1 pkg unknown yogurt fillets, thawed

Omg omg omg omg omg omg.

Kenzie had done well to keep her composure the entire time she masqueraded as Secretary Sam. She maintained her poise all through the halls but the closer she got to the exit the more her heart rate accelerated. Still her steps were even and her face relaxed as she started down the side walk. Not too far though and her stoic professional look started contorting to an excited grin that she just could not contain, and any effort to do so merely caused comical expressions. Her steps quickened and she practically started to prance and bounce as she went along. She kept trying to check herself, lest she draw attention, but even at her most composed, she was still wiggling and grinning like the cat that ate the canary — and really, did she not just?

Omg omg omg omg omg omg!

This was more money than she had ever seen before. Her best heists had netted her hundreds not thousands. In those days she would have scammed her partner out of their share and disappeared to another zip code. Such a thought did not cross her mind at all with Fletch. She couldn't wait to get out of the neighborhood and find a sensible place to call him, to see the look on his face when she handed him more than three times the amount he was expecting.


Once free of the well-to-do residential area, Kenzie pulled out her phone. Her hands were shaking, but at least time it was from a bounty of excitement instead of debilitating anxiety. She dialed up Fletch and jigged up and down on the balls of her feet as it rang, her eyes lifting to a billboard advertising a local attraction just a couple clicks down the road. Soon as he answered, she blurted out:

Fletch, Fletch, Fletch! I GOT IT! There's a thing here, with the fishes, uhh, like a zoo with fish-ohhhhfucking aquarium! There's an aquarium. Oh. I guess there's a zoo too. JUST. Doyouwanna pick me up here? I mean there. I'll be there. I'm not here yet. FUCK you know what I mean. HEHehehehehe we got gas money!

She had wanted to play it cool... but... well...


When Fletch had no pressing demands for either his time or attention, he would normally rejoice; kick back with a four-count of beer and a packet of fags, a view and a copy of the crossword. The morning of, the crossword lay abandoned, and the eggs he'd had for breakfast now swam in a sea of restless energy brought on by anticipation and too much nicotine.

Ten o'clock came, and went. Half past. His phone lay cold and quiet on the bed beside him, as he relayed the minutes that crawled by like snails. Fletch jumped when the screen burst into life shy of quarter to; failing to connect the call twice and swearing in ham-fisted excitement.

She was buzzing. High as a kite. Her energy fed into and ignited his own, burgeoning glee, and in absence of suitable outlet he was off the bed and crowing at the top of his lungs.

Oh you little belter - you gem! Hah-HA!

He fumbled his keys off the counter, slamming the Sprinter's side door closed and barrelling into the driver's seat. The van spluttered into life as he wheeled off the dirt and onto the road. Aquarium. Larkspur. Yes, absolutely. He had the phone jammed between his cheek and his shoulder as he floored it, nodding even though Kenzie couldn't see him.

I'll meet you there in forty minutes, tops.

In the end, he pulled up outside the Aquarium over an hour after that; a few wrong turns and a personal reminder to calm down dialling up his original estimate. Outside, he crawled the curb in search of a good pair of legs, and when he didn't spot his pixie-haired PA, or indeed any sign of a pencil skirt and heels, he called her back.

Fuck are you?

He pipped the horn for good measure. Her carriage awaited!

She could do no more than laugh as Fletch echoed her excitement, chirping a delighted okay! as he agreed to meet her at the fish-zoo in forty. One step toward that destination and she paused, realizing she hadn’t grabbed her bag on her route here.

She had time, she decided, and doubled back a bit to retrieve her belongings. Into the bag she deposited her notebook, pen, and the cash. Her fingertips grazed her glasses, about to remove them, as her eyes found her usual clothes and she thought to change. But here she paused too, and with an impish chuckle to herself, decided to keep her Secretary Sam look.

Mwaha! I’ll show you pencil skirt and heels!

Carried on her high, Kenzie was at the aquarium in good time, expecting Fletch in ten or so. There was a bench outside, one of a number perched along the sidewalks. She settled down there with a long exhale, relaxing, basking in her own happiness. Fletch was late, but she hardly noticed as she thumbed through a brochure for the aquarium and zoo.

