Title: A Time It Was Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognise. Summary: In a brief reprieve between the intensity of episodes fifteen and sixteen Kyoko and Mitchal go on a date.
Author's Notes: Warning, if you're looking for something serious and deep, look down the page at my other stuff. This is purely for fun and only has one serious moment.

The band mentioned in here is made up, as is the line of the song I used, so don't waste energy looking for it.

If I one day get around to writing it, I do have a fic that explains Ian's unexpected degree, since I know a lot of you probably think it's an odd choice.
-
"Uh, Mitchal, I think it's safe to swallow that bite of salad now," Ian joked good-
naturedly as he joined his co-worker in the empty, unlit conference room. Mitchal always took his lunch in the room when they were in the casino offices, since he loved the light the huge, picture windows let in.

As Ian spread out his lunch on the table, Mitchal remained deep in thought, only occasionally pausing to sip his drink or take a bite of his salad. He started when Mitchal abruptly spoke, nearly spitting out the piece of sandwich in his mouth in shock.

"Last night, when that girl came for Daisuke, did she ever give her name?"

Ian looked at him, taken aback.

"I don't know, I was a just a little pre-occupied with everything else going on." Ian's voice held a note of sarcasm.

Mitchal sighed and took a sip of soda.

"I know he works for the special unit," Mitchal continued, "So, like you said, she probably works there too."

More was coming, Ian could tell. He seriously wondered why he'd come to eat here rather than stay at the fast food restaurant.

"They must know each other well. Daisuke did flirt a lot with her, which Vampire even picked up on. Does that mean anything? She didn't seem to be overly flirtatious back."

Of all days for Giovanni to decide to eat with Vampire instead of them, it had to be today. Giovanni'd say something smart aleck that Ian was too polite to express and snap Mitchal out of his revere. Ah well, it least this was a chance to put that psychology degree to work.

"Mitchal, just move on please. She came to save him, and risked her neck doing so. That doesn't exactly bode well. Why don't you go for Lucy, that singer in the casino restaurant? Her voice is amazing and I've heard she's single."

The suggestion fell on deaf ears. Mitchal was gazing out the window pensively again.

"You were there longer than I was after Daisuke went under, did he mention her at all or allude to her?" asked the eager puppy.

"He passed out soon after I administered the drug and when he came to, all he did was murmur incoherently," Ian patiently explained. "Not that it would change matters if he did speak coherently, given that we don't even know her name."

Mitchal nodded and finished off his salad.

"Thanks Ian. Sometimes I wonder how you put up with me," joked Mitchal. He threw away his trash and slipped out the door.

Ian smiled at himself, relieved that his friend finally knew when to give up. Little did he know that Mitchal's resolve had only solidified. Not twenty minutes later did Mitchal ask his employer for an hour off to go to the City Safety Management Agency for a "tax related" question.

"I can see why that's necessary, given their lack of a phone number or website," countered Claire snarkily.

Mitchal squirmed as he realised his excuse was even weaker than he anticipated.

"Go ahead," Claire relented. "If you want to seduce Daisuke's girl I'm not about to stop you. Just be sure to tell me how he takes it. The expression on his face will be priceless, I'm sure."

The yearning to defend his honour was strong in Mitchal, but he shrugged it off.

"I'll be back soon, please call me if anything comes up."

He made towards the door.

"Kyoko," called out Claire.

This caused Mitchal to stop in his tracks, confused.

"Kyoko Milchan, aged twenty-two." Claire turned the monitor around, revealing a full page profile of the girl, complete with picture. It was definitely the girl from last night.

Mitchal's face brightened. Claire might technically be the employer of he and the two others, but the youth certainly regarded them, at least to a certain extent, as friends, an opinion that was mutual.

"Thank you, I'll keep you posted," replied Mitchal as he left.
--

"Mrs. Obata, while I'm sure it was quite a shock to wake up to fifty tacky plastic ornaments on your lawn and toilet paper in the trees, it does not constitute a threat of anything worse. You also can't get restitution on the grounds of destruction of personal property."

The old woman continued to rant, certain that something had to be done, especially to the perpetrators.

"Please understand, there's little chance they'll be found," Kyoko admitted. "But if they are, anything we could do would end up being a great deal of work with little reward. Your best bet is to simply remove the paper and the decorations. You could always donate them to charity and get a small tax break."

More ranting, now loud enough that Kyoko had to hold the phone away from her ear.

"Thrown out of the neighbourhood, banned from ever entering and charged? I think that's a little extreme, not to mention out of our jurisdiction. I'm sure it is simply a joke played by a few children and they meant you no harm."

Just as Kyoko anticipated, this didn't go over well with Mrs. Obata. She was less than disappointed when the woman hung up after calling the entire agency completely incompetent. Some people did age like fine wine; after all, it was made of sour grapes.

Kyoko fondly recalled the nice, pleasant meal she'd enjoyed just moments ago on the cleared off area of he desk. During the lunch hour, all calls went to the voice mail service, providing an hour of peace a day for the office.

The elevator dinged as the door slid open.

