of the road. A semi roared past on his left, a fog of water droplets shearing off its side and coating his windshield even more than the rainstorm already was. The former police officer tugged impatiently at the collar of his jacket; between the frantic sweeping of his windshield wipers and the stifling heat blasting from the vents in his dashboard he was feeling as claustrophobic as he would if he were in a coffin.
It was only through pure will that Cain was able to keep from completely freezing up at that thought, and even as a sudden shake of the truck's suspension snapped him back to reality his grip on the steering wheel tightened as he tried to keep himself focused on the road. He really should have known better than to take to the road when the weather report had called for a thunderstorm, especially one of the blinding rain storms that the Midwest was known for, but he really couldn't stay in that town much longer. It was the same thing all the time; he'd drive until he didn't want to any longer, stop in the first town or city he could and find some place to stay. He'd earn money where he could, doing odd jobs until he felt it was time to move on again. There always seemed to be something he was running toward, or running from, but in the past five years he never seemed to be any closer to finding what it might be.
The road ahead of him had grown dark again, his headlights doing little to cut through the buckets of rain that fell from the sky, and a quick unnecessary glance in his mirrors told him that he was alone on the road. He narrowly missed rolling onto the gravel shoulder, cursing under his breath as he steered the truck back onto the asphalt and seriously questioning his own sanity. Even most of the semi drivers weren't on the interstates tonight; many of them had probably turned off at the small town he had passed almost two hours ago. Two very long hours ago. He sighed again, barely catching a quick flicker of blue outside the passenger window, and nodded to himself. While not his first choice, a rest stop would work until the storm blew over. He watched the lane lines carefully, finally pulling off the main drag and into the parking lot of the small brick building that was sheltered under a dense copse of trees. A few orange-tinted lamps dimly illuminated the building and the parking lot; even as he forced himself to relax he noted that the patch of concrete was, aside from his own truck, all but completely empty. A small silvery figure was parked a few spaces from him, and when he squinted through the thick rain he could just make out the rough shape of a tarp covering what he figured was a motorcycle of some make or another. Casting an appraising glance at the building, he sighed for the third time in the past twenty or so minutes and finally cut the engine, turning off his headlights and grabbing his pack from the back seat.
Running through the rain really had not been necessary; in this type of drenching rain a person got soaked regardless of how long they were outside. Pulling the glass door open, he shook water from his hair and his old leather coat, thankful that he had an extra set of clothes in his pack. He glanced around, looking for some sign of the building's other inhabitant, and spotted a backpack sitting in one corner alongside a folded sleeping bag and a laptop computer. But the small room was otherwise empty except for the vending machines. Striding slowly away from the door, he checked the other corners, even peering through the windows opposite the door in order to check everywhere. It was one of those oddly-arranged rest stop buildings, with wooden dividers splitting up the room for no apparent reason other than to display pamphlets and road maps; if there had been more people around he would have been nervous knowing he couldn't see them all at once. But seeing as how the only other person that would be around wasn't at the moment, he relaxed enough to claim a corner for himself and drop his duffel with a thunk.
A quiet gasp had him turning quickly and flattening himself against the nearest wall, his hand automatically reaching for the gun he always carried under his jacket before he could even stop and think. The silence that followed was deafening, and as he realized just how ridiculous the whole situation was Cain finally forced his hand to release its hold on his pistol. He took a deep breath; if he had any money to bet he would place it on this other person being just as startled as he was.
The voice was a woman's, and he scowled in irritation, rubbing both hands over his face. She sounded young, at least as far as he could tell, and scared out of her mind. Great, that's all he needed; some kid in desperate need of a babysitter.
"Who's there?" she asked again, her voice more forceful though wavering much more noticeably now. Cain suddenly realized that he was standing between this young woman and the only door out of here.
"It's alright," he replied, keeping his voice as calm as possible. No need to scare her any more than she already was. "My name's Wyatt Cain. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here for the same reason you are, though I have better luck than to get stuck in this mess on a motorcycle."
The girl's laugh was little more than a sharp exhale of breath, and Cain walked slowly back toward the door, glancing around the wooden dividers until he caught sight of her. She had backed into the dimmer light of the restroom's doorway, and her posture tightened as he came fully into her view. She was watching him with wide, frightened eyes that were the color of cornflowers, and he had a hunch that if he hadn't been standing in her way she would have bolted by now. What the hell was wrong with this kid? "I'm sorry that I startled you. I knew there was someone else here, I just didn't know where."
The young woman relaxed ever so slightly, and she breathed a bit easier.
"No, it's okay," she replied quietly, taking a tentative step forward. "I'm . . . just . . . a little jumpy. I don't like thunderstorms, especially this kind. I didn't expect someone else to be out here; people tend to stay off the roads during storms." She glanced around the room nervously, as though making sure no one else was there, and Cain watched as she unconsciously pulled the sleeves of her sweatshirt farther down over her hands. The clothes she was wearing were dry, he noted, and so were all her belongings; she had to have been here since before the storm started.