She spotted the Sprinter coming down the road. She grinned and tittered, waiting to see if Mr. Isle would spot his assistant. Kenzie could see Fletch looking and saw him lift his phone, the gesture answered with a buzzing in her pocket. She was on her feet and headed toward him as she answered.

I’m not far! In faaaact...

She giggled, coming up to the side of the van. Kenzie leaned down to the open window, grinning in at her friend and wagging her free hand in a silly wave. Her tongue poked out in teasing.

"I’m right here."

Even on the phone to her, Fletch continued to scan the crowds. He was looking for what he recognised; jeans, boots and a black leather jacket, dressed up with bangles and a faded brown backpack. Failing that, he looked for the mental picture he'd painted in fantasy. Kenzie hadn't much in the way of curves, but a tailored shirt and a hip-skimming skirt would create the illusion. Neither silhouette matched that of the boy that stood up from the bench, whom Fletch saw but instantly dismissed. Even his stride differed from the one he remembered. He did not notice the bag.

Thus, by the time Kenzie reached the van window Fletch was still peering at crowds, and when she spoke, he startled.

'Oh, so y'are!'

Force of habit broke him out in a grin, despite his sinking heart. No heels. Not even a skirt. He ended the call and jerked his head toward the driver's seat. 'You hopping in then?'

... where were her tits?

She caught him off guard. She laughed, pleased that her disguise had made her unrecognizeable to Fletch. That was the point after all — to hide her true self. It was a tactic familiar to her, used more than once to keep her safer.

"Course." Grinning, Kenzie scurried around the front of the Sprinter. She didn’t get into the passenger seat though; Kenzie climbed into the back and closed the door behind her. She dug the cash out of her knapsack — she had placed it in a ziploc bag that used to have beef jerky in it. Leaning forward, her hand braced against the driver’s seat, she handed the take to Fletch. Her grin stretched to her ears as she hung in the moment, awaiting his reaction to how much was there.

When Kenzie didn't do as instructed, Fletch moved the stick into neutral and gave it a wiggle. Then he tugged the hand brake.

'What you doing, fannying around back there?' He twisted, only to find her at his back, grinning like a fox and dangling a bag that still smelt of beef. Mollified, he took it from her as one might a toy from an over-playful dog, the polythene crinkling gently beneath his fingers. The take. It weighed heavy in his hands as he settled it out of sight in his lap.


He wet his thumb and began to count, not only to measure Kenzie's share, but to check she hadn't swindled him. But as he hit a grand, he paused. Recounted. Frowned.

'Stupid twat give you everything?' He asked, pushing past the thousand mark and up into the doubles. Triples. A small, weak laugh bubbled up from his chest. 'There's four grand here.'

She grinned, and grinned, and grinned as Fletch counted, her shoulders wriggling from side to side with her glee, a quiet giggle the soundtrack to the moment.

"That’s half." She said, pressing her knuckles to her mouth, as if by doing so she could contain an even louder giggle (it didn’t work). Kenzie grabbed Fletch’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze and shake. "Half!" She repeated with a squeak. "That damned fool tripled the amount! I hope you can find yourself within 5 days because that’s how efficient I told him Mr. Isle could be."

Laughing, she stepped back to her bag and started pulling out clothes. "Oh and, you can drive. I just need to change. I’m done playing as Sam for now." She winked at him over her shoulder as she plucked out her jeans.

'I -'

Air escaped him in a soft and bewildered sigh. The money lay fanned in his lap, all four thousand dollars, and already his thoughts tripped over the possibilities. It left him cold.

'Right now I'm not sure I could tell my arse from my elbow,' mumbling, scratching his beard, Fletch fell back to the comfortable monotony of counting. Kenzie's share, all sixteen-hundred dollars, was placed carefully in the zip lock. The rest he stashed inside his coat.

