Disclaimer: Nope, not mine.
Henry yawned widely as he looked up at the stars. In Shinjuku, such an awe-inspiring sight would have been impossible to witness. There was just too much light in Tokyo; the stars' natural luminescence was drowned out by man's manufactured radiance.
It was an interesting balance that needed to be struck, Henry decided. How were you supposed to choose between nature's beauty and the light bulb's practicality?
'You need both,' the Tamer soon decided. For the modern world to run, you needed readily available illumination to pore over every detail, even if it was, at times, harsh on the eyes. And yet… without nature's light, where would you wind up?
'In a heartless world with no poetry or joy,' Henry mused.
Then, the teen chuckled to himself, while being careful not to awaken Terriermon, Takato, or Guilmon. Though the teen stood outside their tent, quietly stargazing, Henry had learned long ago that the littlest thing in any situation was likely to set off a chain of events that would eventually result in a lot of noise and commotion.
'And we came out here to get away from all that,' the half-Chinese Tamer thought, amused. 'I almost wonder why we try, sometimes. Seven years is a long time, and I can barely recall the days where things are relatively… normal.'
A resounding snore from the Rookie known as Guilmon momentarily drew Henry's attention.
'Hmph,' the Tamer grumped good-naturedly, 'Wish I could sleep that soundly. I'm too restless for that, though.'
Peering around at the rest of the campsite with a tireless gaze, Henry took in, once more, the campfire's smoldering coals, the parked minivan, the dirty dishes from dinner, and the two occupied tents. From the silence—broken only by occasional snores from the boys' tent—it seemed that Rika and Jeri were asleep. Even after all this time, Henry wasn't sure how Renamon slept; likely, she was standing against a tree somewhere nearby, cloaked in shadows.
A particularly rattling snore caused Henry to wince; that one was definitely Takato.
'It's already past midnight. Usually, they've quieted down for the night by now. Still… we didn't get to bed until a few hours ago. I guess I'll just have to wait them out.'
Well, the Tamer was feeling too restless to mind much. Simply laying on his back—right next to the trio of slumbering lumberjacks—and attempting to think was not very appealing at the moment.
Plus, Henry didn't much care for the idea of sleeping outdoors while caked with the dust of a dozen hiking trails.
'Well, that can't be helped much.'
'…generally, I wouldn't consider this, but… well, it's not the tourist season. And from what I saw earlier, we're the only ones in the area, everyone's already asleep…'
'…what the heck. You gotta live a little, and I don't relish the thought of being wrapped in my own body soil. Speaking of which, I think I'm throwing away that sleeping bag when we get home.'
So, Henry leisurely set off into the trees. The camp site was isolated, which was convenient for a group of Tamers and their Digimon partners, but it also made it a bit of a trek to get anywhere in particular. Fortunately, the place Henry had in mind was relatively nearby; it was, perhaps, some two hundred yards away from the pitched tents. In between these two points was a decently thick grove of trees, which Henry admired in the silvery light of the glistening stars and the sickle moon.
Before long, the vast ribbon of Lake Kawaguchi made itself visible beyond the veil of trees. Henry smiled in satisfaction as he slowly approached the shoreline.
'It'll be brisk, but it'll also be a nice change from hot showers at ungodly hours of the morning.'
Slipping his feet from the confines of his shoes, the Tamer took a moment to enjoy the feeling of smooth gravel underneath his bare feet. Closing his gray eyes, Henry took a deep, relaxed breath of the cool air flowing from the lake's rippling surface.
After a minute or two of stillness, Henry smiled contentedly and pulled his cotton shirt over his head. Many years of martial arts and constant practice had toned his chest and arms to a slim, yet powerful figure; for this, among other reasons—though he'd never admit it—Henry Wong was without a doubt one of the most sought-after bachelors of Shinjuku. In addition, being an illustrious Tamer added a certain quality to the teen that left other males his age with a grudging respect, and the ladies with a fit of shy giggles and blushes.
'Lucky me,' Henry thought wryly as he made to drop the shirt onto the shore. 'And yet, I still can't find a girl who interests me; they're either too shallow or we have nothing in common. Usually both. Amusing, isn't…?'
Henry froze in mid motion as his brain locked up. Back slightly bent and arm outstretched, the Tamer could only stare—slightly horrified—at a point not far from his feet.
