Jenna preferred to avoid earlier shifts, but every once in a while, the world was a terrible place and you had to suffer more than anyone else in history had ever suffered. Or so she would likely pitch it.
And that’s why, at 8pm on a Wednesday, she was walking home instead of to work.
Why, she hadn’t even gotten to pretend-glower at her Regulars for but a few minutes. What a trashy day today was. She tugged her bowtie off and clipped it to her pocket because she’d be damned if she was gonna wear it the whole way home.
..Still. It’d be nice to get home and – wait she can watch anything she wants this is amazing. She was gonna marathon the hell out of the Fishing Channel.
“Hey, kittycat. You seem lonely.” She didn’t recognize that voice.
When Jenna looked up, there were half a dozen mean-looking men standing around her, one of whom had a splinted nose and two of whom bore black eyes.
“…That’s it? Like that’s the best you can do? Blo-bloo you look looonely” Her impression was not flattering. “Find a hole and crawl into it before I put you in one.”
“We ain’t here to try out our lines. We’re here cuz you an’ your pet dog ain’t sticking together lately, are ya?” They all advanced a step, and two more appeared across the street, approaching slowly.
“Oh my god how do you fucking breathe?” She looked around, trying to size up the easiest point to break through. Still – she seemed far more annoyed than threatened.
Seeing her assess the tactical situation, a few pulled out weapons: one had a baton, one a chain, one had brass knuckles.
“We’re tired of you two walkin’ around like you own the place,” the thug said, remaining as eloquent as ever. “So maybe you shouldn’t walk at all for a little while.”
“It’s like reading your livejournal, Kid. Does this stuff sound cool and edgy in your head or is this just a clear failure of the public school system?” There was a very quick glance behind her and oops that’s a brick facade of a building how useless.
“Man, just shut her up,” one of the underlings complained, and they all moved forward as one. Well okay as eight. They weren’t that coordinated, they just outnumbered her and had weapons.
Jenna’s mind raced, and she immediately realized that skill alone wasn’t gonna get her out of here unhurt. She was going to need a lot of luck, and she wasn’t sure that she had that right now.
She felt oddly fine with that. She didn’t anticipate walking out of here, and that was okay, too. That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to give up and let it happen. She fully intended to hurt as many and as badly as possible.
With that in mind, she picked the one furthest from the chap with the chain, and made a beeline straight for him.
The man grinned triumphantly and raised his arms as she rushed into range, then brought them down quickly to grab her—and seemed baffled when she wasn’t there.
“Durh.” Was the very next thing he heard – from his left how was she there. – She’d run straight, right? And immediately after that, there was a knee in his kidney, and while he was still trying to figure out how the catgirl had apparently defied physics, he was sent sprawling towards his friends.
Making a sad noise, he tumbled to the ground as his friends did their best to run around him to get to the catgirl. Mercifully, this meant that the next assailant, a man with a baton, was the only immediate threat. He swung the weapon in a sharp downward arc, aiming for her shoulder.
She blinked, startled, oh that’s right there are still eight of them, and Rory wasn’t h- thaaaat’s right. Jenna did the next thing that came to mind- her hand shot up, the baton landing in her palm. There was a tiny crik and a wince from Jenna. She wasn’t sure what just happened, but movies and people have all lied to her because that hurt immensely. The next thing she did hurt too. If she was lucky, it’d hurt both of them – she grasped the baton and twisted. Sharp, and hard and fast.
Pain shot up Jenna’s arm, but she was rewarded by a gasp from the man, who released the baton at once, and the handle of it swung up and struck his face. He staggered backward, wide open, but before Jenna could move in to take advantage of his vulnerability meaty arms wrapped around her torso and squeezed. Hell, the ones behind her—
A little frantic now, a little hurting now, she jabbed the handle of the baton backwards after a little fumbling – not at anything, just at what she imagined was face height – if that didn’t manage anything, you can’t go wrong with throwing all your weight backwards. (Yes you can, but she was out of options, nerves blanking out some of the more effective ideas she’d have had otherwise.)
She was rewarded with a crunch noise and the arms slackened, but as she was shaking free, her vision suddenly went white and dizzying pain bloomed in her skull. She’d been hit by—something. She could tell that they were coming at her, but from where. She couldn’t—oh god, this was going to hurt—
“Ha ha!” no fucking way. Life doesn’t work like that That familiar laugh. The sound of a huge, meaty fist on a meaty face, more thunks, more punches, the noise of a body hitting brick. The arms that had been grabbing her yanked away, a big body moving there in their place, an arm around her, holding her up as the dizziness dissipated.
The coalescing sight of her assailants running away as a low southie accent called, “ain’t so brave now, are ya! Ha ha ha!”
She looked down and over and saw… a wagging tail? Was it really…?
