Stop, Collaborate & Listen

Magic Hollow 

 The last few days had come and gone rather quickly. Jackie wasn't sure if that was because she had something she was looking forward to or because it was just one of those weeks that passed by in a blur, but whatever it was, Friday was here and 3pm was quickly approaching. She'd gotten here early and had opted to grab a coffee from the Starbucks down the street, her nervous punctuality making her early by an hour and forty-five minutes. What if one of the streets had been closed? What if there had been an accident? Being a doctor, she was morally obligated to stop and help! and then she would have been late! SO.

 Here she was. Sitting at a little cafe table outside of the bakery with her empty coffee cup and a book that she had become grossly involved with, fingers playing with the ends of her hair as she read. Of course, this also meant losing track of time, despite the fact that she kept checking her phone to see if Diolun messaged her.

Time was a concept Fletch rarely adhered to. His understanding of it was a mozzarella stretch that fell between comfortable, sagging lateness, and cold, congealing missed the mark. Jackie could have sat there for ten minutes beyond their agreed meeting time, or an hour. But she was caught up in her book and her coffee, and while her company wore a watch, he had forgotten to wind it.


Two hands clapped and held onto her narrow shoulders. As though they were old friends, and this was a meeting after so many years distance. Really, he just wanted to see her turn pink again.

'Whatcha reading, it any good?' Like a dog rooting through trash he leaned into her space, scanning the page for clues. 'Ooh, and he kissed her like a dentist's spit sucker, her nipples perking like a pair of syringes -' words not at all from her book, rather cobbled together from his own mind. Invented to embarrass her. Broadcast to the street. 'Steamy stuff, doc. Nothing like some good old fashioned medical romance to whet an appetite for cake.'

He collapsed in the chair across the way with such lacking grace that the legs barked against the ground. With one forearm strewn across the table top and a mile-wide grin, he asked: 'how's my favourite surgeon?'

 Jackie was yanked from her book when hands clapped down on her shoulders, drawing a short but startled scream from her. Her heart pounding in her chest, eyes flushed pink with the creature's readiness to shift and protect her. It took several moments for her to register that it was the coyote she was here to meet, blinking rapidly as he leaned over her to peer at her book.

 Not that that was any better, since the moment he started talking, the blush renewed and burned brighter than ever as the cheetah reached up to try and cover his mouth with a hissed "shutupohmygod", moving quicker than she intended but also not fast enough as he was already pulling away. Instead, she buried her face in her hands, trying to get a handle on herself and maybe calm down a little so that her face wasn't beet red. Also so she didn't alarm anyone with her eyes.

 "Take me to the hospital," She grumped at him, voice muffled. "I just had a heart attack."

To say Fletch was chuffed at the reaction his teasing evoked was an understatement. Jackie melted like a cake in the rain, fuschia pink and sagging beneath the weight of her embarrassment. It was the sort of petty glee he remembered from time spent with the in-laws; a rally against the social constraints imposed upon him. Here, it was less a need to protest, more a timely reminder to self that he could.

'Ah, nothing you can't handle,' from the table centre he plucked a menu and stuffed it under her nose. 'Here. Cast those baby pinks of yours down that. Coffee and a slice. I'll make it up to you.'

 The menu offered was taken quickly, bringing it close to hide her current, flushed state. It was some level of unfortunate that both her skin and eyes turned similar shades when she was so put on the spot but it was the hand that life had dealt her. "Jerk," She mumbled at him, though even if Jackie were able to thread venom into her voice, now was certainly not the time she would do so. Growing up in a large family had put her at the brunt of jokes for a long while and though she was still easily embarrassed, it was nothing she couldn't handle, just like Fletch said.

 "I thought we were seeing who could eat more cake, hmm?" She asked, peeking out at him over the top of the menu, eyes still bright pink. "Are you forfeiting this early?"

While Jackie disappeared behind the menu, blooming rose, Fletch retired in his chair at a comfortable lean. A grin stretched from ear to ear. Not quite wolfish, but certainly sly and self-satisfied.

