1. Do I know anything about psychiatry and amnesiac states? I do not. This is me playing around with a fictional trope because I find it fun. :P It is in no way meant to represent reality.
2. I'm really dreadful to Eunice, NM here. As far as I can remember, I've never been there; I'm sure it's a perfectly nice little town. Don't judge it by my electronic equivalent of sticking a pin in a map and making up horrible things.
3. Many thanks to ROG, who ID'd Clyde's car from one still and patiently supplied information for my dumb questions, most of which I ended up not using.
4. No matter what characters don't do in films, wear your seatbelt.
One thing about being a bartender - it's easy to drink.
People don't notice just how much the guy behind the bar puts away over the course of an evening. Even easier when you own the bar, and you're the one handling the books. It's astonishing, how much one man can drink in a night, if he's careful, if he's discreet.
Clyde never drank enough to knock himself off his feet - not when he was working. He might be a simple-minded, maimed, unlucky Logan boy, but he didn't want to end up like Aunt Sissy, wrapped around a telephone pole on her way home from her daughter's wedding, or second-cousin Huck Logan who was cleaning his brand-new gun while drunk and shot off his own knee.
No, he was smart about it, and just drank enough to take the edge off. Between that and working on the Logan Curse, his mind was occupied enough that he could sleep, most nights.
And when the memories did come back, they stayed in nightmares where they belonged.
There was only one problem.
"Haven't heard you talk about the curse for a while," Jimmy said, holding up his bottle and peering through it at the lowering sun. "You finally give all that shit up?"
Clyde lowered his own bottle before it reached his lips, looking over at his brother and feeling a cold spot growing in his gut.
It was an odd question for such a peaceful afternoon, the two of them sitting out back of Mellie's place waiting for her to get home from work; two worn but comfortable deck chairs and a cooler full of Miller Lite. And it put into words something that Clyde realized he'd been trying to avoid - namely, that the Logan Curse looked to be broken.
He just grunted and took a deliberate swallow of beer. Jimmy laughed, and blew across the top of his bottle to make it toot. "Doesn't seem to be much to it any more," he said, echoing Clyde's thought. "After the...thing, and all."
"Your damned 'cauliflower'," Clyde muttered, and Jimmy shot him a look.
"It worked, didn't it?"
Which was true enough. They seemed to have pulled it off; even the FBI had stopped sniffing around. And while Clyde might be too nervous to actually spend any of his share, it was good to know he had it. Just in case.
But the problem preyed on him, through Sunday dinner and then all the way back home. Clyde had finally got his license back, and he drove real careful because he did not want to lose it again and the cops knew to look out for his car now. But it took an effort to keep his mind on the road, and it wasn't because of the beer. He'd stopped drinking before dinner anyway.
The thought chased him out of the car and into the little single-wide he called home. They'd pulled off Jimmy's heist perfectly; Mellie'd kicked Joe Bang to the curb, Jimmy was on good terms with his ex and seeing Sadie every week, Clyde even had his fancy new hand and the bar was in the black.
It wasn't that he was waiting for something bad to happen. Clyde knew how the Curse worked. Something good would happen, really good, and then something bad would take it away again before anybody could enjoy it.
But they'd been fine for over a year now. Maybe Jimmy's cauliflower scheme had been the thing that did it.
Clyde slumped in his armchair and stared at the blank screen of his TV without even seeing it. Somewhere in the bottom of his brain, panic was starting to bubble up.
If the Curse is broken...
He'd kept the memories at bay with a combination of alcohol and research. Concentrate on the Curse, on tracing all its permutations, on waiting for it to strike again - and his demons stayed quiet, hidden away in his head.
Without it, they would be off the leash. And he didn't think he could survive that for long.
A vision of the bar rose up before him, all those rows of glasses, the crates in the storeroom. He could find peace there, pulling it together bit by bit from the bottom of each bottle -
It was that picture that spurred him to his feet. Clyde hadn't packed in years, but the old drills came back to him with ease, and within five minutes he was back out the door with a duffle slung over his shoulder.
