Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Akiyoshi Hongo, creator of the Digimon concept, as well as various broadcasting networks. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: I consider it a victory that this isn't the longest break I've ever had in-between chapter updates (count your silver linings, right? Right.) Thanks for your patience as always; I'm grateful that you're still here and reading Under the Surface.

For the curious, visit my Tumblr for an extended A/N. Otherwise, please read, enjoy, and review!

Under the Surface

Chapter XV: In Defense of Meddling

He was officially lost. Ruefully, Takeru stopped underneath a tree for shade, listening keenly for the sound of music in the air. While his ears strained to hear, a wistful thought passed through him: I wish Mom and Dad could have come today. Just as quickly as the thought came, however, he dismissed it. If Yamato wasn't bothered by their non-appearance, it wasn't Takeru's place to feel indignant about it on his brother's behalf either.

Takeru knew that Hikari worried about him when it came to his wishes for his family. A part of him still nursed that secret hope, in vain as it was. The likelihood of his parents reuniting grew slimmer as the years passed and they grew more comfortable with the distance they had given each other. However, the truth was that Takeru had largely come to terms with that reality. In growing up, he had learned to accept that his family would never be 'normal'.

He was… okay with that.

No matter the distance between his family - both physical and emotional - it didn't change the fact that Takeru loved them all the same. He loved his father's quiet dedication to their family and his mother's unwavering compassion for her children. And above all, Takeru loved his distant and yet fiercely overprotective brother, who thought nothing of throwing himself in harm's way if it meant that Takeru would be kept safe.

In his most morbid moments - late at night, when sleep wouldn't come - Takeru wondered what would happen to his family if he were to die. It wasn't that he entertained thoughts of suicide: Takeru had too much to live for to even consider it. But he couldn't help but contemplate about his place in the world, the impact he would have if he were to dissolve into nothingness. The conclusion that Takeru came to was one of fear. His family, fragmented as they were, depended too much on him to keep them all together. Without him, his family would fall apart. He knew that his parents would bury their grief by throwing themselves entirely into their work, and it was with a terrible certainty that Takeru knew that Yamato would lose himself to depression.

Yamato probably would have never brought up his separate journey with Gabumon had Takeru not been intent on chronicling their first Digital World adventure. And even then, it had taken months before for Yamato was ready to confess to Takeru of how he had nearly lost himself in the darkness. It was, in Yamato's own words, a result of his insecurities and fears of being an inadequate brother to Takeru and friend to the rest of the Chosen. Takeru had never before doubted how important he was to Yamato. However, it wasn't until that conversation that Takeru truly understood just how much Yamato depended on him. In hindsight, it explained so much of Yamato's behavior in a way that had never occurred to Takeru before.

So, even as the intensity of Yamato's protectiveness lessened as Takeru grew, he knew that there would always be some part of Yamato that worried for Takeru's safety. Knowing that was enough motivation to have Takeru text Yamato regularly. They rarely had conversations that way: Takeru would usually send short messages like "Just got back from DW, all fine," and Yamato's responses were almost always monosyllabic ("good.") Despite what the appearance of Yamato's short replies might have implied, however, Takeru knew that Yamato was grateful for the updates. That was enough for Takeru to keep texting, even when Yamato had gone off to camp and was predictably busy with his music studies.

Still, there was no substitution for actual conversation, and Takeru was more than a little excited to see his big brother again.

Eventually, Takeru found his way to the music cabin. He followed the sound of music until he saw musicians clustered outside a large cabin, practicing together in smaller groups of similar instruments. Yamato quickly spotted Takeru and jogged over, smiling widely and pulling Takeru into a quick hug. Pleased, Takeru clapped Yamato on his back. "You're in a good mood," Takeru said, unable to stop his grin from spreading.

"I'm glad to see you." Yamato shrugged, although he narrowed his eyes slightly as he looked Takeru up and down. Takeru shifted his weight uneasily, uncertain under his brother's gaze, until Yamato commented, "By the way, you're growing way too fast. I won't forgive you if you grow taller than me, you know."

Takeru held up his hands peaceably. "It's not my fault. It's in our genes."

Shaking his head, Yamato chuckled. "You found your way here okay?"

Takeru admitted, "I was a little lost when I first arrived - your directions did not help at all - but following the sound of you musicians practicing helped a lot. I'm not interrupting your rehearsal or anything, am I?" he asked anxiously, glancing over to the musicians who were still practicing. "I know you said to come by as soon as I arrived, but - "

His older brother waved his hand, dismissive. "It's okay, I'm going to be busy practicing after lunch anyway. I was waiting for you to arrive so that I could take my break now and spend time with you until then." Yamato paused, cocking his head. "I thought you said you were coming with Hikari. Did she already go to find Taichi?"

Nodding in confirmation, Takeru added, "We ran into Jyou when we arrived. The three of us thought it would be a good idea to split up and gather everyone for lunch. Jyou went to get Koushiro, and I volunteered to find you and Sora." He was very careful to omit Mimi's name, and luckily Yamato didn't catch him at it.

"Everyone else is busy? I mean, Iori and the rest of them."

"Iori and Miyako are busy studying. And there's a situation in the Digital World right now, actually. Daisuke and Ken volunteered to stay behind to be on alert in case anything gets out of hand. But tomorrow is mine and Hikari's turn to keep an eye on things, so they'll be free to spend time with you then."

Yamato frowned, rubbing his jaw with his knuckles. "A situation in the Digital World, huh? Hmm. Okay. Bring this up again later, at lunch or something," he instructed. "We should make sure that everyone else knows about the problem, and we can figure out a solution together."

