Chapter Four: What Logically Follows
Heather knew what a serious freakout looked like. It looked like Blaze the day their parents died. It looked like the mirror the night after green slime had put her and Blaze on opposite sides of Lothar's little war. It looked like a ninja cat quietly announcing that her only daughter had disappeared into the past with a scroll and a prayer.
It looked like that same daughter sitting outside Storm Chargers with a laptop, a coffee, and an unwillingness to acknowledge anything else. She'd been there since before the shop opened. Since seven, in fact--since the time Heather arrived, because she'd squeezed into the truck between Heather and Blaze and refused to go anywhere that didn't involve both of them.
Okay. One of them. Cam was attached to Heather like she needed her to breathe. And while Heather was all for attachment, she knew perfectly well that this level of intensity wasn't healthy. Or desirable.
She also knew that Cam wasn't stupid, knew all of that as well as she did, and was capable of monitoring her own reactions better than Heather was. Even supercool and confident Cam was entitled to freak out now and then. And having her crazy aunt hold her prisoner in her own head and convince her that all her teammates were dying justified a freakout if anything did.
Especially since, as far as Heather could tell, she wasn't totally convinced that her aunt had let her go.
"Hey." Kenny's voice was gruff but quiet, and it shouldn't have startled her but somehow it did. "How's she doing?"
Heather glanced at her boss, standing beside her and lifting his chin toward the door when she caught his eye. Heather's narrow line of sight to Cam's little setup didn't include Kenny, but he knew perfectly well what she was looking at. Cam had barely moved since Heather and Blaze had taken their lunch break.
"Okay," Heather said with a small shrug. How did she know how Cam was? "Still here."
It wasn't the smartest thing she could have said, given that it was both obvious and easily misunderstood. Kenny couldn't have missed the sparkly wrist wraps Dusty sometimes wore, now bright and glittering on Cam's arms. They covered the gauze on her wrists, but they weren't really her style and anyone who knew her had probably guessed she had something to hide.
"Look," Kenny said, folding the clipboard under his arm. "If you need any help--"
"We're good," Heather interrupted. "Really."
Kenny frowned, but all he said was, "Well, you know where to find me."
Fishing a couple of keys out of his pocket, he added, "Custom parts finally came in; I'm gonna need you to pick 'em up before Dusty starts on the O'Kasik job. You can take a passenger as long as she doesn't drive."
Heather managed a half-smile as she grabbed the keys. "On it."
Cam didn't look up when she came out, which at first she thought was weird but then she realized that Cam was already closing her laptop and sliding it into her bag. She swung it over her shoulder and grabbed her coffee, all before she even glanced in Heather's direction. She didn't say a word.
"I guess asking if you want to come is kind of ridiculous," Heather remarked. Thumb hooked under her shoulder strap, Cam's yellow wrist wrap glinted against her green hoodie. Her eyes were focused on something a hundred miles away.
She came back as Heather watched, raising her eyebrows as her gaze flicked down and back up, taking in Heather's cargo pants and the pajama tank she'd pulled on over a t-shirt to wear to work. That was as close as she could get to what she'd been wearing last night when she'd been Cam's only link to the real world. That and the amulet she was still wearing over her shirts.
"Where are we going?" Cam asked, not like it mattered. Like she was just making conversation. Which was fine, good, Cam didn't make small talk every day and Heather figured she should be flattered she was worth the effort now.
"Pick up some stuff," Heather said, waving her around toward the van. "Shouldn't take long." She didn't bother suggesting that she'd be back in a few minutes and Cam could just wait here.
"Parts for Dusty?" Cam asked.
Heather swung into the driver's seat and eyed her across the small space. Cam put her bag on the floor and climbed in after it, not catching her eye until she'd pulled her seatbelt into place. "No?" she added. "I was just guessing."
"Did you hear me and Kenny talking?" Heather wanted to know.
Cam shook her head, reaching out to fiddle with the window.
"Huh." Heather started the engine, put Cam's window down for her, and laid a hand on the back of Cam's seat as she backed up. "Yeah, parts for Dusty. O'Kasik's got his own mechanic, but the guy's out of town and he wants it done by next weekend."
There was a brief pause, and then Cam asked, "Don't like him?"
Heather blinked. "I didn't say that."
"Pick a number," Cam said, out of the blue. "Anything. Between one and a hundred."
