Title: Dear 'Sleepless in Seattle'

Chapter 4: I get by (with a little help from my friends)


12 January 2008 (Saturday)

Allen was awoken by Jean pouncing on him. It was a rare thing, since Allen's waking time tended to be, quoting Jean, "freakish and unholy", given that it was between the hours of five and six in the morning. Add the fact that it was a Saturday morning and Allen was sure that the sky was going to be raining yowling and scratching cats that day.

"Jean," he groaned into his pillow, trying to push the boy away. "Go back to sleep."

"Have you replied him?"

Jean sounded too awake. Even Allen was not awake at four forty five on a Saturday. "What?" Allen said through the sticky haze of sleep.

"The Lavi guy! Have you replied him?"

His brain tried to process this. Jean's knee was digging into his side and it made for a very painful thought process. He tried to swat him away from under his blanket. "Jean. This man emailed yesterday."

Jean managed to evade Allen's swatting efforts and sat firmly on his father's stomach. "Yeah! So you should have been able to reply him after I went to sleep, right? Then you've gotta book tickets, because we've gotta get to the Empire State building like, next month! I'm coming with you, 'cos I wanna meet him, after all he's gonna be my new dad – "

"Wait, hold up," Allen said, finally waking up as Jean rambled in an increasingly high-pitched voice. He grabbed one edge of the blanket and flung it over Jean, wrapping the boy up in a burrito hold. Jean squealed – he would definitely deny that later – and Allen pulled the boy down so that they both had a fluffy pillow to rest their heads on. Now that they were at eye level and comfortable, Allen leveled Jean with a stern gaze – as stern a gaze could get with sleep-crusted eyes and both of them in a nest of blankets. "Jean, you're thinking way ahead. And I don't think he said anything about wanting to be, uh, romantically involved."

"But he did!" Jean insisted, eyes wide and earnest above the blanket roll. "He said he couldn't help but be interested, and he said to meet at the Empire State building on Valentine's Day, I mean, how much more obvious can a guy get? And he's funny, and he's only three years older than you, and why would anyone who's not interested take the time to write an email?"

Allen wanted to rub his forehead, but one of his hands was trapped under Jean and the other was busy holding down the boy to make sure he did not try to climb over him again. "Right…look, Jean, he's…funny, I'll give you that."

Jean rolled his eyes. "Of course he is, Dad. You were smiling at his email yesterday, and you never smiled at any of the others."

"Well, he was the only one to comment on how incredibly insane that a radio station had decided that it needed to play cupid to get more ratings," Allen said with a pointed look at the mini-matchmaker currently snuggling into the warmth of the bed.

"See, he's not boring like the rest," Jean said, clearly ignoring Allen's pointed gaze. "And he's romantic, which you need."

"Are you saying that I'm boring, Jean Walker?" Allen asked, amused now.

"Yeah."

Allen smirked, inching his hand over to Jean's side. "I can't believe it. My own son is insulting me."

"It's okay, you're boring but I love you," Jean said, mumbling the last part out quickly, as though it would be less embarrassing if he said it fast. "Anyway, I like him, and you like him too, so we should – AHH!"

Allen's fingers had dug into his side in a merciless tickle, resulting in Jean's second squeal this morning. Allen's smirk widened in triumph as the boy squirmed, trapped in the blanket hold, eyes squeezed shut and mouth open in helpless giggles and squeals. "Not – AH HAHAHAH – not fair, Dad! St – hee, AH HA – STOOOOOOP!"

Allen relented after a while, more touched than he could say at Jean's typical twelve year old way of being embarrassed at admitting words of affection. The second he stopped tickling Jean the boy flopped back into the bed, giggling at the residual effects, hair a complete mess. "I haaaaate you, Dad," Jean managed to say in between gulps of air.

"Love you too, son. And that was punishment for waking me up before five," Allen said, patting the boy's head.

For a minute Jean focused on catching his breath while Allen arranged the blanket neatly around them. He had not been lying when he said he had found the man funny – it was in the way he wrote, full of life and humour, curious about Allen and not as if he just wanted to jump into his pants. Unlike cat-woman, and the bodybuilder guy, Allen thought with a small smile. Besides, there was the man's signature, which he had taken from Exorcists and Demons, and which Allen knew by heart –

"You have to email him, Dad. You must."