"We didn't bring it up before because Jyou's been busy with summer school and the rest of you have been here… Anyway Yamato, it's not a big deal. We can take care of it on our own, you know."

"I know. I didn't mean it like that." Yamato's expression softened. "I just meant that it would be better if we spread out the workload. It's not fair on you guys to have to shoulder all the weight of Chosen responsibilities, after all."

Takeru couldn't help but clap Yamato's shoulder again at that. "I know. Thanks for looking out for us, Yamato."

"Of course." Yamato cleared his throat. "We should probably get going if we don't want to keep everyone else waiting. You said that we're supposed to get Sora too?"

Glancing at his watch, Takeru nodded. "Yep. Good call, let's go." They began to walk together, and Takeru found himself naturally falling into synchronized step beside Yamato. Cheerfully, he remembered to ask, "Speaking of Sora, how is she doing? Are you guys getting along better now? I know that before you left for camp, you had mentioned that things were much more friendly between you two."

"Oh. She's okay. I guess."

Although their stride didn't slow, Takeru looked over at his brother with raised eyebrows. Unsure of the current status of Yamato's tenuous relationship with Sora, Takeru thought it would be best to err on the side of caution. "Okay," Takeru said eventually, his mind whirring to guess at what had changed. "I guess something happened between the two of you again. Right? I mean…did you…" He searched for a neutral word, "have a disagreement or something?"

Yamato raised his own eyebrow at that. "That's an extremely neutral way of putting it."

"A spat, then. Or a tiff." Takeru grinned before he bit his lip a little. "So did you?"

It seemed that Yamato was disinclined to answer. That didn't surprise Takeru in the least. What did surprise him was that Yamato eventually did answer - reluctantly, but he still said, "Several, actually. Camp hasn't exactly been… what I had imagined it would be."

All Takeru had to do was take in his brother's expression for a moment to glean all he wanted to know about how Yamato felt about this latest step back in his friendship with Sora. Although Takeru would have liked to pull his brother to a stop so that Takeru could look him in the eyes, Takeru knew better. Sometimes the only way you could get Yamato to open up about his feelings was to avoid looking at him entirely. It made it easier for Yamato to pretend that he wasn't being vulnerable. "And how's Sora dealing with all this?" Takeru prompted. "I mean, is she mad at you? Should I go get her alone? I don't want you two to feel uncomfortable."

"No, it should be all right. It's just…" Yamato shrugged and admitted, "We've been giving each other 'space' so that we could figure things out. When I saw her this morning, it was... weird. I don't know. I don't really know where either one of us is standing in this."

Several questions came up in Takeru's mind, and he struggled to hold them back. Eventually, he checked, "Can I ask you a question?"

"Go for it."

"What exactly did you guys fight about this time? It must have been pretty serious if you guys are giving each other 'space' again."

Again, Yamato took his time before he spoke. Haltingly, he said, "Sora got upset a couple of days ago over the WOLVES. It was mostly my fault… I didn't realize at the time how much I'd hurt her. Then there was some drama with Taichi because of how insensitive he thought I was being. And I was," he snorted, "but I couldn't see it at the time. By the time I finally got to apologize to Sora…"

Takeru waited patiently.

With an air of resignation, Yamato said flatly, "Long story short, she asked me if I wanted to get back together or not."

Yamato's words hit Takeru hard, a combination of disbelief and shock. He was so taken aback that he nearly missed Yamato's emotionless conclusion, "I told her I didn't know, so she told me to leave her alone. So that's where we are now."

"You - " Takeru had to stop walking, unable to articulate the rush of words that came to his mind. He shook his head in disbelief and then stared at his older brother. "You told her that you didn't know? Yamato! No offense, but that was seriously the worst thing you could have said to her!" he cried, an unwilling disappointment at Yamato searing through him.

If Takeru's emotional outburst offended Yamato, he didn't let it show. Instead, Yamato said matter-of-factly, "I wasn't going to lie. What else could I say when I don't know that answer, not even for myself?"

"God…you... Big brother, the answer is right in front of you." Takeru shook his head, exasperated.

Yamato crossed his arms. "What are you talking about?"

"Look, I know that your messy break up has made things more confusing. Obviously you still have unresolved issues, plus whatever guilt you feel over it... And with Sora telling you to pretty much leave her alone, I get that that complicates things. But you're letting that all cloud what you already know for certain." Takeru looked directly at his brother. "Yamato, if you really just wanted to move on and not get back together, why does her telling you to leave her alone bother you so much? What's stopping you from moving on?"

The silence that followed was heavy. Yamato didn't speak, but Takeru had no intention of break it. This was something that his big brother needed to understand.

However, it seemed that Yamato didn't want to confront the truth. "We need to keep moving, we shouldn't keep the others waiting," Yamato said instead, deflecting Takeru's question and turning to walk again.

"You still have feelings for her."

Yamato stopped walking, though his back remained turned to Takeru.

The certainty he felt rang in each word he said. "Deep down, you know that you want to get back together."

His brother stood so still. Whatever hopes Takeru had that his certainty would inspire Yamato, however, were dashed when he said, "Regardless of whether or not I have feelings for Sora, I can't just ask her to get back together. That's not good enough. There's nothing I can say or do to erase the fact that I made her miserable. She deserves better than me."

"But you also made her happier than she's ever been," Takeru protested weakly, his heart aching at the sheer defeat in his brother's voice. "Your whole relationship was more than just the bad ending. Don't you remember?"

At last, Yamato turned around, his face far too composed to be authentic. "So you want me to talk to Sora."

