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Threading The Needle

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The hiss of static echoed around the garage, occasionally broken by a squeal of guitar noise. As he settled onto the wooden creeper, Scooter thumped the toe of his boot against the side of the radio. A loud BZZT of static erupted, then the signal cleared up. Slightly. It still wasn't great, but you couldn't hope for much better when your shop happened to be situated in a shanty town inside a big ass cave. He was lucky to get anything at all down here.


As he lay flat, he reached up and pulled off his worn cap and cupped it over one knee. The metal wheels of the creeper scraped against the concrete as he rolled beneath the belly of the runner. Squinting at the undercarriage above him, he couldn't distinguish the rusted metal from the layer of thick red clay dust that covered everything. But he knew he'd seen a patch of fluid on the ground earlier, so it was just a matter of tracking down its source.


His calloused fingertips slid along the axle, appraising each surface. His eyes fell shut as he mentally pictured the shocks, springs, seals and gaskets, as he worked his hands along the length of the suspension. Hmm, nothing.


He was elbow deep in runner guts when the garage door squeaked open, catching him by surprise and causing him to jerk upward slightly, banging his head on the unforgiving metal axle.


"Oww! Sonuvabitch. Ya ever heard of knockin'? Ain't polite ta just let yerself in, might'a caught me in a compromisin' position!" Scooter hollered as he slid out from beneath the runner, reaching up a grease and dust-covered hand to rub his sore forehead, leaving a rusty smudge behind.


Turning his head toward the metal garage door, he saw a backlit silhouette for just a moment, before the door clanged back down against the ground. The garage lights were dim, but he'd seen enough to recognize a shapely lady silhouette, and so he hopped up from the floor, pulling his cap back over his dirty dark blonde hair as he switched off the radio.


"Well, hey there! Welcome to Scooter's, the best, and conveniently only, garage in Hollow Point! What can ah do ya fer? Don't look like ya got a ride needs fixin', 'less'n it's of the invisible or midget variety --- aww crap, are invisible midgets a thang?" His excited greeting trailed off and stopped cold as she stepped into the meager light.


"Well hey there yourself, Scooter," Sasha replied, her voice lower than usual. She took another small step, stumbling a bit, and Scooter stepped forward, catching her by the shoulders to steady her.


"Damn, Sasha, ya a'right? The hell happened? Where's yer sis? C'mere, set down." The words tumbled out of him as he helped her over to a nearby large tire, which she gratefully collapsed against.


Up close, he could see that her bandana headband was soaked with sweat, and the right sleeve of her jacket was gone, torn off entirely. More troubling was a decent sized gash on her upper right arm, a slow trickle of crimson descending down her mocha skin and dripping slowly off her elbow to the concrete below.


"She...we..." Sasha gasped, still trying to catch her breath. "I..." She looked down at her arm and noticed the wound, seemingly for the first time, and started to tremble slightly. She couldn't seem to focus enough to find her words.


"Hey there, hey," Scooter murmured, his hand gently patting her shoulder. She looked up at him, still dazed. "I'll getcha cleaned up, you just set a spell while I grab some things, an' you can tell me what's happenin', a'right?" His soothing tone calmed her and she nodded slowly. He patted her shoulder a couple more times, then let go.


Satisfied she wasn't going to pass out, at least not immediately anyway, he hurried over to his office, which also doubled as his bedroom; space and money were both tight in Hollow Point, no sense in staying anywhere else. He reached under his tiny bed and hauled out a first aid kit. Rummaging through, he grabbed bandages and a needle and thread. After a moment of thought, he also grabbed the bottle of Dixie Wrecked moonshine from the shelf above his bed. "This outta be fun," he muttered. "Fixin' rides is one thang; fixin' folks is somethin' else."


He hurried back out to find Sasha slumped against the wall, staring off into the distance. "Aww crap, ya all right, girl?" He set his supplies down on the metal tool chest beside them, and touched her knee lightly.


"Yeah, yeah... Just. Yeah," she trailed off. Her breathing had calmed down considerably, but she seemed to be making a concerted effort to not look at her injured arm. Scooter took notice as he pulled up a metal chair beside her.


