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Scrape was in her truck, idling and doing her best to blow hot air into her hands. Lord only knew that wasn’t doing much, as it was fucking freezing outside and the truck’s heating had died sometime this summer, but it was something. The engine did create some heat, she figured, or should, and besides, it had been colder last week--so cold she had huddled in the back of the truck under a blanket and a tarp, waiting for a delivery that ended up not coming and wasted her goddamn time.

This time, though. This time Scrape was gonna get her payload, and it would all work out just fine. She’d pay the debt, get the a/c fixed, and get out of this town with rough men and not enough jobs to go around. She’d never wanted to get trapped in Cleveland anyway, wanted to move onto bigger and better things, but she’d also wanted to go out onto the road looking one step closer to herself, and now that she was healed, well- she was ready. She was more than ready, ready to hit the road and go off to some place that never got as fucking cold as it did here. Her coat--jacket really--was threadbare and her breath was heating up the inside of her truck so much it was fogging up the windows. She wiped the window off with a fist clenched around her sleeve, and exhaled heavily again, peering out into the night as the snow came down in thick, lake-effect flakes, making the light from the buzzing street lamps flicker in and out as they cut great shadows over the curb and sidewalk.

At least she had a jacket, which is more than she could say for the figure standing out there in the snow wearing nothing more than a mesh tanktop and short shorts, their long legs ending in cowboy boots, face caught in the silhouette shadow of a trucker’s hat. Scrape had no idea how long they’d been out there, but the pose they were holding against the lamplight post seemed to be lagging, as they paused to jump up and down, shaking out their long limbs before going back to posing. But that was the thing about snow like this--all the johns stay home, too worried about crashing their big fancy cars in the slick streets to come out and pick anyone up. Most of the other folks who waited to get picked up had headed wherever they could get out of the cold, but this person was still out there. Probably they didn’t have anywhere to go.

Scrape sighed, and put the truck into gear to roll around the block once, pulling up on the opposite side of the street this time. It’s not like it mattered much which side she parked on, and she was early for the job anyway; she could let this person thaw out as much as they could while she waited. The truck rolled to a stop, and she rolled down the passenger-side window, leaning across the bench to yell out into the night. “Hey! You, in the hat! Get over here.”

The figure jumped a little bit, startled by the sound in the night--most johns, Scrape knew, were way more subtle than she was being, but she wasn’t exactly looking to buy whatever it was this person had to sell. This kid, she realized, as they sauntered up, trying to look casual despite the earlier surge of obvious anxiety. “What can I do you for this evening?” the kid quirked up an eyebrow, snowflakes caught in the long hair that hung outside the trucker hat--a hat that read “wine em, dine ‘em, 69 em” across the front. Scrape rolled her eyes. She’d never done that, turned tricks to get by, but surely the kid had a better opening line than that.

“Get in, you’re making me cold just lookin’ at you,” she said brusquely. “Don’t you know that working where no one else is just means you aren’t gonna get any business?”

“You’re out here,” the kid pointed out, a sly smug grin on their face that Scrape found charming and maddening by turns. They made no moves to get in, though, and Scrape realized she hadn’t really been clear with the kid.

“I’m waiting for a job too,” she said, then realized she had basically just contradicted herself. “Look, just get in, kid. You’re gonna freeze your ass off out there, and who’s gonna pick up some assless punk like you?”

“It’s 10 nuyen for me to go down on you,” the kid said, “and 15 for anything insertive. 20 for anything that requires a lot of cleanup, and we only do piss or a lot of blood if there’s a bathtub involved. I don’t do shit unless you really want to pay me.” Scrape could have smashed her own head against the steering wheel.

“This isn’t a job,” she snapped. “I’m just trying to get you out of the cold, got it? I don’t want anything from you, and I can’t pay you anything anyway. Now get in the goddamn truck. Also, only 10 for oral? Christ kid, your mouth has to be worth more than that. Is that what the other girls are charging?”

She watched as the kid visibly flinched, anger flashing in their eyes. “I’m not a girl,” they snarled. It was then that Scrape could see the shadow under the mesh shirt wasn’t just a shadow--some kind of half-binder, cutting into the kid’s skin.