Two minutes after that, he was pulling onto the highway, adrenaline weighting his foot on the accelerator. On some level, he knew he should at least let Mellie and Jimmy know, but he couldn't think through the panic.
All he could do was run.
Clyde chased the night for hours, not knowing where he was going and unable to care. When the sun overtook him, he stopped long enough to piss and refuel and grab some coffee, but that was all he could do. Rational thought was smothered beneath the fear.
He drove through the day as well, eyes reddening as the sun curved over his shoulders and speared through the windshield. It too faded; the lights lining the highway pulsed in his vision, hypnotic, but he didn't stop.
It was some remnant of training that finally had him pulling over, when the gray light of dawn was blurring so badly that he couldn't see well enough to drive. The highway was straight and empty and flat, nothing but young corn on either side; the shoulder was wide enough for the car.
He'd bunked in worse places than the driver's seat. He unbuckled his seatbelt and dropped into sleep in five seconds.
There was no one around to hear him when the nightmares came.
The Southwest was hot and dry, and the Pontiac's air conditioning only coughed out warm air, but the nights weren't so bad and the highways were clear enough that he could roll down his windows and let the breeze take care of things. It was habit, now, to drive all night and into the morning; he'd find a cheap motel, crash for a few hours, and be up and out by sunset, stopping just long enough to grab a sandwich somewhere.
He didn't have a goal, or a purpose. He just drove.
He was somewhere east of Eunice, New Mexico when the engine started sounding rough. Pulling over, he popped the hood and stared down at it, trying to focus, but the complexity of metal didn't mean anything to him.
A blankness nibbled at the edges of his mind. If he couldn't go on, what would he do?
He looked up.
The girl - woman? - young anyhow - stood a few yards away, eyeing him with a mix of interest and wariness. He took her in all at once, tall and bony and muscled, worn pack on her shoulders, length of pipe stuck through her belt within easy reach. Hitchhiker, probably.
"Seems like." His voice was hoarse; he hadn't used it since the day before. "Sounded rocky."
"Lemme take a look." Hers was confident; she let the pack slip, and it clanked when it hit the asphalt. "Oh, that's a classic, isn't it? Kept up nicely."
Her accent was the kind he only heard on TV. He stepped back to give her room, too bemused by her sudden appearance to question her authority as she rolled up the sleeves of her stained shirt and ducked to examine the engine more closely.
"Clogged filter," she announced after a few minutes. "I can clean it enough for you to get moving, but you really need a new one."
One bright eye peered up at him from under the hood, and he jerked out a nod. The woman busied herself with the filter and a rag she'd pulled out of her back pocket, muttering to herself. "Got any water?"
He'd picked up a case at a truck stop a while back, to save stopping more often, and he grabbed a bottle from behind the driver's seat. She doused the filter liberally, then wiped it down before fitting it back in. "Give it a try."
The engine roared without a hitch when he turned the key. The woman closed the hood, giving him a grin as bright as her eyes, and he felt his lips twitch in response.
He twisted the key back. "What do I owe you?"
She blinked, absently wiping the grime from her fingers with the rag. "How about a lift?"
He cleared his throat. "Where you goin'?"
"Anywhere that's not Eunice." Her mouth went taut.
It was his debt to pay. It was easy to reach across and open the passenger door.
The woman slung her bag behind the seat and put on her seatbelt without being prompted, which he approved of, leaning back with a sigh that spoke of bone-deep weariness. He reached back and came up with another bottle of water, holding it out silently, and she took it with a nod of thanks.
He started the car again and pulled back onto the road.
At least three miles passed before the woman spoke, and her voice was casual. "I'm Rey."
He nodded again, sensing more than seeing her raised brow when he didn't reply. For a moment he thought she wasn't going to ask, but - "What's your name?"
She'd helped him out of a tight spot, kept him going. She deserved the courtesy of an answer. He had to swallow before he could force his voice to work.
