EDIT 8/28/2016: Briefly retouched with some corrections.

While We're On The Subject

That kiss is their pink elephant, so to speak.

Not that kiss. Not the one in the van, incognito during a stakeout, sudden and unexpected. No, that kiss was one thing. Mind-blowing as it has been (and yes, it had been), it had also been confronted. He'd been freaked out and shaken and he'd let her know it. She'd kissed him and he had flinched, flipped out, and it had been over.

Except it totally hadn't been over. Not even close. That was just the beginning. Maxie Jones's lips on his had opened a can of worms. The universe was thrown out of alignment. The next thing he knew he was thinking of her pretty blonde hair, her small hands, her lovely eyes…daydreaming in the kitchen, daydreaming in his pink room, even daydreaming in the middle of the sidewalk. The Wounded Blonde One had infiltrated the recesses of the Jackal's mind and made herself at home. And the worst part, the absolute worst, was that she had no idea, not the slightest clue, about what she was doing to him.

The Determined Deductive Duo spent many an afternoon hour in Kelly's, talking and discussing and plotting, and Spinelli wondered how he had never noticed Maxie's complete lack of understanding on the subject of personal space. Every time he turned around he saw her and when he looked forward all he could feel was her breath against his cheek. She rested her elbow next to him on the table, put her coffee cup right next to his so their fingers brushed, hovered behind him and talked and leaned and drove him absolutely crazy. He'd meant it when he said he couldn't take it. If he had to deal with it anymore he—well, he didn't know what he'd do.

And as scheming, perceptive, and painfully observant as Maxie could be at times, she just didn't get it. She said "I think you pretty much hate my guts" like she meant it, like she honest to god believed it.

It was so totally completely unbelievably wrong that the Jackal could not even respond. Whatever fear he had before, defensiveness ready to leap from his tongue, was washed away with surprise.

And a deep shade of regret.

He'd been trying to be not so obvious, a feat even he recognized as unmet, but the Jackal certainly had not been wishing for an ill will between himself and the formerly Bad Blonde One. As strange as she was, and mean, and controlling, and so very blonde—she'd become his partner of sorts. His…interest. And, he'd really hoped, his friend.

Obviously, she hadn't seen things the same way. After the rant that left his hair on end and skin prickling with goosebumps, his mind trying to wrap around her words while still drinking in that fake smile, she'd stormed out of Kelly's so fast Spinelli's mind visualized a vapor trail after her.

It could have, potentially, been the end. Really, game over. Let her think what she already thought, finish this case, and let the whole thing go. Except: Spinelli could count his friends on one hand. And Maxie, whether she even knew it or not, was counted. So he went after her.

When he saw her crying on a park bench, damn his gentle Jackal soul, he couldn't not assist and comfort her. Maxie Jones crying, two of his weaknesses wrapped into one. "Maxie?" he stepped cautiously closer, always wary of the fear-inducing Wounded Blonde One. Fear, among other things.

She sniffled, dabbing at the runny smudges of her mascara. "Spinelli. What do you want? Oh, let me guess, I'm still too close to your stupid bubble?"

He fiddled with his bag, all too aware of her blunt stare. "I-The Jackal, was just worried…I wanted to apologize."

"Apologize?" Maxie scoffed. She glared at him. "Why? You hate me, I get it. No biggie. I mean, I know you're pretty oblivious, but I'm sure even you've noticed that there isn't exactly a line of people waiting to be my friend."

Adjusting his beanie, he sat carefully next to her on the bench. "The Fair Samantha is your friend. And-" he swallowed, "and so is the Jackal."

"Could've fooled me," she muttered, crossing her arms. "Then why do you act like you can't even stand being in the same room as me?"

Ah. Spinelli thought back to her threats and assumptions. He even thought, for just a moment, about how the corners of her eyes crinkled when she laughed.

"I—I'm the Jackal," Spinelli tried to explain. "I'm just weird, remember?"

"How could I forget?" Maxie asked incredulously. She laughed, and Spinelli felt the winter chill suddenly get a lot warmer.

"But, whatever I do, it's not because I hate you," he looked her in the eye, wanting to assure her. "Okay? We—We're partners." Just partners, he told himself.

