The invitation was written in the kind of elegant, swirling hand that Jenna had always envied but had never bothered to cultivate and Rory didn’t even notice. There were no smoke or mirrors – the invitation was plain and forthright. Moira Thorson, an independent activist and talent recruiter, had noticed the Pet Shop Girls and found them endearing. She wanted to meet them over dinner, and talk shop. No commitments, no risks, just a conversation and a free dinner.
It was the sort of invitation that Rory’s dad had received, back in the day, except it was her name, followed by Jenna’s, on the paper.
“So we’re going right? Because there’s free food and- you’re not even listening,” had been Jenna’s only reaction to the invitation.
“Hell yes we are going!!” Rory responded to the important part, because it was the important part. Going. Also free food.
The appointment was for eight o’clock, at one of the nicest restaurants in town – this trendy little place that was simply called Dine. Dine was a place that usually had a line around the block and a guy in a suit at the door. Getting past that felt like a victory in and of itself.
Rory couldn’t have looked prouder as she bypassed the line and the security guard, leading (and clearing) the way for Jenna. She’d dressed nicely, too! In her dress! That one dress.
IT was quite the service that Rory did for Jenna. She was tall, but she was still rather…slight, especially by comparison. She’d spent a good two hours trying to make herself look extra presentable (…at least one of those hours was spent sitting in a fading patch of sunlight BUT STILL) and had wound up with her hair falling just so, and had managed to put on wonderfully understated makeup all those nice things.
And of course she had a red cocktail dress. Of course.
At first, the bouncer at the door had given them a skeptical look (mostly Rory), but after seeing the invitation his eyebrows shot up and he ushered them through the door and into the back. Dine was an open concept restaurant, with the middle of the floor empty. Instead, all of the tables were around the wall of the one, circular room. Moira, their host, stood out for two reasons. First, the tables around her were vacated. The second was that she was genuinely striking – golden eyes, dark lashes and dark hair swept back from her pale face with high cheek bones and red, red lips. Rory could hear jenna swallow. She smiled as the Pet Shop Girls entered, waving them over.
A third reason quickly became apparent. A wolf – not a domesticated wolf breed, but a full grown wolf that had a bit of a feral look about it, quickly pushed its snout from under the table and snuffled at the girls as they approached.
“Ah!” Rory’s eyes lit up at seeing the other dog (yes, dog. It was a dog), and seemed far more impressed by the dog than the woman. She immediately locked eyes with it and approached slowly, lowering herself to the ground rory no and crawling oh god rory noooo toward the wolf dog, sniffing as she went.
“Oh my God, Rory, get up. Leave the – the… Leave the nice lady’s wolf-dog-what-is-that-alone.” She smiled at Moira in the way that every embarrassed pet owner in history has done. “I uh – ha ha – she just.. She loves other canids you know I mean…”
Not that Jenna looked completely dignified herself, still – her tail had puffed out immediately, along with the fur on her ears and actually a bit of her hair, and there had been a very short moment where she’d growled – right before Rory overloaded her social properness circuits.
“If you ask me,” Moira said, eyes bright and smile widening. “She has the right idea. Move these tables aside, please.”
Immediately staff, rushed in and began to whisk the tables aside, leaving the wolf with no cover at all. The wolf continued to snuff snuff snuffle around Rory, circling her. The atmosphere of Dine was completely ruined – the room was meant to invoke a dinner plate, and there were no dinner plates with a full grown wolf and a woman with Irish settler ears and a tail circling each other while a poofed out cat woman watched in mounting horror.
“I’m thinking you can just bring us several trays of meat for a starter.” Moira said to the staff, adjusting to the floor and somehow appearing just as elegant as she did in her exclusive booth.
To the humans in the area, Rory’s breach of etiquette was likely the worst they had ever seen. To the other canine guest present, however, she was actually rather polite: circling carefully, respectfully, sniffing at the air, getting gradually closer, ignoring Moira entirely.
And stayed poofed. … then settled on the floor across from Moira. She had no idea what was going on in her life, but uh. The Wealthy Lady seemed okay, and so she tried, real, real hard to be okay. Somehow, she managed to look not horribly out of place on the floor, and her tail curled around her knees. “A. Pleasure, ma’am.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Moira said, although her focus was on the sniffing and circling going on feet away. The wolf snapped, and finally, Moira spoke to her… pet? Companion? “Be nice, Mr. Snuggles.”
“Aw, he’s just—”
Mr. Snuggles acquiesced immediately, giving Rory’s face some hearty bumps with his snout. She giggled in response and bumped back.
“Play later.” Moira added, before the two took off across the wide open floor of Dine.
“—okaaaay,” Rory whined gently, settling back onto her haunches and finally acknowledging Moira. “Nice to meet you, Miss Moira.”
“Nice to meet you as well. You girls are getting a reputation among all the wrong people. Luckily for you, you’ve earned the attention of some of the right people, me included. I have a… vested interest in…” Moira made a gesture with her hand. “Improving the lives of animal lovers.”
As she spoke, waiters approached with trays of beef, fish, turkey, and chicken. There were no vegetables, just meat, and there were no bones, no garnishes.
