Heeeeeere we go, the full version of this chapter; practically doubled its size. Some tiny insignificant changes were made to the first part as well.

*dodges, in quick sequence, bricks, knives, a pitch fork, a couple of spoons but gets hit in the head with a rubber chicken* Yeah, I totally deserved that, nice aim Dancing Queen.

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Disclaimer: Not mine. Now there's a shocker!


Chapter 20 – One step closer

"Cab's here" Kimiko announced as her eyes picked out the car currently parking at the end of the street. Her voice came out slightly muffled, as her face was partially buried in Jack's coat. They'd taken the penguin approach as a defense against the bitter cold: huddling together; she had to peek around his arm to get a glimpse of the street.

"Mhmm" came Jack's less than enthusiastic reply. He wasn't all that keen on letting go of Kimiko, an opportunity like this might, after all, be a while in turning up. Besides, Kimiko was keeping both of them warm with her innate abilities, so the wet and cold weren't all that pressing anymore.

"Jack? Are you listening to me? We need to go" Kimiko said attempting to wriggle out of his embrace.

"Dun wanna" He answered petulantly, refusing to let go.

Kimiko sighed and rolled her eyes, Jack could be such a kid "You're going to catch your death of cold" she informed him, hoping that would prompt a positive response. She felt his dispassionate shrug, and decided to go for a different approach "You know we could continue this once we're inside" Kimiko said, leaning further into his chest, suggestively, she hoped. This had the desired effect.

With some reluctance Jack retrieved his arm from around Kimiko and settled for taking her hand as they walked to the waiting taxi; he handed her in- always the gentleman, then followed, taking a seat next to her.

They settled together in the back seat, Jack seating himself as close to Kimiko without actually picking her up and sitting her on his lap. Not to say that he wasn't tempted. Unbeknownst to Jack, destiny had much the same plan.

Innocently Jack told the driver where they wanted to go. The man met Jack's eyes in the rearview mirror; his eyes had that droopy look, with heavy bags underneath that just screamed- or rather, mumbled wearily: "I am tired". He grunted lethargically in response before focusing on the road. Jack and Kimiko exchanged a doubtful look.

Under these extenuating circumstances Jack felt that his next action should not be judged too harshly. The car accelerated so abruptly he and Kimiko were both plastered against the back seat. Jack was so surprised by the sudden and violent departure he let out an undignified squeak of alarm which ended in an unconvincing choking fit.

His moment of mortification was quickly dismissed when he realized that Kimiko did not only not hear his embarrassing slip, but she was clinging to his arm like her life depended on it, she even had one leg half-over his knee. Jack stared in astonishment at her, wondering where the sudden burst of passionate affection had come from, until he noticed how pale her face was and how wide her eyes had gone. It was at that point that he noticed how fast the landscape was zipping by. This was an unexpected development.

Jack lowered his head closer to Kimiko's face "Kim" he began to whisper but had to stop, this was just not something you asked Kimiko "are you scared?" he inquired tentatively.

Kimiko's eyes rolled up slowly to look at him, and Jack was amazed at how much white he could see, her eyes were so wide.

Jack found he couldn't stop the "wow" sound from leaving his lips. He hastened to correct this slip firstly because he did not mean to offend Kimiko in any way, and secondly because despite her obvious fear, some bit of her normal recalcitrant self managed to surface, manifesting itself in the form of a glare "It's just that- I don't… You ride a freakin' dragon! All the time. How could you get nervous while riding in a speeding car? I mean cars at least move on rectilinear trajectories!" he exclaimed as loudly as he dared without the driver hearing.

Kimiko frowned in agitation "That's not the problem! I know Dojo. I know he wouldn't let me fall to my death." She paused to glare at the driver's back "The only thing I know about this guy is that he has dead eyes and drives like he's suicidal!" she hissed angrily as fear took it's natural course, transforming into anger.

This made Jack feel oddly better. An angry Kimiko was a Kimiko he was used to. "So you're afraid of riding in speeding cars. Huh, who'd have thought?" he found the entire concept highly amusing. It was only his so rarely used survival instinct that kept him from teasing Kimiko about it.

Her nails bit into the skin of his arm as she gave it a hard squeeze; she was still hanging on to him. "I am not. I only worry when someone else is driving… particularly someone who looks like he doesn't have a reason to live anymore" she said, managing a shrill whisper.