'Oh, please tell me that's not… please don't let it be…'
Pooled near the water's edge was a small pile of clothes; a dark silken shirt that probably cost more than half of Henry's own wardrobe, a pair of stylish blue jeans that were slowly wearing out in the knees, two thin socks set atop a pair of well-used sneakers, and…
'Don't think about it, just focus on switching over to survival mode,' Henry sternly told himself. Yet, he remained frozen. Part of this was due to an internal battle being waged. One side of the Tamer was rudely surprised to discover that he had not been alone in his impulse for a slightly risqué dive into the lake in the middle of the night. Another was distractedly, hysterically amused at the situation which was, doubtless, about to manifest itself in its severity. Yet another was quite taken with certain articles of clothing left carelessly atop the rest.
The last part of Henry Wong was rather annoyed that he wasn't going to get a simple bath after all.
At last, the Tamer took a deep, shuddering breath and ever so slowly lifted his foot and stepped back—all the while wincing at the sound of grinding gravel…
The water's surface rippled.
'Too late. It's been a good life, but I think I'm about to die now.'
With this morbid thought, Henry squeezed his eyes shut tightly, his mind and body once again locking up.
"…fancy meeting you here."
One of Henry's eyes reflexively opened out of dismayed astonishment.
Rika Nonaka's head and bare shoulders were clearly above the water. Her reddish-copper hair was wet and awkwardly pulled behind her ears; though it was a little tangled, it looked sleek and shiny, if somewhat darker than its usual tone. But it was the female Tamer's face that caught Henry's attention.
In recent years, Rika's facial profile had… matured, for lack of a better word. The trace fat of her childhood and preteen years had disappeared, leaving behind high, elegant cheekbones that emphasized a beautifully striking visage. Her clear amethyst eyes, however, had not lost any of their sharp potency. If anything, they had grown in their piercing quality. Usually, they were softened by the collective, happy experiences with her friends and, more recently, her family; however, if the mood struck the Tamer, Rika could fix another being with a gaze deadly enough to reduce an overly enthusiastic fanboy to a quivering mess of broken manly pride.
Ryo continued to maintain that he was immune to his friend's 'charm.' Only he referred to it as such.
At the moment, however, Rika's expression was unreadable. Even her telling eyes said nothing to the other Tamer.
It was at this point that Henry finally regained the use of his tongue.
"I, uh… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to see you… not that I did see you, I didn't see anything, and I wouldn't want to see anything… er… I mean… oh no…"
Terriermon's voice seemed to echo in Henry's scattered mind. "Oh, nice one, Henry. You know how she's going to take THAT, right? 'Momentai' isn't going to cover this one… hey, can I have your computer?"
At this point, Henry firmly decided that simply being nineteen didn't prepare one for everything, as much as he would have liked to believe otherwise. And this was one of those things that such a young age wasn't good for much except a distracting clash of hormones and half-figured reason.
In other words, Henry's level of experience was 'conducive to a death wish, but not to a clean getaway' in this particular scenario.
Rika, however, remained silent, much to Henry's surprise. The two stared at each other for several long moments: Henry, attempting to keep his eyes from sliding to the surface of the dark water of the lake just below the girl's chin, while Rika's impassive gaze touched on her companion's pasty expression and the shirt clenched in his right hand.
Eventually, when Henry had calmed down enough to begin thinking calmly again—or at least trying with moderate success—he caught a glimpse of the slightest upwards twitch in Rika's pale lips.
Mustering his courage and clearing his throat, the boy asked tentatively, "Um… what are you thinking… right now?"
Rika's head tilted as though in thought before she replied smoothly, "I'm trying to decide whether I should—"
Here, Henry's imagination supplied such vivid and painful responses as 'drown you, eviscerate you, or just beat you to death.'
"—send you back, let you stay, or invite you to join me."
The myriad gears and cogs of Henry's intellect all ground together and refused to move.
"…uh… excuse me?"
There. That was definitely a hidden smile. It still looked far too sly and mischievous for Henry's liking, but it was enough to assure him that his death was not exactly imminent.
Perhaps she'd toy with him first. Yes, that was it. Like a large cat playing with its meal before she devoured him.
'Oh, great. Now I'm imagining her with pointy ears and a tail. Not good, not good, clear my mind, clear my mind…'
As this internal monologue played out, Rika raised an eyebrow in the coolly amused manner that so well became her. "You heard what I said. You just can't believe it."
"…yeah, I'm thinking that's it."
'Oh, very intelligent. Well done, Henry.'
Throughout this, the Tamer's eyes were still wandering—mostly against the will of their owner. And there was still nothing to see, if a wet Rika from the shoulders up didn't satisfy you.
'Joy. I'm turning into Kazu. Just… perfect,' he bit out, unsettled.
