Pairings: For the most part Jelsa, but while it will end up as JackxElsa, that means there will be a little JimxElsa, too.
Rating: R/M because people are dying and so censorship is much less of a debate.
Disclaimer: Send your appreciation and respect to the minds of Disney, DreamWorks, Bluth, and pretty much any animation company that is not me. The original concept of this story is not mine: Fables belongs to DC/Vertigo Comics. I'm simply re-interpreting a pre-existing story, just like pretty much everyone else on this website. Song and lyrics, "Sunday Morning," is by Maroon 5.
Thanks: To SashaWren and IGDude117 because my writing is by no means perfect and there's always something that can be improved. Seriously, give them major props and thank you's! And I would also like to extend thanks to S Danyal Allen, Kelsocspanatarailka, Silence in Winter, SharKohen, TheGreenFairy25, Guest, and Trapid for your reviews. Your support means so much!
"Jim's Got Game"
It was the Sunday after the events of Remembrance Day, and Boston was given a taste of scalding summer, in the form of a dragon with fire in its teeth, and the world had no choice but to bow under its oppressive force. Households throughout the city turned their fans on and adjusted their air conditioning as a means of refuge. Those who ventured outdoors found themselves combating the heat with quickly evaporating bottles of water, accumulating sweat, and the need to cling to any shade they could find for relief.
One such individual who chose to challenge the overbearing temperatures instead of avoiding them was Jim Hawkins. Given his adventurous nature and ever-changing timetable, there were few things in his schedule he felt a need to uphold, and working out was one of them. He had long-since realized that when he refrained from keeping himself active, he would grow stir-crazy, so prioritizing workouts became a matter of not only maintaining his physical health, but his mental state. How he worked out varied from one location to another, but when in Boston, a good run at 6:00 AM was a good way to begin. During weekdays he would swing by one of the local animal shelters (changing up the exact organization every five years because people begin to wonder why he's still the same) and giving the more excitable dogs a good jog. As it was Sunday, Jim was going solo.
This day he opted for his recent favorite route along the Charles River. Here the water served as a nice change of scenery compared to the rest of the city and its old, tall buildings, as well as the small parks he'd pass through. Usually fellow runners would share the space with him, but this morning he had only seen two, one of whom was practically glued to a public water fountain. At the sight he was reminded to carefully sip from his own bottle. Practically immortal he may be, but dehydration was still something he wished to avoid. He capped the bottle. The motion triggered recent memories of the previous two weeks, Remembrance Day, and a Deputy Mayor who currently championed his mind.
In a way, he was a little surprised by the turn of emotions in himself regarding Elsa. Prior to the fiasco with Naveen and Mim, he did not give her too much thought. True, she was positively stunning and he could not imagine a world where anyone would claim otherwise (and he had literally been to hundreds), but the Fable community was rampant with beautiful people so it wasn't as if pretty women were in short supply. Honestly the general impression he had of her was that she was caring for those few who mattered, but otherwise could be a little standoffish and pretty damn intimidating. Jim had gone up against pirates, captains, dying worlds, armies, monsters, and his mother's wrath and it was Elsa who could make him or anyone else stop short. So he would be pleasant – after all it wasn't as if he disliked her – deliver his reports from sister Fabletowns, and then carry on his merry way.
But then Mim happened.
After struggling to break free and feeling horribly worn out, emasculated and trapped, it was Elsa who had helped him. That did not surprise him. She wouldn't be as good at her job as she is if she weren't willing to help others. And really, any Fable with a conscience would help another in such a situation. So while he was absolutely appreciative of her helping him get to Medical, his previous perception of the duty-bound woman hadn't changed too much.
What did stand out for him was that she stayed.
Elsa stayed. He was genuinely, albeit pleasantly, surprised. He didn't know why as she bore no personal allegiance to him. He thought perhaps she was being kind since she was the one to find him and wanted to make sure he was okay. She did call Silver, so she could have been waiting for the ex-pirate to arrive before she departed. And while that may have been the case, Jim found himself in the rare position to truly observe the Snow Queen, and in doing so found some of his preconceptions of her melting. For the first time he saw how she was fussing – this strong, collected, stunning woman – over him. Gone was her normal calm and measured expression and in its place were winter blue eyes wide with worry, lips parted with words of care, and ungloved hands wringing together in unease. Amidst his pain he was fascinated by this change in her demeanor, and in that first moment when she flushed under his gaze… it didn't matter what state he was in, who ran rampant in his nightmares, or that he was hospitalized – he knew she was what he had been looking for: the adventure of a lifetime.
At first he found himself scheming ways he could keep her company without scaring her off, but Elsa proved it unnecessary as she kept returning to the Medical Wing to see him. She would consistently bring him food, keep him company between breaks, and ask how his recovery was coming. Jim was not a hundred percent sure if she was acting out of what was duty-bound ethics or if she mirrored his interest, but when he reached out to initiate physical contact and she didn't pull away, he read it as a good sign.
Jim's certainty picked up some when Silver added his own observations regarding Elsa's frequent visits – all equipped with a knowing smirk.
It was probably because of that Jim wasn't the least bit shocked when the Sheriff paired Elsa up with him for the Ball under the guise of keeping him safe. Jim wasn't too sure he was thrilled with his first "date" with her being one she was kind of manipulated into, but if things went well he could hopefully make it up to her by sweeping her off her feet. If there was one thing he learned working as a diplomat it was how to be charming.
His romantic side he happily blamed on his father whom he refused to be anything like.
As Jim jogged, he recalled arriving at her apartment, her surprise when he presented flowers, and his own awe at her appearance. As the night progressed he took great pleasure observing her expression becoming more relaxed and open. With each movement he tested the waters of Elsa, sinking in slowly to see what she would allow: holding her hand, draping his arm around her waist, and eventually guiding her to the dance floor. By the end of the night he was feeling rather confident and after the events on the roof when he dropped her off at her door, he dared to kiss her hand before bidding her goodnight.
Mim was caught, Naveen wasn't dead, and the possibility of dating Elsa was looking more and more like a probability.
Bald spot on the back of Jim's head or not, he felt good, and when he woke up the following morning he sent her a "Good morning :)" text before he left for his morning run. He liked the little fantasy in his mind of her waking up to his message and that imagery carried through his long distance calls with a Fable who was difficult to hear through his thick accent and what sounded like at least a dozen other high-pitched voices yelling around the phone in gibberish. All Jim could make out was something about a banana. It probably meant he was going to need to make a trip down there and see how they were managing: being located at the south pole was the opposite of easy. Upon finishing the call, he was notified Elsa had responded and his mood soared.
Saturday had carried on in a busy but positive rhythm. He continued with his schedule: making more calls, catching up on two weeks of neglected work, heading out to Hercules' gym where the demi-god and Bob Parr were arm wrestling (for the millionth time), sending out important packages, and dropping off confiscated magical artifacts at the Basement – all the while texting Elsa and fighting a colossal smile that refused to budge and was beginning to hurt his jaw.
It was thrilling and fascinating how in a span of two weeks he had gone from haunted, draining terror to feeling as if he were on a ship with the destination of Cloud Nine. If he weren't so excited, he might have considered the possibility of emotional whiplash.
Jim slowed his run to a walk, panting with controlled breath between small sips of water. Usually when he was involved in a physical activity, his focus was purely on that, but it seemed his mind had gotten away from him and he had accidentally strayed in his path. He was back in Fabletown's perimeters, Fabletown's Upper East side, a few blocks from his apartment complex. Before he could wonder why his feet had betrayed him, he realized which building he was passing, and that he had taken himself where he really wanted to be without thinking.
