|Mercedes is sinking like a stone at the (reservoir) wrote in repose,|
@ 2018-12-30 20:51:00
|Entry tags:||*log, jamie mayer, mercy hunt|
Christmas had never been Jamie’s favorite holiday. There were serious selling points. The music, the lights, the decorations, he had a vague idea that as a kid Christmas had been his gig. But Christmas had been the theater for the last ten years, fifteen if you squeezed out the years doing a night as a party-guest in velvet knickerbockers (which - was a name for a piece of clothing that had the crap kicked out of you if in the audience was the one guy dragged to see the ballet by his mom and his sister who had a thing for shutting you in lockers). Christmas was early mornings and lemon in hot water. It was class on sore muscles and Nutcracker music.
There were upsides. You were pretty much guaranteed work, which meant you were crammed into studio apartments with friends who had done a lot of Nutcrackers together and you could pretty much guarantee you were going home with someone who was into the Christmas spirit. But it hadn’t been Jamie’s favorite. He liked the fourth of July, fireworks and heat and the lazy, hazy feeling of long days and long nights when most people got the summer off.
He was getting into Christmas. He had watched Charlie Brown on YouTube to get into the mood and if he couldn’t flip the Johnny Cash at work to Christmas music, he could at least hum. Kratos had traded off, so the big guy couldn’t like, look down his enormous self and scowl at him for humming Mariah instead of Cash. And the Christmas spirit thing was still a-go in the Capital, pretty much.
The bar wasn’t decked out, it wasn’t the kind of place to deck. The guys who came in wanted a beer and to watch a game or to play pool or whatever, and there were enough of them around that the place felt full but not crowded. Not many of them were sat up at the bar and Jamie was stacking the dishwasher when he got sight of someone walking up to be served.
The holidays were something of a boon for self-employed shapeshifting coyote walkers in Repose, that was for sure. Ignoring the bias (and the fact that it was a bit of a niche market), Mercy had promised himself that he was not going to complain about the pre-holiday rush. This time of year meant lots of customers were anxious to make sure that their particular buckets o’ bolts were going to last for the whole arduous road trip back home to see Oma and Opa without dying on the side of the road. Plenty of folks who wanted snow tires installed, and oil changed. He would not complain about the influx of cash.
Some of it was quick work, so that Mercy could bang out six or seven cars on his own in a day. Others were more of a lost cause, like the VW microbus that was painted like the Mystery Machine and stunk to high heaven of a vampire owner, and was certainly not about to leave the property of Mercy’s lot without a brand new set of brakes that wouldn’t arrive until sometime after New Year’s. But those were his upsides, and if that didn’t put him in the mood for frosty mornings and midnight mass, then nothing would.
Mercy had made sure that a shower got installed in the cramped bathroom off the main office in the shop when he took over, if for no other reason than he hated having to smell like transmission fluid and burnt oil when he left the shop. He had a nail brush that he used with Dawn dish soap to scrub the grease from the creases of his knuckles and palms, but the effort only went so far; even when he changed into a pair of dark jeans and a soft grey crew neck with a beer-branded hoodie thrown over top, Mercy’s sensitive nose could still pick up the traces of rubber and oil that lingered on his skin.
Fortunately for him, he wasn’t going to a werewolf bar. (Hell, fortunate for him there wasn’t even a werewolf bar within the town limits. That was certainly something he wasn’t going to miss.) He was okay with smelling like a garage, and he was okay with looking a little worse for wear to human eyes. He wasn’t trying to impress, when he trundled up to the Cat in his dilapidated (but well-loved) Volkswagen Rabbit and parked off to the side. He patted the car’s hood in quiet appreciation as he crossed the lot to the front door.
Mercy wasn’t interested in pool, or the game. He made a casual beeline to one end of the bar, where there were several empty stools in a row, and he nodded at the man behind holding court while he leaned forward and squinted to read the names of the beers on the draught taps.
“Yeah, man - no stress.”
Jamie wasn’t a werewolf. He wasn’t a vampire, he wasn’t half faerie, he wasn’t anything that didn’t bleed red and scream in the face of disaster - very dignified screaming, but screaming. He was sort of low-key ordinary in so much as anyone in this town was ordinary even if he had a memory that was fading like a dream of being something that required secret-keeping. He didn’t have a nose to pick out engine oil, he didn’t even know much of what it smelled like.
