Scar Tissue

Shift Happens 


 With a work ethic that tipped from commendable to excessive, Hendrix hardly noticed the time. He took any project he could get his hands on, complicated problems that expanded his limited base of knowledge. No one had really said anything to him besides the occasional off-handed comment -- 'you sleepin' here tonight, Hendrix? I'd give up on trying to impress the boss.'

 He wasn't trying to impress anyone. He stayed for the distraction, the clangs and acrid smell of oil, the force it took to loosen an bolt. If he submerged himself in work he didn't have to think about anything else, and that suited him just fine.

 For all Kai had boasted at happy hour that she made enough revenue to support a coyote headquarters, she did not want to pay anyone overtime. It was a 24/7 shop that was staffed around the clock - it was rare that she needed someone to stay beyond their shift to finish something. Hendrix was no exception, but she’d been letting it slide, thinking it was just his way of staying away from the thoughts of the ominous future ahead of him.

 She has stayed late herself tonight, wrapping up paperwork, and was not exactly surprised to find her grand-pup still cranking away at some part when she walked into the garage.

 "Hendrix. Clock out. Go home." She stood a foot or so behind him, arms crossed, hair in a braid down her back.

 He straightened too quick and banged his head on a protruding piece of metal. Cursing, he rubbed at the sore spot gingerly before turning around. "I haven't been taking the time. I clock out at six but just stick around doing projects. Is it fucking anything up?" Asking more out of concern than challenge, but this was the only thing he'd found to help him from one day to the next. If he was tired he could shove a drive-thru burger in his face on the way home and crash. He didn't have to see her or talk to her or count down the days till dog-dom. "I'm not asking you to pay me."

 Oh. Her face lightened some with realization. Good boy, but... Kai had enough illegal shit slithering around here that the idea of some shithead discovering Hendrix working for free made her a little paranoid. Something that could be easily covered up, but...

 "Well. No. But." Uh. She floundered a little. He was technically taking work from the guys that were on the clock, but there was not really any shortage of things to be done around here. She had nothing really. Whatever. "Just wondering why you’re spending so much unpaid time here, then. Got something on your mind?" Oblivious to any of his struggles besides the furry moon he would soon face, she assumed that was it.

 He shrugged, tight-lipped at first. This was...well, he wasn't going for grandma again. Even if Alex didn't like her, there were all connected, at least that's what he'd gleamed at the restaurant, so telling her about his awkward state of limbo with Alex felt like gossip. Still, it wasn't like it was a fucking secret. "Just kinda wanna be anywhere but home right now. Working keeps me busy. I'm learning a lot. Managed to get that Dodge finished."

 Well, if nothing else, that was a small, dirty window into whatever might be eating at him. Kai made a low noise of acknowledgement, finding herself stricken with an alien feeling of sympathy. She had really fucked up with Alex, even though she deserved it, stupid thoughts she’d been over so many times she wanted to put her head through a shredder for it. This seemed like an opportunity to maybe up her karma or something if that shit existed.

 "Well, I would like to remind you that you’re alive. Come on. Let’s get your blood pumping." She uncrossed her arms and pulled her keys from her pocket, body shifting towards an open bay door, looking at him expectantly.

 Curious enough to follow her, he whistled when he saw the bike. "That's nice." They couldn't. They shouldn't. A dark smile crossed his face and he looked over at her. "So who's driving?"

 Oh, but they could! For as much as Kai could lack the gift of forethought, she had this one covered. She returned Hendrix’s grin with a crooked one of her own, spinning the keys around her finger.

 "Definitely me," she informed him. She tugged an oil-stained bandana from her back pocket and adjusted it to wrap tightly over her hair. She straddled the bike, just tall enough to keep it upright, and would wait for him to get on the back of it before she started the obnoxious engine to life.

 "Oh yeah, this'll help my rep." But he got on without additional complaint. A ride on something this sweet was a close second to being in control. Besides, if she crashed it she'd have no one to blame but herself. Coming to sit behind her, he hesitated, taking as polite a hold on her waist as he could, though his grip tightened the moment she kicked off. As far as badass grandmas go, Kai was alright.