'Oh aye, we're eating cake.' He assured her, a jab of his thumb indicating inside, to the chilled cabinet where the café kept their desserts. 'I'll just stroll in and ask 'em for the lot, shall I? Ninety-six slices o'chocolate cake, please, with a side of carrot.'

'Discretion's the better part of valour.' Extending one arm, he flicked the back of the menu with his nails. 'We'll eat as much as we can get away with here, then we'll move on to the next place that'll have us. We'll get kicked out for being weird eventually. Especially if you keep up with those pinky peepers.'

 Okay. To be fair, Jackie had never ordered some ridiculous amount of food anywhere ever, for fear of being found out. When she did order a large amount of food, it was also to go, never to sit in the restaurant and eat. Actually, now that she thought about it, the cheetah was fairly sure she hadn't eaten in front of of anyone else since she'd been turned into this. She was always careful, to the point where she didn't really allow herself to have much fun. Between being a doctor and being a cheetah, she didn't really have time for it.

 "Oookay... How much do you think we can get away with here? Also, does cheesecake count, or are we restricted to only cake?" Those pink peepers were hidden once more behind the menu. The cheetah was backing off, slowly but surely, but her eyes were still beacons, shouting to the world that she was not normal.

Fletch had never really been one for rules. There was something about boundaries that evoked an innate desire to test their limits and push beyond them, ignoring all trespass signs and warnings. Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, he always thought, and so when Jackie began to hem in their loose competition, he laughed.

'Got cake in the description, hasn't it?' Across the table he was grinning at her, entirely supportive of her decision to indulge in something heavy and filling. Light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek as this bet was, that didn't mean he wouldn't try to win. He scratched at the burgeoning scruff along his jawline. 'Didn't really think about how much we could get away with, just figured I'd keep ordering stuff until we got the old heave ho.'

'So come on, Pinky.' He nudged her foot beneath the table with one of his own. 'What's it to be?'

 "Well, yes... Some people don't consider it a cake though..." This time, when she looked over at him, the pink was draining from her eyes to leave faceted emeralds in their wake. It was semantics, details, that Jackie usually got bogged down with, and that was no different now even with something so simple and innocent. In fact, the answer he gave was even maddeningly vague but the feline reminded herself that she was not at work and did not need an exact answer to everything. She would try to believe it, too.

 What was she having though? Did she want cheesecake now, or did she want to save that for last? Last would likely be best but that meant choosing what kind of cake to have in the meantime. "Uhh... Prrrrobably something with lemon in it, I think?" Chocolate was great and all but lemon was fantastic and to her delight, there were several such options. "The Lemon Drop slice." A decisive answer! "You?"

'I was going to go for that.' He grumbled, as if Jackie's choice denied him his. Sat peering at the back of her laminated menus, when he made up his mind he whipped it out of her hands to take to the counter. 'Fine. Ginger.' One forefinger pointed at her. 'No jokes.'

He returned with two plates of cake bearing multiple slices apiece. It had attracted a bemused frown from the man who served him, but Fletch suspected this was more down to his request that each slice of cake was not served on individual plates, rather grouped according to flavour on two.

'So, I have to ask -' Jackie's cake was set down before her, along with the aforementioned coffee. After all, you had to have something to wash the cake down with. 'If fight night becomes a regular thing, you reckon you'll stick your name in? Or does the oath forbid it?'

 The cheetah blinked owlishly at him, the idea of making fun of him because of a flavor obscure and confusing to her. Perhaps it was a joke in and of itself. She had never been the best at humor, though she did try. Still, in the time it took her to try and figure out what the maybe joke was, Diolun was heading inside to get their slices. Jackie took that moment to put her book and personal phone away into her trusty, if a bit worn, messenger bag. Unfortunately, the work phone stayed right there on the table. :(

 "Thank you." A bright smile appeared on her face as he set a coffee down in front of her, maybe wiggling a little bit in her chair. She loved coffee. It was the easiest way to her heart besides sweets and cheetah ear scritches and a couple of other things. And honestly, lemon cake and coffee together? Perfect. Breakfast.