“Shit, kid, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to come out like that. The other folks I knew that did that--all of em were girls, okay, even the ones with beards. I’m sorry. Look, just- I’m sorry. I just wanted to get you out of the cold, okay? Your fingers look blue.” The kid glanced down at--his? Their? Scrape still didn’t know, but figured she would avoid the “she/her” pronoun set just in case it was also a no-no--fingers, curled against the side of the truck, and then shoved hands down.

“I’m not doing anything for free,” the kid hedged, still glaring at Scrape, which, fair, she’d fucked up. “So either pay up for what you want or roll out, okay? I don’t need to be murdered by some orc lady in a truck trying to get her fix without paying for shit.”

Scrape could have punched the kid right there and then, but that probably wouldn’t make them/him trust her any more than if she did try to kill him/them for real. “Okay fair. Look. I’m sorry. I can’t pay for anything, and I don’t want anything. I just wanted to make sure you don’t freeze to death. I know there’s no reason for you to trust me, okay? Hell, I’ll let you sit in the truck by yourself if you want, I’ll go back in the trailer. It’s too fuckin cold for you to be out there wearin’ that, that’s all.” Scrape could see the kid really struggle over it--she couldn’t tell in the shadows, but their/his lips looked maybe blue, and the fact that they/he wasn’t really shaking or chattering their/his teeth at all made her even more confused.

“Okay,” the kid said finally. “I- you don’t have to get out. It’s okay if we just sit--so long as we just sit!” Their/his eyes flashed, and Scrape tried not to roll her own again. She may have only been twenty-four, but she felt ancient next to this kid who was all edges and flashy anger and swaggery bravado by turns. Sure, she had wild in her, but this kid brought out all kinds of protective instincts she hadn’t felt since she’d left her brother behind-well no, she wasn’t going there, not tonight.

“We’ll just sit,” she promised him, for what it was worth. She knew their/his type, had been on the road herself long enough to have met plenty just like them/him. She just didn’t think she could sit there and watch them/him freeze while she waited for the pay out. She’d done it once--well, not exactly, but again, hey, not going there. She was doing what she could now, and that was important.

The kid opened the door and clambered up into the cabin, Scrape rolling the window back up as they/he slammed it shut behind him. The pasty, knock-kneed legs pressed together against the bench seat, and Scrape found herself turning backwards to the back bench, yanking out a threadbare blanket and tossing it to them/him. “You make me cold just lookin’ at you,” she said again gruffly, then blew into her hands and squinted out into the street.

“It’s not too bad,” the kid protested, but they/he pulled it close anyway. “You stop shaking after a while and then you can hardly feel it!”

Scrape stared blankly at the kid. “You know that’s hypothermia, right?” she asked dryly, and the kid shrugged.

“Harder to suck someone off when your teeth are chattering.”

“Point taken,” she said, and then leaned against the door, putting her arm up by the window and leaning her head into her hand. Where the fucknot looking at Scrape herself. “You’re a trucker, huh?”

“Yep,” she answered flatly, because now the kid wanted to get all chatty? She reached out an arm and lightly squeezed the edge of the volume knob on the dashboard, making the clock light barely flicker into existence--they were ten minutes late at this point. She was gonna kill someone.

“Wow,” the kid breathed, and she glanced over at them/him and caught them/him staring at her, wide-eyed with wonder, before they/he quickly looked away and back out at the windshield wiper. “I’ve wanted a truck for a while,” they/he commented. “Be on the road, you know? I was on the road for a while, with my-- but uh I ran out of money so.”

“Mhm,” Scrape said, noncommittally. She really didn’t want to talk about the whole deal with the kid, but boy it didn’t sound like they/he was going to shut up any time soon.

“I, uh--I had a brother but we split. I came up north, here, and he, I think he went west. Have you seen the Mississippi River?” Scrape turned the wiper on briefly, to clear the snow that was beginning to gather on the windshield. “He said he wanted to see the river, thought it would be a good place to start over. I--I wanted to go west too, but I got caught up here, see, and I--well you know, you gotta make mmmmoney.” The kid’s tongue seemed to slide around in their/his mouth, and for the first time since they/he’d gotten into her truck, Scrape turned to really look at the kid. They/he was sitting stock-still on the bench, blanket wrapped loosely around his/their shoulders.