Maxie stared at him for a moment, one long drawn out moment, before she smiled. "Partners," she agreed.

And he had kissed her. He, Damian Millhouse Spinelli, had leaned forward and kissed Maxie Jones right on the lips, his fingers still clutching his bag and desperately not touching her. And then he'd ran away.

That was the kiss that had suddenly manifested itself into a large colorful mammal. He avoided the subject of facial components in general like the plague and she never said anything either. They sat together the next day at Kelly's and talked about the TMK—about Logan and Darth Daniel and the sudden fact that they really didn't know what to think anymore—and it was almost like it hadnever happened.

Except, of course, for the teeny little fact that it most definitely had. And it lurked. It lurked behind every corner, a great big unavoidable pink thing that you couldn't look away from. It found its way into the color of his walls, which were just so-so shades away from Maxie's lipstick on that day. It nested in the way she curled her hands into the crook of her elbows in the same way he wanted to curl his hands on her waist. It stared him right in the face in the way she looked at him, really looked at him, with some sort of expectation.

It was awkward, to understate it. He kept thinking that there were these moments, just these absolutely perfect moments when he could do something to make it better, but he just couldn't bring himself to action. Even when he found himself watching her and he felt the absence of that little bit of amity he hadn't even noticed existed until it was gone. All he could do was admit to himself that he'd screwed up.

"Spinelli," Maxie sighed, cheek resting against a fist. "What is the matter with you?"

Spinelli jabbed his fingers particularly hard on the keys. Mentally, he apologized for using his laptop as an outlet for his aggression. "Problem? The Jackal senses no problem. Other than our lack of solid evidence against any of the potential TMKs…" he stared avidly at the screen in front of him, knowing that if he raised his gaze just a few more inches he'd be staring into her eyes.

"Spinelli, you kissed me," she pointed out.

Like I could forget, Spinelli felt like biting his tongue. "I-I don't recall—"

"And then," Maxie continued, totally ignoring him. "You ran away! What's up with that?"

Spinelli felt like sinking into his chair. He wished a dimensional vortex would rip open, suck him in, and take him someplace where he didn't have to deal with this. "W-Well, I—You see, the Jackal is…Oh! Um…"

"I mean, who do you think you are? No "oh Bad Blonde One, let the Jackal escort you to lunch?" or "won't you accompany the master hacker for a cup of coffee"?"

Spinelli paused, squinting at his screen. "Wha-?"

"I know you're a total social incompetent, but puh-lease tell me you have better sense than that."

Somewhere, Spinelli figured, a 404 error was occurring in his brain. Page not found. Data not processed. Error, error. Maxie was staring at him through narrowed eyes and he made the mistake of looking up.

Eyebrows furrowed, Spinelli closed his laptop slowly. "Wait, you-? What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about just kissing me without even, like, asking me out first. Or after. And I've been waiting. Or, geez, even a compliment would have been nice. I know my standards are low, but they do exist."

This enigma conquered the Jackal. He moved his mouth wordlessly while his brain was defragging and trying to update from a total system failure.

"You—I?" he stuttered quietly, shocked. " Is the Wounded Blonde One insinuating that she, perhaps, do-does not find the Jackal's advances appalling?"

Maxie gave him a duh look. "It's not like I'm declaring my undying love for you, Spinelli. I hardly even know you, and…" she looked away this time, just for a second, "and I'm still in love with Coop."

Spinelli just watched her fidget, mouth dry and his whole body aching to move. But, he whispered fervently in his mind, say but.

"But," Maxie sighed, glancing around, "but you're a really sweet guy, Spinelli. A weirdo and borderline freak, but sweet. I don't know why you'd want to be with someone like me…"

"Wou—Maxie." Spinelli interrupted her, forcing the words out of his mouth before the will fled his mind. "Would you like to accompany me to lunch?" he paused and, gesturing around Kelly's, added, "someplace different than the norm."

Maxie smiled at his awkwardness. "Your treat?"

Spinelli grinned at her, feeling like he might burst at the seams. "Of course. The Jackal is a gentleman, after all."