Jim stood in front of curved architecture with large windows on the elevated first story. The old brick steps leading to the six-story building had been recently cleaned, a necessity for both the occupants and general upkeep. The Beaux Arts style was common in Boston and among the favorites of many Fables, particularly those who had the money. While many Fables from more primitive realms were fascinated by the growing technologies of their current world, there was an appeal to keeping around things that were old. Jim was by no means surprised that this would be the building to attract Elsa's attention.
Before the idea was fully formed in his mind he found himself headed up to her apartment. Rational thought seemed to have left him, but he was here so why not go see her? Jim reasoned she was probably a morning person and was up, and if not, his knocking most likely wouldn't wake her. True, she didn't really seem like the deep sleeper type, but he was already up the stairs.
Of course, it was only when the diplomat arrived at her door and had rapped his knuckles against it twice did he realize his current state: red in the face, drenched in sweat, probably reeking of body odor, and panting from his run, the heat, and the journey up five flights of stairs. The one saving grace was that he was purposely dressed in a black fitted, sleeveless top and athletic shorts, so he didn't have any sweat stains to hide.
Cursing at himself for not thinking this through, he splashed some of the water he had left on himself as if that could mask any smells, and then gulped down the last remnants of the bottle.
"Jim?" Elsa's voice was soft and appropriately confused as she opened the door. "This is unexpected."
Alas, he was mid drink when the door opened and Jim had the delightful opportunity to make a complete and total ass of himself by taking one look at her, sharply inhaling, and proceed to have a choking fit.
In his defense, however stunning she looked at the ball, this was a whole other realm of jaw dropping and he suddenly felt way out of his league. There Elsa stood in all her glory, for the first time in Jim's memory, with her ashen hair falling like silk around her. If he had not met Aphrodite, Jim would have thought she currently stood before him. But it was Elsa. The same Elsa who sternly ran Fable City Hall with a poised demeanor and kept all at arm's length. Only now her hair was down, fringed bangs framed her wide eyes, her lips were parted, and she was dressed only in a small white robe with dragon-like peacocks fanning themselves in the stitching.
Amidst her repeatedly asking if he was all right, he managed to sip the last bit of water to stay his throat. "Elsa," he managed and aw jeez his voice came out embarrassingly hoarse. He made a motion to drink again and realized with disappointment the bottle was empty.
"What happened to resting?" Her tone was bemused. Well at least he made her laugh.
Jim cleared his throat as he regretfully capped his drink. "I'm fine. Just …" Jim's jaw hovered as he refrained from finishing the thought and he turned his attention back to her. His eyes flickered from her face, to her hair, to the tightly held silk robe that fell just above her knees. Who answers her door barefoot in in silk robes that end above the knees and then clutches said silk robe at the base of her neck as if without her grip it would just fall away …? He shut his mouth. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
Her smile was close-lipped but pleasant. "Not quite." She thumbed some strands of her damp hair, indicating she had probably just gotten out of the shower. The smirk she sent his way indicated he very much had missed the obvious. Right. It seemed Jim would have to cross "genius" off on his resume. "Is there something that brings you to my door at 7:00 AM?"
I can't stop thinking about you and had the impulse to come and see you?
"Wow, I did not think this through." He nodded more to himself than her, but hoped that some of the self-deprecating talk would help demonstrate he wasn't nearly as crazy or clingy as he was behaving. "You're right. Clearly no sane person would stroll up to someone's place without invitation, this early in the morning. I just, I had an impulse and I went with it." His explanation was honest, and yet still felt incredibly lame. His smile to her was a cringe, as if he was sympathizing with her having to listen to him ramble. "Sorry. I can leave."
"Jim." This time when she said his name it was a command for him to still. She emphasized the implications of her request by resting her hand for a moment on his arm. He felt all the more self-conscious of his hot and sweaty skin and when she removed her hand he hoped she wouldn't begin to associate him with being unhygienic. "Did something happen or did you simply come here to visit?" Her smile was again small, but her features were arranged into a gentle and calm canvas focused on him. He was used to her being direct and to the point with her words, but it was the compassion he felt from her that encouraged his honesty.
"Both." Jim admitted. Elsa's brows rose and he continued. "I just" – he waved his hands about as if plucking words he was searching for from the air – "I wanted to take you out to lunch. To thank you for helping me." He smiled at her, encouraged by her calm presence and his sunburst emotions. The feeling of loose wires spitting dangerous electricity ran rampant in his gut. "And if I'm to be completely honest, I'd also like it if you considered it a date."
Elsa said nothing, but Jim watched her actions with acute focus. Her grip on her collar tightened. Her pupils were dilated. Her cheeks frosted over in the most delicate of rose blushes. Eventually she dared to meet his gaze. She was positively adorable. "You came here first thing in the morning to ask me that?"
Jim felt somewhat in control again.
He relaxed into the frame of the door, propping his elbow up to temporarily claim the space. The cool calm of his charming persona had finally set itself in place and he felt some semblance of normal again. Now that Elsa hadn't flat out rejected him – and probably wasn't going to fight him on a date – he could be the self he wanted to be again. It was okay now that Elsa was close, because he could handle it. He was just caught off guard. Jim did privately marvel that despite their lack of physical contact this somehow felt more intimate than when they had been on the dance floor together. He could smell her now, something flowery with a little spice. He prayed she wasn't smelling him.
"What can I say? I've been itching to thank you. Until now we've both been preoccupied." He lightly swung out his arm, bottle still in hand, gesturing to their immediate vicinity. "No time like the present."
Elsa tilted her head and more of her long hair began to spill off her shoulders. He could tell a laugh was threatening to break free. "While I do appreciate your thanks, it …" She paused to choose her words carefully. "It isn't necessary. You don't have to."
Jim didn't realize he had been smirking until he felt his expression slack. He could feel some of his own intensity radiating. "Yeah, but I want to."
Again that blush emerged and he was all the more endeared to her. "Jim, you travel all the time, and my own schedule is busy. I don't know how – "
"Elsa," Jim said. "You're overthinking this, and believe me I know a thing or two about overthinking." As well as being incredibly impulsive and not thinking things through. He was flexible that way. "It's a date. Not a marriage proposal." He smiled and allowed a small moment to pass, to let his words sink in. "You open to that?"
Elsa's response was slow but she was nodding. "Okay. I think I could be."
Jim raised a brow. "Only 'could'?"
She narrowed her eyes but her smile gave her away. "It's been centuries; I'm a little out of practice."
Jim straightened and reluctantly stepped back from the entryway. He could feel she needed the space, and he needed to get going. Shower. Maybe run a victory lap or two. "You're fine. How's eleven work?"
Elsa's eyes rolled up to think and her grip on her robe almost slackened. "Eleven should be fine."
"Okay." Jim was all smiles. Like an idiot. He found he didn't care too much. He took two steps back. He'd hung outside her door long enough – especially when he would be seeing her soon. "Eleven it is."
Elsa beamed back at him and if he were any less coordinated he may have staggered. Man she was a knockout. "See you then," she said and offered a small wave farewell.
Jim waited for her to close the door before spinning on his feet, his sneakers squeaking against the wood, and heading toward the staircase. The diplomat sucked in his lips between his teeth to keep from doing any sort of victory 'Woohoo.' He felt like his normal energy had been traded with the energy of a horde of bees. He needed to go for a ride on his bike or head to the Basement and practice shooting some of their weapons to deal with all of this adrenaline.
Jim maybe passed two doors before he heard his name called out. He inhaled deeply into his chest to put on the mask of a version of himself not about to combust with excitement before turning back. Elsa had her head poked out again, hair shimmering like strummed strings on a harp. Her hands were cupped around her mouth.