"Can't stand the sight of it, huh? Yeah ah ain't much of a fan m'self but ah cain't have ya bleeding all over mah garage. Then ah'd hafta clean up in here, an' once there's a clean spot, the whole place'll go ta hell," he joked as he poured a small amount of moonshine onto a piece of bandage.


"Ain't gon’ lie, this is gonna hurt like a sumbitch. If ya gotta punch me or anythin', do it 'fore ah start stitchin'." He tentatively pressed the damp cloth to her arm, and Sasha hissed a breath inward, biting her lower lip. Scooter paused, but she met his eyes and gave a sharp nod, before looking up and away to the left.


"How'd ya get all banged up? Where's Fiona?" Scooter prompted, trying to distract her as he wiped her arm clean and inspected the cut. It wasn't as bad as he'd thought at first, but it was definitely deep enough to need a few stitches.


"We went by Felix's hideout, to see if there were any weapons, anything left there we could use. Didn't find much, 'cept an ambush. Fi shot one of them, and I toasted the other; we ran, thought we got away clean, but someone else was there, chased us all over. We got separated, and I just kept running, figured at least then Fi could get away. Kinda surprised she isn't back here..." Sasha trailed off, her brow crinkling with worry as she seemed to contemplate for the first time what it could mean that she'd made it back to the garage before Fiona.


"So, how'd ya get this?" Scooter asked, wetting another bandage with the clear liquor and wiping away more blood from her skin.


"Whoever that was chasing me, they had some kind of shield. Pretty advanced tech, came back to them like a boomerang? I ducked it before I realized that, and it caught me on the return trip. Didn't make that mistake twice." Scooter's face flickered with recognition for just a second at the description, but he kept his mouth shut. Time enough to sort that out later.


Sasha took a deep breath, and without looking, reached out a hand to grasp the neck of the moonshine bottle. She brought it to her lips and took a healthy swallow, then coughed as she passed it back to Scooter.


"Good idea," he murmured, taking a swig himself before setting the bottle by his feet and returning to his attempts to thread the hooked needle from the kit.


Sasha peeked at him from out of the corner of her eye, and smiled at his look of intense concentration. The pink tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his pursed lips, and his eyes were squinting intently at his hands, trying to will the thin thread into the needle's eye.


After a few missed attempts, he groaned quietly to himself, "Maybe the 'shine coulda waited til after this part. Damn it!"


Sasha couldn't take it any longer. Chuckling, she reached out her hands to cover his. She manoeuvered the hand holding the thread toward her mouth, and placed the end of the thread between her lips, moistening it and drawing it out slowly. Scooter's jaw hung open for a moment before snapping shut.


"Steady on," she quipped, slowly puppeting his hands toward each other. A triumphant grin lit her face as the slick thread slipped easily through the needle.


"Well, hot damn!" Scooter exclaimed with a laugh. Their eyes met and they shared a moment, then Scooter seemed to realize their hands were still clasped together, and gently withdrew his, taking care not to unthread the needle. Working quickly, he knotted the thread, and took a gentle hold of Sasha's bicep.


"A'fore I do this, know that I've only ever stitched myself up, but I'ma try my damnedest to not screw it up, a'right?" he said quietly, and Sasha placed a gentle hand on his knee. Scooter looked up and met her eyes.


"I trust you, Scooter," she smiled, and her green eyes seemed to sparkle briefly in the dim light. He shook his head, and squinted intently at the wound.


"A'right, kiddo, hang onto somethin', this ain't exactly gonna tickle," he murmured, and Sasha felt the cold metal of the needle touch her skin, and within an instant the sensation turned to burning pain as it pierced her flesh.


Her hand gripped his knee tightly, her knuckles turning white, and she gritted her teeth, a hiss of air escaping between them. To her credit, she didn't yell out, but as Scooter worked as quickly as he could, he could see her neck muscles tightening as he pulled the thread taut after each stitch to pull the edges of the wound together.


Five stitches later, he was almost done. "Okay, this last bit is gonna suck. Ready?" Sasha gave a small nod and sucked in a breath and held it. Scooter tugged the thread and looped a quick knot as close to her skin as he could get it, tying it off tightly. "Ahhhh," she exhaled, dipping her head down between her knees to stop her head spinning from the pain.


