Ryo jumped at the hesitant touch on his shoulder. The knife he was wielding to chop vegetables for dinner slipped from his fingers, clattering onto the counter. He yanked his headphones away from his ears and spun around, dark eyes flashing with annoyance. "Dee, how many times…?"The question died in his throat. Carol stood directly behind him, eyes huge as she slowly backed up towards the kitchen door. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you." An embarrassed smile crossed Ryo's face as he reached out to catch her arm. "No, I'm sorry, Carol. I thought you were Dee for the hundredth time. I didn't expect to see you here tonight. Is everything all right?" Carol bit her lip apprehensively and glanced back towards the door. "Everything's fine. If now's not a good time…" "No, don't be silly. Come in and sit down." He gestured to one of the chairs and picked up the knife again. "So what's on your mind?" "I just…" Carol sat down and clasped her hands tightly between her knees. "Have you ever been in love?" Ryo paused in midcut. "What?" Carol twisted her hands tightly as a flush spread over her pretty face. "I'm sorry, Ryo. It's so personal. I shouldn't ask." "No, no. You just surprised me, that's all." Ryo sighed and set down the knife. Turning to face her, he leaned back against the counter and folded his arms across his chest. "Yes, I have Carol. Why?" "But how did you know?" Ryo glanced away from her earnest eyes, hiding a smile behind one hand. How many times had he asked himself that exact same question over the years? "How? I guess you don't, really. It's just…" The smile faded into a frown as he started to give the question serious thought. "You want to be with that person. You think of him even when you're apart. Not all the time, but often enough. You see things all day that you can't wait to tell him and you can't imagine your life without him in it." Carol smiled slightly, but Ryo seemed blithely unaware that he'd slipped from the more ambiguous "them" to "him". He slid down into one of the empty chairs, one hand tapping absently on the table as he looked at her closely. "You want to know everything there is to know about him and you want to be the one he turns to when something's wrong. And you know, deep down inside, that he feels the same way about you." Carol shook her head. "But that's not always true. Look at all the people who aren't there for each other." "Then it's not love. A lot of other emotions can feel like love at first, but they're not." "Like what?" "Hmm. Lust, obsession…" Carol nodded and leaned back in her chair, unclenching her hands to play with a loose curl. "How do you tell the difference?" Ryo sighed, his gaze wandering unconsciously to the living room door. "I don't know, Carol. I guess…" He paused again, tilting his head and staring blankly through the doorframe. "If someone's just an obsession, that person will be literally all you think about. Nothing else matters. That's not a sign of a healthy relationship. Lust, on the other hand, is much more shallow." "Mm." Carol tilted her head to look at him. "Lust is part of love though, isn't it?" Ryo turned back to her with a startled look. "Someone told me that when you touch someone you love, when you're close to him, you just forget about everyone and everything else." Ryo's eyes narrowed slightly. "Who told you that?" Carol's innocent smile was his only answer. Ryo shot a dirty look in the direction of the living room, but his gaze turned contemplative and stayed there as he searched for an answer. "All right, maybe, but it's more than that. Love isn't selfish and lust usually is. If you really love someone, he means more to you than yourself." "More than your own life?" Ryo nodded very slowly. "Yes. You'll do anything for him because you trust him. If you don't trust someone, then you can never really love him." Carol looked back down at her hands. "But what if sometimes he really annoys me?" Ryo grinned. "If you meet someone who never annoys you, then you don't know them. If someone really annoys you and you still desperately want to be with him, then you're definitely in love." Carol smiled wistfully. "I thought so. Is there any good way to tell if someone's in love with you?" "Sometimes. If two people really love each other, you can see it in their eyes when they look at each other. It's hard to describe, but if you watch, you'll know it when you see it." "Really?" Ryo smiled at her. "Really." "Hey, is dinner ready yet?" Carol bit down on a giggle as Ryo stood up and glared at his partner standing framed in the kitchen doorway. "You keep complaining and you can just starve." Dee wrapped his arms around his waist and gave his best pathetic look. "But Ryo-" Ryo snatched a towel off the counter and threw it at him, his lips twitching with a barely suppressed smile. "Will you just go away and let me finish?" "Man, the stuff I put up with." Dee ducked out of sight just as Ryo reached for the frying pan on the stovetop. Carol stood up and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks Ryo. I think I can recognize that look now." Ryo blinked. "What?" Carol nodded and smiled brightly, skipping for the door. "It's the one you and Dee get whenever you look at each other." "No, no. Carol!" His call was lost in the commotion as Bikky burst through the door. Ryo sighed and yanked his headphones over his ears. "Why me?" Cranking up the volume, he went back to chopping vegetables for dinner with more force than was strictly necessary.