He loved the playfulness oozing out of her. All these years – how could he have not seen this side of her? He must have been blind.
"You couldn't use the phone?" Laughter shook her voice.
Some of Jim's mask crumbled as his smile burst forth. He winked.
Her mirth was music to his ears.
(And I would gladly hit the road)
The gloomy and cavernous dungeons were the base of Fable City Hall. Light was sharply absent in the Underground corridors, as if designed to be as far removed from the Sun as it was from joy. Old pipes lined the ceiling and walls with little heed to aesthetic. The atmosphere was filled with the kind of cold that made even Jack shudder. The Fable could feel it from the chilled dust and stone beneath his feet to the prickling skin on top of his scalp. The few bulbs lit glowed an eerie yet faint moss green. The pale luminescence outlined the skeletal bars lining the walls. Jack was careful to sidestep many iron doors haphazardly left open. He mildly wondered if he were to blame and had forgotten. Opening all the doors to give the illusion of freedom sounded like him; forgetting did not. Then again, Jack was generally inclined to keep the Underground out of his head.
It echoed too much of an old foe.
Jack could hear claws skittering across the ceiling toward him, but he remained rooted in his stance. Pipes groaned and creaked with the pull of weight despite the force's brief duration. Jack bent his legs at the knee to better brace himself once the unseen found its target. Fur, claws, and surprising strength knocked Jack two steps back. He nearly dropped the three plates of scrambled eggs balanced on the tray in his arms. That would be a pain to clean.
"Easy there, Stitch," Jack chuckled as the alien straddled his shoulder. Apparently, the creature had escaped from his cell. Silver wouldn't be happy, but at least Stitch was staying down here like he was supposed to. Jack cringed some. He could feel himself losing hairs to Stitch's grip on his scalp for better balance. Jack wasn't sure what to have more pride in: holding in any groans of discomfort or preventing the tray from spilling any of its contents. Still, that didn't mean he was going to refrain from comments. "What, are you trying to make me bald, too?"
Stitch's grip tightened as he griped, "Gaba ika tasoopa? Fables too attached to hair." He pulled hard enough for Jack to consider knocking the alien off his head.
"You're probably right," Jack said. "But I kind of like mine how it is: on my head." Stitch's hold loosened. "Much appreciated, buddy." He grinned, more to himself than out of thanks. 'Appreciated' just rolled off his tongue. He really had been around Elsa for decades. His expression almost faltered as other thoughts followed.
The small alien pushed out a gust of breath, warm and smelling terribly of coffee and old fish. Jack's face grew taut in an effort to refrain from whiffing any more of the odor. He wondered when the last time was Stitch brushed his teeth, or if he even took part in the practice.
"Hair grows back," Stitch grumbled.
Down the corridor voices began calling out as the two neared. The raspy cackles of Mad Madam Mim grew as Naveen's whines carried through the dark but otherwise quiet space. Jack could just make out Naveen's figure pressed against the bars, inquiring if Jack had brought food for them. Jack held up the tray in his hands for the womanizer to see. "I've got it here." Jack tuned out Naveen's continued grumbles. He had little sympathy for those who held so little regard for others. And Jack was privately a little jealous Naveen would be traveling alone with Elsa to the Farm – even if it was for his punishment.
Instead, Jack addressed Stitch. "Uh, you do realize it's not because of the hair that you're in here, right?"
Mim answered, "Are you sure?" Jack stopped in front of her confinement, at first confused why she was responding to a question he directed at Stitch. Then he remembered: she's Mim. "People be suspicious-like of purple colored stuff. It's the color of magic." She wiggled her long, spidery fingers and cackled. He noticed her orange jumpsuit already had its sleeves torn off at the elbow. He couldn't see where they went. She'd have to pay for that. "I could change my hair color, ya know, to something more pleasant. But I like being disliked." She hummed.
"Yes, that is why people don't like to be around you – your hair." Naveen deadpanned. He was still slumped against the bars of his cell. Naveen was normally strongly associated with dimpled smiles, bright eyes, a strong yet long jaw, and wild yet charismatic expressions. Even when his hair resembled the debris of sheered sheep, his clothes were moth-ridden, and he was living in poverty, he retained his upbeat charm. On Remembrance Day, which Jack confidently dubbed as an all-time low for the royal, Naveen still had laughter in his voice in the face of Fables who were seconds away from throttling him. Now, his tone was sardonic and filled with resentment. Jack was sorry to see the prince looking so drained. This place had that effect on Fables.
"See? I'm always right," Mim said.
Unless they were a nut like Mim.
"Yeah, no." Jack remained in place as he held out the tray. "You're here because you are a nut who kidnapped and tortured Ambassador Astroboy." The two shared a short standoff when he didn't put the tray down. Mim exhaled dramatically when he didn't move. She made a show of stepping back until her rear was to the farthest wall of her cell. Jack bent low to slip her plate under the door. He stood and backed away, and she was permitted to grab her breakfast. She pounced and snatched up the food with long bony fingers, stuffing her face like a squirrel.
Jack grimaced and turned to Naveen who was already situated away from him so he may receive his food. The prince accepted it and bent low to smell the dish. He grimaced and fed himself a small portion. If you wanted fine dining all the time, you shouldn't have cheated on Tiana. "Naveen is here for, well something between fraud and wasting government time. Personally, I'm not actually sure what you did that was illegal. Maybe you just pissed the right people off."
Jack held up the last of the plates for Stitch to grab. The alien's lower arms stretched from his natural pockets so all six of his limbs were revealed. His lower set of arms grabbed the plate, while his upper two he happily used to gorge himself on eggs. Jack winced when yellow crumbs hit him in the face. "And Stitch, buddy, in the future, if you fire a weapon at someone's head, you're probably going to jail." A fact he never previously believed he'd have to spell out for anyone, but you never knew with this crowd.
Stitch grumbled in Tantalog.
"Hey, it's only a week," Jack offered. "That's pretty much nothing, considering."
"Yeah!" Mim slammed her plate to the stone floor. Jack flinched from the shrill scrapes the dish made, and hoped none of it had broken in the process. She pointed a long finger up at the alien, though Jack felt as if her attention were directed at him. It was unsettling to be on the receiving end of the witch's fixed gaze. "Y-you want a real complaint? How about Little Miss Snowflake giving me a life sentence?" She drew in her breath and bellowed: "I hate her!" Her voice echoed down the floor like a battering ram.
Jack stood, silent. The dam he had built around his mind bent under the urgent wave of emotions he pretended not to have. He could feel his neck tense as if fighting invisible bonds, his hands tingling with an urge for combat, and his heart palpitating to unheard drums of war. He swallowed with some difficulty. Something was caught in his throat.
Stitch stuck out his tongue and made a noise reminiscent of Flatula – a language that, out of the thousands of languages Jack was fluent, he was proudest to know.
"Actually, it is the Mayor who picks the punishment." Naveen said through a mouth full of eggs. At that, Stitch, Jack, and Mim laughed. The prince scowled greatly and swallowed. "What is it I am missing?"
Jack slipped into the persona of himself who could chuckle. "Man it really has been forever since you've been in Fabletown: You've forgotten who our illustrious mayor is." He puffed up his chest, and began to make a motion to fly, only to remember he currently couldn't, and settled to resting on the tips of his toes. He said, in the deepest voice he could muster: "Metro Man."
"He don't do shit." Mim as usual, was point blank. "That's why our frigid Queen steps in." Stitch snorted.
"Hey." Again Jack felt the wave, but this time he allowed it to slip through and fight for her. The anger and despair, he felt growing as of late, he directed at those around him instead of the usual target: himself.
