Old man Lee’s grandkid—He doesn’t remember her name, so that’s how he refers to her in his head—is sitting against the wall of the bridge spanning the river. He almost trips over her—it’s almost 2am, he’d been held late by Morris, stocking a late-arriving shipment. By himself. And he’s not even getting overtime pay for it—Morris would send him home early tomorrow so that his hours add up to an even 40. Fuck, he hates that guy.
He catches his balance, glaring down at the girl, whose heavy knapsack he’d caught his foot on. “What the hell are you doing?” He snaps. “You’re in the way.” His irritation only grows when she gives him a blank stare. Well? he thinks viciously, waiting for an answer from what’s-her-name.
He’s seen her around town, and she definitely introduced herself once—but at the time he’d been plastered and he can’t remember for the life of him what actually followed the “Hi! My name is” that she’d started with, just the vague memory of the scent of honey and sandalwood that surrounded her.
“Sorry…I just had to rest for a second…I didn’t even think anyone was out this time of night!” She says apologetically, still not moving from her position.
“What’s your problem, anyway. Farm life too hard for you?” He sneers. He feels a little bad about the way she shrinks back for a second. But then she juts out her chin stubbornly, narrowing her eyes at him. “I was taking care of some monsters in the mine for Lewis. Cut my leg on some rock.”
“Oh.” Well, now he feels guilty, which is pretty par for the course for most of any social interactions he finds himself involved in. Annoyance is swiftly replaced by concern. “You need me to get Harvey?”
She shakes her head, alarmed. “No!”
“Uhh…” this isn't how he was expecting the conversation to go. At all. At a loss, he waits for some sort of explanation.
“No, don’t call anyone. I’m fine. I just need to rest for a second.”
He kneels down. “Let me take a look.” He’s not even close to a vet, but he’s helped take care of the animals around the farm every summer since he was old enough to lift a feed bucket, and the entirety of the last three years. Marnie had gone to vet school, and he’d learned some basic first aid from her. For horses and cows mostly, but he figured it was better than nothing. He waits for her cautious nod before he touches her gently on the ankle.
“You don’t think it’s broken?”
“No, I didn’t fall very hard. Just managed to find the one sharp rock in the whole place.”
Lifting her leg by the ankle, carefully extending it towards him, he hears her hiss through her teeth. “Shit. Hang on, I got a light” hears a click, and the area is dimly lit with a small flashlight.
He can see now that her jeans are cut off at the knee on the left side, and a gash extends nearly the length of her shin. It’s nearly clotted, but a few spots are probably too wide to close over on their own without stitches.
“Why don’t you want to see Harvey about this?” he mutters. “You could get tetanus, or an infection or something.”
She groans. “I need the money. The farm is barely staying afloat and it still needs a lot of work. If Lewis thinks I’m some kind of klutz who can’t kill a couple fucking slimes, he’ll just have the mine entrance sealed. I begged him to let me poke around in there in the first place because I needed copper to fix my tools.”
He eyeballs her—he could probably pick her up (or well, drag her, maybe— she was as tall as he was, and going by her exposed leg, quite muscular, and although she probably weighed quite a bit less, he was long past his athlete days. The idea had appeal—he could just dump her on Harvey’s doorstep, and be done with the whole thing, with the added bonus of being home in time to get drunk and still have time to sober up before work. Which, looking at the state of his life right now was highly appealing. His hands were already starting to shake, a sure sign that his body was starting to withdraw.
She was looking at him all pleadingly, and needy, and it was pulling at the same soft spot he had for his chickens when they had bumblefoot. Fuck it. Fine. He sighs. In for a penny, he thinks.
“You got a first aid kit?”
She shakes her head. “On my to do list?” She turns the statement into a question, looking sheepish.
“Marnie’s it is, then.” He mutters under his breath, and then louder, for her to hear, he says, “Kay, up we go,” and grabs her under each arm, hoisting her upright. “You’re going to have to leave the bag. I can’t carry both.”
She nods. It was unlikely that any of the villagers would steal it anyway. It was essentially a bag full of rocks. This trip down into the mines hadn’t been particularly fruitful, anyway.
He turns around, crouching a bit. “Cmon, then, hop on.”