Trying not to wince, Jack attempted to delicately extricate his arm from Kimiko's vice-like grip "It's okay Kim, just let go. Sweetheart, let go, l-let, let go. That's right, theeeere you go, like that. There we go" he wrapped it instead around her shoulders in an attempt at comforting. He felt an immense wave of gratification when she settled against him.

"If you start making soothing, cooing noises I am going to hurt you" Kimiko muttered half-heartedly.

He chuckled and regretted he couldn't give her a proper hug.

They got to the hotel in record time, a thing Kimiko didn't feel too grateful for. A mini-argument erupted between the two, on who should pay the tab; the argument came to an end when Jack decisively stated "I'm the one who asked you out, so I'm the one who'll pay for the cab"

The corners of Kimiko's mouth turned down in dissatisfaction "Fine" she conceded and added, jabbing the air in front of his face with her finger "Do not tip this man!" she said in a whisper loud enough for the driver to hear, before getting out of the car.

"He he, sorry about that" he said turning to the driver, offering an apologetic smile. The man's expression did not change, in fact it had not changed once in the entire drive. Jack found himself wondering if he'd ever seen the man blink. "Right… um, well" Jack mumbled nervously, fumbling with the money in his haste to pay and get out of the taxi.

Kimiko was waiting for him just inside the hotel, she gave him a measuring "So that's the way it works with you?" she asked when he got to her.

Jack frowned in confusion.

"You ask me out, therefore you're the one who has to pay for everything?" she clarified.

"Oh, well yeah. Pretty much. I think that's reasonable" Jack said, nodding sagely.

Kimiko quirked an eyebrow "So if I were to ask you out…" she left it hanging.

"I'd make you pay for everything, yes" Jack said brightly "No, I'm lying… maybe we could just go Dutch…" Jack hesitated "we'll negotiate" he said at last, nodding seriously "Wait… are you planning on doing that? Asking me out?" Jack said sounding hopefully. Kimiko's only answer to that was a coy smile.

And so it was that a couple of minutes later they were making their way up the stairs to their respective rooms. When they hit the landing Jack turned around to give Kimiko a hopeful look "Um… a good night kiss?" he suggested half-heartedly.

Kimiko snorted softly "You are really persistent, aren't you?" The question turned out to be rhetorical, as Kimiko smiled and held out her hands for him.

Jack could not be happier, and as he went in for the long-fought-for kiss, he let out a breath making a sound that sounded suspiciously like "Weeeeeee…"

Kimiko raised an eyebrow and might have had something to say about that, but Jack's lips effectively cut her off. Not that she was complaining.

"Mmmg'night" Jack said as he pulled back, a goofy smile on his face, pausing only to place a quick, almost shy peck on Kimiko's forehead. He turned to walk away.

"Not so fast" Kimiko said suddenly, grabbing him by the collar to halt his retreat.

Jack stared at her in surprise for a moment, then, as understanding dawned his expression turned from shocked and maybe a little frightened, to sultry, then back to alarmed in quick succession, almost as if he were undecided on what the best course of action would be.

Kimiko decided she didn't want to speculate on what Jack might have been thinking right then, she was in too good a mood. Instead she smiled charmingly and extended her hand "Aren't you forgetting something?"

Jack looked blankly at her hand for a long moment, deciding at last, absurdly, that she wanted him to kiss her hand. He had no problem with that. Just as he began to reach for the offered hand, Kimiko decided the gesture needed clarification.

"The photo, Jack. Give it to me, and I'll give it to Dojo, I imagine he's in my room by now" she said watching bemusedly as Jack reached for her hand.

"Oh" said Jack blankly "Oh! Oh right. The photo, I completely forgot about that. Here" he said, producing the photo from one of his pockets.

Kimiko took the photo, shaking her head all the while "I can't believe you actually did this… I can't believe it actually worked". She was still shaking her head as she walked away.

As she turned on the light in her room, Kimiko was predictably met by an angry Dojo. She offered him the safely recovered "hostage". Dojo snatched it out of her hands, cradling it protectively to his chest as if someone might attempt to take it from him again.

Kimiko kept her expression neutral as she observed this display. She then smiled pleasantly and went to get ready for bed. A quick look at the clock told her it was just a quarter to midnight.

Dojo followed her around the room as she took off and disposed of her jewelry, removed her make-up, politely turned around as she changed into her PJs , then followed her into the bathroom when she went to wash her teeth, complaining all the while.

"He blackmailed me!!" was the first thing Dojo had said when she'd set foot in the room. Everything he said from then on was in much the same note.