Without looking up she called out, "Dice, you're already back? I thought you'd be gone all afternoon."

There was an uneasy pause followed by a voice that sounded clearer and a bit older than Daisuke's did.

"Kyoko Milchan? I hope you don't mind me stopping by. I promise I won't stay long."

Her head shot up as he spoke. She suppressed a gasp as she recognised the tall redhead from the night before. He seemed a bit hesitant, which Kyoko found charming.

"No, please come in! I don't mind, you just surprised me," she said quickly as she stood to greet him.

The man approached the desk but kept a polite distance of about three feet from it.

"I'm not sure I got the chance to introduce myself last night. I'm Mitchal Rubenstein. I just wanted to see how you were holding up."

Kyoko thought he still looked rather nervous.

"Oh, I'm fine," she replied. "With Daisuke there's always something big going on. How's everyone else doing after all that?"

Mitchal smiled, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"Pretty good. You get used to this sort of thing soon enough."

With a wave of the hand, she motioned the man to sit on Daisuke's couch before turning the phone back onto voice mail and joining him. Let people believe her lunch ran late.

"You know, this is the first time I've ever had a visitor here in a tux," joked Kyoko.

Mitchal propped the crook of his arm on the back of the couch, trying to look casual.

"Well, I knew I had to look my best to visit someone as pretty as you." He grinned mischievously at her.

Kyoko chuckled, shaking her head slowly.

"Did you come here to check on me or hit on me?" she questioned, allowing a note of amusement to show in her voice.

"Both." The mischievous grin remained.

Kyoko felt a blush creep over her cheeks. In just a little over twelve hours she'd had two males flirt with her. Granted Daisuke probably wasn't serious about it, but it was still flattering.

"I can't believe you came all the way down here just for me; and apparently took off work to do it. Surely you used some excuse for coming."

The man suddenly began bothering a rough patch of skin beside his forefinger.

"Tax related question," Mitchal reluctantly confessed.

"Oh surely no one bought that!"

"Nope, not for a minute."

It was Kyoko's turn to say something but she couldn't think of a thing and the moment stretched on.

"So…Daisuke seemed very grateful to see you come to the rescue. He must really care about you. Are you both close friends?"

It didn't take Kyoko long to know what Mitchal was talking around.

"We're co-workers, and friends to some extent, but that's where it ends," Kyoko assured him. "Dice flirts with everyone, but he never means anything by it."

Mitchal seemed to relax a little.

"Ah. In that case, how would you like to spend tomorrow evening at Archie's eating junk food and watching people embarrass themselves at karaoke?"

By this point Kyoko began contemplating whether she should pinch herself. But considering this would be the first date she had since touring the city with the Celestial, which hardly counted, she really didn't want to risk it.

"Well, it'll mean I have to miss hearing Grandpa complain about the current state of the military at dinner and watching stale reruns of sitcoms, which is such a loss. But I think I can bear it." Kyoko's smile ruined the deadpan effect she was going for.

The pair worked out the time and exchanged contact information. When they stood and Mitchal made to leave, the elevator door opened. This time it really was Daisuke, along with J.

"Hey, why's the voice mail still on? I got worried so I came up," Daisuke explained as he stepped into the room.

Suddenly he noted Mitchal's presence.

"What're you doing here? Not taking me for another trip to the dark side of the moon I hope."

"No, no, certainly nothing like that," Mitchal assured him. "I only wanted to see how everyone was doing."

Daisuke kept glancing from Mitchal to Kyoko, obviously bewildered.

"Oh, well we're doing okay, I guess. I've been a little tired but that's all." Daisuke seemed to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I'm glad to hear it. I'd better get out of everyone's way and go back to work. Take care!" said Mitchal with a wave before pushing the button to open the elevator.

"I'll see you tomorrow at six," Kyoko yelld out as Mitchal stepped inside. He nodded at her as the door shut.

Daisuke continued staring at the door.

"What the hell was that about?" he muttered.
--

There was only one downside to dates; they made one hate every piece of clothing they owned. It seemed everything Kyoko picked up was too casual, too formal, or too cold for an autumn evening. She eventually settled on a white blouse, a baby blue sweater, and a full-length, light pink skirt with lavender and white flowers. Accessories weren't much, merely dangling jewelled earrings and a watch. Hopefully things would go smoothly enough that she wouldn't need to look at it.

Ten minutes later as she tried in vain to get a bit of volume in her hair, the doorbell rang. She halfway expected it to be Daisuke, come to keep watch on her date. He'd been on her back all afternoon trying to convince her to reconsider. When that suggestion went nowhere, he proposed either joining her where she planned on going (Kyoko had declined to give the location) or having J come. After she lost it and countered that Daisuke was the one who needed supervision, he grew quiet and left the office without returning.

From her bedroom, Kyoko heard her family making small talk with her date. Given the smatterings of laughter she picked up, she inferred things were going well. It seemed as good a time as any to come into the den to join them. As she grabbed her purse and started towards the doorway, she found she was excited but surprisingly not nervous.