'How'd you convince him to triple it?' Spoken around a cigarette, Fletch lit up. He adjusted the rear view mirror just a fraction to the left. 'He take a liking to Sam or something?'

She laughed, hauling her boots free of the canvas. "Well, like I said. You have 5 days to figure out what’s your arse and what’s your elbow."

Change of clothes taken out, Kenzie took off her glasses and stashed them. The tie came next. "I think his mind was elsewhere," she answered Fletch. "It seemed he had forgotten Sam was even coming, and his apartment was a mess, and he was a mess, tearing up and such." Her voice became muffled as she hauled her top over her head part-way through her reply, revealing the white compression shirt that was hiding the little gems Fletch had been wondering about. Those sprang free when she pulled that shirt over her head too and then rolled and stored both. "I didn’t have to convince him of nothing. He asked how fast you could be found if he tripled the payment, and I told him doing so would make him the highest bidder and buy his case’s priority."

She had no concern about Fletch being there as she undressed. This was a man who had first met her when she was naked, standing beside a dead deer; who had seen her deteriorate into a stuttering, choking mess; who had held her while her bones broke through her skin, dislocated and contorted, to the sound of her wailing and groaning. Fletch had seen more of her than most, had seen her at her absolute worse, and he had been nothing but good to her. Why worry, why hide? The thought to be uncomfortable simply never crossed her mind.

Kenzie plucked off the oxford shoes and shoved them in the bag. Standing there in just her dress slacks and socks, she pulled on the first piece of her clothes: a simple black bra. She undid her belt and pulled it through the loops, buckle jingling as it went. The pants were off next, replaced soon after with black jeans and the same belt. Then she chucked on a black tank top with ‘SCREAM’ printed in red lettering across the front, and secured her boots to her feet. Her last action to restore herself was to ruff up her hair a bit and lift it off her head.

Kenzie climbed up over the console then, and took her proper seat with a relieved sigh and a happy wiggle, leaving her bag in the back. The seatbelt clicked as she popped it in, and she grinned at Fletch as her hands slapped down on her thighs.


She was going to say something, but just giggled and squirmed instead.

The cigarette went some way to settling his thoughts. Slouched behind the wheel, his elbow resting on the lip of the open window, his attention flicked between the comings and goings of the Aquarium, and his rear view mirror. ♠️

'Sounds about right,' he muttered, swallowing and taking another shaky drag on his smoke. 'Total nutter, that one.' It was something of a relief as Kenzie climbed the centre console, depositing herself in the passenger seat and handing him her glee. He passed her the ziploc without delay, a dangerous smirk on his face.

'So. Lady Penelope.' He wanted to eat until he was sick. Get trashed on whisky and fight someone. Fuck the girl beside him. It was nearing half past twelve, and already his veins buzzed with the desire to do something stupid and reckless and drag Kenzie with him. Whether down to the coyote writhing in the back of his mind or giddy elation they had pulled the plan off, now almost two-and-a-half grand richer, Fletch was consumed by irresponsibility. 'How'd you want to celebrate?'

He handed her the ziploc with her share, and she grinned, sinking into her shoulders with a wiggle and squeezing the bag — all the pent up excited energies animating her a bit more than usual. But when he called her Penelope for a second time she shot him a look that dared him to call her that one more time.

She raised a stern finger, but it was plain on her face that she was teasing.

"I’m warning you."

Kenzie leaned back, digging her small hand into her pocket to retrieve her wallet. From the ziploc she pulled out a few hundred dollars without bothering to count it all first, and she deposited those bills in the ragged leather folds before re-zipping the bag. Stretching and craning a bit, tongue poking out the side of her mouth, she struggled to reach her knapsack before just managing to hook it by her fingertips and haul it close. The ziploc containing the rest of her cash was hidden in a side pocket.

Settled back into her seat, she hummed over Fletch’s question. Kenzie’s mind was notorious for churning possibilities, with a inclination toward fixating on all the worst ones. For once, in all this jubilation, she had been anchored in the present. Her mind was a child bouncing about a colorful ball pit, just a buzz of good feels, no cares, no worries — nothing but delight in her surroundings and self.

