She'd fallen asleep with her head against the rain-spattered window, light breath fogging its surface. The steady rocking of the train and the insistent patter of precipitation against glass, thankfully, had not disturbed her; she slept peacefully on with only the slightest furrow in her brow. Across from her he sat with arms folded, staring out at the rainstorm as they drove through it. He'd stretched out his right leg so his foot could rest on the seat beside her lap.
He turned his head when he sensed her shiver, noting the goosebumps on her arms. He slid his foot from the seat and stood, twisting around and reaching into the compartment above his head to pull out a blanket. Glancing at her again over his shoulder, he afforded himself a more lingering look and an unbidden smile before sitting down beside her.
"Hey," he said, nudging her lightly with his elbow. Her eyelids flickered and he nudged her again. "Wake up for a minute."
She lifted her head slightly from the window and cracked open one pale blue eye. "What?" she croaked, voice thick with sleep.
He spread the blanket out over the both of them, giving her enough to wrap around her shoulders. She accepted it and tucked it around her opposite side. Then, hesitating, she leaned against him with a grateful hum. His heart skipped a beat despite his rebuke against it.
"How much longer till we get there?" she asked, perhaps sensing the need to distract him from their close proximity.
"Ghost came by a while ago who said it would be another half hour. So… twenty-ish minutes?"
She groaned, eyes sliding shut once again. "Danny," she sighed morosely. Her head ducked down against his shoulder, hiding her face. "Do you ever wish the train would just…never stop? I don't want to stop. I don't want to get off…"
Danny held back a sigh of his own. Silently, he agreed with her; the thought of arriving, setting up, performing for the masses as if he hadn't a care in the world beyond his act, and then setting out to do his real job afterward made his stomach twist.
But she must have wanted him to respond with something less dreary than the truth. Why else say what she had with that bit of wistful longing, as if it were possible to erase her troubles with the next words out of his mouth?
"We're going to get caught one of these days," he said accordingly, playing along. His eyes moved down to his wrists of their own accord, an unnecessary reminder of the metal cuffs he wore and the unnatural red jewels embedded within them. His fingers clenched. "And then we can get out," he lied. "Once the circus is caught, good and official, we'll be long gone before Freakshow can even blink."
"And we'll go back to Amity," she finished, the optimism in her voice ringing false.
He swallowed. "Yeah. Back to Amity."
They had this same conversation so often, even Freakshow had stopped taking them seriously—unlike the first few months. Because at first, they'd honestly believed that someone would catch them. That someone would see the reality behind the lies, someone would figure out that wherever the circus stopped bad things happened.
Except, bad things didn't happen everywhere the circus stopped. That's what made it so infuriating.
The ringmaster wasn't an idiot. He'd long since realized that people would eventually make a connection between his circus and the crime sprees. To remedy this, he traveled extensively to places with no rhyme or reason and passed up dozens of opportunities to loot and rob. He made certain that any crime occurring when his circus rolled into town looked like a perfect coincidence; he set up scapegoats, he stole things that wouldn't be missed till long after his departure, his minions—including Danny, now—overshadowed victims' minds and altered memories, erased questions. And if for some improbable reason all else actually failed, how could anyone prove that invisible, intangible culprits even existed?
Danny mulled this over for what felt like the billionth time, all their dead end escape plans flying in and out of his mind at a mile a minute. This is reality, his brain reminded him. He couldn't keep his mouth shut.
"You could get out now," he said quietly. "Nothing's keeping you here."
She stiffened, and he winced. Crap. She sat up and pulled away, whipping around to look him dead in the eye with a glare cold as ice.
"I'm not talking about this again!" she snapped.
"No!" she interrupted, pale fingers clenching into angry fists in the blanket. "Not another word or I swear I'll…" But she couldn't come up with something horrible enough to threaten him with.
He took her hands in an effort to calm her down, prying open her fingers and smoothing them out with his own. "It's not forever. I'll get out when we're caught, right? You could go ahead of me. As long as you didn't say anything about the circus, you could slip away and he wouldn't care; you could get back to your family and tell mine that I'm safe—"
"But that would be a lie, wouldn't it?" she challenged, removing herself from his grasp. "You're not safe."
"I'm plenty safe," he argued. "He feeds us and clothes us, gives us a place to sleep. Aside from making us perform in a circus and, well, you know, rob places, it's not… so bad." He almost winced again, just because he sounded so pathetic. "It's not like he beats us or anything. Considering he's a ghost-obsessed psychopath, he treats us pretty well."
"Oh, yeah, the brainwashing, mind control, mental torture, and experiments are really great signs that he cares!"
He rolled his eyes as if she were exaggerating. Too bad she wasn't.
"I'm not leaving you, you idiot," she said, irritably flicking away a strand of long blond hair and turning her back on him. She stared daggers out at the rain and crossed her arms. "I could never go back home to my parents and then look your parents in the face and say, 'Don't worry, Mr. and Mrs. Fenton, Danny's fine, just peachy.' I couldn't do that."
The train chugged on as they sat in silence. A distant lightning flash momentarily lit the sky outside the window.
Danny leaned forward and rested his head on her shoulder, conceding the argument to her. He would never win this one.
"Okay," he said, repentant. "I understand."
"Good," she ground out, still refusing to look at him. "Now don't ask me again."
He didn't want her to stay mad, especially since they had precious little time left before their peaceful train ride was over and their next bout of crime began, so he took a chance and circled his arms around her from behind. A peek at her face revealed a flush of pink that looked suspiciously like a blush, which of course he didn't know how to interpret. But he must have made the right move because the anger visibly drained from her body and she turned back to him with a sigh.
Who knew, he thought, that Star and me would ever be… whatever this is.
She touched his cheek and met his eyes and they shared a moment of silent understanding. The kind that only comes from having relied on someone so completely, so desperately, for so long. They needed each other. Of course they'd become close. They had to be.
There were only three humans in the entire circus—the ringmaster himself, Star, and Danny. And unfortunately for them, Danny was only human half the time. They'd been caught in Freakshow's trap together, had only each other for comfort, for human contact, for humor, for everything.
Danny didn't know, exactly, what their relationship was at that point. He'd never been an expert when it came to girls, and it wasn't as if any past experiences could have prepared him for this particular circumstance. Whatever existed between him and Star wasn't platonic enough to be a brother/sister relationship, but it wasn't anywhere near non-platonic enough to qualify as a romantic one.
He knew she cared for him deeply, as he did for her; they felt the need to protect each other as best they could. But as for any feelings beyond that? The thought made his heart do that skipping thing again, but it seemed to him that Star actively avoided the topic. Like she thought it would just cause them problems that they didn't need. Like they relied on each other too much to let "feelings" mess everything up.
Which is pretty backwards logic, if you ask me, he thought.
He brushed these thoughts away when she leaned into him again, telling himself there was plenty of time to think in circles later. For the moment, he'd enjoy the quiet while it lasted, hold her because she let him, and keep her warm in his arms because he could.
After all, he only had about twenty more minutes before those arms became decidedly colder.