"…She was just rotten, she had me convinced that it was painful for leaves to pull off the branches. She said if I listened hard enough I could hear them scream. I didn't step foot outside until all the leaves were off the trees," Mitchal related as Kyoko stopped at the doorway.

"You poor thing," her mom gently responded. "Sisters can be so mean. Mine told me flushing the toilet meant flushing away a special memory every time. Given that I was a toddler and toilet training, my parents were not happy with her."

Kyoko enjoyed this conversation enough that she dared not alert anyone to her presence. Still, her dad glanced up and saw her.

"Come on in, Kyoko!" he offered.

Mitchal startled, only now aware of her presence, and got to his feet. Kyoko thought he looked wonderful. He wore khakis, a hunter green long-sleeved polo shirt, and had his thick red locks pulled back into a ponytail.

"Mitchal, nice to see you again," said Kyoko cheerfully. "You look really nice."

Out of the corner of her eye, Kyoko caught an expression on her mother's face like that of a pre-teen watching a date movie. The words "Aww, they're so cute together" were poised on the tip of the woman's tongue.

"Same to you," echoed Mitchal. "Are you ready to go?"

She nodded and he picked up the light jacket beside him on the couch and shrugged it on. He promptly dug out his keys. It amused Kyoko that he had far more keychains than keys. They said their goodbyes to the parents and headed to Mitchal's car. As he started it up, she inquired about the keychains.

"They're one of the many, many things I collect. For as long as I can remember I've collected things. Always ephemera. I don't think I've ever collected anything worth money."

"Just out of curiosity, what do you collect?" Kyoko inquired as he pulled onto the main road.

He groaned good-naturedly. "You know, you'd do better asking what I haven't collected. I'm that bad off."

Kyoko nestled further into the seat, cold but too wimpy to admit it or turn up the heat.

"Eh, you can't be that bad. Really, I'm interested to know."

The man finally caught on that she was cold and turned up the heat on her side.

"Well, I'll try and remember everything, but I can't promise.

"I've collected leaves, rubber bands, plastic finger rings, novelty erasers, whistles- the cheap kind, often non working, dead bugs, rocks, pencils and strips of dryer lint.

"There've also been super balls, bits of string, stickers, mugs, candy wrappers, cigarette butts- to scare my parents, and gross things like scabs and swaths of skin from sunburns to scare Shelley, my sister. We were only eight at the time.

"What about you, Kyoko? Do you collect anything?"

It was like having to follow up Mozart at a piano recital.

"Not much really. I collect sweaters and, like you, erasers. I used to collect horse books and shells."

There was a bang as Mitchal smacked his hand on the steering wheel.

"Seashells! I knew I'd forgot some on that list. At one point I had twelve bags full of shells."

Conversation eventually ebbed away as Mitchal turned into the brightly lit parking lot of a friendly looking restaurant named Archie's Family Eatery. People were all over the place, many of them kids. Considering Kyoko liked kids as much as adults, and often more so, she was rather happy about this.

Mitchal had to circle the lot three times to find a spot. It was right beside a tiny car with a bumper sticker reading "Dogs Drool but Still Rule".

Immediately upon entering Archie's, Kyoko fell in love with the place. The walls and tables were bright red and the floor was black and white checkerboard. Covering those walls were framed pictures of cartoons and kid's drawings, and atop every table was a small lava lamp. At the back right-hand area, a handful of people danced to the upbeat pop music playing on the speakers.

A teen on skates glided over to the pair, grabbing two lava lamp shaped menus from the holder on the side of the counter. Their poor host looked a bit weary when he greeted them.

"Hey Mitchal, is there anyone else coming or is this an actual date?"

Mitchal's face broke into a shy smile.

"No Kato, no one else is coming," he said, obviously skirting the second question. Kyoko soon learned why as Kato instantly brightened.

The youth guffawed before smacking Mitchal on the back and grinning evilly at Kyoko.

"Ha, 'atta boy! I knew you'd finally hook someone. She's quite the looker. You gonna introduce her?"

Given that Mitchal was turning scarlet and seemed to wish Kato would shut up and seat them, Kyoko decided to introduce herself.

"Nice to meet you, Miss Milchan," said Kato. "You two lovebirds follow me."

He lead them to a booth near the back in front of a young family and behind of a testy woman and her surly, black clad teen son. Kato laid down the menus and skated off.

Soon afterwards, Kyoko became aware of someone inches away from her hair. She turned around and found it to be a girl no more than three. The child promptly dunked back into her seat, fast as lightening.

"It's okay," Kyoko assured her. "I only wondered what you were doing."

"She wanted to touch your hair," her brother, who looked around five, clarified. "She thinks it's cotton candy."

Mitchal burst out laughing and quickly tried to stifle it. Little did he know Kyoko was trying to do the same before returning her attention to the little girl.

"It's not cotton candy. It's just regular blonde hair I dyed pink. It tastes and smells like hair."

With sagging shoulders, the girl slumped in her seat.

A server, this one slightly older and more serious than Kato, arrived just as Kyoto twisted back around.

"So, according to Kato you have a date," he said to Mitchal. "Apparently he was right."