"I don't know."
Rey figured that she should probably be alarmed by the big man's admission. Hell, she knew she shouldn't have climbed into a stranger's car at all, except that she had an urgent need to get away, and he was a surer thing than trying to flag down an eighteen-wheeler.
He felt safe. She couldn't explain it; but Rey's radar was finely honed from years of living with an asshole, and the nameless driver didn't set it off.
She opened her mouth to ask the obvious questions, did you hit your head, did you check your driver's license, and then closed it. They seemed rude, like asking how he'd lost his hand would be rude. So she shrugged, said "Okay," and went back to looking out the windscreen.
It had taken her three hot and sweaty hours to walk east from Eunice; they swept into it in less than thirty minutes. Rey resisted the urge to scrunch down in her seat - it wasn't like Unkar was going to be searching every car that came through town - but she didn't turn when they passed the garage, only squinting at it out of the corner of her eye.
It looked closed, and she felt some of the tension in her seep away. Who's going to open it? He's probably still flat on his back with an ice pack on his groin.
The thought gave her a fierce satisfaction, though Rey knew she wasn't out of the woods yet. Unkar was vicious enough that he would probably come looking for her, which was why she'd gone in the less likely direction. Of course, now she was going the more likely way, but serendipity had handed her a ride and Rey wasn't going to turn it down.
The vintage car had power. They were through Eunice and gone before her heart had time to slow.
The wind coming in the windows made the heat just bearable, and Rey was used to it anyway. She undid her ponytail so the strands wouldn't tickle and leaned her head back against the seat, letting the rumble of the engine soothe her. Not to sleep - she didn't trust the nameless man that far - but some long tension was unwinding with every mile she put between herself and Plutt. Running away was throwing herself into the abyss; but the abyss was better than staying.
It took them just over an hour to reach Carlsbad. It was a brilliant, expensive contrast to tiny Eunice, and Rey hoped the silent man next to her would keep going, but he started looking around as if searching for something, and her heart sank. In theory it would be easier to pick up another ride there, but if she couldn't find one right away her tiny hoard of cash would not last long at all. And I can't stay here. It was too close -
The man pulled into the lot of an auto parts store, shutting off the engine and turning to her. Heat instantly enveloped them both, but he didn't seem to notice.
"If I give you the money, can you buy a new filter?" he asked.
Rey blinked. "Sure..."
He nodded once, then reached into his pocket and peeled off five twenties from a thick wad of worn cash. She nearly choked.
He really had no idea, apparently. "Forty's plenty."
The man hesitated, then took back two of the twenties and handed the rest to her. "If you swap it out for me I'll buy you breakfast."
Huh, she thought again. "I never turn down food." Rey opened the door and swung up onto her feet, then hesitated.
If this was just a ploy to scrape her off without fuss, leaving her bag in the back of the car would be stupid - he could just drive off with it. On the other hand, pulling it out would make it seem like she was going to run off with his sixty dollars.
"I'll wait," the man said, as if he could read her hesitation. Maybe he can.
Rey blew out a breath. Trust had worked well for her so far today; she might as well ride that as long as she could. She nodded, and headed inside.
The filter was easy to find, but there was a line at the register. Rey didn't care; the store's air conditioning was working full blast, and she reveled in the chill. She hoped her nameless benefactor had at least gotten out of his car and wasn't sitting in the oven it would become. His accent was slow and definitely not local; it probably didn't get this hot where he came from.
The line inched forward. Rey eyed the racks of keychains and deodorizer tags, bored, as the customer three ahead of her asked the cashier some complicated question.
"I can take the next customer here," said a familiar voice, and Rey looked up at the blond man who'd just opened a second register.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with the man in question; Fred was a decent guy who had always been polite to her. But Rey had hoped to get out of Carlsbad without being spotted; and he was an inveterate gossip.
Of course he whipped through the two intervening transactions at speed, leaving her no choice but to step up next. "Hey Fred."
"Rey, nice to see you! What're you doing out here?" He swiped the filter over the scanner.