Finally exasperated with the dragon, Kimiko turned around to face the little dragon as he trailed behind her "I know ,Dojo. He told me" this bought her about thirty seconds of complete silence. Then Dojo exploded.

"You… YOU KNEW!?" He cried out disbelievingly "For-for how long have you known that he held master Fung in his evil clutches??"

Kimiko felt the dragon was severely overreacting "I don't know. I think since dinner?" this prompted another explosion.

"You knew that and you still stayed!? How could you?" Dojo demanded clutching the photograph tightly to him.

Kimiko couldn't help it, she had to roll her eyes "Dojo, he didn't kidnap Master Fung. He took a photo. It's not that big a deal" Dojo seemed to be suffocating, she ignored him and went on "And Jack only did it because he wanted to ask me on a date, but was too shy to plain out say it"

"Are you kidding me? Too shy? " Dojo asked incredulously "And even if that were so why didn't he just ask me not to come?" he demanded.

Kimiko tilted her head and pursed one corner of her mouth "You know, I'm pretty sure he did do that and you said no"

Dojo's eyes widened innocently "Wha- Would I do that?"

Kimiko took in his reaction "Yeah, I think you would. Are you saying I'm wrong?" Dojo looked unmistakably cornered, Kimiko emboldened by this pressed on "And even if he didn't ask you, hypothetically speaking, I'm asking you now. What would you have said if Jack asked you not to come?"

"You're picking on details" Dojo deflected neatly "The main point is the man was not shy about using blackmail to get what he wanted and you're not seeing that"

Kimiko rolled her eyes for the second time in as many minutes "You're not seeing just how ridiculous your case against him is. For God's sake Dojo, it was a photograph" she exclaimed throwing her hands out. By this point her good mood had completely evaporated. The fact that there was a ring of truth to Dojo's words did not make her feel any happier. She felt it was completely unfair, not to mention extremely rude to point out Jack's character flaws now that she finally decided to like him.

Dojo opened his serpentine mouth, no doubt with a comeback, but Kimiko was the faster of the two, holding up her hand to halt his progress "Look, it's late and I am tired. I'll concede that Jack's methods are questionable and not altogether good, but you got your picture back, I had a good time, there was no harm done. So could you please just drop it?" she asked plaintively.

Dojo appeared to fold in on himself; the effect was very similar to an accordion being constricted "Very well" he agreed at last.

Kimiko went to turn off the lights and then slipped into bed. Dojo was already resting, curled up on a pillow next to her head. "Good night, Dojo" Kimiko muttered sleepily.

Dojo regarded her with round eyes that glinted in the dark of the room "You know I'm only trying to protect you right?" he asked quietly. His head was resting on his coiled body, the pose gave him an air of resignation.

Kimiko opened her eyes, blinking slowly and smiled at the tiny dragon "I know" and her eyes slipped shut again.

Dojo sighed, a wisp of smoke rising up from his nostrils "Good night Kimiko"

Early the next day Jack was cheerfully making his way down the hall of the hotel and towards the stairs that lead to the ground floor, a spring in his step. He had a happy, vacant look on his face, his mind clearly elsewhere. He was brought to a screeching halt when the very subject of his pleasant mind meanderings called his name.

It was extremely unusual for Kimiko to be up so early, but there she was making a beeline for him. He immediately began to worry "Are you feeling alright? You didn't sleep well?" Jack asked with concern, when she pulled abreast of him.

Kimiko brushed his concerns away with a laugh "Really? Just because I woke up a little earlier than usual doesn't mean I'm unwell. I just woke up" she shrugged. Kimiko gave Jack a measuring look "You're not usually up this early either. What are you up to?" she asked curiously. Kimiko couldn't help but notice that Jack's voice was a bit nasal.

Jack raised an eyebrow "And how would you know when I wake up? You always wake up after me" he ended the statement with a delicate sniffle.

Kimiko narrowed her eyes at him, but answered his question "Oh, I felt guilty because I thought I was waking up so late, so I asked Obie when you woke up. So there. Now please focus and answer my question" Kimiko said, then added suddenly "Wait, answer this first, did you catch a cold?"

Jack did not appear too eager to talk about that "It's just a sniffle" he said brushing it off as nothing. The big sneeze that followed did not exactly reinforce his statement.

