"Aww man, I thought I had you."
Takato and Hirokazu had cleared off a corner of the table, and had just finished their second round of the Digimon card game.
"That's what you get for being overconfident." Said Hirokazu, as he reshuffled his deck. "Want to go again?"
"Okay, but I'm not gonna lose this time." Said Takato.
"You're definitely going to lose." Said Hirokazu.
Ryo glanced at Ruki.
"It's kind of a shame that we never ended up getting a rematch." He said. "Our first battle in the tournament was pretty good. Too bad there was never a second."
"You still care about that?" Said Ruki. "It was eighteen years ago. I don't even remember how it went down."
"Oh, really?" Said Ryo. "I always got the sense that you wanted to settle the score. You sure you don't want a rematch?"
"Oh, please." Said Ruki. "You think I would gain any satisfaction from beating you at a kids' game? That would be kind of pathetic."
"Come on, admit it. You can't be happy knowing that you'll always be second best. You would love to kick my ass right now."
"Fine, if you insist." Said Ruki. "But we're going to settle this like adults."
"Oh? What do you mean by that?" Said Ryo.
Ruki called over a server.
"Bring me a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses."
"You can't be serious." Said Ryo. "Don't you have to catch a flight tomorrow? And I've got, like, fifty pounds on you. You're digging your own grave."
"If you're afraid of being beaten by a girl, you can back out." Said Ruki. "I'll understand."
The server arrived with the bottle, and Ruki poured two shots.
"Cheers." She said, and downed her glass, straight-faced. Ryo followed suit. Ruki started pouring again.
"You don't have to be in such a rush." Said Ryo. "Let's wait for the first one to kick in. It's dangerous to drink too fast, you know."
Ruki was about to retort, but Renamon placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Ruki." They said.
"Fine." Said Ruki. "You can take all the time you need. I'll still win."
Three drinks later, Ruki was starting to feel dizzy and flushed. Still, she refused to lose focus as she poured the next round.
"Hey," she said, "there's one thing that never made sense to me." She was speaking a little more deliberately than usual, to avoid slurring even slightly.
"After Dobermon did his whole self-sacrificing light show, and we all evolved to ultimate in order to fight the D-Reaper, you just kinda… showed up – as Justimon. Like, how did that even happen? I thought it was just me, Henry, and Takato who were near enough to Dobermon for the holy beasts' gift to take effect. Then you just appeared out of the sky like it was no big deal."
She downed her fifth drink.
"Like, what the heck? I don't get it. Where did you even come from? Why did you matrix evolve? How did you even know what was going on?"
Ryo tilted back his own glass, then laughed.
"Oh man, it was really embarrassing, actually."
"What do you mean 'embarrassing'?" Said Ruki. "I thought it was all cool poses and refreshing style with Justimon."
"That was after I spent like, ten minutes freaking out." Said Ryo. "Cyberdramon was flying us to go fight the D-Reaper, and then we saw these red and blue lights in the sky. Next thing we know, our bodies are both glowing, and then Cyberdramon's not carrying me anymore. We had formed Justimon, but we were totally disoriented and confused. We were sharing a body that neither of us had ever been in before, and we were hurtling through the air at a ridiculous speed. We crashed into a skyscraper, and then flopped on the pavement like a fish. We were both totally panicking, and we had to get our cool back before we could go fight."
Ruki's face broke into a smile, and she laughed.
"Oh wow, really? That's hilarious. When we saw you, you were acting like a total superstar. I can't believe you were pratfalling around like an idiot while we were fighting for our lives."
Ryo broke into a giggling fit, clearly also affected by the alcohol.
"Yeah, it was really stupid." He said. "After we picked ourselves up off the sidewalk, my first thought was whether we could still make a cool entrance. I was a real dumbass."
"Heh. I'll say." Said Ruki. She poured the next round. The bottle was getting close to empty.
"Are you sure you haven't had enough?" Said Ryo. "I was just teasing you earlier. You don't have to prove anything. I mean, I don't really think you're still mad that I beat you in a card game."
"It's not that you beat me." Said Ruki. "It's that you disappeared after." She drank the next shot. It was getting hard to keep her vision from blurring. She felt a little like she was floating; not entirely connected to her body.
"What do you mean?" Said Ryo.
"After the tournament, I spent months thinking about our next match." Said Ruki. "I had never met someone on my level before, much less someone who could beat me. It was really exciting, actually. I got a bunch of new cards, and reworked my strategy over and over, so that I would win the next one for sure."
"Sounds like you were pretty obsessed." Ryo stared at his drink, hesitated, then swallowed it. "Are you sure you weren't in love with me?"
"Idiot. Of course not." Said Ruki. "I wanted to be friends. I thought that no one could understand me. But someone strong like you would know what it was like."
"What what was what like?" Said Ryo, slurring a little.
"Being lonely." Said Ruki. "I wasn't really close with anyone. Not my classmates, not my parents. I tried to deal with it be being stronger; like if I could focus on being the best at something, then I could stop being affected by my feelings. I thought someone strong would be able to keep it all inside.
"I thought you must be like that too. I thought if I beat you in our next match, then you would realize I was like you, and we could get to know each other. But you didn't even show up. I won the tournament because there was no one else there who could come close to me. It was such a fucking disappointment."
Ruki looked down at nothing in particular.
"Wow, I was a pretty depressing kid."
Ryo said nothing. He picked up the bottle, and poured out the last of its contents into the waiting glasses. He and Ruki drank in silence.
"Renamon." Said Ruki, weakly. "Everything's spinning." She slumped towards her partner, and Renamon gently held her up. Ryo leaned back in his chair, arms slack at his sides, eyes unfocused.
"Ugh. I think I've had enough." He said.
"We should get going." Said Renamon. "Everyone, thank you. It has been a lovely evening."
They helped their partner to her feet, and slowly guided them towards the exit.
As the two made their way back to the hotel, Ruki holding on to her partner for support, Renamon softly spoke.
"For someone who wanted to be strong, you seemed to take very little pleasure in it back then."
"Mhmm." Said Ruki.
"And you said that only someone strong could understand you." Said Renamon.
"When we met," said Renamon, "is that why you said you wanted a strong digimon as a partner? So that you wouldn't be alone?"
Ruki was silent for a long moment.
"I guess so." She said.
Renamon squeezed their partner a little closer.
"I'm glad you're my friend." They said.