“…R…ory?” Her voice was slow, and uncertain. Things did not make sense, and she hurt a lot how does Rory do this? “…You’re back? That was uh. That was- F-” She squinted, followed the tail. “…wait. Y’ain’t Rory..”
“Well ain’t this a kick in the tail!” The man was tall, a bit taller than Rory, even, a little bit broader and a fair bit fatter. His curly hair didn’t poof out quite so far, and his face had more lines, but the resemblance was otherwise uncanny. He grinned, and two rows of pointy teeth peeked out. “You must be Jenna Lynd! Ha ha!”
“Uh. Yeah. You must be. Rory Dad.” She paused. Patted the top of her head. Oh geeze. That was probably her blood, wasn’t it? Augh geeze what did they hit her with- “…Rrrry. …Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry I know she told me but uh. I can’t. Recall right now, sir.”
“Ey, don’t worry about it! We O’Coynes have awful memories, can’t get mad at nobody for that. My name’s Ryan. Let’s go get that little egg seen to, yeah? I was just about to come visit your place! Say hi to the little girl.”
“She’s visiting Canada I think. … I think. Where’s Rock City? I don’t actually know. But um. I’m not gonna complain that you were on your way. At all.” She blinked a few times, still a little dazed. Ugh. her head was gonna hurt tomorrow.
“Rock City, eh? I’ll be damned, that’s all the way across the country. Well no reason to go back home now, not after meetin’ ya like this. You okay to walk, or sh’we call a cab.” Ryan slung an arm around Jenna’s shoulders, supporting her.
“I’m good. I can walk. IIii can walk.” If Ryan has heard anything about Jenna, he would also know that unless Jenna’s legs were both visibly fractured, she would declare her ability to walk. Loudly.
“‘S just a couple blocks anyhow.”
“Ha ha! Well why don’t I just walk with ya, and each of us c’n make sure the other don’t fall over!” He started walking, keeping a firm grip on Jenna’s shoulder so she wouldn’t stumble or fall.
Jenna’s poise and grace are astounding, thank you very much. At least, they normally are. As it stands, she probably has a slight concussion so it’s good that Ryan is helping her walk. “…sssso. Do you talk to her often or?”
There is absolutely no reason she was asking this at all none
“Less’n I’d like, to be frank with ya. But I ain’t frank, I’m Ryan! Ha ha!” oh god. How do they both exist? “Rory’s a good girl but she ain’t great about rememberin’ to call. I was hearin’ some things that was makin’ me a little concerned, and I wanted to come check on her.”
“Like what kinda things? I mean. I can probably confirm or deny whatever it is? I do live with her, and I figure that ought to count for something.”
Ryan peered down at her, then looked back at their path. “Let’s get you patched up. We can talk back at the apartment you know? Walkin’ and thinkin’ at the same time is hard! Ha ha!”
Fifteen minutes later, Jenna’s head and hand had been bandaged and she’d taken a healthy dose of painkillers. Ryan had placed an order from a local delivery place (and did not take no for an answer), and a huge order of fried clams and onion rings was on its way.
The Former Hound of Fort Point had made himself at home with an ease that Jenna wished she could find surprising, and had even managed to drop himself into the sunbeam section of the couch. Great. How do they both do this. HOW.
“So, before I say anything else, is my little pup bein’ an all right roommate? She ain’t too much? She doin’ her chores and all? Paying rent, utilities? Contributin’ to groceries?”
“Oh- yeah she’s good. She’s fine. I mean I think we get along alright forthemostpart. We did make it into the paper after all. I figure you gotta have something in common to do that, right? Really. She’s been lovely.” Those’re some glowing tones, Jenna. At least for you.
“Good. Good!” Ryan cleared his throat. “Have you, uh, noticed anything… off about her lately? Has she been actin’ weird? Takin’ risks, gettin’ hurt?”
Oh shit. “Um. A little bit. Whhhhyyyy?” It- It’s probably not moral to lie to someone’s dad who is genuinely concerned. On the other hand oh shit.
Sigh. “I may not be the hound any more, but ya never really stop bein’ a hometown hero, y’know? I still keep my ear to the ground, and I’ve been hearing a lot about my little girl takin’ risks and takin’ bullets. Now I brought her up to be tough, but… somethin’ happened to her a few years ago, and she ain’t been the same since. I worry.”
Oh thank god. It’s not a lie if you’re never asked right? Right. “..Yeah. I… got that impression. She won’t – or hasn’t decided to, one of those – tell me what it was exactly, and that’s really causing problems for my list.” She smiled, as though that last part was a joke – because of course it was. Boring bartenders didn’t keep Lists. “…but yeah. She has. I’ve patched her up a few times. I .. think. I hope she’s been better since the last time.”