"U-huh" Kimiko muttered, unconvinced "Ok, now you can answer the other question"

Jack did a quick rewind of their short conversation and located said question "Where am I going? I'm going to meet up with Mike, you remember, my assistant/accountant, to pick up the things I asked for" he explained and gestured for Kimiko to follow as he started to descend.

"Oh, wow, that's pretty quick work" Kimiko said, nodding appreciatively "I'm not even going to ask how you got those things into the country" she added in a low whisper "So where are you two meeting?"

"Paris. It was the most convenient location" Jack said, he halted his descent and swiveled to face Kimiko who was a step behind and above him "Would you like to come? I didn't think to ask you because I thought you'd be asleep; but since you're not…?" he asked. It did not escape his notice that with Kimiko standing on a step above him brought them to about the same height. If he were to lean forward just a little…

"Sure. I'd like to meet the man who has to put up with you all the time. It's good research" Kimiko said pointedly.

That was enough to pull Jack out of his amorous thoughts, and a look of pure panic crossed over his face.

Kimiko chuckled "That bad, huh?" before leaning forward and placing a quick peck on his lips. She then proceeded to sidestep Jack and make her way down the stairs ahead of him.

Jack followed after her, trying to shake off the little daze her unexpected kiss seemed to have cast over him. He also tried really hard not to sneeze again.

Kimiko paused once they hit the landing and turned to Jack "Are we taking a cab?" she asked in deceptively dulcet tones.

Jack was clever enough to make a quick change of plans "Oh no. What, are you kidding, after last night!? Pfft."

Kimiko realized this was code for "I was planning on it, but not anymore; hold on a sec while I figure out what to do next" Jack's babbling was like that music you had to listen to when you were on hold on the telephone, or elevator music; it signaled a waiting period. The thought made her smile.

"Ah, well, I could always ask Obie to drive us" Jack said thoughtfully "that is, if I can find him"" he added in an undertone.

Kimiko shrugged "Or I could just drive" she offered.

Jack's eyebrows shot up "You drive?" he asked, shocked.

Kimiko frowned "Of course" she answered tartly, he didn't need to sound quite so surprised.

Jack picked up on her annoyance and hurried to smooth things out "I'm just surprised, after last night I mean. I got the impression you didn't like to drive"

Kimiko shook her head "No, no, I didn't like the way that guy was driving"

"That's sorted out then… but why didn't you say anything yesterday? Why did you let me get Obie to drive us to Paris? It would have saved us a world of awkwardness" Jack said.

Kimiko shrugged "You never asked me and I just figured it was your misogynistic streak acting up and you didn't want me driving because, you know, I'm a girl" she answered matter-of-factly, but the slight curl to her lips took any possible sting out of the words.

Jack laughed nervously, a bit uncertain in spite of the smile "It just never occurred to me" he was still wondering, privately, if Kimiko thought his paying for dinner and the drive was a misogynistic action.

They were in the parking lot almost at Jack's car. Jack fished in his pants pocket for the car keys which he tossed to Kimiko over the top of the car. She caught them expertly and let herself inside; Jack joined her, taking the passenger seat up front.

Jack had always thought of himself as a speed freak; but compared to Kimiko's driving he was a cautious driver. He stared at the woman in complete and utter disbelief "Are you bipolar?" he demanded to know.

Kimiko's eyes left the road for a moment to focus on him, which Jack privately thought was a serious mistake considering the speed they were whizzing by at "Why do you say that?" she asked innocently.

Jack's mouth dropped "Are you kidding? You're driving like a mad-woman! What was all that last night? I thought you were afraid of speeding cars" he exclaimed, awash with confusion.

Kimiko raised an eyebrow "Noo-o. I'm afraid of being in a speedy car when someone who looks like he has nothing left to live for is driving. I love speed, as long as I'm the one driving" she clarified.

"O-k. But you do realize you're really breaking the speed limit here" Jack said hesitantly.

Kimiko snorted "The road's clear, there's no reason to slow down"

A reason to slow down presented itself not five minutes later. The tell-tale sound of a police siren alerted them to their pursuer. Kimiko dutifully slowed down and pulled over.

Jack was wracking his brain trying to figure out the best way out of the mess Kimiko had managed to land them in. He hadn't come up with much by the time the policeman had pulled up with them and was tapping on the window. Kimiko rolled the windshield down, and Jack was getting ready to improvise something when the unmistakable sound of sobbing caught his attention.

Jack looked at Kimiko only to find the girl dissolved in heart-breaking sobs. His first instinctual reaction was surprise and concern. He leaned towards her and laid his hand on her shoulder wanting to know what was wrong. It just didn't seem like her too break down because a police officer was going to give them a speeding ticket.

