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Stay Alive

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Jasper’s pickup didn’t so much eat up the miles as it lingered over them like a fine meal, hundreds of miles of pockmarked asphalt rolling under the tires with a sedate eagerness that spoke of a final destination but plenty of time to reach it. The rock and rumble and hum inside the cab had lulled her into a state of hazy relaxation that she rarely had the opportunity to relish, that sort of vulnerability reserved for more intimate matters and the sunrise after.

If she didn’t have the console screen to tell her the time, she wouldn’t have guessed that it was late afternoon. The sky had been gray since they’d left the gulf coast hours ago, clouds looming heavy with rain but far too lazy to do anything about it until they’d reached the next state over, when the windshield was speckled with fat raindrops. It had started slowly and worked its way up to a steady patter, just enough that she’d needed her wipers going constantly.

Peridot had fallen asleep an hour ago, a casualty of the road.

She glanced over at the figure slumped against the window and gave a soft little huff, a tired grin creasing her face. Her little geek had managed to fall asleep using the blanket they’d packed as a pillow and Jasper’s army jacket as a blanket instead, mouth slack and very likely drooling on the fleece.

Her focus returned to the road, though, after a moment of appreciation, checking each mirror to make sure they were still safe; haziness aside, she still remained alert for any signs of danger, pointless though it may be on a deserted highway. You know what they say about old habits.

A quick glance in the rearview to make sure the tarp over their belongings was still secure, and then she was focusing again on the road.

She let herself relax again, allowing the road’s hypnosis to take effect once more. The map in the center console tracked the miles; if it weren’t for that, she wouldn’t even know how long they’d been riding or how far they had to go. North. East. To the southwest, miles and hours behind them, was a life that they couldn’t claim as their own any more.

The little yellow gas light lit up, her truck dinging softly as a polite reminder that it indeed required fuel to continue their trek. She leaned forward and shifted her attention to the green signs on the side of the road, looking for an exit and the inevitable neon sign of a truck stop towering over the trees, her brow furrowed and her lips pulled into a frown more from concentration than displeasure.

Peridot mumbled something beside her and shifted, drawing Jasper’s attention for a moment, and her expression changed from concentration to almost amusement, crooked nose wrinkling and a smile creasing her face again.

Green digital numbers loomed out from the hazy gray, framed against the fading light of sunset, and she took the next exit, muttering something about highway robbery in a way that sounded like her heart wasn’t really in it. The change in angle and rhythm, subtle though it may have been, drew an indignant nasal sound from the sleeping passenger, Peridot not really waking up but still voicing her displeasure. Jasper laughed despite herself, then apologized to her still-sleeping lover, who responded with an almost scolding series of mutters and huffs before half-burying her face in the blanket.

The truck rolled into the gas station and shuddered to a stop next to a pump; as Jasper cut the ignition, the sleepy form in the passenger seat unfolded into Peridot again, fumbling with the shade above her for her glasses and mumbling something Jasper didn’t quite catch. Her eyes were still mostly closed as she groped for the door, and then she slid out of the truck with a little grunt, shivering at the cool air and wrapping herself in the too-big army jacket. Jasper stepped out of the truck as well, watching her girlfriend head into the building to, presumably, use the restroom.

She was almost done filling the tank when Peridot got back to the truck, still yawning. Somewhere between point A and point C she’d slipped her arms into Jasper’s army jacket, and it hung loose and heavy around her much-smaller form. Jasper gave her a grin and Peridot responded with a little wave as she climbed back into the truck and snuggled back up with the blanket.

Once Jasper was done, she poked her head into the cab.

“Food, stardust?”

“Soda,” came the mumbled reply, her trip inside clearly having done little to actually wake her up. Jasper’s lips curled into a lopsided little grin.

“As you wish.”

Her words were playful, and in response Peridot gave her an absent little wave, little more than raising a hand and letting it fall back into her lap.

The door into the convenience store jingled merrily to announce Jasper’s arrival, falling closed behind her as she stepped, blinking, into the harsh fluorescent lighting. She frowned ever-so-slightly and looked around with a sigh, getting her bearings before heading to the drinks in the back. The lights hummed quietly in the silent store. One block of lights blinked incessantly, crying out to be changed, but aside from that the store was just overwhelmingly white , bright, grating after the hazy gray of the road.

She found what she was looking for and paid, the whole exchange almost completely wordless save the cashier giving her her total. She left with a raised hand and a head nod, well-wishes without words, and crossed the parking lot with little care for the raindrops matting down her bleached hair.

Peridot was asleep again when she slid into the driver’s seat, and she kept her motions as easy as possible so as not to disturb Her Majesty. Jasper had a dumb little grin on her face as she settled their drinks into the holders between them. She opened her bag of chocolate-covered peanuts and set them in the door, popping one in her mouth and letting the chocolate melt over her tongue.