The guy at the bar didn’t loiter for people he knew. He didn’t skate toward the TV or the pool-table which pretty much said he was here to be solitary. Jamie wasn’t solitary by nature. Was that obvious? Not obvious? Whatever, he didn’t like a lot of time spent inside his own head. It was like a funhouse, full of mirrors that didn’t reflect reality and okay, he got people who could keep company with themselves but eventually he ran out of road.
But guys wanting to drink solo were their own thing. Jamie respected it. He finished stacking steamy glasses on the side and leaned over the counter with a smile. “What’ll it be?”
Mercy knew that the bartender was human even before he slid onto the stool and shed his bomber jacket (that was a little light for the bite of December, but his parka still smelled like moth balls from summer storage and made him sneeze; a few more days of airing out on his back porch and it would be wearable), leaving just the hoodie that he wore unzipped. His nose told him that the vast majority of the occupants were human or near enough -- someone over by the dartboards smelled a little like moss and earth, but that could be explained by a distant fae relative or even just a job in a greenhouse. Not enough of a blip to concern.
A wolf would have been a concern. Wolves, it shouldn’t need saying, were territorial to say the least, and they didn’t often take kindly to finding a coyote hanging out on their turf. A strange wolf would have been a threat, and had Mercy caught a whiff, he might have picked a different place to drink today if for no other reason than the fact that he didn’t feel like having to square up in a metaphorical pissing contest. And a known wolf? Well, the fact was that most of the wolves Mercy knew, they didn’t much like him either. And as much as he enjoyed and had a knack for raising the ire of those wolves, today he just really wanted a cold beer after a long day, without incident or fur flying.
“I would love a porter or a stout if you’ve got one, man,” he answered, returning the smile easily. Mercy pushed up the sleeves of his hoodie on his forearms before leaning them against the bar, rolling his shoulders and popping the left side of his neck with a deliberate tilt of his head. He’d spent the last hour and a half horizontal beneath an Opel Astra, and the muscles of his upper back and neck were screaming for a hot shower and a couple of Alleve.
“Draught, can, doesn’t matter. I’m not super picky. I’ve just had a craving for something dark and malty with this cold snap, you know?”
Jamie wasn’t like, capable of pinning people walking into the bar as one thing or another. His family were, he was learning, the definition of ‘it’s complicated’ - more ghosts and madness and guilt than Facebook updates but Jamie was solidly incapable of reading the situation and he knew Kratos was very large and some of the people in town definitely howled at the moon once a month but that was kind of finite.
A few months back before moving into town, the limits of his experience with beer were ...well, limited. It wasn’t really a social outing much with the guys from work, who were way more into tea and dance class than beer and darts and beer lacked the sort of helpful calories that involved protein and the kind of positive fat you read about on the side of the packets when you ate before performance. But he had months of the bar now, Kyle and Steve and Claire and now him and Kratos and he understood the beer and the gesture. The Facility hired a lot, but the majority of people who worked nearby were the kind who were physical. It was something he got.
“Long day?” He reached behind the counter for one of the fridges, and pulled a bottle of Stone out and set it on the counter. “I feel you. The cold makes all the stuff about winter and staying toasty appealing.”
“Thanks, man.” Mercy hooked his thumb and finger around the bottle’s neck and lifted it to take a swig, then tilting it slightly in the bartender’s direction in a silent gesture of cheers. He savoured the warm caramel of malt on his tongue. Mercy wasn’t as big a drinker these days as he’d been in college, mostly limited to a pint or two after work while he worked on balancing the garage’s books over a microwave dinner, or soaked his muscles in his hot tub. But like he’d said, he had a hankering for something wintery today, and all he had in his airstream’s fridge was Stella.
“No longer than the rest,” he replied to the question, his smile a little wry this time as he thought about the stream of colourful expletives he had directed at a particularly difficult Wasserboxer engine earlier in the evening. “Holiday season is kinda crazy, but more work means more mortgage payments. Besides, I figure this is my version of roasting chestnuts. How’s yours so far?”
Mercy gestured at the bar around him with one index finger by pointing at the ceiling and swirling it in a vague circle to gesture at the bar around him. He’d been in the Cat a couple times since the move, usually when he knew he didn’t have any leftovers he could scrounge up in the fridge and decided to treat himself to a pound of wings. He knew it wasn’t as rough as The Bar across the tracks, catering more to the blue collar than the no-collar. He wasn’t intimidated by rough, but he was operating on the assumption that it was easier to slip in under the radar here. Time would tell.