"How about... hmm." She scrunched her nose, tapped her chin, and turned her eyes up in a silly, theatrical display of thinking hard. Glancing at the smirking man beside her, Kenzie’s mind came loose from its dock and started to drift; a pang of hurt and guilt soon thrusting it back in place like a rogue wave. "I know!" She chirped, her intense happiness fortifying her against the rejection still fresh in her breast. "Stop at a supermarket. I want some cookie dough." She giggled.

She followed up with a softer answer a heartbeat or two after. "Really though, any way you want! So long as I can spend the day with you." Kenzie bit her lip and took to scratching idly at the seatbelt laying against her neck, her gray eyes lingering on Fletch. That had sounded sappier to her ear than she meant it to be. But it was honest. The things she wanted most could not be bought; a day in the company of a good friend among them. That was how she ultimately wished to celebrate.

'Cookie dough.'

Of all the doors open to her, all the avenues she could explore now she was flush, Kenzie wanted sugar. Thrown by the innocence of the request, not to mention the soft statement that followed, Fletch met that grey gaze for a moment or two longer than necessary before starting up the engine.

'As her ladyship decrees.' Cookie dough and a day in his company. His head ticked toward her in deference as he pulled away from the curb, considering that it would be an idea to restock his fridge and fill up the van now he had the cash to do so. But even then his mind pulled him toward fillet and porterhouse steaks, racks of lamb and pork tenderloin. His mouth watered. 'I'm starving,' he announced, quite suddenly. 'Fancy finding the first all-you-can eat we come across and going nuts?'

"Cookie dough," he echoed. "Cookie dough," she parroted back with an affirmative nod. Cooke dough was her favorite treat and she could not recall the last time she had any. Kenzie hadn't been living paycheck to paycheck, she had been living meal to meal, and like the Pepsi that Fletch had bought her some time back, cookie dough was among the things she had done without.

She bit her tongue as he referred to her as her ladyship, rolling her eyes, exhaling through her nose and giving her head a shake — all in good humor. But she was absolutely going to get him back for all these terrible addresses sooner than later, preferably when he wasn't behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

His announcement had her cocking her head in his direction. His suggestions had her mouth watering as her stomach answered with a gurgle. She grinned. "Uhm. YEAH?" Why hadn't she thought of that? She had barely thought of the cookie dough. "Hell yeah." Kenzie emphasized, pumping a fist. "We can do that first if you want? Get cookie dough after for dessert?" The sides of her boots tapped together audibly in an excited fidget.

"...if we can walk," she added as an after thought with a happy hum and a smile.

'If you like.' He grinned, the end of his cigarette arcing away from his fingers as he flicked it. 'Might see if we can change your mind about that later.'

Larkspur did not strike him as the sort of city that catered to down-and-outs looking for a feed. Kenzie aside, he had spent the last few months living exclusively in a van. With neither patience or inclination to tidy up before they hit the town he headed deep into the heart of Cordova; happy to accept the first place that wouldn't turn them both away at the door.

This, and an itching compulsion to leave the scene of the crime. The chance of their indiscretion being uncovered was slim-to-none. But with his luck, they'd encounter Wee Willy Weasel whilst stuffing their faces on the proceeds of his wallet. There was something to be said for getting lost in a crowd.

He reached between them, dialling down the radio to ease conversation. Kenzie had promised news on her impending visit to the Head Bitch and had so far offered nothing, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, he let that particular dog lie.

'Bumped into one of your lot earlier in the week, you know,' he announced, readjusting the rear-view mirror as they pulled up at some lights. 'All the way down in Red Rock. Liza, her name is.'

Hmm? Did he not like cookie dough? Did he think she ought not to have cookie dough — that he was one of those deviants that tried to suggest cookie dough not be eaten raw (because fuck those people)? Perhaps he had another idea. It occured to her that she still owed him cake.

"Oh? You did, did you?" Liza. That was... ah. The chipper chick who enthusiastically greeted her that morning she started work at the brewery. In the midst of all that, and running the scam, Kenzie not had the chance to tell Fletch of the developments in her life.