Takeru answered gently, "Personally, I think Sora deserves to know that you still have feelings for her. She opened up her heart to you. The least you can do is give her the truth in return. But honestly, what I want doesn't matter. If you think you need to talk to her, then you should. But it has to be your choice and no one else's."

A shade fell over Koushiro's laptop. "Time to go eat lunch, Izumi."

Without pausing his typing, he requested, "Just a moment, I'm almost there." A few clicks and then he saved his programming. "All right, I'm d - Mimi!"

She giggled at his stunned reaction. "See, I told you that he wouldn't have suspected anything," Mimi remarked over her shoulder to Jyou, who smiled in greeting at Koushiro. Meanwhile, Mimi sat down on the bench beside Koushiro while he was still shell-shocked. "Jyou thought for sure that you would have figured out that I was coming to visit because I had asked for your help in looking for airline deals."

"No, I had no idea. When you said that your parents wanted you to stay in New York for the summer, I assumed that was the end of it." Koushiro began to smile widely, having recovered and now feeling happy in the presence of one of his closest friends. He shut his laptop and slid it back into his bag so that he could focus on her. "It's a delightful surprise to see you again."

"Well, now I'm starting to feel jealous," Jyou joked. "Maybe I should have made my coming a surprise, too. Then Mimi here wouldn't be getting all the attention."

Mimi flipped her hair over her shoulder and shot a grin at the biology student. "If you're feeling so neglected, we can always change places. You move to New York and I'll move back to Odaiba - I'd be more than happy to trade!"

Jyou and Koushiro both laughed at that. "Who else knows that you're here?" Koushiro asked. "I assume that I'm not the only one who has been duped."

"As of right now, only Jyou, Takeru, Hikari, and you know." Mimi mischievously admitted, "I'm looking forward to surprising the others. I've already bet with Jyou that Miyako is going to scream when she sees me!"

Koushiro didn't have to expend a lot of effort to imagine that particular scenario for him to immediately nod. "I'd calculate those odds to be at least three to one at a conservative estimate. I'm sorry to say it, Jyou, but you've made a bad bet there."

"I didn't actually agree to the bet." Jyou's smile was as wry as ever. "I know Miyako better than that."

"I certainly hope that you do."

Jyou unfolded a paper and adjusted his glasses. "So according to the events itinerary that we received, it looks like lunch is being served in the main clearing with dessert being sold by the business and culinary classes. Would you lead the way, Koushiro?"

Nodding agreeably, Koushiro did just that. They took the scenic route to the clearing so that he could point out the various displays of the other classes. There were miniature building models created by the architecture class, as well as a few demonstrations being held by the physics class, that seemed interesting. But to be honest, Koushiro felt more interested in catching up with Mimi and Jyou. He was reassured in learning after a few minutes' conversation that the two of them were mostly unchanged. It was nice, knowing for certain that his some of his friends hadn't transformed too much in the time between visits and become strangers to him.

On their way to the business stalls, Jyou became distracted by the biology class demonstration. "Sorry, do either if you mind if we stop for a bit? I'd like to…"

"Not at all, go ahead," Koushiro said encouragingly, Mimi nodding in agreement. "We'll be right here."

"Isn't it cute how he's so into science?" Mimi noted, smiling a little. "You know, it was really hard for me to tear him away from studying to come today. He almost didn't come!"

"I am not surprised by that revelation at all."

Mimi was inexplicably indignant. "But you and the others are our friends! We have to be here, to support you all." If Koushiro hadn't been paying attention, he would have missed the speculative look that Mimi gave him next. "Speaking of friends," she said slowly, her tone full of intention, "did you ever find out what happened with Sora and Yamato last week? I've been worrying about the both of them ever since you told me."

He blinked. It took him a moment to mentally organize the developments that he had noticed in the past week and a moment longer to figure out an appropriate response to her question. He was mindful of the fact that neither Sora nor Yamato would appreciate him gossiping about them, and so Koushiro eventually settled on saying, "In a way, I suppose." He shifted uneasily under Mimi's rapt attention. "I believe that Yamato and Sora had a disagreement of sorts. Something about Yamato accidentally hurting her in some way. I am unsure of the specifics of what it was over, but they seemed to have moved past that incident since then."

"Oh." Mimi tapped her chin, pursing her lips in thought. "So they're friendly now?"

Koushiro said, "I believe so, yes. As far as I can tell." He waited expectantly for Mimi to continue questioning him, but it seemed that for the moment she was satisfied. By the time Jyou returned, she was all smiles. Koushiro was relieved that she was willing to let the topic rest.

If he had learned anything about interpersonal relationships during his time in camp, it would be that meddling in other people's affairs was generally a terrible idea. One had only need to look at how upset Sora had gotten with Taichi to learn that particular lesson.

Upon arriving at the main clearing, thoughts of Sora and Yamato's complex relationship disappeared completely from Koushiro's mind as he was surprised by how many people were gathered around the business stalls. The clearing was a bustling mecca of activity, with a few dozen people looking around for food to eat and a handful of students calling out advertisements for their desserts. There were even more people - students and guests alike - occupying the picnic benches and sitting under the trees, eating and laughing. "I knew that there were going to be a lot of visitors today," Koushiro remarked in an aside to Jyou, "but this is more than even I expected."

Jyou nodded. "How are we going to be able to find the others in this crowd?" he fretted. "There's just too many people here. And I don't see any open tables for us to all sit at."

"Don't worry, there's plenty of trees and shade to go around," Mimi reassured. She went on her tip-toes and her face brightened. "I think I see Taichi and Hikari already - come on!"