Although… perfect was a very nice word. Very apt, too.
Finally, Henry's mental faculties managed to reassemble themselves in a reasonable substitute for their normal model. It was this that allowed Henry to ask, with only the slightest hint of a blush, "So… how's the water?"
"It's surprisingly nice." As she said this, Rika's expression softened into something resembling her usual playful moods, which immediately put Henry doubly on guard. It didn't happen often, but when Rika started acting like that, there was no telling what she was capable of.
Once, she and Renamon—who had only participated after much coercing, the kitsune later stated firmly—had bodily kidnapped Takato and Guilmon from their beds and announced to his bewildered parents that the four of them were eloping, and would be back by the end of the month. The two ladies had proceeded to forcibly drag the dazed pair back to Rika's house, where they were ceremoniously dumped into the fish pond and told that, under no circumstances would there be wedding night without a very large ring. When no ring materialized, a shrug and a little wave 'bye-bye' were all that a very confused Takato and Guilmon were left with.
The fact that Rika had been able to handle the gogglehead by herself was disturbing enough, never mind the total bizarreness of the entire deal. And, to the present day, it seemed that Ryo was the only person who was able to laugh at the old story without the slightest reservation. Everyone else was still trying to figure out what had prompted such a random, alarming prank.
Still… there was a speck of sincere curiosity in the female Tamer's eyes that made Henry relax marginally.
'Rika's… been a lot more open with everyone in past years. I'd almost say she feels like talking, but I get the feeling that she doesn't have anything specific in mind to talk about. She's sort of using the situation to her advantage by making me come up with something on the fly, never mind how stupid or simpleminded it might be.'
Before he started chatting on inanely and making himself look like a bigger fool, however, Henry decided to sound out this hypothesis. Forcing himself to calmly drape his shirt over the gravelly shoreline of Lake Kawaguchi, the teen sat down with his legs comfortably crossed. When Rika showed no reaction other than the hint of another smile—smirk, more like—Henry asked, "You enjoying the quiet?"
Nodding her head, and sending a few droplets of water arching into the air before splashing down in the dark lake, Rika replied, "Yeah. It's nice. It starts to get to you, though. Swimming at this time of night with no one around." With a devilish glint in her amethyst eyes, she added innocently, "And my clothes ten feet away from my body."
Henry's body immediately tried to take advantage of this blunt declaration, but his mind firmly slammed down on the reaction. When his fingers stopped flexing and his breath once again came evenly, the Tamer flashed a brief smile at his mischievous friend.
Rika nodded slightly, graciously acknowledging his small victory. Her expression then turned more serious, though her tone remained as light as before.
"But really. Like I said. The silence starts to get obvious after a while. Splashing seems too… contrived to make things more comfortable."
"I can understand that," Henry said presently, when Rika showed no signs of continuing. Pausing for a moment, the Tamer asked, "Anything you'd like to talk about?"
Rika shook her head faintly. "Nothing comes to mind. What about you?"
Henry's lips parted before coming back together; his satisfaction at guessing his friend's sentiments correctly soon faded away in the interest that the conversation between them was arousing in him. As he cast his own thoughts around, searching for a unique subject, the teen's steely gaze drifted upwards to the heavens. Although the lights of distant Tokyo were still visible on and above the horizon, the stars continued to shine through the gloomy atmosphere above them.
"…I was thinking about the stars earlier."
Rika pondered this in silence as she slipped further in the water, until only her chin touched the lake's glossy surface. "Want to elaborate?"
Henry rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Surprisingly, he was finding it easier to speak with his friend, despite the fact that she was, well… naked. And in the water.
"I'm not really sure what prompted it," the boy soon began, "but I just started thinking about the light that they give off. We can see it all, even though it's been traveling for millions and millions of years, in every direction. There's a sense of wonder in that, I suppose."
Rika smiled warmly. "I can understand that," she said, parroting his earlier words.
Half grinning in response, Henry continued, "Then I started thinking about the difference between the light of the stars and the light that we make for ourselves."
At Rika's questioning gaze, Henry explained, "Fires built to illuminate their surroundings. Light bulbs. That sort of thing." At her nod, the Tamer went on, "I was wondering if you can place different values to those sources of light. Lights that are natural, and lights that are contrived by people like you and me."
"You don't think of them as the same thing?" The question was simple, but Henry had the feeling that Rika already knew the answer he would give.
Shrugging lightly and rubbing a bare shoulder as he did so, the teen said, "Not really. I mean, yeah, they're all photons. They're all packets of electromagnetic energy that, together, illuminate the world, but… I try to discern between the purposes of the light."