It occurred to Kyoko that her companion must know everyone in the restaurant.

"Yes Milano, I do," Mitchal confirmed. "I'm sure pretty soon the whole staff will find out, knowing Kato."

"You don't believe they know already?" kidded Milano slyly. "But back to doing my job. What're you both drinking?"

This prompted Kyoko to seek out the drink section of the menu. Mitchal raised his own menu and subtly pointed to the bottom of the back page when she couldn't locate it.

"I'll have a milkshake with peanut butter, caramel, and almond," Mitchal ordered as Kyoko scanned the drink section. She made a face behind the menu.

There seemed to be a million different things you could have in your milkshake, she realised. Kyoko requested hers with mint, strawberry, and raspberry.

After Milano left, Kyoko continued reading the menu. Their junk food varieties were nearly as good as their milkshake flavours. They had all the classics; pizza, Buffalo wings, burgers and the rest. Their slightly healthier selections included German potato salad, ramen, and spaghetti.

"How's the spaghetti?" wondered Kyoko.

Mitchal perked up. "It's really good. They use angel hair pasta and boil it until it's incredibly soft. And with the sauce, they have this light cream and egg mixture they pour in along with a tiny bit of sugar. That goes for both the vegetarian and meat version."

Apparently, Mitchal knew this restaurant very well.

"I'm impressed," remarked Kyoko.

"I worked here three years as a teen," he explained as he slid out of his jacket. "I've also visited practically every week since I quit. At this point friends and co-workers dare not suggest going out to eat around me since I'll inevitably take them here or Maples."

Kyoko let her confusion show.

"Maples is where I worked after graduating culinary school. It's located in the casino but owned independently. Since the rent is high the pay is pretty low, but it's still a very nice, upscale restaurant."

"Wow, you went to culinary school?" she asked, leaning forward with interest.

Mitchal blinked, obviously surprised she'd find this interesting.

"Yeah I did. It was only a two year program but it was so much fun!"

He pulled a small photo album from his pocket and flipped through it for a specific picture.

"This would be me and some of my classmates." He lay down the open album on the table between them and pointed to a picture.

"On the far left that's Maya and there's Carlos, Ben, me and Ella."

The picture was taken in a kitchen with everyone donning chef's uniforms and hats and standing behind a cart full of dishes. Mitchal looked about the same except younger and with much shorter hair.

"You still keep up with them?" Kyoko wondered as Mitchal put the album away.

The man shrugged and gazed at the green ooze inside the lamp.

"Ben I'm still friends with, Carlos got married and moved but sends holiday cards, Ella calls about once a month, and Maya I lost touch with." It was obvious Mitchal missed them, but he tried to sound upbeat about it.

Just then, Milano returned to deliver their milkshakes.

"We ready to order food yet?" he posed, pulling out a pad and paper.

"I'll have the supreme personal pan pizza, hold the sausage," Mitchal said, sliding the menu to the edge of the table.

"And I'll have the spaghetti with mushroom sauce." She placed her menu over his as she spoke.

Milano put away the pad and paper, took the stack of menus and left.

"Hey Mitchal, do you mind if I be nosy and look through your album? I always learn so much about people from pictures." Kyoko paused to sip her milkshake. "Hm, that's not bad!"

"They're great here, aren't they?"

He pushed the album towards her. "Feel free to look through it. Otherwise I'd be pulling it out all night to show you things."

Kyoko flipped to the first page: a studio picture of two redheaded babies all dressed up. The brown eyed one was apparently a girl, given the frilly dress and hairbow.

"That's me with Shelley," he clarified, albeit unnecessarily. "I think that was taken when we were about one."

"You're both so cute there!" she cooed.

The picture on the next page was years later with Mitchal holding a sleepy infant and Shelley looking on.

"That's right after Daniel was born. We're five there."

"You both look so proud of your brother," noted Kyoko.

On the opposite page was another studio shot, this one of a middle aged couple. The man had thick, carrot red hair and laughing blue eyes, while the woman had straight reddish brown hair and a shy expression.

"Your parents?" guessed Kyoko.

"Gee, how'd you know?"

On the next page was an elderly white haired couple sitting on a porch swing. Judging from their expressions, they'd apparently just heard a joke.

"Mom's parents," said Mitchal. "That was taken on Gram's birthday, which is one reason they look cheerful. The other is the bottle of wine they packed away earlier."

He winked, causing Kyoto to crack up.

Adjacent to the grandparents was a picture of a slightly younger and more reserved looking woman. Her Star of David necklace sat proudly on her blouse.

"Grandma, Dad's mom. She's an Orthodox Jew and always trying to convince the family to be more devout." He shrugged. "It's too bad it falls on deaf ears for everyone but Shelley, who's nearly as bad as Grandma about it now, even though she isn't Orthodox. Still love 'em to death of course."

Mitchal returned to his milkshake and Kyoko to the book. The next pages consisted of various cousins Mitchal pointed out to her and three pictures of the kids at their Mitzvahs. After that came pictures of childhood friends and one of a large brown-grey dog who appeared to have every breed that existed in him. The reaction from Mitchal was immediate as his face perked up.

