For a while they rode in silence, nothing but the rumble of the van’s engine and the rubbery squelching of the wipers as they bounced back and forth across the windshield. The lights over the highway flickered past: a much more accurate measure of passing distance that the tiny, blurred mile markers that flicked past every few minutes. Jimmy Jams Vega snuffled at regular intervals, swiping his tongue over his nose every once and a while as he peered out the passenger side window from his perch in Maud’s lap, no doubt wondering why the window wasn’t rolled down.
Maud was the one to break the silence as they finally passed out of the city. She shifted the dog on her thighs, leaning over to poke Aura’s shoulder.
“So, where are we going exactly?” Maud asked, her other hand going to give Jimmy Jams Vega a scratch on his muscled chest.
“Hmm?” Aura pulled hey eyes from the road– at which she’d been staring almost blankly– and gave a quick glance in Maud’s direction, “Oh uh…”
“You didn’t get much past ‘out of here’ did you?” Maud interrupted with a little smirk, pressing her finger again to Aura’s shoulder. Aura shook her arm to shrug it off.
“No,” Aura said indignantly, “as if I’d go anywhere without a backup plan.You jus’ interrupted me before I could get the words out.” She jerked her chin at the windshield where, just past the bright lights of the city, the dark mass of the mountain range could be seen, “We’re going to the Rainier safehouse.”
Maud’s brow furrowed slightly, and she leaned forward as if the new angle would let her see past the cityline, “Rainier, really?” Aura scoffed slightly under her breath as Maud continued, “you haven’t used that place in years. We’d be better off going to Townsend.”
“Townsend?” Aura scoffed out loud now, shaking her head, “That’s farther, an’ we’d have to double back. An’ cross the river. Remember the last time we crossed the river during a chase?”
“Yeah, you had “Flamethrower” playing full blast over the radio as you almost went over the railing. I see your point.” Maud shrugged as she settled back into her seat. Jimmy Jams Vega turned to look at her and licked her chin. Maud gave him a little pat.
The next time they spoke was when they passed the “Mt. Rainier- 40 mi” sign. Aura let out a little sigh and settled into her seat, shoulders visibly relaxing. She checked the empty road behind them in the rearview mirror.
“Can we at least turn on some music?” Maud asked, reaching out tentatively to the dashboard. Jimmy Jams Vega whined a little bit as his position on her lap shifted with her lean.
“Not now,” Aura said, almost wearily, as she gently moved Maud’s hand away from the dials with the back of her own, “No one takes care of this damn road so I hav’ta concentrate.”
Maud slumped back into her heat with a disgruntled huff, a noise mimicked by Jimmy Jams Vega as his balance was once again upset. Maud ran her hand over his face.
Silence again fell over the van, this time with more tension hanging in the air like cigarette smoke. Maud chewed the inside of her lip, stealing glances over at Aura every few minutes. Aura didn’t look over, bending forward slightly over the steering wheel, eyes glossy.
“Do you want me to drive?” Maud floated into the charged silence, nodding at the steering wheel.
“No, I’ve got it.”
“Aura, you haven’t slept in what, 36 hours? Let me drive.”
“Perks of the job,” Aura said with a smirk that covered her exhaustion surprisingly well, and she reached over to pat Maud on the knee. Maud made to catch the hand, but Aura withdrew it too quickly.
Maud’s eyes narrowed, and she looped an arm around Jimmy Jams Vega so that he didn’t fall to the floor when she sat forward.
“Yea, I’m mad,” Aura responded right away, “at fuckin’ Donnic and his stupid wounded pride that ruined my night, not to mention my op.” She scratched angrily at the back of her head, “an’ at whatever dumbass put bullet dents in the back of my van.”
“And at me,” Maud stated simply, worrying the hem of her shirt slightly between her thumb and forefinger.
Aura sighed, “Yeah, a bit.”
“Tell me why?”
Another sigh, this time accompanied by a shake of her head and the tightening of her grip on the steering wheel, “Because you wanted to come with.”