Street traffic was slow and boring this afternoon, and the summer pedestrians made it even slower. No one was ever in a hurry on an August afternoon. Heather was just as happy to go with it, since she'd rather sit in a van with Cam than work any day.
"Sixty-seven," she said, just for the hell of it.
"Yes," Cam said.
Heather let the van coast around a group that had stepped off the sidewalk and then apparently decided not to go anywhere after all. "Yes, what?" she wanted to know.
"That's the number I was thinking of," Cam replied. "Pick another number."
Heather rolled her eyes. "One," she said, mostly to be annoying.
"Yeah," Cam said again. "Exactly."
"Uh-huh." Heather smirked at the lazy street through the windshield. Very funny. "Now I'm thinking of a number."
Cam hesitated. "I said between one and a hundred," she said at last.
"Who says it isn't?" Heather wanted to know.
"It's nineteen seventy-eight," Cam informed her. "There are no values over a thousand that fall between one and a hundred. There are, in fact, a majority of values under a thousand that don't fall between one and one hundred."
Heather was really tempted to pull over and stop the van. Unfortunately, they might be moving at a crawl but they were moving, and with people stepping out in front of them every few seconds, it wasn't worth it disrupting what was left of the traffic pattern. "How could you possibly know that?" she demanded.
"I took a class," Cam said mildly. "In first grade. It was called arithmetic."
"Great," Heather declared. "My psychic girlfriend can count. Guess that means you'll be paying the bills. In the meantime, you can read my mind?"
Cam sounded, of all things, amused. "You say that like you didn't guess my numbers just as easily. You've been reading my mind all day, Heather. I'm just trying to catch up."
Heather scoffed. "I don't know what you're talking about."
She felt Cam's hand on her sleeve a moment later, fingers running down her arm and pulling away. "Your shirt," Cam said simply. "My coffee. Pizza for lunch."
Heather raised her eyebrows at the road. "Yeah, so? What does that have to do with anything?"
"I didn't ask you to wear that shirt," Cam said. "You ordered my coffee without even looking at me. And it wasn't black," she added, before Heather could say that she knew perfectly well what kind of coffee Cam drank.
Which was true, actually. She'd gotten Cam mocha with cream, which ordinarily would have had her complaining all the way to work. But it had seemed like the thing to do, and hey, chocolate was a girl's best friend, right? Heather was paying, so Cam could suck it up and drink diluted comfort coffee for a day.
"You suggested pizza for lunch before I could," Cam continued. "And that's not exactly my usual either. Not to mention the way you put the window down when we got in the van."
"I saw you messing with it," Heather protested. "You don't have to be psychic to know when someone wants their window down."
"Except that I usually put it up," Cam pointed out. "So you can turn on the air conditioning."
Heather rolled her eyes. "So I'm trying not to give you a hard time. You had a bad night, okay? I don't have a lot of practice with the whole 'sensitive' thing, but even I know you don't deliberately piss off the girl who got mind-raped by her--"
She stopped, several seconds too late. Yeah. She definitely needed more practice.
"Yes," Cam agreed after a moment. "I can see that."
Heather winced. "Sorry," she said awkwardly. "I, uh... that was really stupid."
She could see Cam shake her head out of the corner of her eye. "I used to think you did it on purpose," Cam mused aloud. "That direct, tell-it-like-it-is thing. A lot of people hide behind that, that... honesty."
She had no idea where Cam was going with this, so she figured it was better to keep her mouth shut. In fact, if she could have kept her mouth shut a little sooner, they both might have been better off. Cam was one of the few people who could make her feel like she'd screwed up by telling the truth.
"But it's not for the shock value, is it," Cam said. "You just don't really think about it."
It was all a giant puzzle to Cam, and for some reason that understanding blunted the sense that she was being used as research. It wasn't her in particular. It was everything. That was just how Cam looked at the world.
"You analyzing me again?" Heather asked, for once more fond than annoyed. After all, if Cam could see her that clearly and still want to be with her, then maybe she wasn't totally a lost cause.
For a long moment, Cam didn't reply. Then, sounding more curious than anything, she said, "Are you analyzing me back?"
Heather grinned. "Yeah, 'cause that's really a strength of mine."
Cam was quiet.
Quiet maybe a little too long, and finally Heather said, "Hey, Kenny's worried about you, you know." He wasn't the only one, but there were only so many times she could ask if Cam was okay before Cam stopped answering.