The truck started with a jolt and a purr, and she hummed tunelessly to herself as she left the gas station. Peridot was back asleep and they had a full tank of gas once more, mere yards into the next leg of their journey.

The highway was still nearly deserted as she rolled along, back to being alert for any changes, or differences, or danger, watching in every direction with wary, world-weary eyes. Two hands of different shades gripped the steering wheel until the road and the rain and the metronome beating of the windshield wipers lulled her back into a lazy, one-handed grip, lighter arm resting against the window and her free hand on the armrest between them.

She checked the rearview again to make sure the tarp was still attached. It was a silly worry; she’d checked and double-checked and triple-checked the tie-downs. No rain would be able to make it through. But as smoothly as the drive was going, there was bound to be some hiccup. She didn’t want it to involve losing the things they’d packed.

Lapis had taken everything else up with the moving truck, their beds and what furnishing hadn’t come with their apartment. Jasper grinned to herself and let out a little heh at that memory, the way Lapis had seemed less than thrilled to ride so far with a truck driver she didn’t know. But Jasper wouldn’t let anyone else drive her truck, and she was almost certain that the driver would leave Peridot on the side of the road if she got started on one of her favorite shows. To Jasper it was endearing; to Lapis, a pleasant hum of nonsense. To most others, however, she could get a bit intense.

Jasper glanced at the line of three semi trucks running in the opposite direction and sighed. They still had a long way to go before they made it up north, where friends were waiting.

She was rather looking forward to living somewhere a bit more open-minded. She’d lived on the gulf her whole life, born Creole and bred southern, and yet she’d still turned out a disappointment to her family.

The thought was met with a long breath out through her nose and a little frown. This wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted to be lingering on. Her family not speaking to her, the way her neighbors had looked at them like they were Satan’s own advertising service, the landlord who had given them a month to get out because she wouldn’t have them living in sin on her property...

Jasper shook her head with a sigh, casting a glance over at her sleeping lover. Peridot was curled against the door a bit, small enough to pull her legs up onto the seat. She hadn’t put her seat belt on, again. Jasper let out another pleased little sigh through her nose and relaxed, her face breaking into a smile again.

She’d miss boudin. Gumbo. Mardi Gras. But those were just things . The woman beside her, and the one already up north, those were the most important. She’d die for them, yes, but she’d willingly die for a lot of people. She’d already put her life on the line over and over again in the name of freedom. But more than die for them, she’d found someone, two someones, who she’d live for.

Her mirrors were still clear. The rain still beat against the windshield, the wipers moving in their quick rhythm. The road was still eerily deserted, even going in the other direction.

Peridot and Lapis had pulled her up from a depth she’d never thought she’d see the end of. And now, she had two people who she’d fight tooth and nail to survive for. She wanted to live, wanted to do everything she could to stay with these two for as long as she possibly could.

She reached her free hand over to rub Peridot’s hip, just wanting that brief contact. The sleepy form moved and she could see Peridot’s face scrunch up as she mumbled out a series of chiding but utterly incomprehensible sounds.

Jasper let out a breathy little laugh and returned her arm to the armrest, her hazy little grin back on her face as she continued her drive, the road rolling under her wheels lulling her back to her earlier relaxed state. The rain beat a patter of taps against the truck, and as she looked in the rear-view mirror, she saw the first headlights behind her that she’d seen in nearly an hour. She watched them grow closer and closer with wary glances, certain she’d been going close enough to the speed limit but not trusting cops to care, and let out a little sigh as the car pulled close enough for her to see it was an SUV.

The SUV pulled around them and kept going, and Jasper wondered what they were rushing towards.

She wasn’t in a hurry, at least. She was happy to leave the speedometer at a comfortable seventy. The way the truck rocked and hummed at that speed was soothing, a feeling that went bone-deep through her whole body. She knew this truck like the back of her own hand, knew the way it would rattle and buck down dirt roads but stay smooth and easy on a proper highway. She drove like it was an extension of herself, leaning a bit when a curve demanded it, correcting every so often if she was pulling in one direction or the other, the movements absent and instinctive. The roads were unfamiliar this far from where they'd been before, but they felt the same under the tires.

Her mind was detached, almost, her whole reality just the road ahead and behind, the sleepy form next to her, the hum and beat and rumble of travel. It was relaxing, drowning out any worry for their future. Things were going to be okay. They were together. As long as they had each other, they would be fine.

The road stretched before her, miles and hours of driving and stops and Peridot sleeping beside her ahead. She hummed tunelessly to herself, tapping the steering wheel between raindrops. She knew where they’d been; she knew where she was. And she knew where she was going. Home.