Mimi's enthusiasm at being reunited with their friends made her march away, and Koushiro and Jyou were left to hurry after her lest they become separated by the crowd. When they finally caught up to her, they arrived just in time to see Taichi's shocked expression.

"Come here, you!" Taichi hugged Mimi, lifting her off her feet and making her giggle. "You said you weren't going to make it this year!"

"Doesn't it just make my arrival more thrilling, though?" Mimi trilled as she stepped back. "I had to make sure that you would all miss me first!"

At that point, Jyou came forward to say hello to Taichi as well. Koushiro exchanged smiles with Hikari, who moved away from her brother. "It's good that you came as well," Koushiro said when she came closer. "Just like old times, isn't it? At least, it will be when Yamato and Sora arrive with Takeru… I assume he came with you?"

Hikari tucked a stray hair behind her ear. "He did. Takeru volunteered to go get them, actually, they should be on their way soon. And it is really nice," she agreed. "Tentomon says hi, by the way. I saw him a few days ago."

Koushiro nodded. "What were you visiting for? Just a routine patrol, or…" He trailed off significantly, mindful of their surroundings.

"Why don't we talk about it later, when we're all eating lunch?" she suggested. "It's kind of important, so it'd be best to tell everyone at one time instead of having to retell it multiple times."

And when we will be out of earshot of those who should not hear, Koushiro understood. He nodded and then asked aloud, "When are we eating lunch? Are we going to wait until after Taichi is done with his stall?"

"About that." Taichi cleared his throat. "I was actually hoping that you guys would help me out with something important. Only if you don't mind, though, there's no pressure."

Koushiro exchanged a look with Jyou and Mimi. "We're not going anywhere. What kind of assistance did you have in mind?"

Quietly, under the cover of the overall noise of the area, Hikari and Taichi filled them in on Team Platinum's business plan. "We checked it with Hiroyuki already - it's all approved," Taichi concluded anxiously. "So if you guys are down - and like I said, there's no pressure if you don't want to - but if you do, my team would really appreciate it."

"We could always use more helpers making the food," Hikari added. "They're not too difficult to make. I can teach you."

Mimi clapped her hands. "Well in that case, sign me up! I've always wanted to learn how to make daifuku. Jyou, Koushiro?"

"It would probably be best if I stayed away from the food," Jyou said self-deprecatingly. "I have traumatic memories associated with food preparation. But I would be more than willing to handle taking orders and dealing with the ticket sales."

"I can assist Jyou with that as well. I don't think that now is the time for me to experiment with making the daifuku," Koushiro added.

There was no doubting the relief on Taichi's face at their words. He clapped Koushiro on the back. "With you guys manning the counter, that'll give me and Kohei a chance to advertise the daifuku and get some more people headed our way with their tickets. You're the best."

In the interest of being efficient with the time they had left, Koushiro immediately followed Hikari behind Team Platinum's booth to get started on working. It was simple enough to figure out how everything was organized, and so it wasn't long before Koushiro and Jyou were taking charge of the stall's transactions. Behind them, Koushiro could already hear that Mimi was enthusiastically picking up everything Umeko and Eiji had to teach about daifuku. He was certain it was only a matter of time before she charmed them completely, as she did everyone else she met. But Koushiro soon was distracted from that train of thought by the arrival of a large group of girls who ordered a couple dozen daifuku to snack on. It could have easily been hectic, but Koushiro found himself glad that he was working alongside Jyou. They had a natural simpatico that made it easy for them to work together.

During their original adventures in the Digital World, Koushiro frequently found himself occupying an observational role within the group. It was a place he was very comfortable with: introverted as he was, Koushiro had always preferred to view social interaction from a distance rather than be directly involved in it. During that time, Jyou was frequently at Koushiro's side. It was less of a choice to be an observer and more of a result of his own indecision in Jyou's case. Still, the result was the same. In those chaotic moments when Taichi and Yamato argued, Sora and Mimi attempted (at times, ineffectually) to calm them down, and Takeru and Hikari shrank from their brothers' outbursts, Koushiro and Jyou were the spectators.

In Koushiro's mind, the foundation of his friendship with Jyou was based on their tendency to balance their group's dynamic with reason. It was probably the same reason why Koushiro enjoyed lengthy discussions with Jyou. He knew he could always count on the aspiring doctor for a rational conversation.

"Well?" Jyou looked over at Koushiro when they had no customers currently waiting in line. "Was it worth it, going to camp instead of taking summer courses at university with me?"

"In some ways it has been," Koushiro answered honestly. "While I didn't get to take advanced engineering courses - the class here was fairly basic - I enjoyed my discussions with my classmates. And it was certainly beneficial to meet Masaru, my engineering teacher. He works at an computer engineering firm, and he's promised to connect me for an internship."

"That's great news."

"My parents were quite pleased when I told them about it as well. My dad was hesitant about my going to camp when I already knew what I wanted to major in for university. He didn't see the point in it," Koushiro confessed. "I'm glad my mom was able to convince him. It has been a worthwhile experience in its own way. What about you? How is your summer school class going?"

Leaning back in his seat, Jyou admitted, "I'm having some difficulties. I'm not sure if taking anatomy in the summer was a bright idea. It's the first upper division biology class I've taken since coming to uni, and I can definitely see why it's upper division. It's not easy."

"But surely it's doable? Especially since you mentioned before that many other bio majors do the same thing."