"Wooster! He was terrific. We got him from the shelter with only two days left before he'd be killed. He had an undying love of cooked asparagus and mortal fear of raincoats."

"My cat Botan has a fear of ANY coats!" she said with a snicker. Botan was beloved but perhaps the most nervous cat who ever lived.

Kyoko took another sip and turned to a shot of Shelley and Mitchal in caps and gowns. It was apparently a secondary school graduation, given their ages.

"Good luck finding our eyes in that," Mitchal interjected.

It looked to have been taken near sunset, which meant the sun was right in their faces, making their hair glow a brilliant shade of gold. Shelley's was slightly darker, with a few pieces in her face.

The next graduation picture, this one of Daniel, was blessedly out of the blinding sunlight. He looked much changed from the Bar Mitzvah shot from earlier. He'd grown lanky and his shaggy red-brown locks fell nearly to his shoulders and into his dark eyes.

"Gosh, he's gotten so old!" As soon as Kyoko said it, she wondered why she had. It was such a lame comment.

Mitchal nodded, smiling a bit sadly. "That was just months ago. He's in college now, which amazes me."

With a parting glance at the picture, she turned the page to the one with Mitchal and his cooking school friends that she'd already seen. Her eyes skipped over this one and stopped on a shot of Mitchal snuggled up with the pretty, chubby girl she recognised from the opposite picture.

Mitchal flushed as he saw on what page she'd landed.

"Uh yeah, that's Ella again. We were together for years until early last spring. It destroyed me when she got too busy for a relationship and ended it, but I've made peace with it. After all, if we were still together I wouldn't be here with you,"

Something in the way he looked at Kyoko told her he meant it. Quickly, for his sake, she turned the page to two pictures of a very upscale restaurant with burgundy carpets and candlelit tables.

"That's Maples," specified Mitchal, obviously grateful for the change of subject.

"It's lovely, did you work there long?"

He gave a shrug. "About half a year. Then one night at closing Giovanni came in and chatted me up. When I found out how much better it paid being a bodyguard than a chef, and that Mr. Leonelli was looking for a second one, I decided I'd try it. Giovanni helped me get an interview and I got hired almost instantly."

Kyoko studied the pictures of Maples again, a bit surprised anyone could leave it so easily. She slowly turned the page to a brunet in swim trunks and shades, sitting by the pool. He looked very relaxed, leaning back and smirking confidently.

"And that would be him there!" he said, pointing at the picture.

Kyoko peered closer, realising she recognised the man from the other night. Suddenly the intricate, colourful tattoo covering his upper arms and shoulders caught her attention. She'd always found tattoos a bit tacky, especially any with colours, but she found this one rather impressive. It was mostly grey, blue and black, but had a bit of red here and there. It was hard to make out the pictures on it at that distance, but they appeared to relate to death, with skulls, demons, and vampires.

"That's a Yak- one of those special tattoos, isn't it? I saw some in a magazine once and they looked a lot like that."

Mitchal gave a laugh and nodded. Kyoko couldn't remember ever knowing anyone more cheerful and fun to be around. He was like Daisuke without the obnoxious traits.

"Yup, it's a "special tattoo"; very special if you consider that he's not Japanese and neither is the organisation itself," he confirmed. "Thankfully it has plenty of Japanese ties and strings are easy to be pulled, if you know how."

A slow, nasty smile slid over Kyoko's face. "You know, you could probably come in very useful at some point if I can't get something done through conventional means."

He held up his hands in surrender. "Oh no, my skills end at being able to shoot adequately, make a soufflé and annoy people by talking too much. Anything fancy and you'd have to ask Ian or Vampire."

Milano, who'd apparently just arrived at the table with a tray of food, spoke up, startling them.

"Eh, don't believe him, I'm sure he doubles as a secret agent but just can't admit it."

As Milano served the dishes, Mitchal's shoulders sagged in feigned defeat.

"Damn, I've been outed!"

Chuckling, Milano left the two. In his wake, Kyoko pushed the album to the side to keep it clean and got started on the spaghetti.

"You were right Mitchal, this is wonderful!"

All talk faded as the pair put their energies into eating. The silence eventually got to Mitchal and he leaned in to gossip.

"Fun fact of the day: Milano is actually that guy's last name. He refuses to answer to anything else or say what his first name is. But everyone knows it anyway, given that his brother's name is Dante and his sister's is Beatrice."

"Virgil; or possibly Virgilio," Kyoko surmised. "Not that bad a name, but I can understand why he wouldn't use it. What boy would want a name that sounds like virginal?"

Mitchal paused, a slice of pizza poised inches from his mouth. "You know, I hadn't thought of that, but you're right, that makes it worse."

The mother and teen in the next booth began arguing as they readied to leave, causing Mitchal and Kyoko to act as if they were suddenly deaf.

As Kyoko reached over for a sip of her milkshake, she spotted the picture across from Giovanni's. It was a very effective art photograph of a melancholy youth gazing out the window at a cloudy landscape. The dim light from outside highlighted his angular features whilst seeming to neglect everything else around him. Kyoko hurriedly wiped off her hands and picked up the album to look closer.