Allen blinked, looking down to see that Jean had recovered and was glaring at him, as though accusing Allen for distracting him from the topic at hand. Somewhere in the struggle his goggles had fallen off and were resting at the edge of the bed. "You know, you're discounting the fact that I might not even be interested in him," Allen said. He reached out to place the goggles on the table so that Jean would not roll onto it.

"Oh," Jean said. His grumpy look disappeared, replaced by a considering expression. "You…you really don't like any of them, Dad?"

Allen hummed. He had read through them – at least, the ones Jean had marked with a star, and those letters his son had carefully folded and placed beside his computer. It had been overwhelming at first, then flattering to see complete strangers express interest in finding out about his life. Of those letters and emails, there were a few people that seemed nice and that Allen could see himself becoming friends with. Lavi had been one of them, and the rare one with a sense of humour Allen could appreciate… "It's not about liking or disliking somebody through emails or letters, Jean. It takes time to build a relationship, and even if I like that person, I'm not going to think we're going to end up together through a single email."

"That means…you like some of them," Jean said slowly.

"Well, some of them seem like they can be friends," Allen gently corrected.

"Then you've gotta try, right?" Jean said. "I mean, you can't just sit there and think, 'Oh, maybe we could be friends', and then you don't write them back! Then you'll never know whether one of them could be somebody that will make you happy!"

For a second he marveled at Jean's straight-forward way of looking at the world. Perhaps that might have been how he was like in the past – maybe that was what the world seemed like to a young boy. "It's – it's not that simple, Jean," Allen said.

"Why? Why can't it be that simple?" Jean asked with the stubbornness he had inherited from his parents.

Because the world didn't seem to work that way – it had been too long since Allen could just make friends because he wanted to. Now, without work, or school, or places to meet, he could not imagine building a relationship from scratch just because he wanted to. "There is the issue of distance," Allen pointed out, starting from the practical. "For instance, this guy – Lavi – he lives on the other side of the continent."

"But he lives on the same continent," Jean said.

"True, but it's still a distance to travel. And that's not counting the fact that we have to like each other enough first."

"But if you do? It'll be so awesome if you guys do, then you'll be happy and disgustingly kissy with each other, and like, you won't mope around anymore," Jean said with a grin.

Allen shook his head, fond smile on his face. "If we do – well, we'll have to uproot our lives to be together, and we have no idea what each of us will have to give up," Allen said. Thirty years of history and baggage was a lot, and who knew what the other party would have. "We won't know whether any of this will work…"

"Oh," Jean said, and his face fell.

Allen sighed and said, "Yeah."

They were quiet for a while. Jean had a little furrow between his eyes like he was deep in thought. Allen smiled and started patting Jean's stomach the way he knew his son liked, even though Jean always protested he was too old for tummy rubs. Jean was so absorbed in thought he didn't even bother to grumble this time.

"Penny for your thought?" Allen asked after a few minutes had passed.

"We don't use pennies. A dollar or nothing," Jean said.

"Cheeky twerp," Allen said. "Figurative dollar for your thought then."

Jean scoffed, but he asked, "Dad, are you scared? You know, is that why you don't wanna see someone else?"

Allen rested his hand on Jean's stomach. He thought about it, while looking into his son's bright eyes. He thought about the life they had with Lou Fa, the way they were living now, the years it had taken before the pain lost its sharp edge and life resumed its normal, peaceful course. He thought about what it had felt like when he was young and he had new people in his life to love.

"I supposed I am…worried," Allen said. "There is a lot that might change."

Time and energy to lose. And a world of heartbreak to possibly gain.

Jean sighed and said, "Okay…I guess life isn't that simple, huh?"

"It rarely is, kiddo," Allen said.

Jean rolled closer to Allen, head nearly tucked under Allen's chin, and Allen resumed patting Jean's tummy. This time Jean made a small noise of protest, but not loud enough to make Allen stop; Allen kept patting, liking this calmer version of Jean, now that the boy wasn't making plans to fly them over to New York the next day.

Jean sighed after a moment and said, "Okay, I guess he doesn't have to be my new dad. Yet."

Allen's lips twitched. "How very magnanimous of you, Jean Walker."

"So why don't you guys just be friends first? Then maybe you can smile more," Jean said, looking and sounding hopeful again.