“She hasn’t told you about Audrey, huh.” Ryan’s shoulders slumped and he shook his head slowly. “Yeah, I guess that’s her business. Look, I know it’s real nosy of me ta ask, but… did somethin’ happen to her? The Boxer told me I should probably check in, but he wouldn’t tell me why.”
“I know the name. I don’t really know anything beyond that. No last name or anything. I just know that somewhere, someway, someone named Audrey was an unforgivable dirt-bag to my friend.”
“Cahill,” Ryan growled, “it’s Audrey Cahill. And I don’t know what she did neither. Rory won’t talk about it. But the time they spent livin’ together hurt my daughter and she ain’t never recovered all the way.”
Oh no. What did you just do, Rory’s Dad? What did you just do? “..yeah I-” Jenna trails off, looking thoughtful “..She just seems. … Skittish, sometimes. Like when she thought I was mad at her, I turned to her and she – she like fu–er … flinched.”
“Yeah, Rory don’t like us to use the word ‘abuse’ in front of her, but…” he trailed off. He didn’t have to say more. “Anyway, I’m more wondering if somethin’ happened to her lately. Audrey was years ago, but the reports I’ve been getting were about a few days ago.”
“..um. I might have misunderstood the level of affection she had for me. Imightvestarteddatingsomeoneandmaybethatsabigpartoftheproblem.” She sounds horribly guilty. ..And mostly unintelligible.
“You—” Ryan blinked, processing that, then finally looked a bit chagrined. “Ah, geez, Rory. That girl don’t know how to love gently.”
Jenna nodded slowly, a hint of a frown crossing her face. “…So- um. I think. I think this round of Bad Ideas is my fault. I’m pretty sure. I’m an idiot.”
“Ehhhhh,” Ryan waved that off, making a dismissive noise. “Listen. Rory tries to be straightforward, but her feelings sneak up on ‘er. She loves all of her friends, and sometimes she don’t know what kinda love it is. Don’t blame yaself. I take it you aren’t inta her?”
“Uh. I don’t think I am, at least not in the same way? It’s also not a thing I’ve had a lot of time to think about, between … everything else?” She offered a wry half-smile. “…I do a lot of thinking, but it’s mostly about how to handle rowdy patrons, and how to well. Not have what happened earlier, happen. And telling Rory what not to break- you know? Lot of overhead in heroing, I guess.”
“Fair enough!” Ryan smiled. “Well, just give her time. She’ll get over it, provided she stops driving herself into the ground. If she took a vacation, that’s a good sign. Rory used to go up to the woods of vermont and walk around to clear her head. I bet when she comes back, she’ll be doin’ better. She can get over ya. And last time I talked, she was real excited about her new friend. Had nothin’ but good things to say about ya. You’ll both weather this.”
“I think part of me just worries that she thinks I don’t care as much as I do?” She blinks a couple times. “Does that make sense? I mean. I do care about her. A lot. She’s real important? My best friend.” Jenna, you liar, she’s your only friend. Best by default! “Or that she’ll go out spoiling for a fight and – … and just not come back.” It’s covered quickly, but not quickly enough – the look on her face said that was easily her greatest fear, before Jenna remembered she was not supposed to have feelings.
“Hm.” Ryan was quiet for a moment, then he leaned forward and patted Jenna on the back. “Well. I can’t tell ya not ta worry ’bout Rory. That’d make me a real hypocrite. But I’ll tell ya this: Rory’s got a real big heart, an’ it bruises easy, but that heart keeps her goin’ no matter how bad she gets hurt. Long’s she’s got folks who care about her, she’ll always come back. Get me?”
“Okay. Yeah.” She laughs a little. “You’d probably know better than I would, after all.” She pauses, then grins, toothy. “Hey. Wanna take a selfie with me and send it to Rory?”
“Ha ha! You bet I do!” Ryan beamed at that. “Let’s do it!”
She leans backwards a little. “Allllright I think if I – “ a little bit of finagling and fumbling with her phone. “Aha! Smile – Three. Two… and.. -” She snaps a picture, hopefully of the two of them grinning big.
Jenna’s grin was dwarfed by Ryan’s, but that’d be true of anyone. It was a pretty good picture!
“Nice! I can never take a good pictchah.”
She taps out a message (‘hi rory I met your dad. He’s cool.’) then passes the phone to Ryan so he can add something of his own. “I can’t either. That was a total accident, honestly.”
Ryan types: ‘HEY THERE PUP HOPE YOURE VACATION IS GOIN REAL GOOD” and sends it.
“Well then I guess it’s our lucky day several times over, eh?”
“Well I didn’t get dead, and I can see that there’s only one of you now, so I suppose I came out good. How’d you get lucky?”
“Why,” Ryan’s brilliant smile was so reminiscent of Rory’s that it made something twitch in Jenna’s heart, “I met you!”
Oh my God, Rory- … Ryan. They’re the SAME.