Note: This was originally written quite a while ago as part of a drabble challenge that got a little out of hand. It's obviously not a drabble, but I hope you'll enjoy it nonetheless.

Carnival Games

By: SilvorMoon

"All missions ought to go like this," Mikage observed.

Ushio nodded his head, in full agreement with her as usual. They had rushed out to the amusement park, following a report of a child being kidnapped. The kidnapping, it had turned out, had been largely the product of a worried mother's overactive imagination, along with a desire to hurry the police along by embroidering her tale a little, and the "child" had turned out to be a fourteen-year-old boy who had simply decided it wasn't cool to be seen in the company of his parents. He'd seen the girl he was sweet on and decided to slip away to spend some time with her. Ushio and Mikage had located him within fifteen minutes of their arrival and herded him back to his irate parents, who had promptly grounded him for life.

"Wish everything was that easy," Ushio agreed.

Mikage smiled. "Well, maybe it would be nice to have a littlemore challenge. Once in a while."

They strolled through the park, listening to the sounds of people enjoying themselves. The air was full of the scents of popcorn and hot dogs and sunblock. They passed a log flume, and Mikage laughed as a fine spray of water washed over them both.

"I'm not in any hurry to leave, are you?" she said.

"Think we could get away with staying a while?" Ushio asked.

Mikage looked tempted for a moment, but then shook her head. "We'd probably get in trouble. Too bad."

"Too bad," he echoed.

"Oh, well, maybe another... Ooh, look!"

Mikage pointed, and Ushio obediently looked. There was a row of carnival games set up nearby, where people were throwing darts or tossing balls at milk bottles. The one Mikage was indicating was the classic test of strength, the catapult with the bell at the top. A man was inviting all passers-by to take a hammer and try their luck. Behind him was a shelf filled with plush animals and cheap electronic gadgets and other brightly colored gewgaws to tempt people into playing.

"Aren't they cute?" asked Mikage, indicating a row of plush unicorns. "I'd love to have one. I'm no good at those sorts of games, though."

Ushio eyed the catapult thoughtfully. "I bet I could win it."

"We're not here to play games," said Mikage, but he could see the hope in her eyes.

"It'll just take a second," he assured her, and before she could protest any further, he sauntered over to the barker.

"Hey, big guy!" said the barker. "You look like a strong fella. Want to give it a go? Just ring the bell and win a prize!"

Ushio shelled out a few bills, and was given a mallet in return. He hefted it a few times, getting the feel of its weight and balance. He was dismayed at how light it felt.

What is this thing made of? Balsa wood? Styrofoam?It would take most of his strength just to get the thing moving at a reasonable speed. Still, he'd said he would try.

Ushio backed up a few paces, twirled the mallet a few times to build up some momentum, and brought it down on the target as hard as he could. The clapper leapt up and up... and stopped, just inches from the bell.

"Aww, too bad," said the barker. "You almost had it!"

"It's all right," said Mikage. "These games are all rigged anyway."

She couldn't hide the disappointment on her face, however. Ushio felt a pang as he realized that she'd really believed he was going to do it. He could bear almost anything better than letting her down.

"That was just a warm-up," he said. "I was just, you know, getting the feel of it. I'll get it right this time."

"That's right, give it another shot!" the barker encouraged. "What have you got to lose?"

What he had to lose was another handful of money. Ushio reflected that for this much, he could have just boughtMikage a plushie, but he put that thought out of his mind. This was a matter of honor, now. He accepted the mallet again and eyed the bell with a calculating expression. He backed away, giving himself room for a running start. Then he charged at the catapult, bringing the mallet down with all his weight and momentum behind it, and...

Clang!The bell rang out, loud enough to be heard over all the other carnival noise. A few people turned to look, and the busker applauded.

"Well done!" he said. "Pick a prize! Anything you want from back there."

Ushio turned to Mikage. "Which one did you want?"

"Oh, I couldn't - it's your prize..."

"I won it for you," he said. "Go on, pick something."

A moment later, Mikage was the proud owner of a plush unicorn. It had a pair of floppy sparkly wings, and ribbon-flowers braided into its mane and tail. Mikage gazed at it admiringly for a moment before turning to smile at Ushio.

"Thank you," she said. "It really wasn't necessary, but... thank you. That was sweet of you."

The barker grinned slyly. "Aren't you going to kiss your boyfriend? That's what you're supposed to do, when he wins you a prize."

"He's not my..." she began, and then seemed to realize that there were people watching her, attracted by the sound of the bell and the ensuing drama. It seemed she had become part of the entertainment. She gave a little laugh. "Oh, all right. Come here."

She tugged him down by his collar, and Ushio felt the lightest of touches against his cheek, like a flower petal tossed by a breeze. If she'd hit him with all her strength, he could have withstood it, but that gentle touch was almost enough to knock him off his feet. A few people in the crowd whistled and applauded, or shouted catcalls. Mikage stepped away, her cheeks slightly pink, looking rather pleased by her own daring. Ushio grinned foolishly, knowing he was blushing brilliantly and not caring.

"All right, that's enough fooling around," she told him briskly. "Time to go."

"Right, right, sure," he agreed.

He followed her out of the park in a trance. As they neared the car, she paused a moment to admire her new toy again.

"You know," she said, "I think I must be the only Security officer in history to come home from a mission carrying a unicorn."

"You always were one of a kind," Ushio told her. He cast a glance back at the park. Evening was falling, and the lights were beginning to come on, making the whole place shine like a fairy castle. "You know, this place is all right. We should come back another time. You know, just for fun."

Mikage thought about the idea for a moment.

"That would be nice," she said at last.

Ushio beamed. Mikage had been right - every mission should end like this.

The End