I pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store, cringing at how fucking loud the 1976 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am's engine was. The car was a gift from my new boss, she called it a signing bonus, I call it a target painted on my back. Brockton Bay may not be Detroit, but that didn't mean this was a place you could have nice things as an average joe, let alone someone like me. I let out a deep sigh after the engine died and looked around the place, not seeing anyone suspicious getting hungry eyes at the sight of a genuine American classic.

I debated starting the car again and going straight back to my new house, but the growl of my empty stomach reminded me of why I was out here. My new boss dragged me out here, gave me a car, some gear, and the keys to a house, said that she would call with my first assignment "soonish", and then fucked off to wherever the hell she disappears to. Knowing full well that this place was a death trap, I did the smart thing and waited at the house. I mean I had a couple days worth of food and an office computer with access to the internet, surely I had enough food to last me until I got that assignment right? Wrong. It's been a whole fucking week and I haven't heard word one from her. I ran out of food this morning and couldn't avoid leaving the goddamn house anymore. Hunger beat paranoia by a round one knockout.

Once I got inside I was met with the upbeat and optimistic sounds of City Pop on not-quite blown out speakers, a monitor with the security camera feed showing a surprisingly high fidelity image of my new look and short-messy-wavy-mop of a hairdo.. The old Asian guy behind the register greeted me and he seemed pretty happy to see me.

"Welcome!" He said with a wave, he had a Japanese accent. He pointed out the clear glass door and to one of the many new sources of stress that have been thrust on me. "Nice car!"

I gave him a nervous smile and got shopping. I tossed some bags of instant ramen, some cans of soup, and a couple bags of chips into a small basket, hoping that the credit card in my wallet worked as intended. I tried not to let my eyes linger on the beer case, not like I could buy any now that I was a minor again, and I tried not to linger on the unfamiliar face in the transparent reflection of the beer case door.

"You not from here, eh?" the cashier said as he rang me up

I shrugged. "What makes you say that, sir?"

Cashier looked surprised and smiled even wider "You polite for one. You also have real nice car when only what?"

he looked me up and down

"Sixteen maybe?"

I nodded and gave him my hastily made cover story. "Yes sir, car was a birthday gift."

"And you don't walk like gangsta, you don't walk like rich boy, you walk like regular kid."

I chuckled. "All that from a walk?"

Cashier nodded and handed me my bag of snacks. "Have had this shop for over fifteen years. Learn a lot about people from how they walk into store."

I swiped the card, letting out a sigh of relief once the old timer handed me my receipt. When I grabbed it, the old man didn't let go.

"This city rough. But there good people here. I hope you one of them." He looked into my eyes, and with his gaze came a sudden sense of weight. After a brief moment, he let go and gave a slow bow of his head. "Wakai kami-sama."

I may not be fluent in Japanese but I've seen enough subbed anime to know what the last half of that means.

"Noted." was my awkward reply.

With that I left the store and was about to make my way to the red white and blue muscle car that I was stuck with (still surprised that I'm wishing I didn't have a kick ass car) when I heard the wheezing gasp of a city bus taking off and a girl shouting for it to stop. Old instinct kicked in, I turned my head towards the bus stop across the street and just stopped and stared.

She was tall for a girl, pretty thin too, exactly what you'd think of when you hear someone is called a beanpole. Poor girl was drenched to the bone in early February, from her long black hair down to her shoes. All that and the weather report I caught last night said it was going to snow later today. I watched the girl slump into the bus stop bench stall, she looked like she was doing everything in her power not to break down and cry.

The smart decision would have been to keep walking to that damn car and driving off back to that damn house and waiting for my goddamn boss to get off her star spangled ass and get whatever job she throws at me out of the way and then on the road to greener pastures. Then again, I haven't really been making smart decisions lately. Knowing full well that there was no turning back when I got across the street, that there would be no greener pastures and that I would be forever bound to this city if I went through with this, I made the longest fifteen steps of my life.

"Hey." I said to her once I got there. "This probably gonna sound like a dumb question but; are you OK?"

The girl slowly looked up, her glasses falling slightly from her nose. Her face was blank, her eyes somewhat unfocused. I could hear loud buzzing coming from the overflowing trashcan, a bad omen.