“Do you want something to eat?” she cut in bluntly before they/he could continue. “I have some crummy granola bars in the back. How long has it been since you ate?”

The kid shook his/their head. “Don’t wwwanna eat. Feel sssssick,” he/they slurred, and Scrape growled under her breath, tried to turn up the heat before remembering it was broken. She hit the dashboard, harder than she’d normally let herself abuse her poor truck, then checked to make sure the truck was set in park before clambering toward the back of the cabin.

“I wasn’t kidding earlier about the hypothermia,” she snapped, grabbing as many blankets and coats as she could find back there. When she turned back, he/they were staring at her owlishly, like they/he had no idea what was going on. “You can’t just let yourself freeze to death like that.” She thrust the blankets and coats at them/him, and they/he just blinked, and then Scrape heard the honking of a horn outside the truck. Finally, her fucking delivery had showed up! But the kid was clearly only getting colder, not warmer--what the hell was she supposed to do?

Scrape rolled down her window and flashed her one remaining functioning headlight to get the driver of the other truck’s attention. “I’ll be right out!” she hollered.

“Get a grip on it, lady, you’re gonna be late if you take any more time and this is time-sensitive!”

“If it’s so fuckin time sensitive how come you were fifteen minutes late?” she barked back, then rolled up the window before she could hear their reply, whipping around to face the kid, who seemed to not have processed any of her conversation. “Look,” she said, and Christ she was a woman but she wasn’t a mom, she was too young to mother any tiny kid who just rolled up off the street! “Wrap yourself in all of this. I gotta take care of this deal real fast. Stay in the truck. Got it?” They/he just blinked again, and she grabbed their/his face and pulled it close to hers. “Kid. Got it?” They/he slowly nodded, and Scrape figured that was as good as it was going to get for now. She climbed out of the truck as fast as she could, slipping a little bit in the snow that now came up to her ankles. The roads better be fuckin good out of this alley, or this job was going to be hell.

“Come on, come on, let’s get this fuckin’ over with,” she snarled at the troll. The troll just laughed at her, shaking his head.

“You’re gonna give me the payment first.”

Scrape rolled her eyes. “I don’t have the fuckin’ payment,” she snapped. “The payment is getting wired to your boss.”

“Naw, the extra payment,” the troll said. “For the deal on top.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” she hissed under her breath. “Only in Cleveland.” Only in fuckin’ Cleveland would there be a mandatory drug exchange on top of any regular deals that went down in that damn town. Only in Cleveland would they force you to buy fuckin Tempo to do a goddamn job. “No,” she said. “This doesn’t have a deal on top. This is just a straight deal.”

“That’s not how this fuckin’ works,” the troll shot back. “You give me the payment for the deal on top, or we’ve got no deal at all.”

No deal at all. Scrape was going to scream. If she came back with another flopped deal, she wouldn’t be able to get out of this shithole for another three months, and she couldn’t do that, couldn’t make that happen. “No,” she insisted. “We do the deal as planned. You take the deal on top and shove it up your fuckin’ ass.”

“You keep it up like this, and I’ll shove it into as many open cavities as I make when you fuckin die.” Scrape was suddenly deeply aware of the lack of gun on her belt--sure, she had a knife in her boot, but what kind of dumb bitch leaves her truck without any kind of firearm? It was that damn kid, they/he had her all thrown off. Still, she wasn’t about to back down and cough up money she didn’t have for some drugs she didn’t want. She was clean now--had to be clean for surgery, couldn’t even smoke a goddamn cigarette--and it sucked, it sucked, but she couldn’t afford to go back on anything right now, even though she was dying to try.

“You can fuckin try, asshole,” she snarled, and boy she had really never learned to keep her dumb mouth shut, because the troll hadn’t forgotten his pistol in his truck, and he raised it at her with a smile.

“You’ll pay me for the deal on top,” he said, and his voice made her want to crawl out of her skin and never move again, “and it’ll be through whatever means you’ve got available.”