 Kai chose to ignore his comment, lest she say something a little too snarky and blow this whole nice thing up. Maybe if he had enough fun he would get over the emasculation of having to sit behind her.

 The hand at her waist hardly fazed her. It was an essential part of being the passenger on a bike, and anyway, he would need to be anchored for this. She rocked the bike off its kickstand and rolled forward, getting it moving before she pulled her feet up.

 Rolling onto the backroad where they usually drove cars for inspection, and making sure the coast was clear, she opened the throttle and floored it. The bike screamed in the night as it picked up speed, pushing close to one hundred miles per hour in a matter of seconds. It was thrilling, enough that her squinted eyes glowed red despite her broad shit-eating grin.

 There was a mutual attempt at tact. For just as she said nothing about his passenger position, he made no comment over the way her toes brushed the ground, barely able to reach when she was straddled. He had little time to think, stomach lurching as she shot down the road. His grip around her waist tightened and he leaned into the wind, a wide smile spreading across his face.

 As reckless as it was, speed swallowed his worries and he silently willed her to go faster, a hooting yowl of freedom ripping from his throat.

 Hendrix whooped behind her, and thankfully the scream of the wind and the bike cancelled him out enough that it didn't hurt her sensitive ears. She might have liked to let out such a sound, too, the pressure of excitement building just beneath her heart, but she was afraid if she made too much noise she would drop this bike and a dog would crawl out from under it.

 One-twenty was admittedly a dangerous speed on this narrow, dark road. She also lacked the security of her radar-catcher in her own vehicle. But this was fucking fun. The wind tore at her, pulling stray tendrils of hair from beneath the bandana and whipping her in the face, eyes watering, clothes flapping wildly against her body. Sharp eyes sought any bumps or holes in the path ahead that might end this in disaster, deftly guiding the bike along the smoothest parts of the road. Her jaw clenched, and she could practically feel the beast trying to sink its teeth into that tension.

 Anyway, with such high speeds, they had hit the end of the road in very little time. A stop sign waited for them there, and Kai let off the throttle, slowing it down just slowly enough to keep from throwing them both over the handles. She sat at the sign, deciding to take him a little further, at a slightly more acceptable speed, before they should probably take it back. There was always the risk of the owner being out somewhere around here and busting them.

 "Okay back there?" she called over her shoulder as she waited for traffic to leave an opening for them.

 Kai was the captain of this suicidal, two-wheel roller-coaster and she didn't seem particularly concerned with the health and safety of this ride. As the trees blurred into dark strings of color, Hendrix's grip tightened to more of a cling. Alex said they could heal, that they were stronger, but he felt like if he tried to cash that check right now it'd bounce. He knew he was changing, but Hendrix Houpt was still human.

 Lurching when they reached the stop sign, he loosened his hold. "I'm good. I think we should chinese fire drill this thing. C'mon, Kai. Don't you want to put me through my badass paces?" It was up to her if she was going to let him drive back, but he had a burning need to prove himself. Maybe this would help.

 She watched traffic as she listened to him, then barked a laugh. There were a couple reasons she didn’t want him to drive - he didn’t want any damage falling on him, but really... she didn’t want to relinquish the controls. The first reason was weak in the face of the second, sorry Hen.

 "What’s the matter, you scared?" She teased with a sneer, and then, with some cruel humor, floored the throttle as she took off from the stop sign, bending them around the curve and screaming towards the stop light ahead.

 "Nah, just figured you'd want a break from being my chauffeur. But that's fine, Jeeves, carry o--" His words cut off as she floored it again and he yelped, grabbing her so he wasn't flung off the bike. "Has anyone ever told you that you suck???" But the fear gave way to thrill, a rush of exhilaration taking hold again as the night air stung his eyes.

 Whatever his retort might have been was lost in the wind, and Kai cackled into it as he cried out behind her. He managed more words in her ear against the rippling speed, and she grinned so broadly, if it were any warmer she might have caught bugs in her teeth. "Several people," she called back to him, whipping through the light and turning the next corner. There was temptation to take it onto the interstate, but that was a little more risk than she was willing to take tonight. Again, over the wind: "Hey, are you hungry?"