"Oh Mitchal, this picture is stunning! It almost looks like a painting. Did you take this?"

Mitchal silently concurred, taken aback by the effusive praise.

"This needs to be entered into a contest." Kyoko's inner art minor took over. "There's such a sense of longing and isolation on the boy's face. It's like he wants to be outside but doesn't know if he belongs there."

Kyoko became aware of Mitchal staring at her, intent but slightly bewildered.

"That's the most apt interpretation I've ever heard," murmured Mitchal. "Not just of the tone of the picture, but of the subject's overall outlook on life. It's the only time I've seen his feelings laid bare, which is part of why I had to take it and kept it around."

Hunger called and the man returned to his pizza. Kyoko, however, had forgotten about her food for the moment and pulled the photo out of the sleeve to check the back for a caption. There it was, at the top written in thin, tidy characters.

"The caged beast contemplates escape.

Claire Leonelli on his seventeenth birthday."

The picture slipped from Kyoko's fingers as she jolted. How could this be the angry, sneering teen who hid bombs in a tanker and shot Daisuke? Was this what lay underneath the rampant hostility?

"Believe it or not, that is in fact Vampire, or just Claire at that point," he told her as she slid the picture back in its sleeve. "After the rage and bitterness are stripped away, he's still a scared child."

Mitchal's eyes drifted to the lava lamp as he fell into contemplation.

"His mother's been gone his whole life and his father as well, emotionally. To Lorenzo, he was like a purebred dog, something to train up and mould, and little else. Not that the man had no heart, he just never knew what to make of his son once he grew up and developed independent thought."

The man sighed, absently brushing away a stray lock of hair from his eyes.

"Claire's life outside the home has always been just as isolating. He never knew how to make friends and everyone his own age was either told to stay away from him because of his father's connections or befriend him for the same reason. Given this, the ones who would associate with him found him weird and treated him terribly. His only true friends were Mauro, his father's assistant, and Giovanni, who was taken in by Lorenzo when he was twelve. Given that both are much older than him, he was alone most of his life."

Shrugging off his mood to lighten it, he grabbed a slice of pizza and winked at Kyoko.

"Anyway, just try to keep that in mind when Vampire does something…creative. After all, practically everyone was against him inheriting the position of Vampire and his own father only did it out of obligation. Who wouldn't be bitter over that?"

Kyoko regarded Mitchal with affection, impressed by his empathy.

"Mitchal, you may be a wonderful chef, but I think you were meant to be a bodyguard, especially for him. I admire you."

He scratched his cheek, again flustered by the second heaping of praise.

"Ah, well, I've always protected Daniel and Shelley with my life, though it was never a conscious decision. Maybe it's just in my blood. It's not that big a deal really. Plus Giovanni and Ian are just as hardworking and devoted."

"Ian?" Kyoko wasn't sure she could place the name. "Have I met him?"

"Yeah, he was in the hall with me the other night." Mitchal flipped over to the final filled page of the album.

"Ah, that's him," he said, pointing at a shot with a familiar looking young man reading a book.

Finally, Kyoko's memory kicked in. Unfortunately for her, her mouth did too. "Yes! I remember him trying to hush you when mentioned the frequent attacks on your boss. And why did I just say that?"

Her regret deepened as the hue of Mitchal's face did.

"See what I mean?" He threw his hands in the air. "I can never keep my mouth shut, at least when I'm around someone pretty."

Kyoko reached across the table and squeeze his hand.

"For what it's worth, I think it makes you a delight to talk to. Most guys are so quiet that it just makes things awkward when I'm around them"

With an abruptness that made Kyoko wonder if she'd offended him, Mitchal shoved the album in his pocket, leapt to his feet and pulled Kyoko out of her seat.

"C'mon, let's dance. It would be a waste not to with a song this fun."

He was right about the fun part. The song playing was one of those fast and incredibly infectious songs that got stuck in your head.

Suspiciously, Kyoko eyed her food.

"They never take it unless you're at the table or leave the restaurant," Mitchal assured.

Though still hesitant and a bit self conscious, Kyoko inevitably relented, allowing the man to lead her by the hand.

"I'm a terrible dancer," warned Kyoko when the reached the floor.

"Same here. Just fake it, that's what everyone does," he advised, finally letting go of her hand, reluctantly, to make dancing easier.

Most of the people around them were children dancing with older siblings or parents. Of the adults dancing, nearly no one was any good. Kyoko quickly relaxed and let herself enjoy the experience. Mitchal apparently did the same and spun her a few times throughout the song. At the end he even dipped her.

Giddy but exhausted, the pair trekked back to their booth, collapsing into their seats. Sure enough their food and drinks remained. Considering how thirsty both were, this was very appreciated.

As soon as they both had time to cool off and relax, Mitchal started conversation up again.

"I've bugged you all night by talking about me, how about you tell me something about yourself."

Inwardly, Kyoko cringed. She disliked talking about herself, especially to someone as interesting as Mitchal.