"No, no, you missed the joke," Naveen conducted with his plastic spoon. Mim nodded vigorously in agreement from her own cell. "It is funny because she said frigid, which means both stuck up and cold – and she is both. You see? Funny." His smile was not all-together friendly, but at least some of his humor was surfacing. Still, it did not excuse him for speaking ill of Elsa.
Jack tucked the empty tray under his arm. His jaw clicked into place. "No, no, I get it. It's just not –"
"Now, what she needs," Mim talked over him, "is to get laid."
Naveen snapped his fingers loud enough to startle Stitch. "Yes! Yes, this is true."
Jack shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "Uh, here's an idea: let's not talk about Elsa." It felt weird, saying her name, and for that the waters of Jack turned dark with guilt. She hadn't actually done anything wrong, she was just doing her job, helping with the investigation. The mantra Jack had embodied over the last few days began again: she was just being nice. And maybe Jim was, too. It was Silver who made them go together. The muscles in his hand had micro spasms. Silver was always the problem.
"Hey ya frost boy," the witch wrapped her cuffed hands around the bars, pressing her head as if trying to squeeze it through. "Ya need to do a better job gettin' her jollies off, ya hear?" Stitch snorted.
A bitter cold Jack hadn't felt in centuries spiked through his system. It ebbed as quickly as it came. He stared at her.
"Now, when you're with a woman, you can't just go shovin' it in and expectin' her to –"
"No! No, no, no. No." Jack held up his hands in protest. The tray clattered to the floor. "Nope. Sorry, the judges have considered the offer, put it to a vote, and the unanimous answer is: no."
Naveen was struggling to speak through his laughter. "There is no need for embarrassment."
"I got it!" Mim smacked her lips and Jack noticed she had cleared her plate. "Naveen, I'll put ya on loan to her for seductin' if ya can get her to cool it with my sentence." Her wink was overly exaggerated. "Ho ho, these puns are just coming to me!" Jack found himself empathizing with Elsa and her disdain all the times he has made jokes relating to all things cold. He'd apologize with ice cream.
"What? You are a crazy lady," Naveen sneered before slumping to the floor of his cell. He was silent for but a moment, as he said with great agitation, "Why would I care about your sentence? If anything, would it not make more sense for me to shorten my own time? Hm?"
Jack decided he had enough. "Stitch," he lifted his friend off his shoulder and lowered him to the floor. "I'm gonna go before their flavor of nutty begins to rub off." He straightened, continuing to look down at Stitch. His ears were lowered, though Jack deducted it had more to do with deflecting Mim and Naveen's loud volumes than feeling abandoned. Or at least, Jack hoped that was the case. "Hey, you'll be okay, buddy."
Stitch snorted. "Stitch okietaka." He revealed noise canceling headphones and a white iPod that had a small black cube with visible green glowing circuitry attached to its lower half. Jack was pretty sure that was a powerhouse of a battery that used to belong to Hiro, but based on the lack of sleek designing and more pragmatic makeup, it seemed the alien had reworked it for his own use.
Jack chuckled and said, "I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be confiscated." Stitch shrugged. They both knew Jack wasn't going to blow the whistle on him. Especially with these two to keep him company.
Mim was still talking at Naveen. "… So when yer on the road, ya can use the time to yer advantage, get Elsa swoonin'. I'd say do the thing when we drove to Cape Cod …" The prince had slumped to the ground, but was now looking at Jack, clearly recognizing he was likely the sanest in the room, and therefore most likely to sympathize with him.
"I am regretting so much right now," Naveen's eyes were wide, as if he had just realized he swallowed some animal's testicles. Jack would take a gander at frog, given the degree of despair in his face.
"Well, maybe if you're nice and promise not to creep on Elsa," Jack shot a look at Mim, "Stitch will share." When Jack smiled meaningfully at his friend, he found him pouting. "Right, Stitch?"
After a moment of deliberating, and Naveen attempting his own version of a pitiful look (which he was pretty good at right now), Stitch agreed, albeit with his own amendment: "And naga whining."
Jack left the three inmates, a little proud of how well he played mediator despite his inner turmoil, and glad to have reason to leave – especially once Mim began protesting that she wanted access to music, too. Evidently, she didn't like being left out. Jack was a little surprised to have that in common with her, and then quickly cringed at the idea of having anything in common with the witch. Empathy could be a real pain in the butt.
He journeyed to the surface level, inhaling the air free of mildew. He found the main floor as open and bare as he left it. The decorations of Friday had been packed away with his and the paid staff's help, but the normal furniture and decorations of Fable City Hall were not yet back in place. When they were cleaning the time had been late, and after everything that had happened, Tiana dismissed everyone. Jack figured it was mostly in her own interest, as Tiana had a pension for only departing with the last Fable, and she was exhausted. He didn't hold it against her, especially since he had been just about ready to collapse. So now there was little to keep him company on the ground level but glossy wooden floors and high ceilings – for now. Fables would arrive any minute to begin helping.
Jack first moved to the front entrance, unlocking the doors for those intending to enter, before turning about toward the back entrance. Through there were the elevators, the restrooms, the break room, and the Fable-controlled dump.
The dump, or unofficially Hal's Hangout, was adjacent to the parking lot, and about three acres in size. Items were broken up into various categories based on type of garbage and whether or not it could be composted or recycled. Items that could be composted were packed up by an industrialized machine and used as mulch for the local green house or was sold to local Native farmers, and on occasion, sent up to the Farm. Items that could be recycled were carted off to a recycling plant. The rest were additionally sorted, depending on whether or not they could be used second hand. While various Fables technically ran the dump, the Fable who managed the area was Hal Stewart.
Hal was known for being rather unremarkable, particularly for a Fable. Unlike most in the community, he was not especially attractive with overgrown greasy red hair, a nose too large for his face, and carrying enough extra weight he barely had a chin. While it was a small minority of Fables who were not in the best of shape, those who were weren't necessarily looked down upon. Po, for example, a very obese Fable who worked in one of Tiana's restaurants, was extremely well liked. The reason Hal had garnered a reputation for being not so likable, was his personality.
"Oh, s'up Jack?" Hal was dressed in a grey jumpsuit covered in old stains, and a cap with the Green Lantern insignia on the front. His jumpsuit was partially unzipped so his white tank, soaked through with sweat, and the lower half of his stomach were visible. He was surrounded by random junk and slumped in a rusted collapsible chair opening a bag of Cheetos. "You need something?" He tipped his head back and emptied the contents into his mouth.
Compared to most, Jack didn't mind him too much. "It's, uh, Sunday? Bring-in-furniture day?"
Hal slumped in his seat and let out a long, drawn-out groan.
It was the moment when Hal began complaining when he got on Jack's nerves.
"Come on." Jack walked past Hal toward the large wooden shed behind him. He unlatched the double doors and opened them, and playfully waved to the series of familiar inanimate objects waiting to be brought back to their normal locations. "Morning fellas, ready to go home?" He stepped inside and hoisted up Kronk's large swivel chair. It was relatively easy to carry by himself, and it was blocking the way to other items. When Jack exited the shed, he found Hal had not moved an inch.
"What, you hungover or something?" Jack laughed despite the growing bubble of annoyance beginning to manifest itself. Centuries of being around this Fable tended to dull his patience.
Hal, still without getting up, fished around blindly with his free hand into the collection of junk around him, until he – in the laziest form of triumph Jack had ever seen – swayed his arm halfway into the air, revealing a half-full bottle of wine. Jack recognized it as one of the brands from the Remembrance Day Ball. Hal must have swiped it from the leftover catering that had been dumped in one of the giant bins just beyond the shack. Gross.