 His senses were sharper, acuity that set the world into hyper-focus. But even heightened hearing paled against the roar of wind. Was he...what? Hungry? Horny? Hendrix's jaw slackened, the pause lengthening as he thought of what to say. Simple agreement didn't seem wise. "Uh....yeah. I could eat. What're you in the mood for." No. "What kind of chow to do you want?" Better.

 Kai was, of course, and perhaps luckily for Hen’s chance of being tormented, blissfully unaware of his unfortunate mishearing. "Mexican!" she responded promptly. "That okay with you?" She was already mapping out the drive to the place she had in mind, anyway. A hole in the wall just a mile down the road, where the staff knew her well enough to know she only knew four words in Spanish.

 "Sounds good!" He'd spare Kai the anecdote that he and Alex had been weaned on Mexican food, though Taco Bell drive thru wasn't what you'd call authentic.

 It was a shack more than it was a restaurant, but Hendrix was eager to give it a try. Getting off the bike first, he swayed. The kinetic momentum of their wild ride made walking seem trivial and slow. Waiting while he got his land-legs back, he turned to his companion. "So when did all this start for you?" He left it vague, not wanting to pry if she didn't feel like getting into specifics.

 She was glad he decided it sounded good, because she was dying for a giant burrito that could wreck a human's gut. The bike would be parked around the back of the decrepit-looking restaurant between what she assumed to be employee cars, pocketing the keys and pulling her bandana off to tame unruly baby hairs. She sighed at his question, eyes squinting and looking skyward as she thought about it.

 "Uh. Jesus. Ten years ago," she confessed with a note of incredulity. She was getting old. Holy shit, she would be forty in four years, when the fuck did that happen? "Got into a fight with some cunt and she left me to die." Surely he got the gist of it, for as much as she wasn't willing to get more detailed in public, empty parking lot be damned. "You're lucky you're not stranded in this." She reached out a hand, patting him probably too roughly on the shoulder, and started to lead him towards the entrance of the restaurant, pulling her bandana over her head again. "How'd it happen to you - piss her off? Guess it's not that hard."

 "Kinda like what you did to Alex, huh?" Nice one, Hen. He offered her a nervous, apologetic smile and hurried on up to the restaurant's front door because nope he was certainly not waiting around for the aftermath of that verbal vomit.

 Maybe if he answered her other question she'd be too preoccupied with being nosy to get mad. "Uh, well. No, I didn't piss her off. I -- we -- fucked."

 Kai huffed something that was half a laugh, half a sigh, eyebrows rising. Sick burn, Henny. "Different circumstances," she muttered. And both times, she'd felt justified in her victimhood. It was just that when she was the one holding the proverbial gun, she'd done something about it.

 Kai barked a laugh, loud and obnoxious, at his response. "No shit! Whew. I was starting to get jealous because of how, like - much less time she's been at this and seems so much stronger than me, but." Look, this was serious, asshole. She quieted down as the door opened, an old bell on a string jingling above them as they walked through it. "Hola!" Kai waved, obeying the "seat yourself" sign and leading the way to a booth in the far corner of the restaurant. "Seriously, though. Sorry. But I think you're gonna be fine."

 "It wasn't her fault. Not really. I was super drunk and...I don't blame her, is all I'm saying." Sure, she could have stopped things before they'd reached their pointy-toothed peak, but Hendrix didn't hold what happened against his friend. He shouldn't have kissed her in the first place.

 He followed Kai to a booth in the back, settling himself across from her. "Yeah, I'm glad I have a support system. I'm sure I'll be even more grateful after the 19th." For now he could only speculate, imagine, and dread.

 "You know it's funny. I've never had any sort of plan for my life, and I guess I don't really have one now either, but for the first time in a while the next few months," or years, who knew, "are set. Guess this is as good a reason as any to get my shit together."

 Good guy Hendrix stood up for his lady love, but Kai felt better ignoring it. It felt like some small petty victory. The rest of it wasn’t of much interest to her.

 She settled in to listen, looking away from him only as an employee set chips and salsa between them before scurrying away again. She was still focused on him then, even as she plucked a chip from the pile and scooped a glob of peppery goodness on it.