"Oh, there isn't that much to talk about," she admitted. "I've lived at Wicker lane with my parents most of my life. Grandpa came to stay with us three years ago after Grandma died.

"I went to Carver University for four years, double majoring in Children's Literature and Library Studies. Obviously, I hoped to be a children's librarian or at least work in a bookstore, but opted for a government career with the special unit since I couldn't find much in my field and figured the benefits would be better. It was a bit dull at first, but then Dice came along this January, fresh out of school, and he's been driving me around the bend ever since!

"Told you my life story was dull," she said with a wink.

Mitchal waved her off. "Nah, somehow I doubt working with Daisuke could ever be dull."

"Okay, that never is," Kyoko relented. "Lately it seems every time he goes out he ends up getting himself in a mess and needing J to bail him out. I swear, he has no impulse control! He just acts, regardless of the consequences. One day he'll get himself killed if he doesn't be careful."

Mitchal nodded sagely. "I've felt the same way, except about Vampire."

Kyoko finished off her spaghetti and pushed it away.

"Does it frustrate you as much as it does me?" she asked.

"God yes!" exclaimed Mitchal as he rolled his eyes dramatically.

"They're a lot alike in some ways, aren't they?" Kyoko suddenly realised. "Now if only they'd accept that, things might calm down a little and they'd hopefully stop trying to kill each other."

"Well, for what it's worth, Vampire wouldn't seriously try to kill Daisuke. Even when he shot him, I think he knew about the bullet-proof vest."

An amused expression came over Mitchal as he spoke again.

"To Vampire, Daisuke is like a fascinating puzzle to figure out. For some reason your friend provides an endless source of entertainment for him. I guess that's the reason he's so fixated on him. I can't think of another."

"Don't try," Kyoko advised. "Some things are better off unanalysed."

Milano came back to collect the dishes. Before leaving, he fixed Mitchal with a sharp look.

"Don't think I didn't hear about your conversation earlier. You say one word about the Virgil thing and I'll be sure to poison your dessert if you order one."

The pair managed to keep a straight face only until Milano reached the kitchen. The moment he did, they both cracked up.

"See, what did I tell you!" Mitchal got out between laughs.

Kyoko's empathy took over. "Poor guy, it isn't too bad a name really. I once knew a kid named Akira who had a speech impediment as a kid and pronounced his name Akuma. Ever since people have insisted upon calling him Akuma and making devil jokes. At this point some people actually think that's his real name."

Mitchal pondered this for a moment.

"I wouldn't mind being called that. I think it suits me, especially with the red hair."

Before Kyoko could react, Milano returned, looking guarded.

"We ready?" is all he asked, pad and paper in hand.

Kyoko ordered a slice of cherry pie and Mitchal a bowl of chocolate pudding.

"And just for the record," Mitchal tacked on, "We know your first name is of course John."

Milano's expression instantly softened, though everyone knew Mitchal wasn't serious. Shaking his head slightly with amusement, Milano skated away.

Things were peaceful at the table for only a moment.

"It's now eight-thirty and you know what that means," announced a man at the dance floor, causing Kyoko to squeak and jerk in her seat.

Most of the restaurant chorused with "Karaoke!" Apparently this event was a fan favourite.

"That's right!" the man countered. "Do we have any idols in the making here tonight?"

The diners grew mysteriously quiet.

"Aw, come on! Surely we have someone willing to strut their stuff," he tried again.

A plump blonde girl of roughly twelve hesitantly raised her hand after exchanging several uncertain looks with her family.

The man beamed. "Then come on up here!"

When the pre-teen approached the floor, the announcer's voice grew warmer. "And what's your name?"

"Emma," she replied with a blush.

He handed Emma a book full of song titles, encouraging her to pick anything in there. It took her about five minutes to settle on something. Unfortunately, it was the most irritating, saccharine song on the planet, and the one that was played constantly on the radio.

Once the opening bars finished, Emma began belting out the lyrics at full volume, all shyness instantly dissipated. Kyoko suspected she sang at frequent appearances, given her presence and slightly nasal, overly trained voice.

Of the people who followed, most were much younger or older than Emma. One was a grandmother.

"I wish I weren't so shy, that really does look fun," mused Kyoko after two boys around eight sang the theme to some action cartoon show Kyoko hadn't heard of.

Mitchal swallowed a bite of the pudding that had recently arrived before speaking up. "You ought to try it, I'm sure your voice is wonderful."

Kyoko moved around a cherry on her plate with the fork and bit her lip. She always became an instant child whenever she became self-conscious.

"Well, I used to be in school chorus, but that was so long ago!"

A child of about five took her turn, trying to sing a song about candy with the help of her mother. She kept nervously twisting her tiny fingers around the hem of her skirt throughout the song.

"If I weren't completely tone deaf I'd go up there with you for moral support," Mitchal offered, momentarily distracting Kyoko from the child. "I do love singing, but I couldn't stand embarrassing you."

He sounded so sweet Kyoko wanted to leap across the table and hug him.