"I'm drunk right now," Hal said, and Jack picked up on the slight slur in the man's voice.
"Seriously?" Jack lumbered toward him, continuing to balance the large chair in his arms. "How drunk are you?"
Hal scowled greatly, tried to get up, failed, and then grumbled a slew of words containing a dozen curses. "Aw man …" Jack adjusted his grip as he snickered. "You know you're supposed to be helping out, right? You do it every year? You're being paid?" The large Fable's frown deepened with each point Jack made.
The two stared at one another for a long moment, Hal daring Jack to actively call him out on his shit, and Jack mulling on his options.
"Y'know," Hal spoke first. "Why's it always have to be Sunday? It's just rude. Ev'ryone else's off sleeping while good, ol' Hal apparently isn't allowed to have a life, so he can just do cleanup for everyone else." He pointed his finger at Jack and bellowed, "It's disr'spectful!"
Jack wiped off the spit that hit him in the face and forced air through his closed lips. "What am I, invisible? You're not cleaning up by yourself. Besides, this can be fun! We can make a game out of it, like, when everyone gets here, we can set up an assembly line inside, blast the radio, sing along, and we have to set up each section before the song ends! We could have teams!"
"No, singing's stupid."
"Or we can make a repeat of, what, three years ago? The thing with the bats? Only this time we'll leave the recycling out of it, because that was a pain to clean."
"Jack, these games're retarded." Hal managed to sit up so he could try and toss the soda – and miss – into the recycling. Jack's upbeat expression faltered for but a moment. The drunk Fable didn't notice. "You want fun? How 'bout a wet t-shirt contest, 'n we can get all those hoity-toity royals ter come down and –" Jack had picked up Kronk's chair and dropped it in Hal's lap. "Th' fuck Jack?"
"Can you hold this for me? Thanks, pal." Jack's smile was broad as he swiped the wine from Hal's hand.
"Jack, you fuck, get this off! It's too hot out for this!" Hal struggled to knock it over. After a moment he apparently realized the drink was gone, for he added, "Hey! Give it back!"
Jack considered having a sip himself, but opted not to as he didn't really want to put his mouth where Hal's had been. "What was that?" He grinned as he walked at an exaggeratedly slow speed toward the giant bin where it belonged.
"Y'know what I said. Don't be a dick, man!"
"Nope. Definitely can't hear you." Jack rounded the shack as he shouted over his shoulder: "Maybe if you enunciate!" Hal's grumbles were loud enough Jack knew he was speaking, but not enough for him to understand. See, now Jack was telling the truth. He pocketed the bottle into one of the deeper pouches in his suit, and then hoisted himself up the bin. He swung his legs over so he was straddling the side. The garbage was high enough his foot could touch the items inside even though it was five feet deep. "This is a lot of junk," he said to himself. Jack dug into his pocket, removed the wine, and then chucked it.
When Jack rounded the shack, Hal was still in his seat. Jack would have assumed the Fable hadn't moved, except he had managed to knock the chair to the ground. It lay rather sadly on its side amidst the rubbish. "Aw, Hal, you're so mean to the chair."
Jack smirked as Hal grumbled, "It's inan'mate." The larger Fable had another bottle of wine in his hand and enough junk had been moved around to reveal a cooler filled with stolen drinks and the large man's bare feet. It seemed he was trying, in vain, to keep cool.
"You're still mean." Jack sang.
"Man, I get enough crap from Elsa; I dun need it from ya, too … Yer not even my boss, so ya can suck it." He gestured limply to his crotch.
Hal flipped over on his side away from Jack. "Oh shut up." He stretched out his arms, trying to reach for a fan a good two feet from his touch.
Jack laughed as Hal raised his middle finger high.
"You know," Hal called out. "You'd be annoyed, too, if you didn't have such a hard on for her! We all see it, you know. It's pathetic." He tried to reach for the fan again. "Can you bring that closer?"
Jack's chuckles came to a grinding halt. He ignored Hal's continued rambling and rolled the chair inside the building. He then marched back out to the dump, scaling the side of the building. He stopped at the compost compactor, calmly turned a spiral-shaped knob next to it, and then dragged over a hose and aimed high pressure water at the lounging Hal. Immediately he yelped as he was knocked off the chair, more from surprise than from force. Jack accommodated for his victim's change in position by charging closer, cackling, and keeping the hose angled right at him. Items not pinned under Hal went flying.
"Jack! Jack, stop! I'm sorry! Jack. Jack!" Hal wailed.
The prankster cupped his mouth with one hand as he yelled, "What? Don't stop? If you say so!" And he twisted the head to increase the pressure. They went on a few minutes like that: Jack laughing and taunting while Hal switched between pleading and cursing. It was only when a small audience collected, and Jack heard a new voice call out his name, he stopped the water with his fist.
Friday's cleanup crew had returned to finish the job. The only difference now from then, aside from the time difference, was that instead of being well dressed, they were garbed casually in shorts, tanks, and tees. One was carting water bottles with a large tube of sunscreen poking out. All of them looked tired already, though the scene before them seemed to energize them somewhat from sheer disbelief. Or perhaps incredulousness would be the better term. This was very much within Jack's character.
Cogsworth, an older, rounder Frenchman with a small yet bulbous nose and the most hilarious hairstyle Jack has ever seen, stepped forward. Even after all these years, he was a fan of curling his bangs to the side of his head instead of allowing them to rest naturally on his forehead. Jack snuck into his apartment once for a prank and was delighted to discover he slept with a large curler on each side of his head. Cogsworth clicked his tongue as he held out his planner, scribbling away. "Jack, cease this lollygagging at once! Fable City Hall is not a place for such poor decorum. And doing this to your poor fellow Fable? How are we expected to get along if we're antagonizing one another all the time? Really!"
Jack calmly turned from Cogsworth down to Hal, who was completely drenched – and while still drunk, appeared considerably soberer – and then to the item in his hands, and back to his new audience. Jack opened his mouth, but decided against it, and with an impish grin let loose the hose on them instead.
(Someday it would lead me back to you)
The sun was high in the sky, beating down on Newbury Street, well into the heart of Native territory. People were running in and out of chain stores, carrying shopping bags in hand, stopping only to adjust for foot traffic or consider one of the many small restaurants along the path. Most craved to be seated inside where it was cool, but some dared to sit outside and marinate in the heat. Two in particular were seated outside an Italian restaurant, shaded by an umbrella, and unperturbed by the weather. An elegant woman without any signs of sweat was patiently listening to her companion, a handsome young man animatedly speaking, with a curious bald patch on the back of his head.
Elsa laughed, guiltily, half hiding behind a drink. "No, I do think it's funny. I've simply heard that one a fair amount already."
"Really?" Jim fought to frown and was sorely losing the battle. "I don't remember ever–" He cut himself off and she could see realization hit him. "Silver." She continued to laugh as he leaned back in his seat into a dignified slump. She, unconsciously, tilted forward.
"His way of showing his love is sharing stories of you. He wants everyone to see how wonderful you are." She said and his pout blossomed into a smile.
"I know," he straightened and had some of his own drink. "The feeling's mutual. But that was a perfectly good humble-brag story!"
"I'm sure you have plenty of other 'humble-brag' stories to share." Elsa placed her glass back on the table before taking one of the last remaining bites of her fettuccini alfredo.
Jim was quiet for a short moment, then excitedly began, "This one time, back in the 50's, I was stationed up at the northern pole, checking in with Santa."