“Like…piggyback?” He can hear the laughter in her voice. Knew it. Should have dumped her at Harvey’s.
“Take it or leave it.”
“Taking it!” That was definitely a giggle. With a quiet grunt, she loops her arms around his neck, wrapping her legs around his waist. He secures his grip around her thighs, shuffling her a little higher, and sets off at a sluggish pace.
“You can go faster, it’s not gonna hurt me,” she tells him after a few minutes of valiant trudging, and he feels his self esteem—or the withered remains of it—shrivel further.
“This is as fast as I can go. You’re not exactly light,” he grumbles.
“Heyyy! are you calling me fat?” Her voice takes on faux-outrage.
“I’m the one carrying you, out of anyone, I should know if you’re heavy or not,” he snarks back, and despite himself, one side of his mouth lifts up. Farmer girl has a sense of humor.
They shuffle along the riverbank path, a surprisingly easy silence between them, until he feels a tug on his ugly joja branded sweatshirt.
“So, I see you’re lucky enough to be employed by the finest retail establishment in the Ferngill Republic. I worked for corporate for three years. So tell me, on a scale from ‘hate it’ to ‘thinking about ways to get hurt at work’ for the workman’s comp, where are you at?” It surprises a genuine laugh out of him. When was the last time he laughed? It felt almost foreign, rattling out of his chest.
“Oh, last one, definitely. I had to stay an extra four hours today because my fuckstick boss messed up this month’s order.” He’d never commiserated with someone about Joja. Sam was… Sam and he didn’t know Leah that well. It was kind of cathartic.
“Yeah, I’ve been there,” she huffs a laugh. “I thought the army was hell, but somehow Joja was worse. At least in the service, there was a kind of brotherhood. Joja corp seems to hire two kinds of people—backstabbing ladder-climbers, and the actively suicidal. Not a lot of room for camaraderie.”
“You served?” He asked, mildly surprised. She didn’t really fit the image of ”The few, the proud” with her nose ring and long hair. Every recruit was required to keep a shaved head until they reached officership. He’d overheard Kent talking about it, once, when he was home on leave.
“Yep. Joined out of high school. I didn’t…have a lot of other options at the time.” She seemed a little evasive about the topic, and he was more than willing to let the subject drop. Thankfully, they were almost to Marnie’s place— home, he tries to remind himself—but calling it that never seemed quite right.
Picking their way carefully around the house and through the back entrance of the barn, Shane sets her down as carefully as he can on a bale of hay. “Be right back,” he mumbles. He sneaks into the storefront portion of the house, grabs what he needs, and heads back, laying everything out on the bale next to her.
“I’m going to clean it up, and we’ll go from there, okay?” He reaches for the first item, a nearly full bottle of vodka. He takes a generous swig for himself, not looking to see if she was judging him or not. He’d need steady hands for this. Then he offers it to her. “If you’d chosen to go with Harvey, you could get real painkillers. This is the best I got for ya.” He swishes the liquid inside for emphasis. “Not too much, it’ll thin your blood.” She grimaces and takes the bottle from him and takes a brave two gulps.
....Well then. Guess I’d better hurry.
In the bright light provided by the bare bulb hanging overhead, the gash looks worse than it did on the bridge. He swears under his breath.
“Last chance—I’ll call Harvey, and I won’t have to mutilate your pretty leg with my piss-poor attempt at medical care.” He colors a bit, realizing he had called her leg pretty. It was a cute leg, to be fair, but he wasn’t exactly known for complimenting people.
“’S fine. Like I said, I can’t risk losing the mine access.” Her lips thin, pressed tightly together as she braces herself. “Do your worst.”
“Can't say I didn’t warn ya,” he drawls, tearing open a packet of gauze with his teeth. He saturates the gauze in hydrogen peroxide, and begins carefully cleaning the wound.
The farmer sits impressively still, breathing measured and rhythmic as he washes the wound out, tweezing out tiny chips of gravel from the wound. When he finishes cleaning it, he cleans his hands again before taking the needle and thread out of its sterile packaging. “I always cut class when it was time for Home Ec,” he jokes, more for his own benefit than hers; his nerves were pretty shot. “So not a whole lot of skill in the sewing department. I can’t promise this is gonna go great.” To his surprise though, she cracks a grin.