Mortgage payments sounded incredibly adult to Jamie. He was paying basic rent - super basic, to a family who definitely didn’t need the money and mostly wanted someone to watch their place - and occupying property in the neighborhood that felt kind of like fraud. It was a family house, with a couple extra bedrooms and a white picket fence out front. “It’s been busy,” he said instead, “Lot of people around this time of year want the company. Drinking with other people, you know?”
He saw it in class as well. People showed who hadn’t made time all year, who thought maybe coming out and doing something was a step toward a Christmas next year that wasn’t so bad, or so lonely. “Bar’s doing good. We had a lot of turn-over this year. The owner left, but the drinkers have stayed the same. I like getting to know faces.” And it was more than obvious Mercy’s wasn’t one that Jamie recognized. He knew the Bar across the tracks from reputation: they weren’t selling much Jamie was buying.
“What do you do?” He figured the guy wouldn’t chat if he didn’t want to chat.
Mortgages were still weirdly adult and alien to Mercedes, too. The man he’d bought the garage from, he had assured Mercy that given steady business and a good head on his shoulders, he’d have the place paid off by the time he had a family. Mercy, he wasn’t sure that time would ever come. Didn’t think there was a paternal bone in his body. (A propensity for bossing people around didn’t count, he was pretty sure.)
“I do know. Sharing is caring. And all the hockey on TV only helps, I’m sure.” He tilted an upward nod towards one of the televisions that ran the length of the bar, turned to Sports Center where some dudes were going at each other in a sloppy slide of teeth against bloodied knuckles. Mercy liked hockey on principal; he thought the violence was honest. Thought that sportsmanship was a crock of shit, and most of the time? People wanted to beat the shit out of each other. That was one thing he had to hand to wolves. At least when they wanted to rip your throat out, they let you know it until there was no doubt.
“I own the auto shop. If you drive a German car and need it serviced, I’ll hook you up.” Mercy’s smile widened behind the mouth of his bottle and his eyebrows arched with a vein of amusement. He tipped his head back and drained his bottle in a swallow. “You know it? ‘Hunt’s’, over on Main - by the interstate?”
He wasn’t expecting this guy to know it, to be honest. He’d only taken it over a couple of months ago, from the older fae dude who had taught Mercedes most of what he knew about cars. He’d inherited some loyal clientele, but was mostly still working at building up business. “That’s me,” he added after a beat, angling the tip of his index finger at his collarbone. “Mercedes Hunt. Nice to meet you…”
The trail-off was deliberate, of course. A prompt for the guy to tell Mercy his name in return, as he placed his empty bottle at the edge of the bar mats and held out his hand.
Jamie wasn’t a very violent guy. It wasn’t that he like, feared the sight of blood or he was too much of a fag to like anything that was super masculine. That had been the working theory at school but it was a really dumb theory. He just didn’t see the point in violence for its own sake, and violence when you were playing a game that was meant to be about like, achievement and stuff just seemed dumb. He hadn’t ever lashed out as a kid, his melt-downs had been few (try melting down in a traumatized family that didn’t have a lot of spare attention and see how well they work) but like, all verbal, non-physical. For a guy comfortable in his body (mostly), Jamie was just turned off by viscera.
But he also like, wore tights for the day-job, so yeah he believed in sportsmanship and doing something just because it was the right thing.
“I don’t drive a German car. I don’t drive,” Jamie admitted, two fingers scratching the back of his neck idly. “But hey, if I hear of anyone who needs work, I’ll send them your way. Mostly conversations about cars involve keeping people’s keys.” His smile was lopsided, and he held out his palm and took the guy’s hand. Jamie’s was still warm from the dishwasher.
“Jamie Mayer. I work here and I teach dance at the rec center.” He didn’t think in terms of better to get stuff out front, because the town was small and if someone came at him, he was pretty sure it was probably his taste in shirts rather than fessing up to teaching adults dance classes over the bar where he worked and a lot of cops hung out.
Mercy’s hand was rough as sandpaper from callous and scar and he knew it, had accepted there was no changing this no matter how many heavy-duty creams he rubbed into his knuckles when they cramped up. One of the few wolf traits that he envied was the ability to heal; he had to suffer just as long as any human when he caught his fingers between heavy pieces of metal or smoked the top of his head off the underside of a hood. And then there were the grease stains in the creases of his palms that didn’t ever seem to scrub clean, despite all the industrial soap in the world. Mercy knew his hands weren’t pretty. Even Jamie’s, slightly pink from hot water and the Sani-clean in the dishwasher that burned Mercy’s nose, seemed too delicate to be subjected to his handshake.