"I can't imagine why," Cam said wryly. She could see Cam lifting her hands a little, eyeing the glittering wrist wraps that were easily the most stylish thing she had on. Dusty's wardrobe was a weird combination of oil stains and cutesiness.
"Me neither," Heather agreed. "I mean, say the three of us are involved. You're brilliant, Dusty's freakin' adorable, and what am I? I'm obviously the one in trouble."
The incredulous silence that followed this observation made it completely worth it, and she smirked to herself. Not that psychic. The day she couldn't surprise Cam would probably be the day they broke up.
"What?" Cam asked at last.
Heather took a hand off the wheel to wave vaguely in her direction. "You're wearing her wrist things. I'm wearing your necklace. And I dunno if you've seen Dusty today, but she's totally wearing CyberCam's hat." She probably hadn't had time to wash her hair that morning, but Heather kept that opinion to herself.
This was met by another moment of what Cam would call "processing." Then, finally, she said, "Let me get this straight. You think that not only does Kenny notice women's accessories, but the first explanation he'd come up with is that the three of us are dating."
"Ever dated two girls at the same time?" Heather teased. "In all your wild college years?"
"Actually, yes." Cam sounded more amused than scandalized, and knowing her, she might even be telling the truth. "But Dusty would be dating you, not me, and there's no way we'd wear each other's clothes."
Heather fumbled for the amulet around her neck, catching it with her fingers and holding it up without turning her head. She shook it pointedly. Too bad it didn't make any sound.
"Me and Dusty," Cam clarified. "I'd wear your clothes. Dusty wouldn't wear mine."
This was possibly the most entertaining conversation she'd ever had with Cam, and she couldn't keep from grinning. "You're only saying that," she teased, "'cause you wouldn't let her."
At first she thought Cam would let that go, done talking about this, but then she remarked thoughtfully, "I'm probably saying it because I don't think she'd date me. If we assume that as a given, however unlikely, then maybe she would. She wears everything else."
Heather considered that. Dusty usually showed up at the shop in whatever she'd been wearing that morning, which meant that sometimes she looked like she'd just rolled out of bed and sometimes she could have stepped out of a superstore flyer. Not done up, just... cute. Put together. It was sort of disconcerting. Especially since she worked on the bikes no matter what, apparently unaware of what she was wearing on any given day.
"What about you?" Cam was asking. "Have you ever been involved with two people?"
Cam knew by now that she was the first girl Heather had dated, period, so she couldn't take the question very seriously. "Dated, yeah," she said with a shrug. "Been involved with? No."
Cam allowed the distinction to slide, which gave Heather time to wonder if Cam was just humoring her. She didn't seem interested in Dusty, but then, she hadn't seemed interested in Heather either. Until Heather spelled it out for her and asked her, straight out, to at least think about it.
"Would you go out with Dusty?" she asked abruptly. "If she asked you?"
Cam didn't seem surprised by the question. "You mean, if I wasn't with you?"
Heather considered that. "Yeah," she said at last. "I guess."
"You guess?" Cam repeated. "Is this a prelude to asking for an open relationship, or a threesome?"
"What?" Heather blinked. "Neither."
"You'd go out with Dusty," Cam said, with disturbing certainty. "You wouldn't even wait till she asked you, would you. You'd go after her just like you went after me."
"Well, no," Heather said, frowning. The tone was thoughtful, but the words came out sounding like an accusation anyway and she was a little worried about how fast this conversation had turned around. "I wouldn't go after her like I went after you, 'cause I like you better. Obviously."
"If you weren't with me," Cam insisted. "Like you said."
Heather shrugged uncomfortably. "I dunno. Maybe?"
"You said she was cute," Cam reminded her, and Heather rolled her eyes.
"I said she's adorable," she corrected, "and she is. Come on, Cam, she's a moto girl. You don't see that every day."
"Unless you're looking in a mirror," Cam said, and the smile was there in her voice.
"Right," Heather said quickly, relieved. "Or if you're, y'know, you."
She thought for a moment they might be safe. But then Cam remarked, "I'm not against open relationships. Just so you know. But I'm told I do better in threesomes."
Heather opened her mouth, but she had no idea what to say.
"I guess it's a control thing," Cam added after a pause. "Sometimes I don't trust people to tell me what's going on unless I see it for myself."
That she had no trouble believing, at least out of context. "Sometimes?" she echoed skeptically.