Scooter leaned in and took the thread between his teeth, biting it off. His lips lingered for an instant on her warm skin, then he pulled away, clearing his throat and blushing slightly. "Ahem. Uhh. All done. I ain't no Dr. Zed by a damn sight, but maybe it won't scar too bad. Jes’ gotta wrap it up and you're good to go."


“Good to go…” Sasha sighed wearily as Scooter tore off a strip of fabric from the roll of bandages and wrapped it firmly around her bicep, knotting the ends together tightly. She patted him on the knee and started to stand.


A moment later, Scooter realized what he’d said. He reached up and caught her wrist gently as she stood. Sasha looked down, and he could feel the exhaustion coming off her in waves. “Aww shoot, that’s not - ah didn’t mean GO, go. You don’t have any place else TO go, do ya?”


Sasha shook her head, tired but determined. “I can’t ask any more from you, Scooter. I’ll figure something out.”


“Now, jes’ hang on. You ain’t gotta ask me nothin’. I’m tellin’ you. Fiona’s bound to be out there lookin’ for ya right now, worried sick I bet, an’ she’ll make it here eventually. An’ when she does, if you’re not here - if she found out I sent you away like some kinda skag-lickin’… - she’d have my guts for garters. No, ma’am, you’re stayin’ here tonight, and that’s the last I’ll hear of it,” he concluded, more because he’d run out of breath than words.


Sasha was overwhelmed for a moment. They’d only just met Scooter earlier today - which seemed crazy, considering all that had happened since - but right away, she had somehow known that he was someone who could be trusted, especially after he took a beating from those two jackholes who’d come looking for them, rather than give them up. He’d had no reason to do that, other than what must just be his natural sense of loyalty and honor. Those were rare commodities on Pandora, and she felt lucky to have come across someone like Scooter, just at the time when they needed him the most.


“Thank you, Scooter,” she replied, turning toward their busted up caravan.


“Nope. Ah ain’t letting you stay in there. I got the thing half torn down already. You can stay in my room. Ah gotta put mah tools away and such anyways, and ah’d just as soon stay up a bit, in case them what’s after ya decide to turn up here.” Scooter picked up a rusty wrench off the tool chest and smacked it into his palm menacingly.


Again, she was taken aback by his kindness. “You really are something else, Scooter,” she said softly, giving him a smile which morphed into a yawn. “Sorry,” she laughed. “Been a hell of a day.”


Scooter stood and patted her on the shoulder. “Jes’ about every day around here is a hell of a day, but this one more than most.” He gathered up the needle, thread, and bandages. “Lemme just go straighten up in there a bit, an’ you can get some shuteye.” Sasha nodded, and Scooter headed back toward the office, tossing the bloodied bandages in the trash on the way.


Once alone in his room, he tossed the first aid supplies back into the kit and stuffed it under his bed. Glancing around, he grabbed the couple bits of “reading material” near the bed and shoved them underneath his mattress. He tugged the thin blankets into some semblance of straightness on the bed, and stood back. Eh, it could be a hell of a lot of worse.


In his moment of reflection, he unconsciously licked his lips, and realized he could still faintly taste the salt of Sasha’s sweat, the coppery tang of blood, and the sting of moonshine. His cheeks turned scarlet at the thought, which he just as quickly shoved down. True, from the second she’d set foot in his garage, he’d been struck by her charm, her confidence, her attitude, her… Man, she’s beautiful, an’ smart, an’ she’s way outta yer league. Cut it out, he chided himself.


He let out a deep breath, and turned to go get her, only to find her standing right behind him. “Damn, girl, you sure you ain’t some kinda ninja assassin robot or somethin’? Walk louder, wouldja?” Scooter joked, trying to not notice how close she was standing, and that she’d removed the remains of her jacket, leaving only the dusty white tank top beneath. He took a step back to distance himself, motioning to the bed beyond.


“Here ya go, hope it’s comfy enough for ya. Ah’ll be out here, if ya need anything, jes’ holler, a’right?”


Sasha sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over to begin unstrapping her boots. Scooter looked away quickly, even though he’d already gotten a split second glimpse down her shirt. “Thanks again, Scooter, I owe you one. Big time,” she said sleepily, placing the boots at the foot of the bed.


“Sure thing, kiddo. G’nite,” Scooter said quietly, backing into the garage as Sasha curled up on the mattress. She was asleep in seconds.