They stood there in silence for a long moment before she cautiously moved back towards her corner, never looking directly at him though always keeping him at the edge of her vision. She was more than a little nervous, he could tell just by watching her, and had half a mind to tell her to sit down and relax before she had an anxiety attack or passed out. He couldn't help but wonder if she was scared of him for some reason, too.
"Do you need me to keep standing here, Kid?" he asked, trying to keep his tone light. She visibly shuddered at the sound of his voice, but shook her head. He had the distinct feeling that this would be like dealing with a very frightened animal; one wrong word or one move that was even slightly too fast would have her running. "Alright," he sighed, though he could already sense his patience wearing thin with this game. "I'm just going to go change, I promise that's all I'll do."
He slowly backed away, not making any sudden moves, and retrieved his duffel from the corner before retreating into the men's restroom. He made certain to create noise as he changed into his dry clothes, wanting her to know he wasn't moving anywhere without her hearing it. Leaving his wet clothes draped over the sinks to dry, he kept his footsteps audible as best he could without making them too loud. The young woman was sitting in her corner, half-covered by her sleeping bag and staring intently at the screen of her laptop. She glanced up at him as he entered the main room again, but quickly looked away and turned her gaze out the window as she pressed herself farther into the wall.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Kid," he sighed. "I'm sorry that I scared you."
"No, it's okay," she said again, her voice quiet, though she still wouldn't look him in the eye. "We just startled each other." She seemed to understand that she was safe near him, that he could have easily attacked her before if he had wanted to, but she was still jumpy.
"Would you feel better if I stayed in that corner, where you can't see me?" he motioned slowly over his shoulder. "Or do you want me over here?" He didn't typically let other people call the shots, not if it would make him uncomfortable, but he figured that she meant him as much harm as he meant her; if she felt safer knowing that she couldn't see him he could grant her that. She glanced at him again, wordlessly looking toward the corner opposite hers before looking back down at her computer. Cain nodded, slowly walking over to the corner and placing his duffel on the floor before sitting down. Now he could tell something was very wrong; most people would calm down at least a little once they knew they weren't in any danger, but this kid still looked like she would jump out of her skin if he made one wrong move. This was about more than just her being afraid of thunderstorms. He frowned slightly, more concerned for the young woman than he thought he would have been.
He reached into his pack, pretending not to notice how she twitched at the sound, and pulled out a couple small bags of trail mix.
"Are you hungry?" he asked quietly, wondering if she had eaten recently and trying not to jump to what was becoming a very obvious conclusion. She must have been a runaway, and judging by how nervous she was he was willing to bet that she had been abused. She looked straight at him, uncertainty flickering across her face, and he held up one of the bags to show her. "You're welcome to it if you want it." She nodded, and he slid it across the floor toward her.
"Kid! Kid! It's just me!"
He wanted to go straight up to her, in the hopes that she would see his face and realize where she was, but she was already terrified and the last thing he wanted was for her to get hurt. He kept his distance, his hands held up so she could see them.
She had fallen asleep not long after she had finished her trail mix, and though Cain hated to admit it he was glad she felt safe enough around him to sleep. He, on the other hand, wasn't tired. Even when a sudden flash of lightning had been followed by all the lights in the place going out, he hadn't been able to sleep. He just pulled a flashlight from his pack and went back to reading the newspaper he had bought earlier that day. When his back went stiff from sitting on the floor for so long, he had walked around for a few minutes, glancing out each of the windows. The rain was coming down harder than before, and aside from the bright flickers of lightning every few seconds the interstate was still pitch dark; there were no headlights passing by in either direction. After he finished his newspaper, he had pulled his gun from his duffel and removed the clip so he could clean it.
The kid hadn't been sleeping as soundly as he thought she had been, because in the next moment her panicked voice was shouting and she was up and backing away from him. Now the gun lay forgotten on the floor, and she was huddled in yet another corner and trying to keep at least ten feet between them.
"Kid, look at me! I'm not gonna hurt you!" He tried to keep himself from yelling, knowing how she felt after waking up in an unfamiliar place with a stranger holding a gun. "I'm Wyatt Cain, remember? We're stuck at a rest stop off the highway because it's stormin' outside."
It was almost painful to watch the emotions flicker across the young woman's face, fear fighting for dominance until a vague recognition softened her posture. She was scared out of her wits, but she at least remembered who he was.
"Easy, Kiddo," he murmured, taking one tentative step toward her, but she shied away from him and he stopped. Even the flashlight's dim glow, reflecting off the linoleum floor, was enough to see that she was shivering. "It's alright, I'm not going to hurt you," he repeated. "Do you want me to go back and leave you alone?"