"I met her too," she said, leaning back in her seat for better comfort but also fidgetting because she worried Fletch would be mad she hadn’t brought this up sooner. "I also met Head Bitch McCoy." She shifted her mouth. She probably shouldn’t call her that any more. Alina was stony, but she had done good by Kenzie, who sighed before she continued. "Alina. I texted her, met her at some Chinese place. She... was not happy I had been afoot in Cedar Creek. Heh." Kenzie laced her fingers together in her lap, brushing her thumbs against one another as she turned her head to regard Fletch. "I thought she was going to run me out of Mountainside. But. Next thing I know she’s laying down the terms, telling me to show up at the brewery the next morning to help out, and also telling me I’m going to go live with this other girl."

Her mouth quirked in a half smile, apologetic and happy and unsure all at once.

"So here I am, suddenly a pack member, with kind of a job? And an actual address and bed to go to at the end of the night. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this but... uhhh... there’s an extra parking stall that I have no use for... so..."

She heh’ed with the same sort of mixed feels she was half-smiling with, shrugging her shoulders a little out of her own awkwardness in trying to extend a simple offer to her friend.

There were three things Fletch took away from Kenzie's news. The first was that she had indeed gone to meet with the Wolf Queen of Cedar Creek, but was only telling him this now, presumably after his question prompted her to confess. Whether he would have ever become privy to this knowledge, or whether Kenzie would have slipped away with her money to start her new life among the pack without breathing a word was an imponderable he chose not to dwell on.

Secondly, her life was on the up. True, when you hit rock bottom the only way to go was up, and even a park bench in the middle of Union Square would have been preferable to a fictional friend's house (see: needle-infested doorway). But she had her own space. A roof over her head. A proper bed to sleep in at the end of every day. Somewhere warm and safe, in the company of someone else just like her. With this, and a steady job, she stood a chance of getting back on her feet.

He offered up the brightest smile he could muster.

'That's great news,' nothing less that utmost sincerity coloured his tone, though her offer made his smile twist to a look of faint regret. One finger scratched at the side of his mouth. 'Not sure its such a good idea for me to pitch up in your parking spot though.' It sounded too much like the illusion of a favour for him to take seriously. The kind that was offered freely because she knew he'd never accept. Cedar Creek had given him the creeps since day one. 'If - Alina - was set to run you out of town for so much as breathing, practically one of her own, what do you reckon she'd do to me? I'm worse than a poor relation.'

He wasn't mad. He was genuinely happy for her, which had her grinning, but — oh. Her heart clenched when he declined her offer, and the grin was swept away. He had a point and yet she felt it had little to do with his response. Rather, she felt he declined as a means to push her away, to keep her at a distance because she had confessed to wanting more of him than she believed he wanted of her. It hurt but also... it disappointed. She wanted to repay his kindnesses and true to that, more than half her excitement over the success of the first phase of their heist was feeling that she had been able to give back to him in some way. She had benefited as well, but she never counted the cash he handed to her for a reason: it did not matter. It did not matter and besides, he had offered her only hundreds in the deal and she knew when she took the bag there was more than that in it. But she would have helped him for no share at all.

"I don't think she'd..." Kenzie pursed her lips with a hum as she glanced out the window. She really didn't know the full extent of the pack's rules and couldn't say what she wanted to say with absolute conviction. "I think she was only mad because I was one of them and didn't say hi. I don't know." She shrugged and set her jaw as she looked back to Fletch. "But listen." There was a firmness to her tone, and a look that bid him to take her at her word... a look that quickly softened to more of a plea for him to accept her friendship and not hold her at arm's length because she admitted her attraction to him. "Offer stands. If you need somewhere to retreat to, you can come to 1300 Barachois Lane, apartment 201." Maybe it was a bad idea for the both of them. The thought that she might get him into trouble for the offer had her biting at her cheek, and it eclipsed her concern for herself. More quietly, after a soft sigh, she added, "I get it. If you don't ever take me up on that. But for what it's worth... I'd go to bat for you. Because you were my pack first."