"Yeah." was all she said with a flat and almost lifeless voice. "I'm just fucking peachy."

"Yup. Sounded just as dumb as it did in my head." I looked down and cringed "There anything I can do to help?"

She adjusted her glasses and gave me a look I couldn't place.

"I got a car over there. I could start her up and turn on the heater." I gestured to the Trans Am "Stay out of the cold until your bus comes? It has manual locks, walk out when the bus is on the way or if you just want out."

In hindsight offering a cold and wet girl a seat in a muscle car probably sounded fucking sleazy. Again, my face was cringing realizing what I was saying. After a couple moments of awkward silence I just turned around sheepishly.

"I'll just go…"

With that I just walked back to the car, tossed my groceries in the trunk, and got in the driver's seat. As I put the key into the ignition I noticed something out of the corner of my eye; someone sitting in the passenger seat. To my surprise, there she was. If it weren't for the driver side door being closed I probably would have sailed to the pavement from shock.

"How and when did you get in here?"

The girl's expression was that of doomed acceptance, never a good sign.

"You left the door unlocked." she said quietly

I hummed in response then turned on the car and put the heater on full blast. I didn't turn on the radio, I just let the sound of the V8 and the A/C fans fill the silence, neither of us making any attempt at conversation.

The silence went on for the full hour I expected the next bus to come, we finally looked over to the bus stop and saw no sign of the next one. I pulled out the phone my boss gave me and checked the bus schedule and for any news regarding the route, turns out the bus was gonna be delayed due to a cape fight further up the line. I showed my passenger the phone, she sank further into the seat and muttered out "Figures."

Knowing full well what I was about to ask was never going to come off as anything remotely friendly in this neck of the woods, I braced myself for whatever was going to happen next.

"I got a full tank of gas." I started, my eyes cringed shut. "I can take you anywhere you want to go, all I need is directions."

Truth be told if she told me the address alone I'd be able to take her there, being a human GPS is kinda useful like that, but I wasn't going to say that. I opened my eyes and looked over, her face became that same blank unfocused expression she had at the bus stop. Despite that, I had the feeling she was mentally picking through everything I had been saying, everything I've done, and my body language. Trying to find something in there she didn't like.

Then she finally spoke; "Ok."

I nodded and buckled my seat-belt, asking her to do the same. She gave me seemingly random directions, driving us around in a circle or taking three lefts instead of going right. I could tell she was testing me. This went on for several blocks, eventually her directions became more coherent and seemed like they lead somewhere.

"Stop up here." She said, we were in a neighborhood of old houses and I pulled up to the nearest free bit of curb. Girl got out of the car and took a few steps before stopping.

"Why'd you help me?" she asked, her voice neutral.

I shrugged.

"Weather report said it might snow today. You were soaked. I did the math, didn't like the result. So I did something."

"You make a habit of helping strangers?"

"This city's a rough place. But there's still good people out there, I'm gonna try to be one of them." The cashier's words seemed to flow back into my head. Dunno why, but they seemed appropriate to paraphrase. "I know that if I was ever shit creek without a paddle, I'd hope someone would toss me a rope and tow me somewhere safe."

life seemed to return to the girl's face long enough for her to chuckle

"Ok then." she said turning to face me, her face back to that neutral blankness. "What's your name?"

Rather than my birth name, the new name Columbia gave me came from my lips.

"John Quincy Brewer." Still strange to say. Having a middle name is weird. Despite already knowing the answer, I had to ask. "You?"

"Taylor." She said slowly, seemingly unsure if she should have spoken. "Hebert."

"Pleasure to meet 'cha." I was hoping I came off as friendly. I reached into the glove box, grabbing a pen and a small notepad out. I quickly jotted down my phone number and name on to it, leaning over to hand it out the passenger side. "If you ever need someone to vent at, or you just need a ride. Call me. If I don't answer, I'll hear the voicemail and call you back. I got caller ID."

Despite knowing that I was digging myself deeper, I couldn't not reach out. I wasn't allowed to be a bystander anymore. I fully expected her to reject the number. To my surprise she took it without a word.

"Hang tough." Was all I said before driving off back to the house. Wondering what hell I was about to walk into.

There was no avoiding it after all. Scions are bound by Fate to be dragged into life's great dramas.