The time soon came, fortunately for Chaud, when Sid was called back to his job, as the Net Police were finally showing some signs of movement.

The boy was terribly battered. Various cuts in both his skin and clothing were testaments to Sid's sudden decision to pull out a knife to play with. His face was relatively bare of bruises, as his attacker had opted to go more often than not for his abdominal area and sides. He hung weakly from his chains, too worn out to hold himself up any longer.

Glancing briefly at Sid, he wondered when he'd get the chance to pay the man back. He hoped sooner than later. His eyes closed in exhaustion.

Which of course, caused him to miss was what was happening just a short distance away from him.

A small black hole had appeared out of nowhere, and a brown, mittened hand reached out from inside. On the ground, next to the storage container Sid had gotten the chains out of, rested two PETs; one red, one pink. An instant later, the pink one had disappeared into the hole, which then shrank away into nothing.

XOXOXOX

Maylu watched in surprise as a small dimensional area materialized around her. 'What good can that possibly do?' she wondered. 'I don't have my PET with me, and anyway my hands are tied behind my back. I wouldn't be able to Cross Fuse like this…'

Suddenly, she felt pressure on the ropes that bound her. A minute later, the ropes had been severed. She turned around and saw Rush smiling at her, halfway-inside his black hole. He'd gnawed the ropes through with his teeth.

The puppy yipped quietly and held out Maylu's pink PET to her. As soon as she'd taken it in her hands, the dog-virus jumped into the air and morphed into a ball of light, which then solidified into a Synchro Chip. Maylu's hand reached up and grabbed the chip out of the air. Without hesitation, she slid the chip into her PET.

"Begin Cross Fusion!" she cried. Pink light surrounded her as her personal terminal dissolved into pieces of data. Navi armor began to cover her body chunk by chunk.

"Mr. Famous!" said Maylu, as her Cross Fusion form became complete. Her PET was now a part of her, and thus she was able to use it to communicate much like a walkie-talkie. "Enlarge the dimensional area!"

XOXOXOX

Rick and his crew, in order to prevent anyone from sneaking inside the Fitness Center, had set up monitors outside, which were hooked up to the surveillance cameras that were already a part of the building's security, system.

The henchman who'd been assigned to watch the cameras, however, had been momentarily distracted by a comment hollered to him by one of the other men. He'd hollered something back, and the two had shared a brief conversation before returning to their jobs. He was just in time to see that the girl they'd been holding hostage had suddenly disappeared.

"Hey, Rick, c'mere a sec," he said, wisely refraining from allowing his voice or face to show that anything was wrong.

Rick strolled over to the screens. He knew instantly what the problem was, but he too kept a nonchalant appearance.

"So, our little bird has escaped the cage somehow…" he murmured. "Looks like we'll have to go with Plan B. Pity, and things were going so well…Hey Sid!" he called. "Front and center."

Sid responded obediently.

"Spread the word—very quietly, mind you, I don't want the message to be broadcast to any uninvited eavesdroppers—we're gonna have to switch to Plan B. As soon as the crew's been informed, load our little guest into the chopper. We're gonna have to make this fast. Once the Net Police figure out we've lost track of the hostage in the building, they'll be on us in the blink of an eye."

The henchman nodded and set to work immediately. Minutes later, subtle movement had begun to appear around the makeshift base of operations. Gear was being sorted through and shifted; men were checking through their utility belts and backpacks.

Sid was busy getting Chaud's chain down from the tree branch.

"What are you doing?" the boy asked, eyes narrow.

"Just transferring some cargo," Sid replied. Having retrieved the chain, he now began tugging at it as he walked forwards.

In his weakened state, Chaud had little ability to resist. He was forced to trot along behind Sid in order to avoid being dragged on the ground.

Before long, the boy saw that they were headed for a helicopter. He halted in his tracks.

"Whattsamatter, kid, haven't you ever seen a chopper before?" Sid asked in annoyance as he yanked roughly at the chain.

Chaud stumbled forwards and fought to regain his balance. He managed, but only just. As he was about to demand where they were going, a large explosion rocked the ground. Both he and Sid instinctively looked to the Fitness Center.

Already, flames were engulfing the structure, licking hungrily at it from the inside out.

Chaud stared in horror. What was going on? Had someone done something to anger Rick and his men? Had one of the explosives gone off by accident? Heck, did it even matter how it had happened? Maylu was still in there!

Maylu was…still in there…

The thought repeated itself as it sank in. Chaud felt his knees buckle.

'No…' he thought frantically. 'No…someone will save her…Lan will save her…He always does…' As if on cue, a large dimensional area spread over the building.

He heard Sid grunt, and the next thing he knew, he was being tossed over the man's shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

"Put me down," he growled, struggling to break free of the man's grasp.

But Sid was strong, and he wasn't covered in cuts and bruises. He took large strides towards the chopper as the other men from the crew began to also head in that direction.

Just then, a voice cried, "Take this, you oversized bully!"

A pink blur smacked into Sid at top speed, knocking both the man and his passenger to the ground. The next thing Chaud knew, he was being gently lifted into the air and carried away. He was too stunned for words.