“Tell you what, you get my leg back together good enough for me to finish the season out, I’ll buy your beer for a week.”
He whistles. “Bold promise, Lee. I can out drink Clint. Maybe even Pam.” He still doesn’t know her first name, but if he remembers right, it’s her paternal grandfather’s farm, so he can at least use her last name until he figures out a subtle way of finding out her first.
He grits his teeth and pushes the needle into her skin, nauseated at the amount of resistance before it pokes through. Okay, great, only like, forty five more to go.
He concentrates intensely on his handiwork— despite his earlier joke, he really does not want to mutilate her leg.He doesn't need another person in the valley who actively has a grudge against him. He’d played assistant to Marnie enough times that he kinda knows how taut to pull the thread to snug the skin together, and painstakingly spaces the entry points so that the tension is evenly displaced along the wound.
“Hey…you’re actually pretty good at this,” she says wonderingly, as he makes his way down the wound. Shane shifts uncomfortably. It’s pretty fucking rare that someone is legitimately impressed with him, and he doesn’t know how to react to that, so he pretends like he didn’t hear her—until she asks him a direct question.
“So how does a Joja stockboy know how to close a wound?” She asks, poking his shoulder. “You moonlight as a surgeon or something?”
He sighs. “Marnie is a vet. She hates when people call her Doctor, says it’s “putting on airs.” But technically she is. She’s the only person in our family to get a degree." He can't help the little note of pride that sneaks its way into his voice. Marnie had taken the same childhood his father had lived through and turned it into a degree, a successful business. His father had turned it into a failed marriage and allegations of child abuse. He wants so much to think that he can be a Marnie, but deep down, he suspects he's a Tom-- destined to lose whatever good he had left in him to the bottle. He continues talking, voice painstakingly even despite the nature of his thoughts.
"Anyway, sometimes I help. Not with the actual surgery, just, you know, pass the scalpel, hold the leg still, that sort of thing. Guess I picked up more than I thought I did.” He smirks up at her, “you’re actually my first patient, so don’t go thinking that this isn’t all going to go horribly wrong at some point.” It always went horribly wrong.
She waves him off. “If I start feeling like I’ve got a fever, or it starts turning black, I’ll go see Harvey, I promise.”
He knots the end of the last stitch and snips the excess. After applying more antiseptic, and a thick layer of salve, he wraps the leg in strips of gauze and a final roll of compression bandage to hold the whole mess together. The job done, he takes another gulp out of the now half-empty bottle of vodka.
“Holy shit. I can’t believe I just did that,” he laughs, shaking his head in disbelief. “This really was not how I saw my night going.” Well, except for the vodka, that still would have happened anyway. He collapses into the bale of hay next to her, feeling the tension melt out of him. They both sit in silence for a moment, until Shane wipes his sweaty forehead off with his hands, and then his hands off on his jeans and looks over at her. “Alright, now we gotta figure out what to do with you. I got a couch in my bedroom, you could crash here? Marnie wouldn’t even have to know you were here, if you don’t want. Uhh, otherwise, it’s another half mile piggyback ride on a—“ and he sloshes the bottle at her meaningfully—“rather drunk horse.”
“Couch is good. I don’t think my thighs could take anymore Shaney-back rides,” she snorts.
He does a double take, shocked at the combination of words and where that particular train of thought leads. Of particular interest, “thighs”, and “riding”…
He nods to her, blushing furiously and hoping she can’t see it, and heaves himself to his feet, starts cleaning up all the medical debris. What a life…
This isn’t how he imagined sneaking a girl back to his room would go. Ideally, it would involve a lot less blood loss and a lot more kissing, but once again, life proved to fall short of the fantasy. He gives her a pair of sweatpants and an old teeshirt to sleep in, and turns around to let her change. They quietly fight over who was going to sleep in the bed—she feels bad at making him stay up late to fix her and thinks he should get the bed, and Shane isn’t that much of an asshole to make a girl sleep on the couch when he had a perfectly nice bed. In the end he wins, mostly because he threatens to tell Harvey and the Mayor all about her little ‘accident’, but all’s fair in love and war, right? Well, war anyway, he didn't know jack shit about love.