"Well, even if everyone else is doing the same thing, it doesn't mean that everyone is getting the same grade." Jyou grimaced. "After all, someone has to take the C's and D's in the class for there to be A's and B's. I'm not saying that I will get a low grade," he amended hastily at the skeptical expression that Koushiro gave him, "But it is a very real concern to me. Mimi had to twist my arm into coming today."

Koushiro cautioned, "I am all for hard work, Jyou. Just remember not to lose yourself in your studies."

Jyou smiled slightly. "Ignoring the irony of you saying that to me… I'll try and keep that in mind."

Sora spent most of her morning helping the painters set up their portion of the gallery in the art cabin. When she finished, she found Linda and Yuu in the middle of a project disaster.

"If we cut it here and finish the edge, we can salvage it and turn it into an asymmetrical dress – " Linda was saying, gesturing to their mannequin.

"But the proportions are all wrong." Yuu ran his hands through his blue hair. "And look how dramatic the hem would end up being – "

"Yeah, but it's not like we can sew the fabric back on without making it obvious that it was a last-minute fix," Linda shot back before she noticed that Sora was standing at their table. "Sora, thank god you're here."

Eyes wide with horror at the duo's dress and the gash in the skirt, Sora blurted out, "Oh no! What happened?"

"The sculptors are what happened." Yuu was understandably glum. "They were running back and forth all over the place, looking for supplies. Last minute fine touching, I guess. One of them accidentally knocked into our table, tripped over their feet, and tore the skirt of our dress when we were in the middle of hemming it."

"We can't send this down the runway." Linda buried her face in her hands. "But we only have until three before it's time for the fashion show, and we're running out of ideas on how to salvage this mess."

Sora looked over at the dress again, this time trying to figure out how the gash could be fixed. It used to be a sleeveless cream dress with an intricately woven bodice and a floor length, flowing skirt. Unfortunately, the skirt was torn irreparably from the rest of the dress. Sora felt a pang of pity. She had seen Linda and Yuu work on the dress for hours. And now, all that hard work… "At least they didn't ruin the bodice," Sora murmured, stepping close to run her fingers gently over the woven fabric. "There's the silver lining."

"Thank god for that!" Yuu nodded fervently in agreement. "I mean, we spent all our time on the bodice. If that had been destroyed, I would walk out now. But even though we didn't spend as much time on the skirt of the dress, it still sucks. We don't have any more fabric in this material either, so we can't just redo the skirt."

"What other fabrics are left?" Sora asked, turning to look at Linda.

The other girl gestured uselessly at the fabric closet. "Everyone else has used up all the lightweight fabrics – it is a summer fashion show, after all – so all that's left is the heavier stuff – tweeds and stuff. And a stiff fabric skirt with that top would make it look too formal, like business clothes." Linda sighed, massaging her temples.

Sora sat down, not knowing what to say to ease the tension so obviously set in their shoulders. She knew very little about fashion; she knew nothing about fabrics. That had always been more of Mimi's area of interest than her own. Eventually, Sora suggested awkwardly, not knowing what else to say, "Well… instead of making a new skirt, what if you made shorts? I mean, shorts would go with the summer theme pretty well."

Yuu stopped to frown at the ruined dress, as if trying to imagine what kind of shorts could go with the dress' top. "Well… maybe. It makes sense…" Yuu said slowly, glancing at Linda. "It might just work. Do you think you could make shorts in time for the show?"

"I could try," she replied hesitantly, staring at the mannequin as well. "What about a dark blue fabric, Yuu? An alternative to jean shorts…"

"We'll need a more sophisticated design that just regular shorts, then," Yuu mused. "Can you cut it like trousers? Ooh, what if we made a tuxedo-inspired vest?"

Linda rolled her eyes and laughed as she glanced at Sora meaningfully, her look clearly communicating, What did I tell you about his tendency to get carried away? "That would be a little too much for us to handle if we want to finish in time," she reminded. "I think trouser style shorts should be enough… length about mid-thigh?" She pulled out a sketchpad and began to draft her idea. "No, a little bit higher, make it a bit more…"

Sora bent over the sketchpad to watch Linda work. "Youthful?" Sora suggested, and Linda nodded in approval.

"That looks good, actually!" Yuu grew visibly excited as Linda's sketch began to take on a more defined form. "Let me check the closet for fabric, I'll be right back –"

"Sora, what kind of accessories would you wear with a look like this?" Linda asked intensely as she pushed the sketchbook over to Sora and pulled over a box of sewing supplies toward herself instead.

Taking the sketchbook, Sora considered the question. "I don't know if I would ever wear a look like this, to be honest," she said after a moment. "It's a bit…"

"Revealing?" Linda laughed. "Just a bit. I don't know, I kind of like it. We should probably dress it down, though, since everyone else is doing casual summer wear… maybe gladiator sandals and earthy bangles?"


Linda laughed again at the expression on Sora's face. "Or maybe just black flats and sunglasses."

"I thought that it was a fashion rule that you don't wear blue with black," Sora said after a moment, remembering the echo of a conversation with Mimi from months before.

"Well, there's also a fashion rule that says that you can wear black with anything," Linda responded with a satisfied smile on her face as she searched through her supplies box. "And I'm starting to think that maybe this won't be so bad after all." She cast a sad look in the direction of the mannequin. "That dress was gorgeous, but – the show must go on!"

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Sora asked, taking Yuu's vacated seat.

"We are so lucky, there was some blue corduroy left over! Just enough to make shorts, hopefully, if we're careful about placing it correctly." Yuu grinned when he returned with a bolt of dark blue fabric in his arms, which he handed over to Linda. She immediately began creating a template for the fabric while Yuu removed the ruined dress from the mannequin form with extreme care. "Can you work a sewing machine, Sora? That would be a great help, if you did."