"Is this the time when you helped out the yetis and he tried to hire you as head of toy making?" Elsa asked. Jim's surprised stare told her yes. "Sorry." She giggled behind her hand. She hadn't meant to beat him to the punchline. At least, not that much.
"It's fine." He shook his head, amused, before sitting back in his chair, as if lounging comfortably at home. "But by 'tunder he's stealing my thunder." Jim looked to her, playfully grimacing, and she found herself for maybe the hundredth time in the past hour and a half endeared to him.
"And here I was, thinking all this time you paid him to speak so highly of you." She smirked as he considered her teasing hypothesis. Elsa took another bite of her food as she watched him, how he scrunched his nose, and the crease between his brow deepened when he focused on thoughts running through his mind. His features then slackened into a flirtatious challenge.
"Your turn." Jim pushed his empty plate to the side to make room for his folded arms. "Tell me a humble-brag story."
Elsa placed her fork down. "Hm." She looked up as if she could see memories from above. "Once Stitch told me he respects me." She peeked at Jim and knew his interest was piqued.
"Really?" Jim lifted his chin. "I don't believe it."
"No, it's true." She picked up her glass for a small sip. "This was at least two centuries back. When everyone was reacting to news of the Titanic." Jim's eagerness ebbed. Some events were world-shaking even to immortal beings, and that tragedy was one of them. The sinking of the great ship, all those lives lost, and the international confusion followed by outrage included the Fables. The event triggered many thoughts and feelings reminiscent of the Great Conqueror, escaping his armies, and all that was lost. She and Anna, however, had an additional reason for grief. "Anna and I, we lost our parents at sea, back on our world. Before the Great Conqueror."
"I'm sorry," Jim said sincerely.
Elsa smiled but waved him off. "It's in the past. I've long since accepted it. But the Titanic was a painful reminder. All those lives lost, and how they were lost … Anna and I, we never found out how they died. They simply were gone. It was months before we even knew they were dead." She allowed a small moment to pass, to feel shadows of old feelings come and go. "And I wasn't … I didn't handle it well, to say the least. Anna suffered the most for it, and I wasn't there for her the way I wish I could have been… I like where I am today, who I am and what I do, and if it weren't for the things that happened, I would be a different me. But, how I iced her out, I'm not sure I'll ever completely accept that. Even if she has." Elsa privately thought to herself, Anna is kinder that way.
Jim's eyes were kind, though the curve of his mouth twitched. "I may be a dick asking, but when you say 'iced' …?"
Elsa froze in a blink, then laughed. "No, that's fair. I meant it as a metaphor, though I suppose if I think about it, I did literally ice her out as well."
The two chuckled. Elsa was a little impressed he got her to laugh at herself, especially during the time she held the most shame – at least before the Great Conqueror. "Anna was feeling down, so I treated her to a picnic. We ventured to the outskirts of Fabletown, down by the east side." Jim nodded, clearly remembering as well as her the park Fabletown had in place at the time, before over-crowding was a major issue. "I made her a miniature of the castle we grew up in, gave her Parisian shoes, and a collection of other items I knew she loved. We then had sandwiches, chocolates, shared memories of home … and I gave her space to cry. My heart went out to her, and yet Anna apologized, saying it was silly she was still sad every now and then. Ridiculous. Anyone would be."
Elsa sighed. "So I told her, 'Anna, it's okay to feel sad. I still feel sad at times, too. They were a part of our family then, and even though they're gone, they always will be. It doesn't matter how small or big our family becomes, because we love each other. And we loved them, and together or apart, they will never be forgotten.'" Elsa flushed some, noticing Jim's pensive stare. "I think we all can relate."
"Yeah, we can." Jim said.
Elsa cringed. "I'm sorry, this is a heavier humble-brag story than intended – and probably not the best for a first date."
Jim shook his head. "I like your story. It's real."
"True," Elsa said, though she still felt guilty.
He perked up some, and she guessed he could sense her discomfort. She wasn't exactly hiding it. "Where does Stitch come in?"
Elsa continued. "He was there, listening. Apparently privacy is a foreign concept." Jim snickered, his shoulders lightly shook. "I had no idea until I got up for a parasol. He intercepted me and, oh if you saw his face … I could just feel his sadness." She held out her hands as if she could grab hold of the alien's sorrow. "And he, he told me I was good ohana." Her throat began to clench and she sipped her drink to wash the sensation away. "And that he had a lot of respect for me." She dared to meet Jim's gaze again. "He looked so sad and lonely – I invited him to visit with Anna and myself, but he declined. He said it was too painful."
Elsa stopped speaking. Jim had to beckon for her to continue.
"There's not much more to tell." She straightened in her seat, smoothing her napkin flat across her lap. "I realized then the depth of how much everyone, even the most rambunctious of us, had lost. I also developed a soft spot for the little gremlin, even when he does things like, well…"
"Firing a gun at my head?" Jim suggested dryly.
Elsa winced. "That was a particularly terrible idea."
"I'll say." Jim snorted.
She intertwined her fingers and rested them in her lap. "You're not in pain?"
"No." He reached to feel the back of his head. "I'm fine. Fable healing took care of any minor wounds." Elsa nodded, relieved, though she recognized she had really been asking about his frame of mind, rather than his physical state. Silver and Sweet had checked him immediately after the incident and declared Jim was in one piece, and she highly doubted the effects of the gun had a forty-eight-hour delay. Still, she saw no point in correcting him.
"I'm glad." Elsa smiled and took another bite of her dish. At this last one, she considered herself full. She aligned her fork and knife on her plate, next to one another, indicating she was finished. She then dabbed at her mouth with her cloth napkin.
"You have room for dessert?" Jim asked. "They have decent crepes here, considering we're not in France."
Elsa pressed her lips together, fighting a smirk. "Considering." It was nice to know she wasn't the only one with some elitist-tendencies. "I'm not sure I can stomach a full plate."
Jim shrugged and leaned back in his seat, raising his arm to beckon the waitress over. "We can share." He snuck a glance at her, checking to see Elsa approved of his suggestion, and it seemed her acceptance was written on her face, for he carried on with his plan as the waitress arrived. She carried two dessert menus in her arms, which Jim thanked her for before saying, "We'd like to split a crepe." She nodded without complaint and took away their dishes so all that remained was the black, metal table itself and the three daisies as a centerpiece.
"So," Jim began. Elsa straightened, readying herself for his next line of get-to-know-you questions. "If you could go anywhere on this world, where would you go?" She began to open her mouth and answer, but he held up his finger. "There are wrong answers."
(That may be all I need)
Phil's Gym for Heroes-in-Training was at max capacity. The locker rooms were fully stocked with personal items, the basement pool's lanes were all taken, the main floor's weight lifting room was overstocked with men, the second floor's machines were mostly occupied, and the third floor's various rec rooms were filled. This was nothing new the days following Remembrance Day. Fables tended to be re-inspired to maintain their physique and fighting techniques. Talk of the Great Conqueror triggered thoughts of sad nostalgia and worn desires for vengeance and justice. Chel didn't mind so much; honestly seeing more hunky, sweaty men with their tops off was generally not something she was inclined to complain about. However, with those below her level of training coming in, she was given a backseat for sparring time so that they could receive more attention – that bothered her.
Chel didn't exactly have a schedule that allowed for her to show up whenever she wanted, unlike most here who she was pretty damn certain had a lot more flexibility. She supposed she could get out one of the training bags, practice her boxing, and maybe get some of her growing frustration out of her system, but she didn't want to miss out on Mulan or Shang becoming available.