Allen chuckled. "That's a big scale back from wanting to meet your 'new dad' on Valentine's Day, yeah?"

"I still want to! He sounds cool, even if you guys are only gonna be friends or whatever." With enormous effort Jean struggled out of the blanket and sat up. He crossed his arms and looked down at Allen. Allen supposed the intended effect was to look very grand and impressive – he struggled to look equally serious, which was a hard task when Jean's hair looked like a hurricane had ripped through it.

"Dad, I'm gonna give you super sage words of advice, so you'll email him," Jean said, trying for an authoritative tone.

"Hmm, I wonder what sage words of advice a twelve year old can give me," Allen said.

Jean stuck out his tongue at him before screwing up his face in thought. "Right, I've got this – I think it goes… 'I'll keep walking as long as I need to, to find my reason for existing.'"

Allen could not help gaping. He had thought the words of advice would come in the form of "you only live once" or "follow your heart" or one of those many phrases littering self-motivation books. His son had just said one of his favourite lines in Exorcists and Demons, the very same line that Lavi had his email signature as, the classic line that Aruku had said in the series. For a while he could only stare at the boy, who looked immensely proud of himself.

Jean grinned. "I know you're scared of change and whatever, but you have to keep walking, Dad. Email him! At least you might get a friend!"

"I…Jean…" Allen said, not having recovered enough to say more than that.

"And I'll just keep my fingers crossed you guys can be disgusting and sappy and kissy after that!"

.

13 January 2008 (Sunday)

It was a Sunday. It was a glorious, glorious Sunday, which of course meant Lavi had to be woken up by his phone ringing in his ear. He and Sachiko had stayed up late to get some marriage details settled which, predictably, did not succeed. They had spent most of the time gossiping about some celebrity's or other's love life instead. So Lavi was in dire need of some sleep.

He fumbled for the phone and pressed on the button without checking the ID. "Whaaaat?" he whined into the phone. Next to him Sachiko emitted a soft snore and turned over, flinging a leg over him.

"Well, look who's awake," Lenalee said in a pleasant tone.

Lavi bolted upright, instantly awake. That tone never bode well. He gulped and said, "Uh, good morning?"

"Good morning indeed, Lavi. I suppose you have forgotten you should have been at Jeryy's, oh, I don't know, half an hour ago?"

Lavi looked at the clock and yelped. He had completely forgotten their brunch date for Lenalee to update Lavi on the Alma-Kanda-Lenalee triangle date. A Lenalee Lee kept waiting was a dangerous Lenalee Lee. "Oh my god, Lenalady, I'll be there in – ten minutes!"

"Oh no, take your time, I wouldn't dream of rushing you," Lenalee said, sweet as ever, before hanging up the phone.

Lavi was doomed, absolutely and completely.

Sachiko cracked open an eye as Lavi rolled off the bed and tried to hop into his pants. "That Lena?" she muttered, still half asleep.

"She's gonna skin me. You're not going to have a fiancé anymore, Cho," Lavi said, barely preventing himself from falling into the table.

"Mmkay. Tell her to send me a hot man in replacement," Sachiko said, rolling over and yawning.

"Wow, I can really feel the love from you today, Cho." Lavi had by now pulled the pants all the way up and was looking for a clean, non-wrinkled shirt in the mess of his wardrobe. "What if she cuts off my dick, huh? What would happen to all the awesome sex?"

"Like I said, hot man replacement," Sachiko mumbled, already more than halfway to falling back asleep.

"Traitor," Lavi mumbled through the fabric of his shirt while trying to wriggle his arms into the right holes. After he managed to pull on his shirt without strangling himself he ran into the bathroom, brushed his teeth as fast as he could without drawing blood, pulled on mismatched socks, and ran to the entrance to grab his coat and jam his feet into boots.

"Crap," he hissed when he checked the time on his phone. He had three minutes left to spare before Lenalee decided to feed him to stray dogs. "Crap crap crap, I am so dead," he said as he made his way out of their apartment and into his car. The wind was absolutely brutal today, his car was freezing, and he did not have time to wait for the heater to start before he was driving off and praying he did not slip on any ice. "Shit, my hair's a mess," Lavi said as the car skidded around a corner, narrowly missing a lamp post.