Speaking of the man, Kimiko's crying seemed to have the exact same effect on him as they'd had on Jack. The man's face was a mask of concern "Mademoiselle! Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" he asked.

Jack was about to answer for her, thinking she would unable to speak, but Kimiko effectively silenced him by placing a hand over his and giving it a sharp squeeze. A soft wail escaped her lips "Oh Monsieur…" she began but had to stop, overcome by another wave of tears. When she looked up again, Jack caught her reflection in the rearview mirror, tears were hanging like little crystal drops from her long dark lashes makin her eyes sparkle. Her face was a study in graceful suffering.

When she haltingly began to give the officer an extremely vague account on how some terrible accident had happened and how they had to get to Paris urgently, strategically placed sobs masking her accent, two things dawned on Jack: one, she was lying through her teeth and was faking the tears and two, she was very good at it.

In no time at all, Kimiko had managed to get out of a ticket and back on her way, with only a promise to slow down. Jack stared at her half admiringly, half outraged "What do you call that, Miss Goody-two-shoes?" he asked acidly.

Kimiko brushed away the tears with the back of her hand and smirked at him "What? That's just us weak female's way of getting out of driving tickets and such" she told him brightly.

Jack rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger "I never want to hear you preaching to me about good and evil. Ever." He shook his head "Where do you even learn to do that anyway? Do you practice in front of the mirror, or what?"

"If you're thinking of taking this up, I'd suggest you reconsider, it doesn't work as well for guys" she laughed when Jack glared at her "Actually this was a game I used to play with some girlfriends. We didn't do it on purpose, but whenever we were pulled over, whichever one of us was driving would have to pull on the theatrics." Kimiko gave him a side glance "I never once got a ticket" she admitted modestly.

Jack felt compelled to laugh at her antics "You really are something else, aren't you?" he was rewarded by a dazzling smile.

Once they reached Paris, Jack guided Kimiko through the streets till they reached their destination. It was a smallish building, unremarkable by any standards.

Jack knocked twice and the door opened to reveal a thin, nervous looking fellow. "Hey, Mike!" Jack greeted the man cheerfully, giving a little wave and strode past him and inside the house.

Kimiko followed after, but paused when she reached Mike "Hi, I'm Kimiko" she said pleasantly, offering her hand.

Mike took he hand and gave it a little shake "Hi" and he smiled shyly at her before motioning for her to go inside.

The house was mostly empty aside from only the most basic of furniture: a table, four chairs and a couple of cabinets. Jack was comfortably seated in one of the chairs and he waved for Kimiko to join him, which she did, having nothing better to do.

"So Mike!" Jack began brightly as the man in question took a seat opposite to him "What's up?"

Kimiko could have sworn she saw Mike's eye twitch "What's up?" he began very quietly "What's up!?" he asked again, his volume practically doubling. Kimiko understood in that moment that Mike was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. "My blood pressure is up!! Jack, I don't think you quite understand that you just scrapped over half a million dollars. How much do I need to stress that our funds are really, really low? We can't afford to have these kinds of accidents!"

Jack frowned slightly "Dude, it's not like I wrecked it on purpose, it was either us" here he gestured at himself and Kimiko "Or the arm. There really was no choice". Kimiko noted Jack was trying to sound petulant, but by the sound of it he seemed to be taking the matter very seriously.

Mike brought a hand through his thin dark hair in an anxious gesture "I know, I know… I just wish you'd be more careful about these things and not land yourself in situations like that" He heaved a long suffering sigh "I looked at the pieces of arm you sent me, I think I can salvage some parts, but most of it is beyond repair" he said, wracking his hands.

Jack nodded, looking as serious as Kimiko'd ever seen him. Then he seemed to brush the gloom away "Did you bring what I asked for?" he asked brightly.

Mike flinched. Apparently the idea of letting Jack handle expensive equipment was physically painful to him. Another sigh "I did. I also brought Doctor Hoffer to help reattach the new arm. Mind you it lacks the artificial skin tissue, so you'll have to wear long sleeves and gloves" he explained in a monotone.

"I know the drill" Jack assured him "So where's the good Doctor?"

Mike sighed. He did that allot "Out to get breakfast"

"I hope he brings enough for all of us" Jack said. He did not sound particularly hopeful. There was in fact an inflection to his words that suggested that if that were not the case, Mike and the doctor could go without food. Kimiko hoped he was joking… but then again, Jack really loved his food.