While either one of the power couple would more than suffice to spar with, the one Chel kept her trained focus on was Mulan. The petite woman seemed to be made of pure muscle, even with her lithe form. Her dark eyes would follow not only the movements, but read the intentions of her opponent, and counterattack as necessary. If there was an opening, she would take advantage, not to shame or defeat, but to teach. Moments when her students did well and they managed to get the upper hand, she complimented them, identifying what they were doing right. Then she would adjust and demonstrate how to counterattack. Though the gym was run by Hercules with his satyr coach's dogma in mind, Chel personally found Mulan to be the strongest instructor. She understood the importance of learning and experience – and she truly believed anyone had the capacity to fight well if they so desired.
Chel wasn't sure she exactly agreed with the warrior, but she could respect Mulan's belief in people. It was one of many reasons Chel was ill-suited to be a teacher.
With a resounding thud the student collapsed to the floor with Mulan's final blow. Princess Merida was sprawled on the floor: her wild, red hair was half escaping from its bun, her freckled chest was heaving heavily, and her round face was pulled into a typical deep scowl. Chel couldn't help but smirk. It was known that Merida was a sore loser and she had yet to win a match against Mulan. Chel had no idea how many times she had been defeated, but she suspected the princess kept count.
Mulan smiled and offered a hand to help her up off the mat. "You're getting better." Her tone was earnest, but Merida clearly was not in the mood to be consoled.
"Dun matter if I lost." She grumbled and pushed herself back up. Her skinny, freckled legs were shaking, but her oceanic eyes screamed for vengeance. Privately Chel wondered if she was projecting her malice towards the Great Conqueror at times towards Mulan. She didn't care enough to investigate. What mattered was that Mulan took her attitude in stride.
"Of course it matters," Mulan said. She grabbed her water and rewarded herself with a few sips. Chel watched her rock hard abs pulse with some envy. Merida grabbed her own drink and towel, Chel assumed with intention to leave for the showers. "You really just need to pay more attention to your footwork."
"Yeh, yeh," she waved her off. "We'll see who wins next time." Merida didn't wait for Mulan's "goodbye" before making a dash for the door. She only paused when Chel came into her direct line of sight. The ex-con woman straightened some and pulled her face into as innocent an expression as she could muster under the princess's withering glare. Chel could have her flat on her back within seconds. She couldn't deny the pleasure in showing the princess up. Ruffle some feathers. But Chel liked operating with as few enemies as possible more than provoking conflict, and Merida was notorious for her temper; even more so for her grudges.
"Who're ye lookin' at?" Merida said. She narrowed her eyes, much like a predator mulling over the fate of its prey.
Chel held up flat palms immediately, drawing her lips down dramatically, and widening her eyes all the more. "No one!" She pointed to herself and then Mulan. "I'm just waiting for my turn."
The princess cocked her head back in a manner most royal Fables seemed to have instilled in their mannerisms. It was the look of innate superiority, unconscious or not, as well as entitlement to respect. Merida was all about entitlement. Such a brat.
Despite Chel's mock frown, she could feel the corners of her mouth beginning to twitch. Self-control. A rather important character trait she had imbibed in herself over the years, and her current occupation certainly required it, but some of her resolve was beginning to waver. Luckily, their teacher sensed it, for she spoke up.
"No fighting off the mat."
Merida's hair shook with the force of her snort. Chel wiggled her fingers as the princess stomped out of the room, shaking the ground with each step. A force of nature, that one.
Chel crossed her arms across her chest as she propped herself against the wall. Mulan was checking the roster to see who was next on the list. Last Chel checked, she was fourteenth, but by her calculation, she was now ninth.
"Esmerelda," Mulan called out. The woman who was known for a mane of thick, rich hair, piercing green eyes, and a heart for justice, straightened, pausing in her conversation with Kristoff. "You're up." Esmerelda walked over to the mat in which Mulan resided, her movements were light and graceful as always.
"You don't need a moment?" Esmerelda asked, extending her legs to stretch her hamstrings. "I'm in no rush." Chel could have groaned. Sure, she didn't want to wear Mulan out, but there were too many people here to make time for idle chat.
"Thanks," Mulan said. "But I'm ready." It seemed she was on the same page as Chel.
As Esmerelda assumed a stance, ready to engage, Chel's phone began to ring. Onlookers gave her disapproving looks. "Chel," Mulan began.
"Sorry, sorry." She offered an apologetic smile as she backed out of the room. "I'll step out." Chel held her phone in her hand as she closed the glass door, then looked up and down the hall. The water fountain was empty, and no one seemed to be coming or leaving from the stairs. She pinned her back to a window that overlooked the streets of Fabletown. She had a nice view of the world below, and on this floor she now had no blind spots from anyone's presence. She answered the number.
"I thought we were only speaking in person." Her teeth were clenched into a forced smile. While no one could hear her, if someone wanted they could peer through the glass door. If she seemed upset, they'd get nosy.
"Yer takin' too long fer me likin'." Silver's gruff voice sounded from the other side. She huffed. Ugh, he could be controlling.
"How many times did I tell you? This is going to take time!" She popped her hip to the side as she adjusted her weight placement. "You want this to work or not?"
"Watch it," he growled. Chel could feel her eye twitch under the strain of maintaining a false expression. Holding a straight face never came naturally to her. "I'm yer superior."
"Yeah, yeah." She rolled her eyes. "Do you want to spend time talking power, or do you want me to complete my assignment?"
She could already see him in her head, crossing his large arms across his chest, sneering as he admitted, "Of course I be wantin' ye to complete it, but I be expectin' results!"
"And you'll get them," she soothed. "But you can't just rush these things." Kida and Milo entered the hallway, dressed in outerwear over their athletic clothes. The queen was offering words of encouragement to her husband. Milo was glowing red, from exertion and perhaps embarrassment. Chel waved to them and directed a thumbs up to him. The two waved back and then entered the stairwell. "Have I ever let you down before?" she asked, already knowing the answer was no. "Look. You're asking me to do something that has never before been done – expect delays. Fables or not, we're still working with a shut-in. I should have a raise from how far I've gotten already."
She could hear papers rustling and unintelligible grumbling from the other side.
"You know," she said as she switched the phone to her other ear, popping her hip to the other side as she rested her now free hand on it, "just because Tiana turned you down doesn't mean –"
"She wasn't – how in all the ruddy hells ye be knowin' about that?" Silver demanded.
Chel smirked. It wasn't often she caught him off guard. Though to be fair, this was one of the lower blows she could have dealt out.
She practically sang, "Hm, it's my job to know."
"Chel," he growled.
She smirked. "Kronk told me Charlotte told him that Tiana told her, that she couldn't believe you apparently asked her out on a date under the guise of needing her help on an investigation."
"Blasted woman," Silver said. Chel idly wondered if he was speaking about Tiana or bigmouth Lottie. "And I was needin' her help."
"Yeah, but not until you were at the Mayor's suite." Chel smirked. He sighed heavily.
"No, I'll be admittin' to that, but it t'was …"
"And you like her." She grasped a chunk of her black hair, pulled up in a high ponytail, and began to run her fingers through it. If there was one thing Chel had pride in, and there were many things she had pride in, it was her hair. She was gifted with silky, smooth hair that was always soft to the touch, and it was this silky smooth hair she began to braid.
"She be a lovely woman. I'd be a loon not to."
"Mhm," she said as she tilted her head to cup the phone between her cheek and shoulder. "Yeah. Here's some advice from me to you: most women don't like being tricked into a date. Be straight with them. Going on a pretend date because you're too afraid to ask her out for real? That's pathetic."
"It be convenience, not cravenness! An' I be helpin' Jimbo; why not be helpin' meself in turn?"