She wanted to reach over and squeeze his arm but kept her fingers threaded together, feeling the bit of rejection too keenly and also feeling insecure in thinking he meant more to her than she did to him, that he would think her foolish — or worse, needy — for these earnest efforts.

'1300 Barachois Lane, apartment 201.'

Fletch echoed her address with a nod that carried far more conviction than he rightly felt. The giddy elation of before was crashing hard, now; dragged down by the weight of world-weary cynicism resting on his shoulders. It was all well and good extending the offer of a safe house, but where the Head Bitch was concerned, Kenzie didn't know. Just like he didn't know Gobshite, not really, or the rest of those aloof and prickly coyotes.

She might just as well have invited him to jump from frying pan to fire.

He reached across the centre console, his hand warm as it settled on her knee. There was something sweet and sad about her sincerity that deserved to be recognised, before he tarnished it with mistrust. So for that reason, he delivered a firm squeeze in thanks. It was a nice idea in principle.

'So what kind of work they have you doing, anyway?' He settled his hand back on the wheel, looked ahead at the road. The reckless desires that seized him felt all the more volatile now. The kind of impulses that made him itch to floor the accelerator. 'What kind of operation are these wolves running?'

It was as much as acceptance as she was could hope for; a simple squeeze of his hand against her knee that said thanks. She smiled and nodded and left it at that, eager to return to more uplifting conversation. Kenzie was all too aware that once again she had brought the mood down, and she had more than a few choice words for herself in her head.

"Bussing tables and helping out back in the kitchen. It's a brewery and restaurant. Red River Brewery it's called. I stopped there when I first arrived in Mountainside and had steak. Really good food actually." She unhooked her hands and gave her fingers a flutter to cast off tension before she leaned an arm against the arm rest and settled in more comfortably. "Liza works there too. She is super friendly, made us some coffee. She told me that Alina and Trick saved her one night when things went bad for her." To this, Kenzie hummed thoughtfully. The wolf leader had a hard exterior but Kenzie was getting the impression she had a good heart. "Maybe they'll teach me to make beer sometime. Or other drinks. I think I could have fun doing that."

The thought of learning to brew and mix alcohol caused an idea to spring into her mind, one that had her turning toward Fletch again as she conjured up a mischievous grin and slapped her thighs. "I think we should add drinks to our plans."

While Kenzie inwardly berated herself for dragging the mood down, and fought to rid herself of the tension that caused her, Fletch was only aware of a more confident, self-assured version of the young woman he'd first met by the side of the road. Quiet for the most part, a wistful smile played across his expression; allowing her room to speak for the most part, and offering a glance or a raised brow at interval to demonstrate he was listening. He tried to feel happy for her. Liza seemed the kind of buoying personality that would do her good. Keen company in a job that was likely to be stressful at times, but that would provide the necessary leg up to catapult her on to bigger and better things.

Plus, she had done it off her own back besides.

By this point he was scanning road signs for the nearest long-stay multistory, the suggestion of drinks earning a hum of agreement. 'Can't remember the last time I drank anything other than coffee,' he confessed, as he indicated to change lanes. The car park he pulled into advertised twenty-four hour availability, and idly, Fletch wondered how well it was staffed. 'Could even pick up a bunch of spirits and mixers and let you go to town.' He grinned, 'I'd be your guinea pig.'

"I've had a couple beers here and there," she commented idly, running her tongue across her upper lip in thought as she sought to remember the last time she had drank. She dimly recalled being disappointed that she never got drunk the last time she tried some years ago.

His suggestion had her grin broadening and expression twisting into one of even more devilry. She drew her shoulders up, raised her hands to just in front of her face, and made a show of rubbing them together impishly. "I like this idea. But you might regret it." She laughed. Kenzie hadn't the first clue about mixing drinks beyond a few basic things. "Maybe I'll come up with something awesome and we can name it after you." She winked.

