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Shiftin' gears

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Robbie takes off his cap and runs his hand through sweaty blond hair. “Do I need a haircut?” he asks Vance.   

His friend glances at him and pushes Robbie’s hair out of his face. He tries not to lean into the touch but it’s a close thing. “No,” says Vance as he pulls his hand back. “Suits you better like this.”

“Okay,” replies Robbie. Old him had long floppy hair. It was that guy’s thing, along with bad jokes, trench coats, and giant slurpees. New Robbie is still trying to decide what kind of guy he’s going to be. Months on the road and he still doesn’t know.

When an ancient 7-Eleven sign appears in the distance, they don’t need to discuss it. Vance pulls off the highway at the truck stop and Robbie gets out. He pumps gas while Vance checks the oil. Niels stays behind the seats, drowsing on the floor. They refuel inside with chicken burritos and share a double big gulp.

“This isn’t what I thought it would be,” says Robbie as he splashes water on his face in the restroom. While they spend a lot of time helping people, he looks forward to the days where they rest and talk-- or he talks and Vance listens. “The road trip.”

Vance gives him a smile in the mirror. “No?”

“We’ve seen so much, done so much.” Robbie hesitates for a minute before finishing his thought out loud. Vance could be unpredictable on the subject. “I miss what we had with the New Warriors.”

“Grassroots heroism?” suggests Vance, he unwraps a long hair clip from its packaging and secures Robbie’s hair off his face.

“Thanks, I think ,” says Robbie, adjusting the clip before he takes his shirt off and splashes more water under his armpits. In the mirror, he can see Vance’s eyes on the scars across his back, his friend’s expression is hard to read. “The scars don’t hurt anymore, Vance,” he says. They’ve done this dance a couple of times. Vance and Robbie's old scars have an uneasy relationship.

"Hm." Vance's eyes are now in the mirror studying the scars on Robbie's chest, those ones were deeper and took longer to heal.

Sometimes it feels like the two of them take turns at wallowing in guilt for things that have already happened and can't be changed. “I need to leach some power off soon,” adds Robbie, too much of it is jumping around under his skin. He feels uncomfortable under Vance’s intense scrutiny as hazel eyes flick up to look at him.

“Okay,” replies Vance. “We can pull off somewhere remote, no one will see the discharge.”

“It wasn’t only the saving people,” says Robbie when they get back in the truck and head back onto the highway. He leans out the window, the wind whipping past his face. It’s dark now, the road has little traffic.

“I know, it was because we were a family.” Vance’s face is in shadow when he replies. “I needed it too. We all did, one way or another.” Robbie can feel there is more Vance wants to say but the silence lengthens. “Have we gone far enough?” asks Vance as he pulls off the highway onto a broad shoulder.

“Think so.” Robbie opens the door and steps out. The desert air is dry with a breath of a breeze, there are only patches of stars between the clouds in the sky. Niels jumps out behind him and chases something near the truck. It cries once, a death squeak, and Niels settles down to eat it. “Gross.”

He walks out into the desert and Vance follows him. They find a dry riverbed within sight of the truck and stop. It’s far enough. Robbie doesn’t need to cut anymore, the power is always there, always available when he calls it. So he calls and it begins to light up his hands. Robbie points at the ground, letting the energy wash away in sheet after sheet of crackling power. He stops after a while, panting, it feels like it’s enough.

Vance doesn’t say anything. He stands a short distance away, watching, arms crossed, brow furrowed. “Are you alright?” he asks finally.

“I’m okay, tired,” says Robbie. Vance approaches him and picks up one of Robbie’s hands, inspecting it. There is no damage, no burns, all normal skin, not even the hairs are singed. “I’m okay,” he repeats. Vance doesn’t let go of his hand.

Pulling Robbie close, Vance hugs him tight. The outline of his mouth presses against Robbie’s cheek. Vance doesn’t say anything and releases Robbie suddenly, turning to walk back to the truck. "Don't leave it so long next time."

Robbie is still confused when he gets in next to Vance. What did it mean? Not quite a kiss but more than a hug between bros? The truck idles while Robbie buckles his seat belt. Niels climbs down from the dashboard to sit on the floor between Robbie’s high tops and begins licking dead thing off his claws and fur, Robbie scrunches his nose up in disgust. “Vance,” he says.

Vance glances at him, expression almost serene. “Rob.”

Experimentally , Robbie places a hand on Vance’s thigh. His friend doesn’t react except for a slow creeping blush up his neck and cheeks, his mouth is curving at the corners reluctantly when Robbie looks over at him. Robbie feels heat rising in his own face and grins. “Let’s go.”