"Specialty purchase - the customer's in a hurry." All of which was true. "I don't need a bag."
"No problem." Fred took the money she held out and rang it in, and Rey wished she could tell him to pretend he'd never seen her, but that would prompt questions and curiosity. All she could do was hope he wouldn't have any reason to go through Eunice for a while.
Rey folded away the change and smiled goodbye, toting the filter out into the hammering sun. She wasn't - quite- surprised to see the old car still in its place, or the nameless man leaning against it, but something in her stomach settled into place at the sight.
It seemed her luck was holding.
The woman - Rey - didn't take too long, reappearing with a new filter, and a fistful of change that she handed over scrupulously with the receipt. Frankly he wouldn't care if she'd pocketed the difference, but her honesty was pointed and he respected that.
"Open the hood?" she asked, rolling up her sleeves again, and he squinted at her.
"Engine's still hot."
She raised a brow. "It won't get any cooler in the sun. I'm used to it."
And she'd navigated it before, true. He did as she asked, and carefully didn't watch as she bent over the engine and worked the old filter free; his past might be as blank as an empty page, but his body knew what it liked.
But something in him knew that a gentleman didn't ogle a lady, particularly when she was doing said gentleman a favor.
"There you go." She straightened, holding the old filter. "I'll just toss this out, shall I?"
He watched as she gathered up the packaging for the new one and trotted to the nearest trash can, stuffing it all inside. The sun beat down mercilessly, lighting her up like something unearthly, and he watched her roll down her sleeves as she returned, not really thinking about anything until he spotted the bruises.
He couldn't remember feeling much of anything, besides the trickle of fear from that morning. But the sight of those purple smudges around her forearm - too circular to be anything but fingermarks - made his ears ring with sudden rage.
He didn't let it show. The same instinct that let him know how to behave told him that making a fuss would scare her, or worse. But something stirred in him, behind the anger, and he let it run.
She was looking at him warily, and he pushed off from the car. "Breakfast," he said, and opened his door.
They settled on a Waffle World - or rather, Rey told him where it was when he started looking around - and since it was late morning the place was not busy. It felt odd somehow to sit at a booth with a woman he didn't know, like he was violating some rule of etiquette, but Rey didn't seem bothered, accepting her menu from the server with a friendly smile.
"Get whatever you want," he told her when the server had stepped away. "I didn't have to pay for a mechanic."
Rey gave him a long look, and he tried not to flinch from her gaze. But whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her, because when the server came back she ordered about twice the food he did.
It was, he admitted, kinda fun to watch her put it all away. Though it did draw attention to the leanness of her figure, how the wrists now shadowed by her shirt cuffs were bonier than they should be, and that just started up the anger again.
So he ate his hotcakes and fried eggs, pushing the bacon aside. Rey didn't try to draw him out in conversation, which he appreciated, simply eating with the steady pace of someone concentrating on an important task.
She'd polished off her waffle when his plate seemed to draw her attention. "Aren't you going to eat your bacon?"
He glanced down at it, suddenly unsure. "I...it don't look right."
"Hm, mine was fine." Rey shrugged and scooped up more hash browns. "You could send it back," she said around the mouthful.
He shook his head and nudged the plate away.
The nameless guy was definitely weird, but Rey had to give points to anyone who let her have unfettered access to a menu. She hadn't been this full in months.
They walked back out to his car after he'd paid the bill - with cash. She'd left her pack in the car since it was bulky, but he'd taken a worn satchel in with him, the kind done in that dull military canvas that lasted half a lifetime.
When he snapped the locks open Rey ducked her head in to grab her pack, then straightened and gave him a bright smile. "Thanks for the lift. And breakfast."
He had a forbidding face, what with the deep-set eyes and the goatee, but the way his jaw shifted seemed to indicate uncertainty. "You're runnin', ain't you."
Cold ran up her spine despite the sun, but Rey lifted her chin to meet his gaze. It wasn't hard to figure out, after all. "Going to call the cops?"