"Oh yes. We know better now" Mike drawled, his jaw cradled in his palm.

Jack stared at Mike "You know, I think you're more of a downer than usual. What's up with you?" Jack asked sounding genuinely curious.

Mike gave him a dead-eyed look "What, you mean besides the fact that you woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me you destroyed a huge part of our investments, or that you dragged me to Paris when you know how busy we're back at the "Lair"; or you know, that I had to smuggle all this stuff through the airport. You know, I'm just not sure" sarcasm was practically dripping off his words.

For some reason Kimiko did not find most of this surprising, but one thing did catch her attention "The "Lair" ?" she asked incredulously.

Mike nodded "It's what we call the lab" by the sound of it, he got this question a lot "I'm not even embarrassed to explain that anymore" he added, answering her unspoken question.

Jack nodded throughout the short explanation, and then continued his line of questioning unperturbed "No-o, that's not it. You've been working under me for a some time now, that kinda stuff shouldn't faze you" he said knowingly.

"Longest two years of my life" Mike muttered, then turning to Kimiko he added "I used to have a full head of hair before I met him"

Jack seemed embarrassed by that comment "That's not- I didn't cause- it's not my- I'm pretty sure your hair was on the decline anyway" he fumbled decisively.

Mike shrugged "I guess I'll never know now... though I am fairly certain on the matter". That comment actually earned him a glare from the red-head. Mike looked like that made him feel slightly better.

"Your hair is a fascinating topic for conversation, but I really think we should not pursue this any longer. Really" Jack suggested through clenched teeth.

Mike only shrugged.

"Now that you got that out of your system, could you please tell me why you're so upset?" Jack was nothing if not persistent.

It was Mike's turn to look embarrassed, he darted a couple of furtive glances at Kimiko " God. Look my mother's coming to visit, ok? As if I wasn't stressed enough" he said in a bitter undertone, carefully avoiding everyone's eyes.

Kimiko blinked, she could not think of a proper response to that. Jack made a sympathetic "Eesh" noise.

There was an awkward moment of silence, which Jack dutifully ended "Sooo… so, where's the stuff?" Jack, always quick on the getaway.

"In the other room. Big crates, you can't miss them" Mike instructed, nodding his head in the correct direction.

That was all Jack needed, he practically skipped his way out of the room, rubbing his hands together excitedly; which left Mike and Kimiko to stare at each other.

Kimiko smiled tentatively "So Mike, how did you end up working with Jack?" she'd been wondering about that; the two were like oil and water, they just didn't seem to mix.

Mike seemed surprised by the question "I honestly don't remember, it seems like it was so long ago, though it's only been two years" he laughed suddenly, and it seemed to light up his face "I make him sound a lot worse than he really is. Truthfully, he's not a bad boss, he has his little quirks and God knows he can be careless, but everybody has their bad moments-" he was interrupted by a series of metallic clanks from the next room accompanied by Jack's loud exclamation of "Oops! Oh no- no, wait, no, it's ok, everything's alright!" Mike grimaced, probably envisioning expensive bits of technology getting smashed to smithereens and amended "Ok… maybe not as extreme as him, but you get the point"

Kimiko smiled fondly "Oh yes, you could say I'm familiar with his quirky nature. See, I've known Jack for a pretty long time"

Mike nodded "I know, he's told me about you" Kimiko raised an eyebrow "Only good things" Mike assured her quickly. Though judging by how fast he corrected that, Kimiko was willing to bet Jack had let drop some less flattering things in those stories.

Kimiko smiled "Good" she was going to ask for particulars, but Jack chose that moment to enter the room brandishing a couple of guns.

"Kim! Kim! Check these out!" Jack exclaimed excitedly, holding the guns out for her to examine. He was holding them right under her nose.

"Yes Jack, they're very nice" Kimiko said pulling back warily "Please point them away from my face"

Jack took them back, pouting "They're not loaded" he said defensively.

Kimiko grinned up at him "I don't know Jack, but for some reason it always makes me nervous seeing you with guns, Jack"

Mike's eyes opened wide and he leaned forward in his chair "Thank you!" he told Kimiko emphatically, and then turning towards Jack "See, Jack?" he demanded triumphantly "See!".

Jack merely rolled his eyes "Mike, all guns make you nervous. Kimiko's only nervous when I'm holding a gun"

Kimiko and Mike had on identical looks of bemusement. Mike cleared his throat "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" he asked Jack.