Lavi tripped into Jeryy's forty-five minutes late, shivering, hair disheveled, and panting, to find a very smiley Lenalee waiting for him at their usual window side table. If this were the world of Exorcists and Demons he would have been able to see a dark aura exuding from her. Lavi gulped.

"Uh…hi?" he said, trying to decide if the mouth-watering smell of food from the kitchen was worth the impending castration.

"Hi," Lenalee said, lacing her fingers underneath her chin, eerily like what Komui Lee did when testing out his latest inventions. Lavi would not be surprised if Lenalee was hiding one of Komui's tortur – inventions in her bag.

"I'm sorry!" he wailed, before she could say anything else. He did not care that the other customers were staring at him, half in amusement, half in shock. "Please don't kill me!"

Lenalee continued smiling at him. "And what are you going to do to make up for your tardiness, young man?" she nearly purred.

"Um, um – I'll – I'll watch any movie you want with you?" Knowing Lenalee she might put him through the terror of watching Ring.

"Hmm…" She tapped a finger on her lips, seeming not quite convinced.

"I'll…I'll treat you to brunch today!" Lavi said. He placed his palms together and bowed. "And hot chocolate! I'll buy you hot chocolate for a week!"

Lenalee snorted. Her creepy smile relaxed and she began giggling. "Deal. Now sit down and do something about your hair," she said with a small grin. "Just don't be late again!"

"Yes ma'am!" Lavi said, saluting and drawing giggles from the children in the café. He sat down and started to comb through his hair with his fingers. "Man, I really am sorry, Lena. Cho and I tried to get some of the marriage stuff sorted out last night and we stayed up late."

"Don't worry about it. I guessed as much," Lenalee said. She smacked Lavi's hands away and began arranging his hair for him, tutting when she came across knots. "Anyway, I ordered the weekend brunch special for us."

"Have I mentioned how much I love you?" Lavi said, feeling his stomach start to growl in anticipation.

"Not today," Lenalee said while untangling a knot.

Jeryy's was Lavi's and Lenalee's favourite weekend hang out spot, with delicious all-day breakfast and a warm decor. They came here so often they were on first-name terms with the staff here. And they always got free cookies, courtesy of Jeryy. Lavi breathed in the smell of hearty food and sighed in contentment.

"Done," Lenalee said, after Lavi's hair resembled less like a fur ball a cat spat out.

"Thank you," Lavi said. He leaned back against the cushion and felt like he could finally breathe. "So you wanna tell me about the date now?"

Lenalee's cheeks turned a little pink. She sipped her water and said, "Later, after the food comes."

"Woah, what's this? Seems like you have interesting things to share, Lenalady~" Lavi said, eye widening in curiosity. "Come on, it seems like it's gonna be a long story!"

"It's not that long! Or that interesting," Lenalee mumbled, her cheeks reddening a little further. She took another sip of water and said, "Let's start with you first! Did Allen reply?"

"Nope!" Lavi said, not about to let Lenalee off the hook. "So that's that, now your turn."

"Wait – no?" She looked dismayed. "No reply at all?"

"He's probably reading something like fifty emails a day, why would he reply to mine?" Lavi reasoned. It didn't matter that Lavi had been kind of looking forward to getting a reply, if only because he felt like having a conversation with this man. The fact remained he had not gotten a reply and was unlikely to get any.

"Oh." Lenalee bit her lip. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you sorry? Don't be!" Lavi said, chuckling a little. Trust Lenalee to let somebody else's matters get to her. "I'm more interested in your date. You've got to tell me how it went!"

"Well – oh."

Lavi looked up to see what had distracted Lenalee, and immediately straightened up like a puppy sitting at attention. He thought he might even start drooling – an angel with scarred cheeks had come bearing food, and it smelt like what Lavi imagined heaven smelt like.

"Thank you, Toma," Lenalee said with a warm smile at their server. "It looks delicious."

Toma, their usual server, placed two heavy plates of food on the table. He looked at them both and a smile spread across his face. "I'll be sure to let Jeryy know," he said, his voice deep and gravelly. "Enjoy, Lenalee, Lavi."

"Thanks, Toma!" Lavi said, inhaling the smell of freshly scrambled eggs and crisp bacon and letting out an explosive sigh of happiness. It was worth nearly killing himself getting here. He placed his hands together and said, "Let's tuck in!"