"Hell no." The hard words startled her more than his statement. He smoothed a nervous hand over the back of his neck. "Look, I gotta get some sleep, been driving all night. If you want...you can come with me."
She gaped at him. "Is this a sex thing?"
He flushed bright red. "No. I - I just wanna help."
Rey had absolutely no reason to believe him, except that he'd been nice, this whole time. "I...I don't know..."
He waved a hand at the motel across the street. "We'll get a room - I got money - and I can sleep. You don't have to. Come sunset we'll go again."
The whole thing was utterly weird. "But why?"
He shrugged. "'S the right thing to do?"
Spend the day in a motel with a man you just met, whose name you don't even know - this sounds like a bad porno.
But the alternative was wandering through Carlsbad looking for a ride with someone who would be a complete stranger - and unless she managed to find a woman willing to take a passenger, even riskier. Plus Unkar might be on his feet by now -
"Okay," Rey said warily. "But you try anything and I will lay you out." She still had the pipe in her bag, after all.
"Miss, I do not doubt it." Was he smiling? It was hard to tell.
Rather to her surprise, the man did exactly what he said he would. They drove over to the motel, where Rey trailed him into the shabby little lobby suspiciously; but all he did was argue the desk clerk into giving him a room - with two beds - in the middle of the day. And paid in cash.
The room smelled stale and disinfected at the same time; judging by the reek of artificial orange, the cleaners had just come through. The man took his duffle and his satchel into the bathroom with an inarticulate mutter, and Rey heard the shower start shortly after.
She dropped her own bag near the door and looked around a bit helplessly. The place was standard, with two beds covered with stained spreads, a narrow, battered desk and an equally battered chair, and a TV hung on the wall, the remote locked down on the central nightstand. The clock-radio and the lamp that shared that space were so generic as to be nearly invisible.
Rey wrinkled her nose at the bedspreads, then pulled one gingerly back, shoving pillows out of the way so she could sit against the headboard. She turned on the TV, muting it quickly, and started flipping nervously through the various channels on offer.
The water stopped after about five minutes, and the man emerged soon after, dressed in a t-shirt and soft shorts in contrast to the button-down and jeans he'd worn earlier. He was carrying his prosthesis in his remaining hand, and set it carefully on the nightstand before peeling back the covers on the empty bed and climbing in. He set the worn satchel next to his head, which was strange, but -
This whole thing is so weird he might as well.
"Can I ask you a question?" Rey said as he pulled up the sheet. "Just one."
His grunt sounded acceding, and she glanced at him. His black hair was damp, contrasting starkly against the white of the pillows. "You have a license, you showed it to the clerk. Why don't you just read the name on it?"
She half-expected him to say it wasn't his, or it was fake, or something. But dark eyes peered at her for a long moment before closing. "Tried that. Can't remember it afterwards."
He rolled over so his back was to her, and Rey could take a hint, so she didn't reply. Instead she watched commercials flicker past, absurd without the sound, and thought.
If he's telling the truth - big if - then there's something seriously wrong with this guy. He's definitely disturbed.
Rey didn't try to deceive herself. Her mystery benefactor was a large man; missing hand or no, if he got the drop on her, her pipe and her teeth weren't going to be much use.
But nothing he'd done or said so far was a threat. And she couldn't help remembering the way he'd flushed when he'd said he wanted to help her.
The clerk had given him two keycards. They both sat on the little desk; whether he'd meant to or not, the man had left her the means to go out and come back if she chose.
Rey's life had not been rich in kindness to that point. Most of the people she'd known had been mean, or greedy, or just uncaring. Yet -
I don't know why I trust him. But I do. Disturbed he might be, but he'd shown no signs of violence. In fact, he'd been more respectful of her personal space than anyone she could remember.
And he's still a better bet than going it on my own. At least right now.
Thoughtful, Rey settled herself more comfortably, and found a movie to watch that made at least a little sense without sound.