She stared at him in silence for a long moment, finally shaking her head. "Are we going to stay over here until you calm down?"
She shook her head again.
Well, at least she was talking again.
"Alright. You're in charge here, Kid," he said slowly. He would need to be careful how he worded things until he knew what had her so scared. "What do you need from me?" As worried as he was about the girl, he was almost as surprised at himself for reaching out to a stranger like this. He had never hesitated to go out of his way to help others; it was in his nature, and part of what had made him such a good cop in those few years he had been in the force. But this sort of stuff, dealing with the emotions of people, had never been easy. The few friends that he still kept in touch with often accused him of having no heart, but to him it was more than that. Five years he had been wandering, making a living where he could, and before that it had been those three years as a state trooper for one of the worst stretches of highway this side of the Mississippi. Before that, he remembered nothing aside from his own name and waking up in a hospital and being told he had survived being thrown around by one of the worst tornadoes in more than a decade. Being a cop was second nature to him, which often made him wonder if he had been one before and had made his commanding officer sorry to see him leave after three years. After being a nomad for so long, he didn't really know how to connect with people. There was no point to it, really, if he would be moving on sooner or later.
"Can you stop calling me 'Kid'?" she finally said, lowering her gaze to the ground and wrapping her arms around herself. "My name is DG."
"Okay." Cain was relieved she was giving him at least that much. "DG; what do you need from me?"
DG sighed, and in the dim light he could see her silently battling with herself. She finally stood straighter, keeping one steadying hand on the wall.
"Nothing," she murmured. "I don't need anything from you. I'm just going to go back to bed."
Cain heard the door close, and glanced over his shoulder as DG's footsteps scuffed down the sidewalk. The girl had never been able to get back to sleep last night, though she had certainly pretended to by burying herself in her sleeping bag. Cain had been up too, puzzling over the young woman and how she had simply shut down. He wasn't one to jump to conclusions, but everything he had seen last night had compounded his belief that she had been poorly treated in the past.
He checked the pressure in the last tire on his truck before turning and watching her load her few belongings on her motorcycle. The storm had broken early this morning, leaving the sky clear and cloudless. Strong winds gusted across the endless fields surrounding the rest stop, and the birds singing in the trees created the perfect picture of an ideal spring morning. But DG was exhausted, and he found himself strangely worried that something would happen to her if she kept going like she was; either she would fall asleep driving or she would make some mistake that would send her straight back to where she came from. He shook his head, gazing out at the interstate. Vehicles were driving by occasionally, but it was the middle of the week and travelers were few and far between. Not that he thought DG would trust any of them to help her if she needed it. The kid might have been scared of her own shadow, but she had a good head on her shoulders and her inability to trust others was probably a good thing for her if she was traveling by herself; while most people would mean her no harm, he had encountered enough of the opposite strain to know how easily a problem could turn dangerous.
Still . . . .
"Hey, Kiddo," he called out to her, not missing how she jumped at his voice. Daylight had done little to calm her fear, though it wasn't as obvious as it had been during the storm.
She turned and glared half-heartedly at him, her blue eyes tired after the long night. It only added to his concern that there could be a dangerous accident in her future. He strode up to her, keeping himself at a comfortable distance so as not to scare her again, though she did tense up and take one step back from him. "Look, DG, I'm just like you. I'm not heading anywhere in particular; I'm just trying to get away from wherever I am."
DG looked startled at this; he figured she probably hadn't realized how many of her tells he had caught onto last night. "I don't know who or what you're running from." Her eyes widened even more, and he crossed his arms. "But I figure it's none of my business to know anyway, because I'd be hard pressed to find anyone in this world who isn't running from something or another. Sometimes running is the only way a person can figure out where to start over." He glanced over his shoulder at the truck; all of his stuff was already packed and ready to go. "I get that you're looking for someplace to start over. There's room for you and your stuff in the truck, and your motorcycle can go in the back, if that's what you want."
They regarded each other for several long minutes. DG was torn, he could see it, but he wouldn't stand around all day waiting for her decision. He had given her a choice; she would have to make up her own mind. She finally dropped her gaze to the dark asphalt beneath their feet, turning and picking up her helmet where she had left it on the seat. Cain nodded, taking her answer for what it was. "You keep yourself safe, Kiddo. I'll see you down the road." He turned on his heel and headed back for the truck. With one last check to make sure the hood was latched and the passenger doors were all shut, he pulled open the driver's door and climbed in.
He looked up at her voice, staring at her silently for a moment. Her backpack was slung over her shoulder again, her rolled-up sleeping bag sitting at her feet, and she was watching him uncertainly. She wasn't sure if he had been bluffing or not, but he sensed that she wanted to trust him; she just didn't seem to know how. He reached over to his door, hitting the unlock button.
"Go ahead and toss your stuff in the back seat, then help me get your bike into the back. We'll head out of here once it's ready to go."