Lenalee smiled, shook her head, and helped herself to a forkful of eggs.

For a few minutes there was only the sound of contented chewing between the two of them, as Lavi ate like he hadn't seen food for weeks, and Lenalee ate in a more sedate manner. It was only when Lavi was halfway done with his plate and had slowed down then he asked, "So? Date details, come on."

Lenalee hummed a little. She took a sip of hot chocolate – Toma had brought it to their table without needing to ask – and said, slowly, "It was…okay…"

"It's got to be more exciting than just okay," Lavi said. Lenalee grimaced at his open mouth; Lavi swallowed the food in his mouth before he said, "It's a triangle date!"

"Well…" Lenalee leaned closer to him and lowered her voice, saying, "we, um – " She flushed a little and cleared her throat. "Alma suggested that we – "

Lavi widened his eye and said, in a barely controlled volume, "Did you guys sleep together?"

Lenalee gaped at him. "No! Bloody – no, Lavi! Not on the first date!" she said, looking like she wanted to smack his head.

"Well, what was I supposed to think? You are blushing – no, don't deny it, you are," Lavi said, when Lenalee tried to cover her face.

She peeked at him from between her fingers and sighed. "No, it's nothing so – no, it just isn't." She lowered her hands and tried to glare at him, but it really wasn't quite so effective with a blush. "Alma suggested we go ice-skating."

Lavi's eye lit up. "Ohhh, that's fun! We haven't been ice skating in ages."

"Yeah, and it's a really nice place he brought us to, I'll show you where it is next time, if you want to bring Sachiko. It's, uh, kind of a couple-y place," Lenalee said. She smiled at the enthusiasm in his entire posture. "Anyway, Kanda was kind of reluctant, but Alma insisted and I tried to persuade him too, so he went along – "

"Bet Kanda had the grumpiest face," Lavi said with a smirk, trying to imagine how Kanda's expression had been like when he had to face two sets of wide, pleading eyes.

"Well…yeah," Lenalee said, her smile fond the way it always was when she talked about Kanda. "He was sweet though. He didn't glare at Alma as much, and he let us walk close to him. I thought he didn't want to go because of the cold. And the people."

"That's Kanda for you," Lavi said, thinking of their misanthropic friend.

"We thought so too. But at the skating rink, when we were renting the shoes, that's where we, um. We found out – "

Lavi's smirk took on a wicked cast. "Don't tell me – "

"Lavi. Don't tease him about this, okay?" Lenalee said, her expression stern.

"I wasn't going to!" Lavi protested. "And I don't even know what you're going to say yet!" He tried his best innocent face. "Serious!"

"You suck at lying," she said with a huff. "Anyway, yeah, we found out Kanda didn't know how to skate."

This is going to be good, Lavi's mind gleefully supplied. He shoveled bacon into his mouth and nodded at Lenalee, trying not to look like he was storing away blackmail information.

"So we tried to teach him. And Kanda's pretty good, okay?" Lenalee said with a glare, like Lavi had been about to make some comment. Lavi held up his hands in innocent protest. Lenalee's glare softened and she said, "He didn't even really fall down at all. Alma and I took turns holding his hands…"

Lenalee paused there and stared out the window, her gaze suggesting she was remembering every detail of the Saturday date. Lavi would bet anything that she was internally squealing at the feeling of Kanda's hands in hers.

"Earth to Lenalee~" Lavi said, sing-song, waving his hand in front of her face.

Lenalee sighed, bringing herself back to the restaurant. The blush was back on her cheeks. "Yeah, so we did that for a couple of rounds until Kanda said he could do it on his own, but Alma insisted he couldn't – and you know what Kanda's like, he always rises to the challenge…" Lenalee smiled to herself then.

Lavi guessed she was thinking of how adorable Kanda was, but he had to stop her from going off into her own land every two minutes. "Oh my god, Lenalee, you're killing me here. Out with it! What did you guys do?" he said, wriggling on the edge of his seat, breakfast nearly forgotten in favour of hearing what had happened.

Lenalee's eyes sparkled, which went well with her flushed face. Lavi decided the look of a woman in love suited her. "Patience, dear Lavi," Lenalee said. She took a long sip of hot chocolate, during which time Lavi glared at her, foot jiggling impatiently against the leg of the table. "Well, if you must know…Alma suggested a catching game."