Maud blew her breath out through her nose and pursed her lips, “And that’s a bad thing because…?”
“Because!” Aura said angrily, thumping the heel of her palms against the steering wheel, “Because you knew all too damned well what I’d be heading in to.”
“Oh, well,” Maud huffed, the pink of her own anger rising to her ears, “pardon me for wanting to make sure that you’re-”
“That’s exactly it!” Aura cut across Maud’s words, turning to face her. Jimmy Jams Vega jumped slightly at her raised voice, “You keep puttin’ me before you, and it’s gonna get you hurt!”
“Six years, six years together and you know I’ve never cared about that!” Maud shouted back, now pink in the cheeks with anger as well as in the ears.
“What the fuck do you think I’m angry about, Maud! That! That exact-”
Aura didn’t see the pile of twisted metal lying, rain soaked, in the middle of the mountain road until she had driven clear over it. The van lurched momentarily up on two wheels as the front tire banged over the pile of scrap, landing with a crash and a shake a moment later. Aura spun the steering wheel in the opposite direction, but the damage had already been done. The van slid on the wet asphalt to the opposite side of the road before coming to a rumbling stop.
“DAMN IT.” Aura yelled, jerking forward as she smacked the steering wheel with her hands, and cursed even louder when that caused a tiny honk from the horn. She slumped forward, momentarily defeated before straightening up and pushing the cab door open.
She stepped out into the drizzle, pulling the collar of her coat up around her ears to keep away the light wind. Maud followed her, instead with an umbrella over her. Jimmy Jams Vega stayed in the car, happy to have the seat to himself to chew his ball in once more.
Outside, Aura stomped angrily around to the front of the van to asses the damage. Swearing again, she kicked at the gash in the front-right tire. She stormed to the back of the van and flipped open the small panel to the left of the door. Wiping her wet hand hastily on the inside of her coat before pressing her palm to the small screen, she blew a piece of soggy hair out of her eyes. The door to the back of the van rose with a small hiss, and Aura rubbed at a bullet dent with her thumb until it was all the way up. She hopped into the back of the van easily, and behind her, Maud flicked on a small flashlight.
“Thanks” Aura’s voice echoed strangely in the empty space, and she unstrapped a spare tire from the wall. She rolled it towards the back with a small grunt, stopping it just before it went over the edge.
“Scoot,” she said with a jerk of her chin at Maud, who stepped quickly out of the way of the tire as it bounced down to the ground. Aura steadied it with her foot before hopping down alongside it. Maud followed her around to the front of the van, still shining the flashlight for her.
“You know my eyework lets me see in the dark, right?” Aura huffed as she reached under the lip of the wheelwell and pressed a small button concealed there.
Maud shrugged, “I like to feel useful.”
The truck gave a small shudder as it raised itself up off of the popped tire, and Aura pressed another button. This time, the useless tire fell free of the van, and Aura rolled it angrily out of the way with another muttered swear. She lined up the new tire, and pressed a third button. The van fastened to the new tire automatically, and lowered itself back onto four wheels once a series of small metallic clinks and clangs had run it’s course.
Aura let out a tense sigh and stood, turning to lean her back against the rain-streaked side of the van. She looked out at Maud, who slowly lowered her flashlight away from Aura’s face.
“You… you know I just need you to be safe, right?” Aura asked, her voice uncharacteristically soft as she lightly thumped the back of her head against the van.
Maud nodded, swinging her umbrella down to her side so that she could stand as close as possible to Aura.
“I know,” she said, brushing a damp patch of hair off of Aura’s cheek, “and you know that I just need you to be safe right?”
Aura’s chuckle was perhaps more tense sounding than she had planned, but she nodded and smiled anyway, leaning down to press a kiss to Maud’s forehead.
“Well now that that’s been said, let’s go be unsafe together, yea?” Aura said with a smirk, more confident this time than before.
Maud rolled her eyes as she let Aura step away from her, “Fine but I get to choose the music this time.”
“At your own risk, babe,” Aura called from the other side of the van as she pulled herself back into the seat, “you can change the next tire.”
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