Fuck was the only thought she could muster before something was flying from her right, moving with a weird agility combined with limbs akimbo. It took another beat--another beat where she wasn’t dead, wasn’t being manhandled or trollhandled or whatever--for her to realize that it was the kid, all bravado and angry fists, zooming in and almost unwittingly knocking the gun from the troll’s hand, sending it skittering into a snowbank.

“Leave her alone!” the kid was doing his/their best to holler, but it came more out like “leave r ‘lone!” and he/they shoved at the troll weakly, slipping and sliding in the wet snow. The troll was about as stunned as Scrape was for a second, before he roared and slapped the kid aside.

“What kind of act is this bullshit? You got some fuckin john out here, cunt? You doin’ tricks on the side? Where the fuck is that money going to, hm?”

She was about to answer when the kid seemed to ricochet from the ground back up again, entire body flinging into the troll’s side. The troll roared in surprise, and the kid was on top of him for a moment, maybe even got a weak punch in, before the troll caught him/them square in the face and sent them/him hurtling a good ten feet, where they/he seemed to settle entirely.

The distraction was enough, though. Scrape ran as fast as she could towards the kid, collected the limp body in her arms and charged back to her truck as the troll crawled towards where his gun had disappeared to. She dumped the kid in the shotgun seat, then literally clambered over the middle console and into the driver’s seat, turning on the truck at the same time that she leaned over to shut the door, and had her foot on the gas almost before she was sitting upright in the seat. The truck lurched, wheels screaming against the slick snow, and then they were in motion, Scrape screaming “go go go!” at the truck like it made any difference, the kid slumped over motionless and loose in the seat. She hadn’t had time to buckle him/them in, and it didn’t matter right now, so long as she could get the truck to stay on the road.

First things first, she had to lose the troll. She didn’t know how dedicated he might be to coming after her--not that she was that afraid, as she grabbed her pistol and held it in one hand while steering with the other. But given what she’d just seen--the kid had full-body tackled a troll, jesus fuck--she was more worried that he/they would interfere than she was about the troll hurting her.

So--around one block, then another, then she’d try to hop onto 490 briefly, hop off, lose her way however she could. She had to find somewhere to stash the truck, a couple blocks away from home, and then haul the kid as best she could with her to the shithole she sas staying at.

Who would have thought she’d be grateful for the number of times creeps had followed her home, given her enough training to know well enough how to lose them? And yet here she was, the flickering street lamps flashing into the cabin briefly as she pushed on the gas, trying to accelerate without spinning out in the snow. Onto 490, three exits, off again, around two blocks, three lefts later, she pulled the truck into a garage she had used before and turned off the truck, holding her breath in the sudden silence. It was almost too quiet--sound muted by the snow, she knew this, she did, but it didn’t stop her heart rate from picking up. She turned to the kid, whose hat was askew but somehow still attached to his/their head. A trail of blood dribbled down from his/their nose, a bruise already blossoming under his/their left eye. He/they weren’t moving, and for a second Scrape’s heart dropped--she wasn’t this kid’s mother, what the hell--but thank god for the cold, as little puffs of air from his/their mouth let her know he/they were alive.

She just had to walk three blocks with an unconscious teenager and access to a gun. That was easy. She could do this. She grit her teeth and leaned over, shaking the kid roughly. “Come on, please,” she muttered. “Just gotta get you mostly upright. Come on, kid. Come on.”

The kid’s head lolled on his/their neck, and Scrape sighed deeply, then grabbed her gun and got out of the truck, pulling the keys out of the ignition and slamming the door behind her. She quickly went to the other side of the truck, opened the passenger door, and somehow managed to wrangle the kid over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Fuck this kid needed to eat something, but also thank fuck the shrimp was clearly half-starved. He/they barely moved against her, though he/they did groan softly, which she appreciated even as she shushed them/him softly. “It’s okay kiddo, just hold on,” she muttered softly as she locked the truck and went out into the silence of the snow.

Three blocks in ankle-deep snow is no walk in the park; three blocks in ankle-deep snow with a lanky teenager over your shoulder, no matter how underweight he/they are, is absolutely not desirable, and adding Scrape’s paranoia to the entire mess meant it took them far longer than it ought to have to get back to her building. By the time she had hauled the kid and herself down the slick steps to the basement apartment she was currently calling home--or the place she slept, whatever--she was panting heavily, and the kid had piles of snow resting on his/their hips and in their/his hair.