Moira sighed. “It’s a bit of a waste, don’t you think? Mr. Snuggles does like to gnaw on a bone. But they’re all about presentation here.”
“I like the odd bone in me myself,” Rory grinned widely. Rory no. That’s not a joke you make in—ugh
Mr. Snuggles got his own trays, but the rest were distributed between the three women.
“I’m looking to enable you two.” Moira said.
“Emable?” Rory’s mouth was already full.
Oh my God, Rory! Jenna is going to pass out and die. Jenna regrets everything. “…Ah- and what does that entail?” … I mean once she was done she started stuffing her face but at least she waited.
“Well, you’ve been cleaning up the streets a little? That’s terribly dangerous.” Moira’s eyes flickered from Rory’s and locked onto Jenna’s. “They have knives, guns, Paranormal abilities…”
“I have noticed that. Rory keeps not understanding that I do not want her shot or stabbed, and what do you think she goes and does?”
Moira reacted with horror. “Has she already been hurt badly? Poor Rory!”
That – wasn’t condescending. That was authentic.
“She’s never needed hospitaliation, but–”
Rory looked sheepish, like she knew that she should be vaguely ashamed of having been shot and stabbed. “Well, you know, yeah, I have been gently stabbed a time or two, hosted a few bullets, it’s—it’s no big deal…”
“You can’t push yourself like that.” Moira said, taking a long slice of chicken breast and biting into it. “No, no. What I suggest is… Armour. Weapons, if you need them. Information. I have to admit, it’s hard for me not to see people like you, well, as my pack. I know that’s presumptuous, and I hope I haven’t stepped over a social boundary by saying that. I just… want to help.”
The pack bit draws an immediate, but brief eyebrow quirk. And an ear twitch. So far though, Jenna has kept the actual barometer of her feelings down, wrapped around her legs. This is much harder than she imagined. “…I- yeah. We could probably use information. I know for sure Rory needs something to avoid being stabbed. She’s probably sick of me patching her up.” Jenna grins, then wonders if it’s socially acceptable to have pointy, pointy teeth.
“Pack, huh?” Rory chewed a mouthful of steak warily. “It ain’t that I’m not flattered, and yeah, maybe gettin’ stabbed less would be good, but are you even… local?”
“What does it even mean to be settled in one place these days, you know?” Moira asked a legacy hero who was born and raised in South Goddamn Boston, like a fuckin tourist. “I’ve been in LA, Rock City, New York, here and there. I go where I’m needed. A few weeks ago, a sedated tiger being used as entertainment for a Rock City party needed me. Now, you two girls need me, I think. Too many young independents just have to deal with… well, stabbings. Shootings. Terrible things all around. Why not try to help, is what I think.”
“Hnh,” Rory… did not sound at all convinced. But she did keep eating.
“…You know what I’m just gonna ask – why us? I’m sure there’re other smalltimers who’ve got names in papers. We’re just – … a dog and a cat who happen to occasionally punch people who have problems with staying civil.”
“You’re a dog and a cat and I have a giant wolf at my side and I’m courting another.” Moira said. “Seems simple enough to me.”
Rory blinked. “Courting another? Wolf?” That got her interest.
“A lady doesn’t kiss and tell.”
“Nepotism, ho,” Jenna said quietly. “..well. Alright then.”
“Hmmm,” Rory pondered that. Then she looked back over at Moira. “What would you want from us?”
“To keep doing what you’re doing. Make people safe, clean the streets up. I’ll give you info, you follow up on it and keep making your father proud.” Moira smiled.
Jenna glanced at Rory to see what she thought.
“Right but,” Rory knit her brow, still chewing, “what… what are you in it for?”
“Justice. Honor. Protecting the innocent.” Moira recited.
Rory’s chewing slowed, and she squinted, and she looked over at Jenna, who immediately recognized Rory’s expression as silently asking for some kind of confirmation that she wasn’t completely off-base about being weirded out by this.
An infinitesimal nod was the confirmation that Rory received. …Jenna quietly ate some more fish to give herself some time to think. The more she heard, the more this sounded. … off to her.
“Ya got any more specifics?” It was distinctly unusual for Jenna to see Rory’s demeanor this shrewd. “Bout what you wanna do for us, what you’ll expect of us. I ain’t tryna be ungracious or nothin’ but it’d settle my nerves to hear a little more about what you want.”
Moira shrugged. “I was thinkin’ we could play it by ear. I understand you two have some problems with a local… crime associate. Why don’t we consider taking care of that a trial run for our partnership?”
“…Well. I figure we were gonna do that anyway. Just … good business practice or something. I have no idea honestly how you’d couch that sentence.”
“My da always said: Rory, there is such a thing as a free lunch, but if ya take it, watch out fer dinner.” “You have just answered so many questions.” She shrugged. “You got our attention, Miss Moira, but not our trust, yet. To be quite honest I’d be more comf’terble if you had somethin’ obvious to gain.”
“Well,” Moira said, shrugging and finishing her first piece of meat. “This is the age of heroes.”