Momentarily dunking her head underneath the water before coming back up again with a deep, cleansing breath, Rika commented, "By purpose, I guess you mean how the light is intended to be used. Am I right?"
"Right in one," Henry responded, smiling. "I was just considering whether you could honestly say that there's a difference between the light of a star deep in space, and the luminance of a flashlight."
"Hmm," Rika murmured, swaying gently in the water. As she seemed in no hurry to answer Henry's query, the male Tamer took the time to observe the gentle curve of her pale and slender shoulders as they rose and dipped below the lake's surface.
The slope of her shoulders joined together at her unblemished and equally perfect neck, and it was obvious to anyone with even a single observant eye that Rika's face fit her body flawlessly. The well-defined lines and smooth planes of lustrous, healthy skin all blended together seamlessly while maintaining their definitive purpose: that of accentuating Rika's innate and maturing beauty.
She was breathtaking. A tentative voice quietly whispered in Henry's ear, telling him that this was the perfect girl. Wouldn't he love to be something more than a friend to her?
A stronger part of him commented on the ideal compatibility of the two. They were both Tamers; they possessed great power and clearly understood their responsibilities to themselves, each other, and their world. They had known each other for many years now; they were familiar with each other's quirks and hobbies, and their friendship had been strengthened by all these little things along the way. Not to mention the fact that their friends and families would most likely support a match between the two. Perhaps there would be a little disappointment from one person or another along the way, but the bond between the Tamers and their friends was nigh unbreakable by now. Something so trivial hardly seemed to matter.
And yet, the strongest part of Henry's psyche quite firmly stated, "Now is not the time for such things. It is and will be unexpected for all parties for quite some time. The possibility might exist, and the chances might be good, but anything undertaken in haste is already crippled by impulsiveness. Be patient, and open to the possibility that things will not work out as you may desire them."
And that was that. The smaller voices respectfully quieted themselves, and Henry was left with the concrete thought, offered up by yet another corner of his mind, 'Besides… we're in the middle of something.'
As though given a cue by Henry's increasingly tranquil contemplations, Rika spoke up and said, "I don't really know if there's a difference. Maybe you need varying intensities of light, different colors, or at special times, but in the end… like you said: we see it all." Her amethyst eyes sharpening in focus—and yet softening in feeling—the girl said quietly, "Light in any situation has value to someone. I think… it'd be like comparing apples and oranges." Suddenly regaining her playful look, Rika added, "Or maybe… photons and neutrons?"
Henry, having nodded thoughtfully at friend's conclusion, laughed aloud at the last part of her response. "Well, maybe."
"How about different flavors of quarks?"
Chuckling delightedly, Henry commented, "That might be a little more accurate, depending on your point of view. I'm surprised you had that example ready to use, though. I thought you were taking business and fashion in school?"
Tipping the teen with an uncharacteristic wink, Rika said slyly, "Well, I've got to keep you on your toes, don't I?"
Reminding himself of their current circumstances, Henry suppressed a grin. "Oh, you don't need to take physics to do that. Trust me."
"Believe me, I know." With this, Rika rose up ever so slightly in the water and fixed her fellow Tamer with an insightful gaze.
Henry chuckled. "That's cheating." Still, he had to appreciate the smooth curves of Rika's upper body. The girl… no, young woman, seemed to know just how to highlight her beauty without expressly revealing it.
Rika shrugged coyly. "I can play dirty. You know me well enough to understand that."
Smiling gently, Henry tilted his head by a fraction to show faux uncertainty. "Well…" he finally drawled, "even so, you still manage to surprise me sometimes."
"Life would be boring if I couldn't, wouldn't it?" Rika asked as her gaze took on an alluring glow.
Henry's response was a quiet laugh. "Yes. Yes, it would be boring." Looking his companion right in the eye, the Tamer stated, in a confidential tone, "And I'm glad that I'm lucky enough to have you as a friend."
Rika nodded slowly, as though to convey a similar sentiment. She favored him with a soft smile before their gazes slowly rose to the heavens above.
The stars twinkled on, high in the sky. Mingled with the lights of Tokyo, the ambient radiance continued to illuminate the dark side of the earth. And next to a shadowy lake, two close friends sat together in the silence.
Somehow, though… the silence was filled up with something more meaningful than itself.
A/N: As some of my loyal readers may have noticed, this is certainly a departure from my usual method of writing. I'm quite pleased with the results, however, and I hope you are, too. Please review so you can let me know.