Getting the door open was always tricky, and this was just triply-so, to say nothing of getting herself and the kid through the door without hitting either of them on the doorframe--and she didn’t do so hot, as one of the kid’s arms banged noisily against the wall before she could get him/them through the door. It did something, though--seemed to jostle them/him awake somewhat, or at least back to a place where he/they could talk, because they/he slurred into the dark as Scrape lowered him/them to her ratty mattress propped up on a boxspring on the floor.

“Rhon? Wht’re you doin’?”

Scrape hissed as she stood back up, then tried to evaluate. The kid was totally out of it--whether or not it was from the hit they/he’d taken to the face, or the cold or what, she had to tackle as much as she could right now. “Who’s Rhon, kiddo?” she asked, just to keep him/them occupied while she looked for a rag to wipe off his/their face.

“Rhon?” the kid repeated, and Scrape realized she might have an easier time finding a goddamn rag if she’d turn on a goddamn light in her house--the only light, in fact, a crummy desklamp she had on the floor because she had no desk on which to put it. But that was fine, and it fuckin worked at least, even if she had to blink back spots in her eyes from the sudden brightness.

“Kid, I’m not Rhon, whoever that is. I’m no one,” she finally found a rag and hurried back to the bedside, bending over to not block the light so she could still see what she was doing as she carefully dabbed at the kid’s face. She was shocked at how fuckin cold the kid’s skin was, and she tried to think about what to do about that. The clothes, she had to get him/them out of the clothes. Fuck. “Can you sit up?” she asked, but the kid seemed to have gone non-responsive again, at least as far as answering that question went. Scrape cursed under her breath and started to try to lift the kid’s mesh tank top over his/their head, only getting it over the head and leaving it tangled up in the kid’s arms. The binder underneath was also wet, and fuck who knew how long the kid had been wearing it, wearing it wet, and she went at it when her thumb brushed against a breast and the kid sat up like he/they’d been electrocuted, thrashing wildly.

“YOU DIDN’T FUCKIN PAY FOR THAT!” the kid shouted, eyes totally unfocused, entire body just instinctually pushing away from Scrape. “DON’T FUCKIN TOUCH ME YOU DIDN’T FUCKIN PAY FOR THAT.”

Scrape froze, her hands in the air, and then she backed away rapidly, breath coming in gasps. Fuck. “I didn’t--fuck kid, I’m so sorry, it has to fuckin come off, your ribs are gonna be crushed--” which didn’t seem to matter at the moment because the kid was hyperventilating anyway, back pressed against the wall, eyes staring into space above Scrape’s shoulder. “Fuck kid I’m so sorry, it just needs to come off. Can you take it off?” The kid was practically heaving now, and Scrape had a feeling they/he wasn’t going to respond to her questions. “I just need--it’s gotta come off, kid, please, I can’t have you die on me in here. Please, come on--” she was crying now, and she didn’t cry but it was too much, the troll and the kid and the payment she didn’t make and being stuck in this goddamn city and her body still ached some days and fuck she wanted a hit of something, anything, and she didn’t know--she didn’t know, the kid was gonna die on her. “Look please, just take this,” she was sobbing now, but wrenching the jacket off her body and throwing it at the kid. “Please just fuckin take it and get under the blankets, leave it, just please don’t fuckin die. I’ll leave the apartment, I’ll fuckin sleep in the truck, just don’t die in here, okay?”

The coat bounced off the kid, but his/their eyes did follow it as it fell into his/their lap, gathering up the material in his/their fists, then looking back towards Scrape. Scrape could see tears welling up in his/their eyes too. “I’m tired,” they/he said plaintively. “I’m tired, I just wanna go-- I want-- please, stop, I can--” They/he blinked heavily and for one moment Scrape thought they/he was just going to collapse right there. “S’cold,” they/he said finally.

“I know,” Scrape was still crying. “I know it’s cold, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m trying to fix it, I fucked up trying to fix it. We gotta get you warm. I was--your clothes, they’re wet, you’re soaked, I was trying--get you out of your wet clothes--” she broke down entirely, sobbing again and furiously wiping her face because dammit the kid was still there, they/he was cold.