She could hear Cam smiling. "So you can imagine trying to explain to me what your date with Dusty was like... It's not that I have to be there," she added. "It's just that I prefer being able to question everyone involved."
"Okay, wait." It was past time to get back into this conversation. "Why are we talking about me and Dusty all of a sudden?"
"You brought it up," Cam said patiently.
"I did not!" Heather exclaimed.
"You said you'd go out with her," Cam said.
"I'm sure I didn't," Heather argued. "I asked if you'd go out with her. I didn't say anything about me."
"Except to suggest that Kenny thinks the three of us are dating," Cam reminded her. "Because we're wearing each other's stuff."
Heather frowned. "You didn't answer the question," she said, not sure how she felt about that. Because the answer was pretty obviously yes, and if Cam didn't want to tell her then what did that say?
"Yes, I'd go out with Dusty," Cam said. "I just don't think she'd go out with me."
"Well, no," Heather agreed, "because she's straight. Pretend she's not: she'd totally date you. She wouldn't ask you first," she added, "but she'd definitely say yes if you asked her."
Something about that made Cam laugh, and she didn't think it was that outrageous so maybe it was just Cam being flattered. She had a tendency to laugh when people said nice things about her. The sarcasm, habit though it seemed to be, was mostly just a cover.
"So how come your gaydar worked on me but not on Dusty?" Cam asked, amusement still bright in her voice. "And why do you think someone who can't even remember the rules would want to date someone who doesn't know how to break them?"
"If I had functional 'gaydar'," Heather said, lifting one hand from the steering wheel to make air quotes, "my life would be a lot more interesting. I had no idea you were gay; I just figured you were too cool to make my life hell if you weren't."
That made Cam pause. "So, no gaydar and no sense of self-preservation?" she suggested at last.
Heather smiled. "It's all about taking chances, Cam."
"And here I thought you were the observant one," Cam muttered.
"Can't spend all your time watching," Heather teased. This she knew. This, the back and forth with Cam, the easy revelations, the feeling that anything she said would be all right... this was Cam. This was her and Cam together.
"I can't believe you spend any of your time watching," Cam countered, "if you've missed Dusty flirting with Shay all this time."
Heather scoffed. "If Dusty's flirting with Shay, then Dusty missed it too," she declared. "Dusty gets cute with everyone who comes through the door. That's just what she does."
"That's what Blaze does," Cam corrected. "Blaze flirts. Dusty's testing the water."
Unfortunately, under her shell of sarcastic arrogance, Cam was remarkably insightful when it came to her teammates. "I really hope you're wrong," Heather said, frowning. She liked Dusty a lot, and she'd hate to see her get hurt by her best friend.
"Don't think Shay can take it?" Cam asked, and she sounded kind of odd.
Heather glanced sideways at her, because the tone was just that weird. "Why'd you say it like that?"
It was gone when Cam asked, "Like what?"
Heather shrugged, her gaze back on the road. "I dunno. You sounded funny."
There was a pause, and then Cam said lightly, "I was going to say, maybe you want her for yourself. But then I... thought you were actually worried."
Heather put on the blinker and waited to turn across traffic, more distracted by Cam's aborted teasing than by how Shay might react. "You really think I want Dusty?" she wanted to know.
"You said you did," Cam pointed out. "If the real question is whether I care... hey." Heather could hear the grin in her voice without even looking. "I just had a really interesting idea."
No way. Cam had not just implied that they should ask Dusty out and see what Shay did. "Did you just say what I think you did?" Heather demanded.
"No," Cam said, weirdly cheerful. "But I thought it."
Heather took the opportunity to turn, then turn again immediately so they would be parking out by the road instead of fighting for a space on the inside of the lot. "Okay, one, I'm not psychic," she said, spinning the wheel around. The van lumbered into the space and rolled right up against the curb. "And two, Dusty's not gonna go for it."
"Mom warned you this would happen," Cam said, waiting until the engine shut off to reach for her seatbelt. "You're the one who insisted on getting stuck inside the ward."
"She said it might happen," Heather corrected. "And so far I'm not hearing any voices, so I figure we're okay."
"What word am I thinking of?" Cam countered.
Telepathy. Heather rolled her eyes. "How should I know?"
"Telepathy," Cam informed her, and Heather blinked. "It's not all voices and card tricks. Sometimes it's just knowing something you shouldn't know because someone else happens to be thinking it."
"Yeah, okay," Heather said. She could disprove this, easy. "Who won freestyle at the X Games this year?"