"Hah! I knew something like this would happen!" Lavi crowed.

"Not so loud!" Lenalee hissed.

A few curious customers at the tables around them had turned to see what the commotion was about. Lavi mimed zipping his mouth. He even stuffed some pancake into his mouth to assure Lenalee he wasn't going to try to speak.

"Gross, Lavi," Lenalee said, having witnessed a whole slice of pancake disappearing into Lavi's mouth. Lavi made an urgent gesture at her to go on with her story. "Okay, okay. So Kanda was the catcher, and he had to catch both of us to win. He looked so serious…and handsome…" Lenalee said, eyes drifting over to the window again.

Lavi flapped his hand urgently. He was busy chewing and was unable to speak. He hoped his gaze adequately conveyed how much Lenalee needed to stop teasing and to get on with the story.

"He was doing pretty well. He decided to chase after Alma – maybe because I'm faster than Alma," Lenalee said thoughtfully. Lavi didn't doubt that. If Lenalee wanted to she could probably outrun the whole city in a marathon. "Alma's pretty good too though. There were a few times Kanda came close to catching him but Alma slipped off. Then, mm…"

Lavi finally managed to swallow. He gasped for air and said, "Then what?"

"Kanda kind of, went a bit too fast on his skates – lost control, I think, and I didn't expect that to happen…" Lenalee said with her blush deepening.

"Lenalee Lee, are you saying what I think you're going to say?" Lavi said. He pushed his plate aside and leaned closer over the table. "What happened?"

"We…we collided," Lenalee said, her smile threatening to take over her whole face. She started to bounce in her chair. Lavi copied her movement, resulting in a whole lot of tiny squeaking sounds. "And…oh god, Lavi, we were so close, and he was so warm, and, and…" Lenalee covered her face but Lavi could still see her grin.

"I knew it!" Lavi said, no longer caring that children were pointing and laughing at them. He was feeling a little giggly himself. He whispered, "You guys kissed, didn't you? You must have."

"It was…it was more like, um, his teeth knocked against mine…but yes. Yes, I suppose." Lenalee stopped bouncing in her seat and leaned back instead, fingers touching her lips like she didn't believe what had happened. "I did feel his lips. I think. I'm not sure."

Lavi punched the air, silently cheering. Lenalee took a shaky sip of her hot chocolate, which was a little cold by now. She grinned at Lavi's seated victory dance. "After that, Alma wanted a kiss too – I think his had less teeth, I don't know. Kanda was quite red. And after Kanda went home we sort of…screamed together," she said, grin widening. "And…yeah. Yeah. I just wanted to let you know."

"Oh man, Lena, that is totally the best first date ever!" Lavi said. And perfect blackmail material, he thought, internally grinning at the mental image of Kanda trying to keep himself steady on the ice.

"I know! I mean, except the teeth knocking bit, but…oh my god, I still can't believe that happened," Lenalee said.

Lavi reached over the table and grasped her hand, "And whatcha gonna do now, you and Alma?"

Lenalee gripped onto his fingers tightly, barely able to contain her beam. "We've decided we're gonna take it in turns, so Kanda won't be so overwhelmed. We think he likes both of us, so…we'll try for a date with the three of us in, maybe, a month?"

A month? There was something about the date that seemed important in some way…Lavi frowned for a bit, then his eye widened. "You mean…Valentine's?" he asked.

"Yeah, we figured it wouldn't be fair for only one of us to go out with him on Valentine's," Lenalee said. Her smile was a little dopey.

Lavi let out a breath and chuckled softly. "I hope it all works out for you guys, man. And you have to keep letting me know the details!"

Lenalee laughed. "Of course! I doubt you'll be quiet about this."

Lavi stuck out his tongue at her, making her giggle again. She laced their fingers together and, after a moment of the two of them grinning at each other like idiots, she looked out the window again, her beam softening into a quiet but bright smile. It didn't take a genius to figure she was thinking about the previous day – her distant gaze and tiny smile were telling enough.

Lavi took a few seconds to enjoy the sight of his best friend looking so contented, before saying to himself softly, "Valentine's, huh?"