Her gaze kept sliding back to the sheet-covered form on the other bed. Now that she had time to think, he was more of a mystery than ever, obviously far from wherever he called home and bearing the damage of some kind of accident. Rey had managed not to stare at his prosthesis, but she couldn't help being curious as to how he'd lost his hand.
None of your business.
She was curious, too, about how he'd lost his memory - but again, it wasn't something she could ask about, especially not when he was doing her a favor. And if he couldn't remember anything, he couldn't answer any questions about his arm.
Come to think of it, I don't know if he's lost his memory or just can't remember his name. But what did she know about amnesia? She didn't even have a high-school diploma; Plutt had pulled her out of school at age sixteen so she could work full-time.
The bitter anger was familiar, but this time she didn't have to swallow it back. Rey had almost no money and definitely no idea of where she was going, but for the first time in her life she was free and she was going to survive.
And if this beginning was weirder than she'd expected, it wasn't bad. The impulse to stop and help a stranger had paid off so far.
Rey shut off the TV and let herself daydream, thinking about a decent-sized city where she could find work. Preferably as a mechanic, but she was willing to do just about anything that came to hand.
Still, she was thoroughly bored by the time the light outside the curtains deepened and the man snuffled awake. She hadn't quite wanted to make herself vulnerable in the shower, but she'd done a hasty cleanup with a washcloth at the sink, trying to move quietly; trust only went so far.
The man shuffled into the bathroom again for what sounded like a marathon piss, and came out in another jeans and button-down combo. He grunted at her, more an acknowledgment than anything else, and sat on the bed to pull on his boots. Rey watched in fascination as he tied them neatly with one hand. I didn't know you could do that.
When he stood up, he grabbed his bags and cocked his head at the door. Rey scrambled to get her own, and opened the door to the golden, scorching afternoon.
She got three steps out before a hard hand grabbed her ponytail and yanked her half off her feet.
He slept like falling into a pit. He couldn't remember exactly what it had been like - well - before, but something in him seemed to feel bruised when he thought about sleeping, as if it had been bad. But if he dreamed, he couldn't remember it, and he woke each afternoon clear-headed.
He was somewhat surprised to see Rey still there, but also pleased. He didn't know why he was driving, but being useful to someone was a good thing. And a woman on her own was in a precarious spot, no matter how good she was at taking care of herself.
He was following her out the door, thinking about where to get supper, when a bellow cut through the air, followed by a shriek.
His mind took it in like a snapshot: a big man in dirty coveralls had a hand buried in Rey's hair, the other fist raised to swing down in a hit. She was stumbling, bent over and about to lose her balance.
He didn't think. His body moved into action as if it had done this a thousand times, stepping forward to catch the descending arm and yank it. The man yelped, releasing Rey on reflex, and he continued the throw to lay the man out on the ground, planting a boot on his spine and bending down. "What the hell do you think you're doin'?"
The man snarled and heaved, but he still had hold of that beefy wrist, and he tugged it higher until the man subsided. Glancing up, he saw Rey staring at them, still half-bent, her expression mixing fear and astonishment.
"She belongs to me," the man grunted. "She owes me."
"I don't owe you shit," Rey spat, straightening and reaching for the pipe in her bag.
"Worthless bitch." The man's gaze flicked up. "She spreading her legs for a ride? Careful she don't shank you."
He saw red. Sliding his boot up the man's spine, he shifted his grip and yanked, savoring the scream as the man's thumb dislocated. "Shut up," he snapped, keeping tension on the man's arm, and looked at Rey again. "You okay?"
She had the pipe out and looked ready to use it, though tears streaked her face - pain or fear, he didn't know. "Yeah."
He had no idea what had happened between the two of them, but it didn't matter. The asshole had tried to hurt Rey, and that would not stand. He moved his boot off the man's spine and crouched, still gripping the man's wrist.
"Listen here," he said coldly. "You're gonna leave Rey alone from now on, got me? She's walkin' away and you will not follow."