Fletch selected a lot in a barren corner, about as far from proper exits as he could be and so out of the way of the heaviest traffic. Kenzie unclipped her seat belt and went to the back to retrieve a zip-up black hoodie from her knapsack. It had no print on it. The strings trailing from the hood were ratty. The cuffs were tattered and frayed and there were thumb-holes in each that shouldn't be there, but which she made good use of as soon as she put the hoodie on. She considered for a moment if there was anything else she needed, or if she should bring the bag itself. No, she decided.

Bright-eyed and smiling, she chirped at Fletch. "Okay, guinea pig of mine, lead the way."

The slam of the van door echoed in the stark, concrete lot. There were several levels down, in the bowels of the place, where few people bothered to find parking space. Fletch saluted the camera en route.

'What would you name it?' The mood he was in called for no less than a full twenty-four hour ticket; while he expected he would crawl back here in the small hours of the morning, it was just as likely he could end up in a ritzy hotel. Or even Red River itself. Over two-and-a-half grand sat hot and heavy in his coat, begging to be spent in a manner befitting the man. Fast, frivolous. Foolish. 'Old and Scruffy? Sex on the Rocks?' He wheeled 'round to face her, pushing open the door to the stairwell with his shoulders. 'The Bellend?'

Of course he had those sorts of names to offer. Funny though they were, she bit back the mild irritation that rose along her spine. She normally enjoyed this sort of jest but perhaps not so much after he freshly discarded her interest in him. In a way, it felt like a cruel tease at her expense. But her mood was buoyed, and so her response to these salacious suggestions was to brush past him as she went through the door, reaching a hand up to tap his cheek twice as she delivered her suggestion with a sly grin.

"Coyote Got His Cock."

She started up the stairs ahead of him.

Tongue-in-cheek, a humourless huff of laughter followed Kenzie through the door.

'Bit below the belt, that? Bit brave?' Even by his questionable and grubby standards the comment rankled, and Fletch generally considered himself as resilient as a rubber ball. He turned sideways to skirt past her on the stairs, flipping back as he reached the landing and higher ground. 'Hey, runaway? Piss off in fear at the first sign of a wank joke?'

His tone remained nonchalant and bright; quite at odds with the prickling hurt her thorny comment left behind. 'Still not convinced you'd know what to do with it,' he beamed as he carried on up, his voice echoing in the stairwell, 'You say you play cards - you even know how to shuffle?'

Whether he deserved it on some level or not, Kenzie felt a twinge of regret at having struck him low like that. It was apparent to her that she had nicked him where it hurt. Fortunately or unfortunately, Fletch was nothing if not swift with his wit. He had it turned around on her in a blink; his remarks swept away the regret and had fresh irritation and embarrassment bleeding into her breast as he stood up there on the landing, looking down at her. She felt like a mangy peasant at the foot of her king, judged harshly for a petty crime that belied the seriousness of the reason she committed it.

His bright tone and beaming smile — frustrating though it was to her in this context — served to goad her to rise to the challenge. She smirked at him. "This mouth and these hands," she said, holding them up in front of her for emphasis. "Have paid for most of my meals, buddy." These words had went unsaid the last time she thought of them because it wasn't a pleasant thing to admit at all. But she said them now because at her core, Kenzie hated how he teased her with what she could not have, dangling it just out of arm's reach, and she wished she could give him a taste of that, perhaps by letting him know what he was missing out on: experienced hands and a practiced tongue. That foolish desire eclipsed the shame she tasted in the wake of her admission.

Or it did for a moment, until Kenzie cringed inwardly and was seized by a slew of self-deprecating thoughts about how he would want her less for knowing she had knelt in front of so many men. Filthy. Whore. She swallowed those thoughts down, doubling down on her determination to go toe to toe with him, to hold her ground as they broke out of the stair well on to the ground level. There were more cars parked here, but no one was afoot around them, just a few pigeons cooing and pecking at grit and garbage.

Fletch did not miss a beat.