Like Lenalee, he looked out the window at the pedestrian street filled with people out to enjoy the weekend. He wondered, briefly, whether Allen had actually read his email. Perhaps, from the many people who must have already sent him letters and emails, he had already decided who he was going to see on that day…

Don't think about it, Lavi. It's none of your business, he told himself, and he was able to smile again at Lenalee when she turned back to face him.

.

16 January 2008 (Wednesday)

"I," Maosa announced with grandeur, "have a surprise for you."

He paused there, chest thrust out, a significant gaze aimed at Allen. Allen was not in the mood for surprises. Allen was busy compiling his update for Mr. Wong and squinting at the decoration plan – green and orange weren't as horrible a combination as he had thought. Allen mumbled vaguely, "You finally asked Kie out?"

Maosa seemed to deflate. Then his expression turned indignant. "One day! One day we will get there. But no, Allen Walker, this is a surprise for you!"

"Hmm," Allen said. He added a few more balloons to the corner of the room.

Maosa's indignation grew. Then his expression turned wicked, and he puffed out his chest again. "Allen Walker," he announced, as though he were a host in a television show, "the lady Road Camelot will be most pleased to go on a date with you this coming Saturday, the 19th of January 2008. It shall be a date to remember."

That got Allen's attention. He looked up from his plan, mouth dropping open. After a few seconds of opening and closing his mouth (during which time Maosa's eyes took on an increasingly pleased glint), Allen said, "The lady…what?"

"The lady Camelot. With you. On a date," Maosa said slowly, savouring every word.

"…you have got to be kidding me," Allen muttered. He studied Maosa's expression with increasing dismay. "Shit. You are not kidding."

"I am not," Maosa said with solemn agreement.

Allen breathed in. And out. He reminded himself that it would not do to commit homicide. That Maosa was an incredibly talented party planner and it would be painful to find another one. That the man, while annoying at times, was still one of the few people he considered friends and confidants.

It did not work. "What were you thinking?" Allen groaned, resting his forehead in his palm. The position did not make the answer any clearer to him. "Why the hell did you even – " He shook his head and repeated, "What were you thinking?"

A cup of tea appeared near his hand. Allen thanked the gods for Krory and his tea-making skills. He grabbed the cup, took a gulp of scalding liquid, and looked up again. Maosa had crossed his arms and was still looking at him with a significant gaze, but this time there was a little frown. "Jean's right, you know. It doesn't do to mope around."

Allen sat up straight and glared at Maosa. "I am not moping around."

"Sure. And have you responded to any of those emails or letters? Decided to give anyone a chance?" asked Maosa.

Allen continued the glaring contest with Maosa, unwilling to back down. "That does not mean you get to decide who I go out with," he said.

Krory glanced between the two nervously, not quite sure where he should hide. He shrank back against the wall and watched as Maosa shrugged and said, "Yeah, that's true. But is just one date going to kill you? Nobody's asking you to marry someone straight away. And you could do worse – she adores you, you know."

"That is not the point," Allen said. He knew very well what Road Camelot's attitude towards him was like. He took another gulp of tea and relished in the burn of the liquid. It helped him think and remember that homicide was most certainly illegal. "At the very least it has to be my choice."

"Yeah, and it's still mostly gonna be your choice! You hate her? Fine, at least you would have tried. If we leave it entirely to your choice you're going to turn sixty before you decide to date anyone again," Maosa said. He uncrossed his arms and rested his hands on his hips, looking incredibly like a mother hen. "What's the big deal?"

"Um – "

Two very irate faces turned towards Krory. "What?" Allen and Maosa said.

Krory nearly regretted making a sound. He looked from face to face and, taking a deep breath, said to Allen, "The thing is, um, Allen…if you are happy like this, we would be happy too. But you're not, which is why I think Maosa called Ms. Camelot…though maybe he should have asked you first," Krory quickly added, fearing Allen's wrath. He shrunk back against the wall, hoping that they would go back to glaring at each other instead of at him.

"That's what I was saying!" Maosa said, looking pleased with Krory's input. He turned back to Allen. "See, it's not such a big deal! Just bring her out to dinner or something."

"That still does not discount the fact that you asked her without going through me first," Allen grumbled. "How would you like it if I got you a date with Kie on your behalf…on second thought, don't answer that," Allen said when he caught sight of the wide grin spreading across Maosa's face. He should have known this tactic would not work on this man.