 "W-what? Oh, no. Nope." She shook her head for good measure. "I've never even been in a fight so not a chance. oath or not. I'd die in like. A heart beat." She laughed, picking up her fork and watching the tongs slide into the light yellow icing so smoothly. "What about you? Did you like the fighting?"

The humour to be found in a humble slice of ginger cake was perhaps something quintessentially British, clearing the heads of most Americans. But that didn't explain why Jackie, of Irish extraction, wore that same, blank look. Sheltered, or polite? Fletch thought, as he slid back into his seat. He banked on the latter, particularly in light of what she said next.

He studied her, the way she vehemently denied any inclination or history of fighting. It was endearing, in a way; brought a lopsided grin to his face. 'Not even a wee scrap in the school yard?' He teased, the comment throwaway. Fletch imagined Jackie was and had always been the kind of girl mothers dreamt their sons would bring home. A nice girl. Above the kind of grubby existence he lead.

'Think I'm past all that, don't you?' His smile never faded past a playful quirk, but from across the way his blue eyes met her green with a knowing look. She had seen the aftermath. She knew who he'd been up against.

 "Never a scrap in the yard." Father would have been most unhappy about something like that; Jackie, people pleaser that she had been raised to be, would never have done anything that she knew would upset her parents. "Besides, I spent most of my free time in the library. Not much scrapping there." Though, there had been that one time that someone threw a book at the librarian's head...

 The eye contact was not lost on the younger blonde, and she answered it with a quirk of her brow and an amused sort of smile. "Don't be daft. I think you did quite well from what I saw. You walked away on your own two feet, which is more than I can say for some of the others." A couple had to be carried over, though she hadn't treated them.

 Her first bite of cake drew a soft sound from her, the taste bright and citrusy. Pleasant. "Fancy a bite?" She asked, offering said bite on the end of her fork to him.

A snort followed her remark, but it lacked an edge. Fletch still wasn't sure why she countered his sarcasm with softness. He'd done nothing to earn it. For all his deflection, his joking, the self depreciation sprouted from a kernel of truth. He was getting old.

Affecting manners he didn't own, Fletch took up his cake fork. For the time being he contented himself that Jackie probably didn't have an ulterior motive to her kindness. Rather, it was just the way she was wired.

'Naff library,' he peered at her from beneath his brows as he chopped through soft ginger sponge with the side of his fork. 'You could do a fair bit of damage with Gray's Anatomy. Thirty-eighth edition. What do you reckon?'

At her offer, Fletch reached beyond the suggested morsel and took hold of her plate. Dragging it closer, the lemon cake was plucked from the porcelain and savaged; returned with a large crescent wound, icing and all. Jackie was compensated with a close-mouthed beam.


 "Would it surprise you if I told you I own a Gray's Anatomy coloring book?" No, she was not kidding. Though, there was a huge difference in the Gray's Anatomy and the Grey's Anatomy coloring books. The show was ridiculous and campy and sappy (and everything she secretly loved in a good netflix-binge session) but Jackie's passion and focus was medicine. Not actors playing at medicine.

 "H-Hey!" Any serious accusation wrapped in that exclamation was swept away with a bright laugh as she reached out for the plate out of reflex. What she didn't realize, however, was that the same hand she reached with was the same hand holding her fork, thus flinging the once-offered bit of cake in his direction. In the direction of his face, to be exact.

 Her hand flew to her mouth, trying and failing to stifle her laugh.

Had he a snout, Fletch might have stood a chance at catching the morsel of cake Jackie flung his way. As it was, it hit his chest and disappeared down onto his lap, and he spent the next couple of minutes rescuing crumbs from the crotch of his jeans.

'That what you spend your spare time doing, is it?' He peered up at her, sucking lemon-tinged sugar off the pad of his thumb 'Not bad. Tastes better off the plate than it does the floor, though.'

'Tell you what. See who can finish theirs first. Loser buys the next round.' He noted her ruined slice of cake with a nod before taking up his own. 'Given you a head start, so you can't complain. Ready? Go.'

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