The little girl finished her song, fleeing to the table and the safety of her father's lap the instant she did. The mom smiled at the announcer apologetically as she handed back the microphones and left the floor. When the man held out one of them, asking who was next, Kyoko found a hidden well of courage inside herself.

"We'll give it a shot!" she boldly proclaimed. If it were possible to choke on pudding, Mitchal would have then.

"We?" he got out. He didn't seem displeased by the idea, thankfully, but merely surprised.

Kyoko flashed him a supportive smile. "It's all in good fun. No one expects us to be amazing."

It was her turn to pull Mitchal up and escort him across the floor.

"Hi Eddie," he mumbled to the announcer.

"Hey Mitchal," Eddie replied. In a louder voice he added, "So, introduce yourselves to the audience."

They both complied and Eddie handed her the song catalogue. There seemed to be a million songs in it, but they were thankfully organised by category.

"I'd go with something upbeat and easy to sing," suggested Mitchal, standing over her shoulder. It seemed good enough advice, so Kyoko went to the Pop/Rock section to search for something that would work. A lock of hair fell into her face and Mitchal instantly tried to tuck it behind her ears, though it just fell out again. Still, it was enough to make Kyoko flush.

"Uh, this one will work, won't it?" Her voice sounded far higher and louder than she'd expected. Damn it, why was she getting so flustered?

"Sure," he agreed, studying his nails intently.

"We'll be performing Hai, Catch Me by Otori FAST," Kyoko told the audience as she handed the book to Eddie, who handed her the microphone in exchange. He went for a second one, but Mitchal gently stopped him with a wave of the hand.

The familiar staccato electric guitar notes of the song's opening filled the air and the pair got into position, standing back to back with Kyoko holding the microphone. When the time came to sing, she made herself forget everything and throw her voice out there, hoping for the best. Being female she obviously couldn't imitate the voice of Tohji Matsura, the excitable tenor and lead singer for Otori FAST, but then again Mitchal couldn't imitate Chris Takashi, the bassist, either. Still, she thought they did rather good, even dancing, spinning, and pumping their fists at the "Hai, hai, send me up!" bridge of the song.

In what seemed like a blink, the song ended and they took their bows in answer to a decent smattering of applause.

"Wow, no booing! You must have charmed them Kyoko," teased Mitchal as they returned to their booth.

"Oh stop that, you weren't booed because you weren't that bad," she argued. "You seemed to enjoy it as much as I thought you would. I hope you didn't mind me roping you into it."

He shrugged and picked up a spoon to finish up the dredges of pudding in his bowl.

"I did actually. I'm glad I didn't embarrass you."

"Hey now, you could never embarrass me more than I embarrass myself on a daily basis," she said with a laugh.

Eight minutes later, the two dessert dishes were empty, the bill was paid, and Mitchal and Kyoko were getting in the car, tired and full.

"That place is a riot," Kyoko enthused as the man started up the engine. "I'm so glad you took me there."

"I had a feeling you'd like it," was all he said as he pulled out of the lot.

When it became apparent neither was likely to think of anything to say, Mitchal turned on a movie score after asking if Kyoko minded. Both spent the rest of the trip pleasantly lost in thought.

Mitchal finally reached Kyoko's house and walked her to the door.

"I can't think you enough for tonight. It was honestly the most fun date I've ever been on," she told him.

Though he had his hands shoved in his pockets in a humble manner, she could tell he was thrilled by the complement. He could be so transparent.

"Kyoko, would you mind giving me a picture of yourself when you can? I like to have pictures of everyone important in my life."

Too touched to speak, Kyoko nodded instead.

"If you'll write down your e-mail address I'll send it to you," she said at last.

He dug around in his pocket for a scrap of paper and a pen. Thankfully, his wallet had a small pad and pen with it. He scrawled out (if his tidy handwriting could ever be called a scrawl) an address, folded it up, and slipped it into her hand, curling his fingers around it. He kept his hand curled around hers for some time, which was nice not only for the obvious romantic reason, but because her hands were freezing and one warm one was better than none.

'Kyoko, stop being so practical,' she silently chided herself.

"Hopefully this won't be the last time I see you," he said, his tone serious.

For reasons even Kyoko didn't know, she found herself throwing her arms around him in a hug. Unfortunately given the height difference, ended up hugging his chest.

"I'd love to do this again," she reassured him. "Let's try for next week if you're free."

Kyoko slowly pulled away. As they gazed at one another there was an awkward moment where both obviously wondered if this was where a kiss belonged.

Mitchal broke eye contact first. "Eh, we'll worry about that part next time."

Hearing that, Kyoko relaxed. It wasn't that she would have minded either of them making a move, she just hated those awkward end of date moments that preceded kisses.

"I'll see you soon Mitchal, thanks again."

She blew a kiss and went into the house, thankful that it wasn't locked. Who'd want to have to stay outside fumbling with keys after that?

'I can't wait to see Dice's face when I tell him how much fun I had. He'll go crazy!' Kyoko thought to herself, leaning against the door.

The puzzle theory Mitchal had about Claire came abruptly to mind.

'Okay, that part I'll skip.'

The End