“Please,” the kid said again. “I don’t--you can take it off. With the light off. The light off, please.” She glanced at him/them between her tears and his/their eyes were closed, and something calm--not calm, steely, his/their jaw tight, like they/he was preparing for some kind of medical procedure that ought to be done under anesthesia. “I’m so tired,” he/they said again.

“It’ll be okay,” she said, voice still wet as she vigorously rubbed her eyes, her breath still coming in shuddering gasps. “It’ll be okay. It’ll be like--just. It’s okay. We just gotta get you warm, and this is the best way I know how.”

“‘M so cold,’ the kid repeated as Scrape, trembling, went over to the lamp and turned it off again, then approached the bed.

“I’m coming closer to you,” she announced, trying to sound more confident and reassuring than she felt. “We’re gonna get you warmed up. Can you--can you put your arms up?” She listened for any slight rustle, and--yes, there, in the dim light from outside, the kid’s arms went up above his/their head. “I’m gonna--I’m gonna touch your side, by the binder. Is that okay?” No rustle, no sound at all except her own breath--not even the kid’s breathing, once she held her own breath to listen harder. “Kid? Kid?”

“Dak,” the kid gritted out through what sounded like clenched teeth. “I’m Dak. Dak Rambo. Just--do it, okay? Just fuckin do it.”

“Okay Dak,” she mirrored back. “I’m Scrape. This’ll be over fast, okay?” As fast she she could fumble in the dark, her fingers found the edge of the binder over a bump of his? his ribs, then pulled the binder up from the side and then the back, over his head. As soon as she got it past his wrists, he broke down, the sound of a body falling against sheets and moving not doing much to mask the sob that escaped his lips, and the mattress and box spring creaked enough that she could tell he was crying--either that or laughing, and frankly the latter was way more concerning and not something Scrape was sure she could handle. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she soothed, but she made no move to touch him. “Can we get you out of these shorts and boots? We have to get you dry…”

The room was silent for another minute as Dak shook on the mattress, and then he seemed to freeze up, panting. “I can--can I? Don’t wanna be touched--”

“I don’t have to touch you,” Scrape said, and something in her chest clenched, her stomach dropping like she’d been kicked as she backed away. “I don’t have to touch you if you don’t want.”

“--Do,” Dak said into the mattress. “Want--okay? You’re warm. But I don’t wanna--I want to get the shorts off myself.”

“You--” Scrape blinked. “You want me to touch you?”

“Not--not like that, now. Just. Can you. Hold? ‘M so cold…”

Scrape had no idea what the hell to say for a moment, but looking at the thin blanket on her bed and her threadbare jacket--how the fuck was she going to keep him warm with those? She could barely keep herself warm, and it would be good, probably--skin to skin was good, right, they said that about hypothermia. “Okay,” she hedged. “If-- I gotta strip down. Are you comfortable with that? I won’t touch anywhere you don’t want me to.”

“ could,” it was more of a mumble, but Scrape caught it and she almost laughed. He was trying to flatter her, even when half-conscious and freezing out of his head.

“You’re gonna be real dangerous one of these days, Dak Rambo,” she told him softly. “But today I just want you to be warm. Okay? Shorts and boots off.” She heard him rustle around, heard the clunk of boots falling to the floor as she stripped down to just her underwear--she was dry under her clothes for the most part, no need to strip down the whole way, right?

She peeled back the blanket--which was somehow magically still dry-- and waited for him to adjust himself in the dark before laying herself next to his freezing frame. “Jesus Christ you really are cold,” she muttered, pulling him towards her, their knees tucking into one another as she spooned him. “Where is a safe place to put my hands?”

Dak reached back with his arm and took her fingers in his, wrapping her arm around his stomach. “Hold me still,” he whispered, his voice rough. “When the shakes come back--”

“I got you” she whispered back to him, being careful not to move her arm anywhere he didn’t want it. “Just breathe with me. In--” she counted breaths and felt the plane of his back shift against her chest as they breathed together in time, cocooned together while the snow outside still fell.