She shook her head in answer. "I've hemmed some of my things before, but only by hand. Sewing machines intimidate me," she confessed, blushing. She felt like an amateur in front of the fashion duo.

But Linda looked up at Sora kindly at that. "Why don't you finish the hemline of the top, then? It should be pretty straightforward, just doing it by hand. That way, Yuu can help me make the shorts."

Put at ease, Sora pulled a spool of thread toward her and threaded it through a needle while Yuu snipped carefully at the dress' skirt. When he finished, she took the newly created top, marveling at the craftsmanship that had gone into it already. "This is really beautiful though, you guys. Who is going to model the outfit for you?"

"I am," Linda answered distractedly, not looking up from her pattern work. "Yuu volunteered, but he just doesn't have the shape to fill it out."

"Don't hate, you're just jealous of my curves," Yuu immediately sassed, making Sora giggle.

It seemed that Sora's addition to the team helped calm the atmosphere between the two. Linda and Yuu no longer seemed so stressed by the fact that there was a deadline still ticking away at them. Sora smiled privately to herself as she listened to the two of them chatter away, glad that she had been able to make them feel less panicky about the whole situation. She suddenly was taken by the thought that maybe she should have done fashion with the two of them. As much as she had enjoyed working on the mural with all the other artists, she had never felt as a part of the group as she did when she was with the fashion duo. And, as it turned out, Sora discovered that fashion wasn't as dull as she had previously thought. It was fascinating to watch Linda construct the beginnings of a pair of shorts in a matter of minutes. Seeing Linda work and Yuu give his input, Sora was beginning to understand why fashion and clothing could be perceived as an art form. The way the two argued over proportions and hemming detail was strikingly comparable to any discussion the painters conducted over shade selection and paintbrush preference.

By lunchtime, Sora had finished hemming the top and was busy laughing and teasing Yuu with Linda. Yuu was in the middle of imploring Sora to side with his suggestion of placing buttons instead of a zipper on the shorts when Paul appeared. "Sorry to interrupt, I know you guys are running behind schedule," he apologized, "but Sora, some of your friends are here to see you."

Sora leaned over to see around Paul. She couldn't help the smile that automatically came to her at the sight of a beaming Takaishi Takeru. A beat later, she saw that Yamato was also standing with Takeru and her smile faltered briefly, but then Takeru was immediately before her. Ignoring Yamato for the moment, Sora stood up and accepted his greeting embrace. "Oh Takeru, it's so good to see you. How long has it been?"

"A few weeks, but who's counting?" He released her with a bashfully sweet grin. "You look well."

"I feel well," she replied warmly. "Let me introduce you to my friends." She named Paul, Linda, and Yuu in turn. "This is Takeru, a childhood friend of mine. He's like the younger brother I never had. And… this is Yamato, Takeru's older brother. He came to camp to study music."

"It's good to meet you both." Linda smiled. "Are the three of you going to lunch now?"

"We have a group of friends waiting for us for lunch," Takeru confirmed. "But you looked like you were in the middle of something important. We can wait for you until you're finished, Sora."

"Nah, it's okay." Yuu patted Sora on the arm. "She was just staying to keep us company. Sora, you should go and have fun with your friends! Let us know if there's anything interesting out there for us to check out once we're finish these shorts."

Sora hesitated, feeling guilty for leaving when they were still in the middle of their construction. "Are you sure? I can still help you guys out if you need me."

"Sor, go," Linda laughed. "We'll be fine, trust me. You've done more than enough already for us. We'll catch up to you later."

Reassured that she wasn't abandoning them, Sora said her goodbyes to her art friends and led Takeru and Yamato out into the main art room. Before they could leave however, Takeru cleared his throat. "By the way, Sora, I actually need to use the bathroom before we go eat. Is there one here or somewhere nearby?"

Sora stopped. "Oh, sure. Since the art class is pretty big, we actually have a restroom in one of the rooms. It's down the hall, that way."

"Great. Sorry for making you wait for me but I'll be right back!"

It wasn't until Takeru had walked off that Sora realized belatedly that in doing so, he had unintentionally left her alone with Yamato. They technically weren't alone - there were dozens of artists milling about, some of them showing off gallery displays to the friends and family members who had already arrived - but the presence of all those other people did nothing to dilute Sora's awareness of Yamato standing beside her. That awareness only sharpened when she turned her head and saw him looking back at her.

After their… discussion on Tuesday night, Sora had gone to sleep resigned to the fact that she and Yamato were a dead end. That didn't mean that her feelings for Yamato had vanished completely though. True to their agreement, they had kept out of each other's way in the days that followed as they prepared for the camp showcase, and that distance had helped her feel better. But today felt different. Now that the mural was finished and Sora had time to look, Yamato's eyes always seemed to be on her when she least expected him. It unbalanced her. There was a part of Sora that wondered if this was all a premonition that the future would worsen once more: that they would clash in another round of heartache. But things felt differently between them now. When she looked at him, she felt cautious instead of wary.

Still, she couldn't understand what he was thinking. Searching his face, Sora sensed that he was waiting for some kind of cue from her. But for the life of her, she didn't know what that cue was.

Sora said nothing.

His eyes flitted away from her and then back. He moistened his bottom lip and crossed his arms, finally asking, "Are any of the paintings in the gallery yours?"

"Just one. I did a small watercolor before the mural project began."

"May I see it?"