"So? What about it? You're going to see her on Saturday, yeah?" Maosa asked.

Krory stepped away from the wall, looking relieved now that it seemed like nobody was going to kill anybody. "There are some nice dinner places I bring Eliade to, if you want to know," Krory said.

Allen sighed. He felt like he had been doing a lot of sighing lately. He slumped back in his seat, looking down at the decoration plan and wishing life were a lot simpler and that the only thing he had to worry about was colour combination. "I suppose," he said. He ignored Maosa's whooping and looked at Krory with a tired smile. "It's okay, Krory. I'll…think of something."

Road Camelot, the feisty lady whose father worked in 'The Ark', loved to climb all over Allen whenever he visited their office for meetings. She had a mean hand at poker too, but Allen wasn't about to bring her to a gambling parlour – he would be skinned alive by her father, he was sure. He would bring her for lunch, maybe talk about politics and show her how boring he really was, and hopefully that would be the end of that.

"I still hate you," he announced to Maosa. The man was doing a strange sort of victory dance with Krory. It involved a lot of air punching and Krory wriggling around awkwardly. Allen shook his head and fought the temptation to sigh.

"Love you too, Walker!" Maosa said with a cackle.

.

"You know what? I figure maybe we can get you down to Seattle, do an interview with the radio station, get an article on that."

Lenalee's words jolted Lavi out of a one-sided frowning contest with his computer. The machine had been slower and slower as of late. The loading button was still turning, turning… "What, Lena?" Lavi asked.

"Seattle. Allen. Interview." Lenalee tucked her hair behind an ear and crossed her arms. "We could do a feature about romance in the age of technology. That'd be nice, yeah?"

Lavi stared at her. He didn't seem to comprehend her words. He blinked slowly, briefly distracted by someone rushing past behind her with a stack of papers in his arms. There was something about papers, and his job as a journalist, and…"An interview with Allen?"

"Well, no," Lenalee said, looking sympathetic. Lavi wasn't sure why she felt the need to be sympathetic. It wasn't like he had hoped for anything in the first place. He was sure he didn't look let down or anything. "I don't think it'll be possible to pull that off. But with the radio station, maybe. We could do an email interview, but I know you prefer face-to-face ones."

It was just one of those preferences Lavi didn't think he could change. "Yeah, I mean – " He pushed aside all thought of actually interviewing the man who he was curious about and smiled at his friend. She had worked hard to think of this for him. "That would be pretty cool. You sure we can get clearance for this?"

"I think we can," Lenalee said with a small smile. "Just give me a couple of days to work things out, hopefully we can get you there before the end of January."

"Thanks, Lenalady!" Lavi said.

She patted his head and walked towards Doug, who seemed to be hard at work on his own article. Lavi waited until she was speaking with Doug before checking his computer again. The page seemed to be finally loading.

He tapped his fingers on the desk in a random rhythm, all the while thinking about Seattle. "Persona" was getting back into the full flow of things, now that the holiday season was over. Over the past two days he had to rush out an article, and there was at least one more to complete before the week ended – he wondered if he could manage a business trip on top of that, but if it worked out…

He couldn't help but grin. His eye flicked over to where Lenalee was still speaking with Doug, and he resolved to do something nice for her soon.

He glanced over at the clock. Just a couple of minutes before his meeting with the editing team. He kept tapping his fingers, watching, watching… and the page finally, slowly, appeared on his screen.

"Finally," he hissed to himself. He leaned forward in his chair and stared at the numbers next to the envelope icon. Fourteen unread mail.

A few seconds later, Lavi leaned back in his chair again, smile gone. He took a deep breath, and told himself he was not disappointed that there was no reply mail from a certain person in Seattle…


Notes:

A few years on, and I'm still humbled by the interest in this fic. I cannot thank you enough, the reviewers who have given me the courage and drive to keep writing. Please know that I've read through your comments and deeply appreciate every single kind word, even though I did not manage to reply to them.

I am very sorry that fic writing has taken a backseat in my life, as things have gotten crazy and I'm struggling to keep my grip on everything. Reading and writing this gave me so much joy, I hope it had given you a smile and a moment of happiness too, no matter how brief.

Comments will always, always be appreciated.