"She's mine," the man mumbled. "I brought her up - "
"Bullshit," Rey snapped. "You starved me half to death - "
"You weren't worth your keep, you greedy cunt!"
"Enough." He straightened halfway and nudged his toe into the man's ribs - not a kick, just a promise - then pressed his food back on the man's spine. "You let her go, or you answer to me."
The man grunted, and he chose to take it as agreement, if only because they were clearing out of town. But just to be on the safe side, he waved his prosthesis at Rey. "Keys. Right pocket."
She edged warily around the prone asshole, pipe at the ready, then dug her hand into his front pocket. It was a ticklish maneuver at best, but if she found it too intimate she didn't show it, fishing the keys out and grabbing up the bags he didn't remember dropping before darting towards his car.
He crouched again, and pitched his voice to a croon. "I may be down to one hand, but I can still gut you with it." He tugged on the man's arm, prompting a groan. "Don't test me."
The squeak of the car door opening made him look up. Rey was sliding into the passenger seat, and leaning over to jam the key in the ignition. He straightened, opening his hand to release the man's strained arm, and walked away.
As he thought, the man was in no shape to get up and pursue them. He swung into the driver's seat and started the car without hurry, glancing over beyond Rey to see the man just managing to flop onto his back. He backed the car out smoothly, and glanced again at Rey. "You sure you're all right?"
"Son of a bitch tore out some hair," she muttered, rubbing at the back of her head. "But that's all."
He nodded, and headed for the highway. They still needed to eat, but he didn't feel like stopping in Carlsbad and he doubted she did either.
Rey was shivering, he could see it out of the corner of his eye. He let a few miles of highway unroll beneath them, waiting until her trembling stopped before speaking. "Is he gonna come after you again?"
She leaned her head back against the headrest, face going sour. "I don't know." And then soft, uncertain. "Nobody's - nobody's ever stood up for me before. Against him."
"They should have." The words escaped him without thought, and he set his jaw, staring out through the windshield. It was none of his business what the asshole had done to Rey in the past, though the thought of a helpless child growing up under the man's thumb was sickening.
She made a noise that was more acknowledgment than agreement, and fell silent, still rubbing absently at her scalp. The sun was reddening in front of them when she spoke again. "I need to call you something."
He had no answer for that, so he said nothing.
"You have West Virginia plates," Rey said musingly. "And you're headed west. So I'll call you that." She glanced at him. "If that's okay."
He shrugged. It wasn't a bad name, at that, and he could see her point.
"Thank you, West," she said softly. "For what you did back there."
He felt his face heat up. "Y'welcome," he managed.
Rey settled back in her seat, undoing her ponytail despite the wind whipping in the open windows, and he concentrated on the road for a while.
In the back of his head, though, he couldn't help wondering where his body had learned how to do that. If he'd thought about it first, he would have just punched the asshole. But his reflexes had apparently had other ideas; and he could hardly argue with the results.
But thinking too hard about it made that blankness threaten again, so he pushed the whole thing away, counting streetlights until he was calm again.
The fact that he could still remember the name Rey had bestowed on him when they pulled into a truck stop was, he thought, a good sign. West. Not bad.
He fueled up the car, handing Rey a twenty and asking her to get him some supper, and she disappeared into the food court with alacrity. By the time he'd parked and used the facilities, she was back with a bag for him and two for herself, as well as a grocery sack from the convenience shop. The change she returned told him that she'd used her own money for her meal, and he had to respect that even if it annoyed him on some level.
"I drive all night," he told her as they ate leaning against the car. "Figure I'll stop in the morning like yesterday and get some more sleep."
"Where?" Rey asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Dunno. I stop when I'm tired." He half-expected her to ask what made him do it, but she just gave him a side-eye look and kept working her way through her meal.
The sunset made him squint as they drove on; when he glanced to his right Rey had tucked herself into the corner between the seat and the window and was asleep despite the air pouring in.
He didn't smile, exactly, but something about him loosened as night bloomed over them both.