Glancing over at the hallway that led to the bathrooms - she hoped that Takeru would be coming back soon - Sora nodded and took Yamato to her painting. It had been placed on the far end of the gallery, clustered with the works of artists who hadn't been as prolific as some of their other peers. She pointed out her watercolor for him: a tall vase holding a few sunflowers. "This is mine," she told him, feeling inexplicably nervous.

It felt like ages passed while Yamato took it in, his eyes roaming over the painting's details. "I don't know anything about art, but I really like how you did the glass," he said eventually. He turned and smiled hesitantly at her. "It's pretty cool, how you captured the light going through it and everything."

"Thanks." Amazed that he had picked up on that detail, Sora cleared her throat and shifted her weight. She fixed her eyes on the painting. "That was the part that worried me the most. I put off on painting it until the very end because I was sure I was going to mess it up. I had Paul show me his tricks, since he's the watercolor expert and everything. And even then, I spent hours practicing how to paint it on other scraps of paper before doing it for real. " She forcibly stopped herself there with a flush, suddenly acutely aware of her self-conscious babble.

If he noticed it though, Yamato didn't say anything about it. "Well, it shows. The painting is amazing."

Sora glanced around at the other paintings, trying in vain to find one that she thought he would like. Before she could make up her mind, Yamato cleared his throat and asked, "How have you been? These past few days."

"I've been good. A little tired from painting the mural, but I'm glad that it's done now. It's be nice to get to know the artists better, too." Even to her own ears, Sora sounded forced in her cheerfulness. Nonetheless, she plowed on steadily and said, "What about you?"

"Okay, I guess. Just practicing, avoiding Kosuke. The usual."

Yamato looked at her with that unsettling look in his eyes once more. Seeing it again - Sora felt herself being overtaken by a wave of irrational panic. Certain that he would do or say something that she wasn't prepared to deal with, Sora reflexively said, "I wonder what's taking Takeru so long. We shouldn't keep the others waiting. Do you think you could go and check on him? I'll wait for you outside the cabin."

She already moved to back away, and so he had no choice but to agree, "Sure."

Sora watched him leave before she walked outside, feeling both relieved and confused. She wasn't sure if she imagined it or not, but for a brief moment, she thought she saw Yamato's shoulder slump slightly as he strode away.

Mimi laughed delightedly at Sora and Yamato's twin expressions of shock when they finally arrived with Takeru for lunch. She waved cheekily at them. "Surprise, surprise!"

Sora cried out, "Mimi!" and ran toward her. Mimi quickly stood up and intercepted Sora's joyful embrace. "I've missed you so much!"

"I've missed you too, Sora." Mimi smoothed the other girl's hair briefly before they let each other go. "Oh, it's so good to see you again! And you too, Yamato," Mimi added as Yamato came over to give her a one-armed hug. "What took you guys so long? We've been waiting for the original eight to reunite before we ate lunch. Come on you three, we already bought food for you too - sit down and eat - "

"Yes ma'am!" Takeru grinned, plopping down on the ground in the spot between Mimi and Hikari. "You're the best, Mimi."

While they ate, Mimi found that there was a permanent smile on her face. She couldn't help but stop every so often to soak up the atmosphere. There was nothing like being reunited with old friends after a long time apart. Although six years had now passed since she had moved away from Tokyo, New York City wasn't really her home. Her home was here, in the humid weather with her closest friends. Happiness bubbled up through her chest, spreading warmth to her very toes. Just another year left to go and I can move back, she thought. The time to return to Japan couldn't come quickly enough for her.

"Hey, now that we're all together," Taichi said, leaning forward, "Hikari mentioned before that something was going on in the Digital World. Can you and Takeru catch us up?"

That got Mimi's attention right away. This was the first instance that she'd heard of something going on with the Digital World since arriving in Tokyo. Worried, she turned with everyone else and watched Takeru and Hikari communicate in a wordless exchange. Eventually, with a small nod, Takeru faced everyone. "There's kind of a delicate situation that we're dealing with right now," he began, "and it involves two unfriendly Digimon flocks."

Mimi listened carefully as Takeru and Hikari took turns recounting their past few days in the Digital World, detailing the argument between the Kokatorimon and Falcomon flocks. "Remember the Kokatorimon that we ran into when we were hiding from Etemon?" Mimi couldn't help but comment when they were finished with their report. She wrinkled her nose. "And all of those Numemon on its ship too, pee-ew!"

Yamato chuckled. "That definitely wasn't one of our better days in the Digital World. But hey, don't forget, you found your Crest of Purity because of Kokatorimon's ship. It wasn't all bad."

"That's true…"

"What I want to know is why the Kokatorimon decided to move onto the Falcomon's lands in the first place." Sora wiped her fingers on a napkin. Her eyebrows drew together. "I mean, they had to trek all the way from Mount Panorama through the Gear Savanna, right? That's not exactly an easy journey if you don't have enough provisions."

"Sora's right." Koushiro had opened his laptop during Takeru and Hikari's briefing and was now typing rapidly. "I'm pulling up a map of File Island," he explained, his eyes focused on the screen before him. "My information is outdated because I haven't had a chance to program in the effects of the famine yet. But if I'm looking at this map correctly, there are other abundant food sources nearby Mount Panorama. Why go through the Gear Savanna at all?"

Mimi bit her lip as a thought occurred to her. "But we don't know how far the famine has spread. What if all those other food sources were also destroyed? Then all the Digimon in that area are suffering, not just the Kokatorimon."

"We'll have to analyze Mount Panorama," Koushiro began to mutter under his breath, his fingers typing even faster. "Soil samples for one thing. We need to figure out what kinds of nutrients are still available."