'And the rest?' He said, as they crossed the ground level. It felt wrong to make mockery of her hardship; a young woman pushed into prostitution was no laughing matter. But in that moment, his shortcomings and loneliness dragged out and derided, Fletch felt neither generous or good. The pigeons took flight in alarm, the soft whoosh and clap of wings carrying above his words as they exited onto the street. 'You ever get asked for a refund?'


This is what you get, Kenzie, when you attack a man below his belt like you did. She was as unaware of the wounds that she was carelessly pitching salt into as he was unaware of the ones he was doing the same to in return.

She couldn't hide the look of hurt that crossed her face briefly, one that caused her mouth to shift to the side in a partial grimace. "Nah. I've been asked for more. Had a number of repeat customers." She shrugged, feigning indifference when she was feeling anything but. Kenzie had a metaphysical hand held up in her mind that was holding and shoving back a whole lot of awful memories and feelings, and owing to that, she opted not to say anything more on that subject. Not here, not right now. Not when they had festivities to get to, and she couldn't bare to let herself sour another fucking day with Fletch. She felt a surge of aspiration to make this a goddamn good and fucking fun day okay!!

"Come on!" She said cheerfully, skipping up to him and grabbing his hand as she flitted past a step, pivoting to give him a playful tug toward her and down the sidewalk. "Let's find that buffet and get some drinks! I bet there's something nearby." Kenzie grinned at him, giggled a bit even as she focused on recapturing some of her previous elation. Her eyes met his before she let go of his hand and metaphorically crossed her fingers that he would follow her lead and spare them both further torment. "What are you in the mood for, anyway?" He had indicated going to the first buffet they came across, but, she was sure there'd be options, and anyway, conversation.

There was no sense of triumph in what he'd said. No smug satisfaction at having given as good as he got. Fleeting though it was, her look of hurt only told him he'd crossed the line. You started it, he wanted to tell her, his smile tightening as he watched with a closed and cool regard, don't dish out what you can't take back.

But she caught his hand as though her game of barbs didn't matter; a bright and sunny smile imploring him to forget his punctured heart. Fletch followed, but his hands tucked away in his pockets. He was glad of the change in topic.

'A feed, a fight, and a fuck.' He muttered beneath his breath, choosing to avoid the girl in black who careened along the pavement. 'Not necessarily in that order.' Pensive, his sights were above them; scanning the frontage of shops and eateries in search of one he fancied. If he had patience at all, the faff of waiting to be seated and served was now beyond him. He wanted to sink his teeth into something. Who or what hardly mattered.

'Here looks good,' he called to her after a moment, nodding at an all-you-can-eat Chinese. 'Don't know about you, but I want something neon red and packed with MSG.'

She never missed that he had tucked his hands back into his pockets. She took it as a not so subtle way to discourage her from grabbing them any more, and the thought caused goosebumps to rise along her skin with the cold feeling it caused her. It was chased by a feeling of dirtiness, but she anchored her sights and her mind to the sidewalk and stores ahead of them and did her best to ignore it. Nope, nope, nope, they were going to have a good day and—

She heard that mutter. SIGH. Kenzie wanted to raise her hand and drag it across her face in exasperation. Instead, she curled her fingers tightly into her palms and let herself feel her ire for a moment, before she took a deep breath and relaxed her hands, letting the anger drop were she holding it like two fistfuls of mud. Nope, nope, fucking nope. They. Were. Going. To. Have. A. Good. Day. GOD. DAMNIT.

Oh nice he picked a place!

Oh crap it was Chinese.

She liked Chinese. Just maybe not on the heels of having met Alina at such a place.

"Sounds good to meeee!" She smiled at him. It would work. She would make it work. It was taking an awful lot of digging and effort but nonetheless she was managing to maintain her sunnier diposition even if she could feel the flight or fight hum beginning in her chest telling her that she was honestly uncomfortable and uncertain and—


She headed into the restaurant. It truly smelled delicious and her stomach bubbled its approval. "I bet I can eat more plates than you," she challenged with a grin cast over her shoulder at Fletch. There was no waiting before a prompt waitress lead them to a booth for two and asked if they would like something to drink besides water.

She ordered a Pepsi.

Two straws.

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