Cam hesitated, and Heather hid her smile by pretending to be distracted by her seatbelt.. Cam knew this, and Heather knew she knew it. Travis Pastrana's name had been flying around for days afterward. Cam couldn't have missed it if she'd tried. And she probably had.
"Nate Adams," Cam said at last.
Heather let her seatbelt go with a snap, lifting her head to look at Cam in surprise. "What?"
Cam frowned a little. "No?"
"No," Heather said slowly, staring at her. "But that's who I was thinking of."
A small smile appeared on Cam's face. "Told you," she said quietly.
"Really?" Heather couldn't take her eyes off of her. "You can really read my mind?"
"Apparently," Cam agreed. "As much as you can read mine, anyway."
Heather considered that. It was oddly reassuring. If they were sharing... whatever this was, then Cam wasn't getting any more from her than she was from Cam. And what was she getting from Cam, exactly? So she could guess numbers. Cute, maybe, but not life-altering.
"Okay," she said. "Well. That's cool, I guess."
"It's bizarre and disturbing," Cam corrected. "But so far it's funnier than it is disruptive, and as far as I know, there's nothing we can do about it either way. I shouldn't have asked you to stay," she added, and now frustration laced her tone.
"Hey, no." Heather recognized the mood for what it was, and she probably should have seen it coming. "That was my choice, Cam. I was the one who had Sensei in my ear; I knew what the consequences were way better than you. And I'm the one who chose to stay."
"Because I asked you to," Cam insisted, still visibly troubled.
Heather raised her eyebrows. "Where did you get this idea that I do whatever you tell me to?" she asked. "That's kind of insulting."
"Insulting," Cam repeated. "Romantic... it's so hard to tell the difference, sometimes."
She didn't have any trouble. Insulting, that she was good at. "I'm not so good at romantic," she admitted aloud. "You might have noticed."
It had the desired effect. Cam's distress lightened in the face of her pretended chagrin, and she actually smiled a little. "I think you're doing all right."
"Good," Heather said, fiddling with the keys as they sat there in the front of the van. "Hold onto that thought, 'cause my next question is gonna be, 'why are you so weird today?'"
Heather blinked, but, okay. Laughter was fine. Not what she was expecting, but fine. "I'm serious," she said, just in case that had gotten lost somehow.
"Which is half the humor," Cam agreed, a grin still lurking in her voice. "But if you want an answer, you're going to have to define 'weird'."
"Cream in your coffee," Heather reminded her. "Pizza for lunch." Waving the keys, she added, "Talking about dating Dusty." Because that was absolutely on the same level.
"We should do that," Cam said. "Really talk about it, I mean."
Heather dropped the keys, twisted in her seat, and leaned over to wave a hand in front of Cam's face. "Heather for Spaceship Cam," she said. "Come in, Cam. We have questions down here."
Against all common sense, Cam smiled. "Thank you," she said quietly.
Heather eyed her. "You're... welcome?"
"I didn't expect you to do that," Cam explained. Or she sounded like she thought she was explaining. It was a non sequitur as far as Heather was concerned.
"Everything I saw last night," Cam murmured, almost to herself. "None of it was unexpected. Nothing really surprised me. Even the weird stuff; it all just... made sense, somehow. In my mind."
Oh. She didn't have to finish. Heather got where this was going, no questions asked. "So this is like that episode of Farscape," she said. "Where he tries to prove to himself that he's really on Earth by going into the women's bathroom."
Now Cam was staring at her. "I've never seen Farscape," she said, the corners of her mouth twitching. "Yet strangely I want to say yes."
"Welcome to my brain," Heather said with a smirk. "At least your head is filled with useful stuff. Telepathy is gonna suck way more for you than me."
"Optimism isn't a trait I typically associate with you," Cam observed. "You make it look vaguely threatening."
"Only vaguely?" Heather frowned at her. "Now I know I've been insulted."
"Are you supposed to be working?" Cam wanted to know.
"Are you supposed to be moderately less weird?" Heather countered. "I mean, just as a general rule?"
Cam did smile this time. "I think you like it," she said, with a sort of amusing assurance.
Heather scoffed, because yeah, she thought it was cute, but saying so was probably the fastest way to get Cam to stop. "I'd love to see you and Dusty have a conversation today," she said instead. "It'd probably be like watching people talk in code."
Cam's smile didn't fade. "I'll see what I can do."