"No" Jack said, shaking his head "I was merely stating a fact"

Kimiko giggled and mike just dropped his shoulders in defeat "Jack did you notice I put in some of the new generation spy-bots, why don't you go give them a spin?" he suggested wearily.

"Really? You guys got them done? That was quick!" Jack said happily oblivious to the thing known as "ulterior motives". "How did you get them to stop the erratic swiveling? Did you try the method I suggested?" he was practically bouncing with excitement.

Even Mike seemed amused by this display "Yeah, that's what did it" was all he had time to say before Jack was off again.

"This is one of Jack's redeeming qualities" Mike whispered conspiratorially to Kimiko "he's so easily distracted. Very convenient at times. Also, extremely annoying at times. You just need to learn to use it to your advantage"

Kimiko nodded knowingly "I know what you mean, but it works for him. This dubious combination of qualities he possesses. I'm pretty sure he's the only one who can pull it off"

Mike gave her a steady, measuring look "I don't mean to pry… well, ok I do, but are you two… um- do you … like Jack?" he asked carefully in a quiet voice.

Kimiko's eyebrows shot up and she was almost tempted to tell Mike to not poke his nose in other people's business, but she reconsidered "Yeah, I guess I do like him" and she couldn't have stopped the smile from surfacing if she'd have taped the corners of her mouth.

To Kimiko's surprise, Mike looked relieved, he said as much "Well, I'm relieved to hear that" he seemed disinclined to say anything else.

Kimiko narrowed her eyes at him "Was there a point to that question?" she asked, her tone not exactly friendly.

Mike looked uncomfortable "Uh, I'm pretty sure Jack wouldn't appreciate me telling you this"

"Yes, well the world wasn't built to accommodate Jack, there's no reason for you to pretend otherwise just now" Kimiko said drily. Personally she felt she was being a bit harsh on poor Mike, but the whole Jack issue was still pretty new to her and Kimiko couldn't help being a bit insecure; insecurity made Kimiko aggressive.

Mike was taken aback by that "Ok, that's forceful. Maybe that's what he likes about you" he said speculatively.

"Mike, you said Jack told you about me. Did he ever happen to mention my gift of patience?"Kimiko asked sweetly.

Mike pretended to look pensive "No, not that I can recall" it would have been rude to do otherwise.

Kimiko nodded "That's because I do not possess the gift of patience" she said pleasantly.

He stared at her for a moment before letting out a bark of laughter "Now I definitely get why he likes you, you're just as crazy as he is"

"I bet you could have phrased that better" Kimiko grimaced.

"Possibly" Mike grinned "but you get what I mean. So look, Jack likes you, a lot I think. When he got this job, recovering that statue, he did everything he possibly could to make everything perfect just to impress you. He was more psychotic than usual, which is saying something. You must have left quite a mark on him when you were kids"

"Oh" she said intelligently.

"Hard to imagine, I know. Nevertheless, he likes you and I figured it would help if you knew, since you don't look like the kind of girl that'd lead him along if you didn't like him back" Mike concluded.

Kimiko blinked rapidly a few times "Wow, thanks for sharing that with me… that was very, informative" she improvised, because saying "oh" again just didn't seem appropriate; not to mention that in truth it had been extremely informative. To think that Jack had been so determined to impress her, unless of course Mike was exaggerating. It was a very flattering thing to know.

As coincidence would have it, both Jack and the doctor burst into the room just then, albeit through different doors. They were both wearing identical looks of excitement, but that was the only similarity between the two men.

While Jack was tall and lanky, Doctor Hoffer was a middle aged man with a squat and rotund build, he also wore a beard. He was holding a large grocery bag that had bread baguettes sticking out of it; Jack had half a dozen spherical robots hovering by his head.

When the two of them laid eyes on each other they both let out loud exclamations of greeting.



Kimiko halfway expected them to run at each other arms spread out for a big hug. Fortunately, they refrained from doing so. They opted for a handshake instead.

"Jack ma boy, have you been waiting long? I was out buying some breakfast, and I must have gotten distracted by all the options" the doctor said, putting the bag down on one of the shorter cabinets.

Jack shrugged "Not long. Hey Doc, let me introduce you to Kimiko, my partner in crime" he said striding over to stand by Kimiko. She looked up at him, wondering at his choice of words.

Hoffer seemed to just notice her then "Oh dear, how rude of me" he said apologetically, making his way over to her.

