[ CW: Strong language, men being garbage: the sequel ]
Em insisted everything was fine.
“I feel like I owe it to everyone to stay out of sight,” she mumbled over the box of greasy fried chicken Grant brought them for dinner. “Besides, I don’t have a knack for fixing cars like you do.”
But that didn’t explain the sadness she wore like a shroud or the way she avoided meeting May’s eyes.
May didn’t buy the excuse, but she didn’t pry either. If she were being honest with herself, she was glad Em was punishing herself. It was a cruel way to think, so she tried not to dwell on it, but selfishly it helped May to know that Em was feeling remorse for what she had done.
Days wore on without word from WIND. Eventually, May stopped wondering how long they would wait, choosing instead to lose herself in the busy work on the garage floor. By now no one doubted her vehicular proficiency, and while she was only allowed to work on genuine client vehicles – as opposed to the “specialty product” the crew moved through on the regular – she had unquestionably earned the Murder’s respect.
She stuck close by Lety, who offered to share her station after surveying May’s handiwork with her timing belt.
“Not bad, Tiny,” she had said with a sharp-toothed grin. “Glad to see you can earn your keep.”
Those sharp teeth, May discovered, were due to how Lety earned her own keep in the Rookery. Aside from being a skilled mechanic, she was also a shifter.
“It’s kinda like being a werewolf,” Lety explained one morning as they worked a stubborn set of tires off some hipster’s van. “Minus the whole full moon business.”
“So you can control it?” May asked as she stood on the rod of her tire iron and bounced until the lug nut turned. What she lacked in Lety’s strength she made up with clever ingenuity.
“Pretty much,” Lety grunted, hauling off a liberated tire from the opposite end of the vehicle and rolling it aside. “Oh, and it’s not like I was bitten or anything. I was born this way.”
“So how did you wind up here?” May knew she was walking a fine line by asking the question; It bordered on “digging” territory, which she had discovered was not appreciated in the Rookery.
But Lety didn’t seem to mind. “It’s good money.”
May pursed her lips but stayed quiet. It was a bullshit answer but she knew it wasn’t her place to push.
After a few beats of silence, Lety relented.
“Shifters tend to have a lot of rules,” she explained as she rounded to the other side of the van. “They stick together, listen to the alpha, all that shit.” Her head popped up over the van’s stubby nose. “I wasn’t really into it.”
“But why a gang?” May knew Lety was tough – she could fend for herself. But this life didn’t strike her as something a person would choose if they didn’t have to.
“Why not?” Lety countered. “It’s like a pack I got to choose. I get to work on cars all day, which I love, and being a shifter makes me a pretty invaluable part of the team. I’ve got a particular set of skills you humans could only wish for. Besides, Grant’s a good boss. There are worse places I could be.”
“I suppose so,” May muttered. She had become distracted by the feeling of eyes boring into her and it was taking everything in her to ignore them. It was nothing new – the more time she spent on the floor, the bolder some of the guys on the crew had become. But one guy, Sid – the youngest on the team who worked at the station across from May and Lety – had become increasingly uncomfortable to be around. He had a thing for leering too long and standing too close; It made May’s head spin with bad memories.
“I see him,” Lety said quietly. “Don’t let him get away with being a creep.”
May snorted. “Yeah, easy for you to say.”
Lety gave her a pointed look. “Why?”
“These guys aren’t afraid of me,” May replied, discomfort prickling up her neck and making her squirm. “But you’re tough. They don’t mess with you.”
“First of all, you had no trouble putting Memphis in his place so I don’t know what the problem is.” Lety straightened up and looked May straight in the eye. “Second, they don’t mess with me because I don’t let them. There are two kinds of people, Tiny: people who dominate and people who are dominated. You think I didn’t have shit to put up with when I first got here? You’d be amazed by how many crude dog jokes a group of guys can come up with when they put their heads together. But I wasn’t interested in living my life by their rules, so I put a stop to it.”
May wished Lety would give her a play-by-play of exactly how she had put a stop to it, but instead Lety just nodded in Sid’s direction.
“You gotta show him who’s boss.”
As they finished with the van’s tires, May tried to imagine what she could be like with Lety’s confidence and Em’s mouth. She imagined carrying herself tall, like an ancient sturdy tree, and strung together all manner of insults she had ever heard Em fling at people who pissed her off. In her mind she imagined telling off Kane, saying all the things she wished she’d had the courage to tell him to his face.
By the time Lety asked her to fetch some clean rags from the sink at the other side of the shop floor, May was high on the adrenaline she churned up through sheer willpower alone. The sink was in the corner closest to Sid’s station; she’d have to walk by him to get there.
Buzzing, she strode across the room without sparing Sid a look, even when she felt his eyes following her. She clutched a pair of pliers in her fist like a talisman, gripping their rubber coated handles as though they would keep her steady. At the sink, May took a few moments to wash her hands, watching the dirty water circle the stained drain until it ran clear. She exhaled and dried her fingers on her shirt front before picking up the rags and pliers.
The warmth of a body standing too close brought her back to her senses. She whirled around to find Sid smirking barely a foot behind her.
“What?” she snapped.
“Woah, easy there,” he laughed, staying planted in her space. “I’m just waiting for my turn.”
“Well, do it over there,” May waved him back but he didn’t budge. “I don’t need a chaperone.”
“What’s your problem?” His tone was accusatory but there was a glint in his eyes that made May’s stomach turn. How many times had Kane looked at her that very same way?
“You are.” Anger burned up from May’s core. She could feel herself going red and she knew he could see it, but she didn’t want him to have the satisfaction of getting the wrong idea. “Where do you get off leering at me all the time? Get out of my bubble, jerk.”
Sid’s eyes narrowed.
“Learn to take a compliment.” His voice was so condescending, May’s fist clenched the pliers, her anger boiling over.
“That’s not a compliment,” she retorted, fast and cutting. “A compliment would be Grant saying, ‘Wow, May! You got those pliers pretty far up Sid’s nose. I’m impressed!’” She snapped them inches from his face to make her point, relishing the way he flinched back. “You’re just a pig. Now, leave me the fuck alone.”
“Whatever, bitch,” he grumbled, his shoulders tensing as he stalked back to his station.
Some of the guys were watching the exchange – they chuckled and elbowed each other as Sid slunk off. May’s eyes flicked to Lety, whose face was painted with delight as she mouthed ‘fuck yeah’ back at her. The knot in May’s chest unwound, her breath coming easier.
But before she could take her first step, Jun’s voice came over the garage’s intercom.
“Tiny, call for you on line two,” his words – the code for an incoming client and May’s cue to hide – echoed through the shop. “Tiny, line two.”
“Dammit,” she hissed, jogging over to Lety and tossing her the fresh rags before racing up the stairs to her office bedroom.
Without pausing, she turned the handle and shoved, crumpling into the door when it only inched open a nudge.
“Ow, what the- ” This time she shouldered the door and it opened wider, still impeded by something that had been pushed up against it. From behind her, May heard the garage doors rolling open. She didn’t have time to think, so she squeezed in and slammed the door behind her.
With the light of the shop cut off, May gasped.
There, at the center of the otherwise pitch black room was a swirling nebula of light.
At its center, Em was suspended, glowing ghostly in a close-eyed trance.
“Em,” May choked on a mixture of awe and fear.
“What’s happening to you?”
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