“S’nice to meet you, Jamie. Wasn’t trying to farm you for business, but that’s kind of you. Appreciate it.” Mercy couldn’t imagine not driving, not in this small town. In the bigger cities like the Capital, sure. You could get around if you weren’t intimidated by public transit and bad neighbourhoods. But in Repose? He wondered what people did in the winter. It didn’t often get as cold here as it did in Montana, but still.
“I’d love another beer when you have a minute, by the way.” He waited until Jamie had finished up another few stacks of glasses, taking the opportunity to read the news ticker that scrolled across the bottom of Sports Center. More murders in the cities. An animal mauling a few towns over, and it was probably telling that Mercy’s first thought was whether it was really a bear as speculated. When another beer was set down in front of him, he directed another nod of thanks towards the other dude.
“What kind of dance do you do?”
Jamie’s experience of the Cat’s clientele hadn’t been violent, usually. There had been that one time, with David sat where Mercedes was now but that was infrequent. It took a lot of drinking to get to the point you threw a punch in the Cat, when half the police station was probably dropping in and out all night. If he feared anyone and he didn’t, mostly? Not in summer, when it didn’t get dark properly until late, and even then the street-lights seemed to penetrate the dark easier. Winter was different. Winter got good and dark and there were more cars in the lot when you needed heat to get from one side of town to the other. If he feared anyone, it was in the lot, out back. After closing.
He didn’t judge like, the handshake. Blue collar was blue collar, it was half of how Repose made its beer money and he didn’t put blue collar together with judgmental. But you were circumspect, if you had something to risk and Jamie did. He weighted the question as he stacked another few glasses and thought about truth and honesty and living in Repose like he was from there, the mid-west instead of a city kid.
“I teach adult dance classes,” he said finally. It wasn’t a technicality, he didn’t do dance anymore. “A little jazz, a little salsa, ballet.” The guy was young, Mercedes, which meant he probably didn’t think of breaking a guy’s face for being way more into dance than sports but it wasn’t like he mixed his crowds, the Cat and the Rec Center. “You want to watch the game? I can leave you in peace.”
“Cool,” came Mercy’s only-mostly response, nodding with a chin-to-chest sort of deal. Because he didn’t judge. One didn’t grow up within pack confines and manage to come out judgy on the other side. And there was the whole fact that he was most supremely closeted, and most wolf packs were supremely homophobic. (Because apparently it was a thing, an unspoken downside of being into dudes and pissing off wolves when they could smell exactly when and how you were turned on.) So he could brush aside the fact that he thought Jamie was painfully pretty, and he could remain unfazed by the dance thing, because he wasn’t one to be easily fazed. Kinda came with the territory.
“Nah, not super into the game. But if you’re busy…” And here Mercedes gestured down the line of the bar, head nodding. “I won’t be offended while you do your thing.”
Cool. Jamie didn’t pretend he didn’t feel the unclench of relief that was basically life in small-town anywhere. It was weird, it had been a big deal back home but he had been so tight in his own community - his community of guys who wore tights and ballet slippers and girls who were so thin they didn’t have hips and boobs like the cheerleading squads - that he hadn’t cared. If something had happened and stuff did happen, then there were people to like, pick you up and put you back together again.
Here, not so much. “I’m kind of busy,” Jamie confessed, which was semi-obvious given the line up at the top end of the bar, and he drifted into the clutch of people who wanted beer or shots or rum in a glass, and it was probably a good ten minutes before he had his head back up again.
Mercy didn’t balk at the admission, true to his word. He nursed his beer and pulled a dog-eared paperback novel from his back pocket, propping Steinbeck against the edge of the bar while the bustle and hum ebbed around him like a stone in a riverbed. He only looked up when a particularly boorish patron backed into Mercy’s elbow in his haste to order a round of shots, eliciting a growl and a glare on Mercy’s end that went largely unnoticed. Alcohol, fortunately, had the hidden benefit of making it easier for humans to deny seeing the strange that they stumbled upon unwittingly every day.
Deciding that he’d had his fill of humans for the day, Mercy slipped the book back into his pocket and slid his empty bottle across the bar to Jamie’s side. From his pocket he plucked a couple of bills, enough to cover the beers and a tip that skewed closer to the side of generous than merely decent, and tucked them under the empty bottle. He’d waited tables in university, and he both knew and respected the grind. The bartender, Jamie, his head was down when he slipped out the front door, otherwise Mercy would have waved.
As he crossed the parking lot to his Rabbit, he thought about texting Bran, the Alpha from his old pack. How’s that for blending in, old man?