Kimiko stood up and smiled at the bearded doctor, he had a very endearing demeanor, he looked like someone's grandfather "Hi, I'm Kimiko" she said, extending her hand.

Hoffer shook her hand "I'm Doctor Hoffer, but you can just call me Roger" he said pleasantly.

"What, am I invisible now?" Mike complained in his bored voice.

Hoffer turned to him, feigning surprise "Oh hey there Mike, I didn't see you sitting just there"

Mike rolled his eyes "I told you I was sorry I forgot to bring your damned sandwich bag, would you just give it a rest?"

Doctor Hoffer gave him a cold glare "My wife packed those sandwiches for me" he said resentfully.

Watching the three guys interact, Kimiko began to form a pretty good image of how a regular work day would look in the "Lair". Even as she thought the word she added mental air quotes.

Jack watched with interest for a couple of minutes as Mike and the doctor bickered back and forth. It was much like watching a tennis match: back and forth, back and forth. When he eventually got bored with it, he wasted no time in interrupting. He clapped his hands together loudly, twice "Ok boys, you know I love watching you guys argue, but Kimiko's looking worried, so let's get a move on shall we?"

Hoffer and Mike exchanged one last death glare, before the doctor wandered off, presumably to retrieve his equipment "I'm just going to get the tools of the trade. Jack could you get the arm?" said the doctor.

A nervous look crossed Jack's face "Um, you know what? Why don't we just do this in the next room, instead of bringing all that stuff in here" he suggested, sounding a little panicked.

Everybody looked a bit surprised by this request, but the doctor agreed and so the two left the room together.

This left Kimiko and Mike to once again find a way to pass the time together. Unsurprisingly they both decided that the best way to go was to exchange accounts of embarrassing/disturbing experiences involving Jack. There seemed to be a never-ending supply of those.

When Jack came back into the room, he had both arms, though the prosthetic one was in a sling, the right sleeve was rolled up "I'm not supposed to use for the next few hours" he said pointing at it.

Kimiko went to get a closer look at it, which for some reason seemed to make Jack a little uncomfortable, he actually took half a step backwards. Kimiko shot him a strange look before switching her focus back to the robotic arm. She couldn't see much of it because of the sling, but the parts she could see looked insanely complex, and also pretty cool. This was what baffled her about Jack's behavior, he loved showing off so she could not imagine why he would be so shy about showing her what could possibly be his best work yet. Still, she refrained from touching it.

Jack decided he didn't want to stick around after that, despite Doctor Hoffer's attempt at tempting him by waving the grocery bag under his nose.

Everybody helped to load the equipment in the car, except Jack who used his one hand to direct the others. The four exchanged quick goodbyes, before Jack and Kimiko got in the car and drove off. Kimiko was, obviously, the designated driver.

Kimiko drove at the much more sedate pace this time, she felt Jack was agitated enough and she didn't want to damage the stuff in the trunk. She gave Jack a side glance and saw he was rubbing his right arm, almost like he was making sure it was there. He looked preoccupied and a little sad.

Kimiko cleared her throat "Well, I have to say Jack, that was an extremely interesting get-together" she said conversationally.

Jack snapped out of his trance "Interesting good? Or interesting bad?" he wanted to know.

Kimiko smiled "Oh, I don't know, I found out a lot, and I mean a lot, of interesting things about you" she teased.

Jack's face was always ready for a performance; he grimaced, grinned lopsidedly and rolled his eyes all at once. The amazing thing was that one could tell he did all of that just by looking at the side of his face. "Mike should really stop blabbing off like that" he mumbled.

Kimiko quirked an eyebrow at him "Oh come on, I was blabbing off as well" she pointed out.

Jack looked a bit taken aback "Oh-kaaaay… that's, not so good. Um, well I guess it's ok if you were both telling embarrassing stories about me" he said defeatedly.

Kimiko snorted "Oh and I also found out that prolonged association with you leads to hair-loss" she said matter of factly.

Jack covered his face with his left hand "I'm going to kill Mike" he muttered.


Read and review guys, I may not deserve it, lazy as I am, but it's still a nice thing to do

Next chapter: the long awaited capture of the salamander. I get the feeling some of you might hate after I post that one.

I can hear you now, the collective cry of "Oh God, what is she planning now? She makes us wait six months for a new chapter and now this!?"

Ahaha…eh, I'm a terrible person. I will try not to take as long in updating this time around.