 "Yeah," she agreed quietly around the crunch of food between her teeth. She had never been big on group stuff. Never really her style until recently. Apparently it could have done her a lot of good to jump on the bandwagon earlier - pun intended. "It’ll be a lot easier not having to scrape by on your own." She couldn’t say much about life plans. She’d never really had one herself. "Maybe you’ll get some sense of purpose out of it or some shit."

 "Maybe." Apparently, crazier things were possible.

 They fell into an awkward silence, punctuated by the mutual munching of salsa-dipped chips. Normally, he'd eat a couple and be done with it, wanting to save his appetite for the main meal, but it seemed the pit in his stomach had lost its bottom. Alex said that was normal. "How the hell do y'all afford groceries?" He thought about amending his words -- how do 'we' afford groceries, but he pressed his lips together and stuck with the separation for now.

 "Do you get any food by, uh, hunting for it?"

 Kai was unbothered by the silence. She was more focused on the chips in front of her and the eventual return of someone to take their order. She grinned a little at his question, wiping chip crumbs off on her pants.

 "Prioritizing," she said simply. Apparently someone was going to have to take him to the store for a fresh lesson - the woman who’s fridge was stockpiled with shitty microwaveable junk and tequila might not be the best choice. "Yes. Absolutely." A cursory glance around to ensure no ears were close by before she continued. "If you don’t stay well fed, that fucker will come out and take care of it for you." A subtle but serious warning. "If you eat one of my mechanics, I will hang you up by your pinky toes, so don’t neglect that." She sat back and smiled, an expression meant to perhaps drive her words home.

 What a kindhearted and benevolent grandma.

 "I don't want to eat anyone." He replied, more to himself than to her.

 Shoving a few more chips in his face, he pushed the salsa around, pensive as he tried to form the words for the question he wanted to ask. "Alex mentioned there were things that triggered and other things that help....and that they're kindof one in the same? Like...eating or not, and exercising or not, and...satisfying other needs, or not. She also said in the beginning I'll lose it if someone so much as looks at me the right or wrong way. So I guess what I'm asking is how do I find that balance? What's worked for you all these years?"

 Did anyone really want to eat anyone else? Well... nevermind. Bad question. She’d keep it to herself.

 She sighed as he launched a question that she wasn’t sure she was qualified to answer. She picked up a chip and stuck it in the salsa, only for it to snap into several different pieces. The woman frowned, and picked the pieces out carefully, crunching them down thoughtfully and swallowing before she answered.

 "I lose it a lot, Hennessy. I’m short tempered and forever at odds with myself but... all I can say I guess is. If you’re in a situation and you start to feel funny... angry, stressed, scared, even just a little uncomfortable. Just. Don’t." She waved a hand, trying to find the right words. "I mean. Just leave. Get alone and give yourself a pep talk or something." Things that a person who sometimes drank too much or ate too little or got stubborn when pissy should know. "Sorry. I’m just not really the best option for advice."

 Self-awareness was a funny thing. At least she had never shifted in the public eye.

 Smirking at the creative nickname, he listened with rapt attention, trying to soak in as much as he could. Kai seemed to waver between brazen, haughty confidence (see: cockiness) and total self deprecation. The pendulum swung, and Hendrix shook his head, trying to stop it. "You've been doing this for ten years. You aren't dead. No one else is dead. I think you're a damn good source." He'd respect her regardless of her opinion of herself. She couldn't stop him.

 He was right - about her not being dead after ten years, so. That was something. All the same, she lifted a hand to wave lightly at him. "No need to suck up, okay," she warned him lightly, smirking a little. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a little woman hustling over, expression pensive and accent heavy as she apologized for the wait and asked them if they were ready to order.

 "I would like a frozen margarita and the number twelve, with beef," Kai informed her easily. It was, admittedly, what she almost always got from this place. "And more chips and salsa." This as she dunked a smaller piece of fried tortilla into what remained of the salsa, watching Hendrix as she stuck it in her mouth, waiting for him to order so they could be alone again.

 He bent his head to hide his smile. "Eventually, I'll get to the point where I'll find balance with this new life. Maybe by that time you'll know how to take a compliment." A stretch in both regards, but one he was poised and ready to reach for. Ordering after her, the pair settled in, and for the first time in days the edge of panic and hurt seeped from his bones.

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