Chel laughed. "Sure, tell it how you want, but manipulation is manipulation. She knows it, and so do you." He sighed again, even more heavily. She checked her wrists for an extra elastic, found none, and then let her hair loose with some regret. Already the braid was unraveling. "Look, next time just ask her out for real, okay?"
"Ye think she'll agree to a next time?"
Chel nodded. "Just don't do anything stupid that would remind her of her ex."
"Now you get it." Chel paused as Esmerelda suddenly exited the training room, toting her water. The two waved.
"I'll see you at Tuesday's class, right?" Esmerelda asked, quiet enough so as not to disturb Chel's call, but loud enough for her to hear. Chel nodded. The pole dancing classes were a great workout, and have been terribly useful. It helped that Esmerelda certainly knew what she was doing.
"All right, all right. I be seein' yer point. And give me more credit than that – I'll have ye know I have captained more pirate ships in me time than ye've been on in yer life. An' let me tell ye, I be knowin' a thing or two about readin' folks and adjustin' fer their moods. I've commanded folks who be slayin' one another at the drop o' me ol' pirate hat. I can manage Tiana."
"Uh huh. Just remember the point is to romance her, not manage her." Chel snorted.
He sniffed. "I know a thing or two 'bout that as well."
"Of course you do. I say make her a dish – that'll get her."
"Hm, not such bad thinking there … and she often be mentionin' old memories of cookin' with her family. Workin' with that could be to me best interest. And Naveen never be cookin' fer her when they be together back in the day!"
"I live to serve," Chel said dryly. Even before she finished speaking, she knew she had invited him an opportunity to shift gears.
Silver growled, "Then you'll be havin' me report first thing tomorrow morn!"
She huffed and threw her hands up and nearly dropped the phone. "Fine!" He then hung up on her, but Chel continued speaking anyways. "But you better not be expecting much." Annoyed, she stared at her reflection in the black screen of her phone. Her dark eyes were narrowed beneath her bangs, collaborating with her scrunched nose and her large, puckered lips to create a masterpiece she called "Exasperated Hottie." Miguel and Tulio used to hate this particular facial expression; mostly because she often wore it in reaction to something stupid they did. It had been awhile since they caught up. She should reach out to them some time, invite them out for drinks. Get them to pay.
Footsteps echoing up the stairs pulled Chel from her thoughts. She straightened, recognizing the Fable based on the tempo and weight behind the figure. Hercules surfaced, as a mountain of a man if she ever met one, made up mostly of muscle and virtually no body fat. He was easily the most chiseled person she had ever met, and honestly, she would be intimidated if not for the fact that he had a friendly, innocent expression accompanied with the brightest of blue eyes, happy to meet everyone and anyone. He was a nice guy, but on the slow side, and Chel had a hard time feeling intimidated by those she knew she could outwit.
"Morning, Chel," Hercules greeted as he stepped onto the floor. In three easy strides he had past her and had the handle of the door in his grasp. "You headed in?" He opened the door, and held it so she could pass first. The sounds of sparring rang from inside.
"Mhm." Chel lightly bowed her head and thanked him before entering. She hoped the wait wasn't going to be too much longer: she really needed to get back to Yen Sid.
(Come and rest your bones with me)
"Do you really have to wake up early?" Jim asked from behind the wheel. The air conditioning was high in the confines of his BMW, but what he was really enjoying was how tufts of Elsa's hair fluttered in response. She batted her eyes, more to combat the air in her face than for any appeal, but it still drew his attention.
"Yes." She shook her head. "Even if we're leaving late to skip traffic, there's still paperwork and scheduling I want to verify before leaving for the week." She gave him a sardonic smile. "So waking at 5:30 AM it is."
Jim whistled. "Yikes." While he had plenty of experience in rising early courtesy of work, living on ships, and studying at the Academy, and his own current schedule, he still considered himself a night owl at heart. The idea of anyone having to get up early induced his sympathies.
"That's why I'm packing after this." Elsa lightly gestured between the two of them. "As opposed to later tonight."
"Are you going to try calling again?" Jim asked.
Despite keeping his attention on the road he could feel her troubled energy. "Yes." A disgruntled pause followed. A week of emails, texts, and phone calls remained unanswered. It was as if the Farm was nonexistent. Fable City Hall occupants had been too busy themselves to pick up on it until yesterday. Jim could tell Elsa found it as off-putting as he did, if not more. "It's weird they haven't responded."
"Very weird," he agreed. They stopped at a red light. Jim turned to Elsa, noticing how she kept her hands clenched together. "Hey." He reached out to her lap, resting his right hand on top of hers. Her skin was soft, yet slightly chilled. Considering the temperature outside, he found it refreshing. "It has nothing to do with …" The Great Conqueror. She met his eyes and he could see the fear that had been rising. "The Seventh Floor would know, North would know, Gru would know … We would know."
"I know, you're right." Elsa pressed her lips together, no less relaxed. She gestured ahead of them. "It's green."
Jim sat up as he hit the gas pedal, but stayed his hand on hers.
"This isn't the first time they've given us radio silence. What was it, ten years ago Hiccup flew to Peru?" Jim said. Elsa laughed at the memory and he grinned, encouraged. "This is nothing new. For all we know, he's left again and no one has thought to contact us. Fables get caught up in the Farm bubble up there."
"Fables are caught up in the Fabletown bubble down here."
Jim nodded. "Right. This is nothing new. Save your concerns until you get there. And if you want…" He glanced at her as he spoke. "I'll come down with you."
Elsa smiled and cupped Jim's hand between her own. "I couldn't ask you to do that. You're plenty busy as it is."
"It's really no problem," he said.
Jim glanced over again and Elsa was looking directly at him, with an expression that made his stomach flip. "You're sweet," she said.
He grinned despite himself and faced forward. If he hadn't had centuries of flying and driving vehicles under his belt, he'd be concerned with how much she was distracting him.
"But you're probably right." Elsa sighed. "I'm overthinking things. If you came down as well, they may get the impression we don't trust them to do their jobs."
Jim privately thought they clearly weren't doing their jobs, considering their communication was slacking, but he kept it to himself. Helpful comments only. "Makes sense. You'll just have to tell me all about it Saturday."
"When I pick you up for our second date." Again Jim glanced at her, gauging her reaction. He caught surprise in her eyes but no displeasure. The opposite, in fact.
"I thought this was our second date," Elsa said with a smirk.
"Uh, no. That was solving a crime," Jim said. He saw her building up ahead and began to slow the vehicle. The number of Fables walking about had increased since he was last here, and those close (and nosy) enough to see inside were curious to find Elsa in his car.
Elsa removed the hand on top of his to reach for her purse resting on the floor. Jim noted the design was Kate Spade – and saved that information for later. "You acted like it was a date."
Jim intertwined his fingers with hers. "As if I'd pass up the chance." He turned into the parking lot behind her building and found a space open in guest parking. When he finally put the car in park he found her pink in the face. She reddened when she noticed him looking. He couldn't help feeling smug.
"I still say it counts as a date," Elsa said, her tone quiet yet firm, her eyes not leaving his.
"Fine." Jim unbuckled, and the metal smacked against his seat as the safety belt rolled up behind him. He used his grip on her hand to gently guide her forward. He leaned in, inches from her flushed face. "It was a date."
He kissed her.
(and I never want to leave)
a/n: Apologies for the long break, and for the not-that-much-happening chapter. The first is courtesy of life and a computer I had to replace and losing all files from my previous computer. That was a sad day. The second, well, sometimes less action-packed chapters are necessary for the continuation of a story. I hope you all like it regardless, and despite the Jim and Elsa. I promise, this ends with her and Jack together! Anyways, I look forward to hearing from you all, and seeing you next time ;)