"You okay?" said Cross-Fused Maylu, her forehead creased with worry. Her eyes examined him closely as she ran, cradling him in her arms. Her expression grew furious upon seeing his battered state. "Rrrr, those dirty…"

Seconds later, she had deposited him on a waiting medical stretcher in the safe company of the Net Police. Then she stalked over to Lan, who had Cross Fused himself by now.

She jabbed a finger at his chest symbol and snapped, "Lan, you can just sit this round out and watch while I pummel those guys myself."

Lan blinked in obvious astonishment as he watched his friend sprint back over towards the chopper, her anger written all over her features. Then he shook his head as if to clear it, and turned to Chaud.

Chaud could see Lan's concern for him.

"Looks like they got you pretty good," the shorter boy said, moving to stand near the stretcher. His brown eyes were worried. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, but I think I'll be feeling this tomorrow morning…" Chaud replied, wincing and putting a hand to his ribs.

Lan cringed. "Ouch. Sure makes me appreciate Cross Fusion armor."

"That makes two of us…" Chaud muttered, rubbing his sore flesh.

XOXOXOX

None of the gang members knew what hit them. One minute they were frantically trying to board the helicopter they had waiting for their getaway, and the next instant they were on the ground in a heap, being banged around by a girl in a pink dress and helmet.

"No one messes with my friends and gets away with it," she growled, kicking one man in the groin while punching another in the jaw. "You picked the wrong people to kidnap, and the wrong boy to hurt." She grabbed two more henchmen by the scruffs and banged their heads together, dropping them on top of one another on the ground. "So, any more of you losers want to try running away?"

At this point, all of the men were either unconscious or writhing on the ground in pain, including Sid and Rick--although these two in particular had received an extra beating.

Satisfied with her work, Maylu grabbed the backs of Rick's and Sid's shirts and proceeded to drag them along on the ground until they'd reached the police, who promptly put the men in handcuffs and loaded them into a police car.

"The rest of 'em are back over there," Maylu said to Manuella, jabbing a thumb over her shoulder. "You should find them all in a big pile on the ground."

Manuella nodded mutely, not really sure how to react to Maylu at the moment. She turned and transferred the information to a few of her officers, who were soon off to round up the rest of the criminals.

Maylu, on the other hand, finally allowed herself to de-Cross Fuse. She caught the PET as it fell towards her and then stooped to give Rush a warm hug. "Thanks, boy. You were great," she whispered to the puppy, who yipped happily and saluted her.

Then she stood, and her gaze traveled to the stretcher where she had left Chaud. To her surprise, he was no longer there. Her heartbeat sped up in alarm, until she saw Lan nearby, talking nonchalantly with Chief Kiefer.

"Lan, where'd Chaud go?" the girl asked, coming up beside him.

Lan shrugged. "He said he just wanted to walk a little. I think I saw him over by those police cars." He pointed them out to her.

Maylu nodded and trotted off in the direction he'd indicated. She hoped Chaud hadn't gone too far, especially since what he really should be doing was resting.

She found him behind one of the cars farthest away from the action, leaning against the car with one of his hands buried in his hair.

"Hey," she said softly.

His shoulders shot up to his ears.

Maylu nearly giggled at the startled gesture. So he hadn't heard her coming? But then her seriousness returned.

"Shouldn't you let a paramedic take a look at you?"

The boy kept his back turned, and it seemed as though he hadn't heard her. She felt butterflies begin to wreak havoc in her stomach, and wondered if she'd done something to upset him.

But then he turned to her, and she found something in his expression that she'd never seen before, though she wasn't quite sure what it was.

He just looked at her for a moment. Then, slowly, he extended his hand to her. Without even thinking twice, she put hers on top of his. Suddenly, his fingers closed around her hand, and he yanked her forwards, causing her to fall against his chest. An instant later, his arms were around her, and he pressed her against himself, despite the protests of his sore body.

Maylu felt herself lean into his embrace, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Because of the difference in their heights, her nose was buried in the cloth of his shirt. She inhaled slowly. The smoke from the explosion in the Fitness Center had permeated the clothing with its scent, but she could still smell a faint undertone of whatever cologne he'd put on that day.

"You sure know how to make a guy go out of his mind worrying about you…" Chaud muttered, his voice rough and quiet.

"You make it sound like I did it on purpose…" Maylu replied, her arms sliding around his waist as she snuggled closer to him. She could feel her cheeks flaming in embarrassment, but she couldn't help herself. She wanted to be near him, to touch him. She wanted to be held like this.

Chaud was still wondering why on earth he'd grabbed her like that. He felt like an idiot. It wasn't like he was generally an emotional person, and Maylu wasn't his girlfriend or anything. And yet his hand had acted as though it'd had a mind of its own, reaching out to her and pulling her in. It just seemed…natural. And he realized…he wanted to protect her. He wanted to hold her in his arms and keep her safe…always.

"So does this mean that Lan's out of the picture?" he murmured into her ear.

She chuckled softly. "What's it to you, Chaud?"

"Because if he's not out, I'll take him out myself." The words surprised him even as they left his mouth, but he knew them to be true.

"Oh you will, will you?" she said, smiling into his shirt. "…Don't worry. Lan left the picture back when you and I had our first study session."

Chaud found himself smiling as well.

"Good."

FIN