"We would have to also find out what kind of nutrients are needed to produce the food that the Digimon in the area usually eat." Jyou looked over Koushiro's shoulder before looking up at everyone else. "Do we know if Digimon use fertilizers at all? I can't believe we've never thought about farming and food production in the Digital World. I'm starting to get the feeling that we should have looked into it when the famine first began. We should have done the research to prepare for the aftermath."

"Don't beat yourself up about it, Jyou. I'll talk to Gennai about it, promise." Taichi squeezed Jyou's shoulder in reassurance. "He would know about digital fertilizers if there are any. I'll take Agumon around Mount Panorama to find out what happened to all of the Kokatorimon's neighbors, too," he added, nodding at Mimi. "We have a responsibility to all the Digimon who have been affected by the famine."

Mimi smiled, glad that her concern was being acknowledged. She volunteered, "Palmon and I will come with you."

Yamato cleared his throat. "That's all well and good, but we still haven't talked about what to do about the Kokatorimon specifically. I like the idea of teaching them to farm as a decent long-term goal, but we need a short-term solution to keep the Kokatorimon from fighting the Falcomon for now." He addressed Hikari and Takeru directly, "How have your negotiations progressed with the two flocks? Do their ambassadors respond particularly well to any mediators we've had talk to them so far?"

"Well, we know that the Kokatorimon ambassador doesn't like me," Hikari said with a self-deprecating laugh, lowering her eyes. "Both ambassadors prefer talking to Ken and Daisuke. I guess I'm not as good of a mediator as I thought I was."

"Hey, don't say that." Mimi watched with raised eyebrows as Takeru touched Hikari's forearm. He spoke to her softly, "That Kokatorimon ambassador was just having a bad day. By the time it was his turn to talk to us, he decided to take out his frustrations on us. It's not anything you did."

Mimi's gaze flickered over to the rest of the group to see if anyone else had noticed what just happened. Sora had already turned to Jyou, the pair of them discussing mediation tactics; Koushiro had appealed to Taichi's attention, so they had missed Yamato's question entirely. Only Yamato was watching the youngest of the group with as much interest as her. He seemed to focus in on his brother's actions, and the beginnings of a smile twitch at the corners of Yamato's lips before he turned to join Jyou and Sora's discussion. Taking his cue to not make a production out of it, Mimi leaned over to join Koushiro and Taichi's conversation. She still made a mental note to ask Takeru or Hikari on their latest development, though.

And on the topic of relationship developments… She surreptitiously looked between Sora and Yamato. They were definitely friendlier to each other than the last time she had seen them in person, as Koushiro had told her. But Mimi got the feeling that there was something deeper there. She made another mental note for herself to pursue later when the opportunity came up.

The rest of lunch passed quickly. When the group grew tired of discussing the Digital World - since there was only so much they could plan for without the rest of the Chosen with them - the conversation grew more light-hearted. There was plenty of teasing and laughter as they ate their desserts and planned group activities for the rest of the summer. Mimi would have more than content to just lounge around in the shade for hours, but they were visiting for a camp showcase after all. "Let's go walk around," Jyou suggested. "There are a lot of displays that we haven't seen yet, and the performances are going to start in a couple of hours."

Koushiro pulled on his backpack. "How about we head over to the engineering display?" he suggested. "They should be done with set-up by now."

"So now we get to find out what the surprise project was?" Sora teased as the group got to their feet, dusting the grass and dirt from their bottoms. "I have high expectations, Koushiro, I've been waiting days for the unveiling."

He rubbed the back of his head and chuckled nervously. "Well, I hope that you won't be disappointed then."

Mimi was patting down her pockets to make sure she had all her things (phone, map, Digivice, check!) when she overheard Yamato apologize under the cover of everyone else's chatter, "Sorry Koushiro, but I think I'd better get going. I need to practice my music some more. And find Akira, he's supposed to be around here somewhere."

The name was vaguely familiar to Mimi. "Who's Akira?" she asked. "That name…"

"He's Yamato's band member. The TEEN-AGE WOLVES' guitarist."

Koushiro and Yamato both jumped at the sound of Sora's voice. Blinking, Mimi looked back at forth between the boys and Sora, noticing immediately how Yamato looked abashed. Even Koushiro pulled at the collar of his shirt uncomfortably. The others had already started walking away, with Taichi explaining to Jyou, Hikari, and Takeru of how Koushiro had kept the engineering project a secret from everyone. But among the four of them who had fallen behind, it felt to Mimi the atmosphere couldn't have been more awkward. Apparently, Koushiro hadn't given her the full story when she had asked. Either that or (since Mimi wanted to give Koushiro the benefit of the doubt) there was a lot more going on between Sora and Yamato than even Koushiro had been aware of.

Belatedly, Mimi realized that it might not have been a smart move to trust Koushiro's observations of their friends' relationship entirely. It wasn't that he would have deceived her, but it was a lot to expect him to pick up on the nuances of Sora and Yamato's obviously delicate relationship. First of all, he was a boy. Boys just weren't good at reporting this kind of thing. And second… well, this was Koushiro she was talking about. He spent more than half his time behind his computer; he was bound to miss a few things.

Yamato suddenly addressed her, bringing Mimi out of her musings, "I'll see you later, Mimi. "Sorry I can't spend more time with you right now, but…"

"No, it's okay." She smiled, hoping to convey her understanding. "We'll have plenty of time to socialize after you get back from camp. Go and practice, we'll catch up later."

He glanced at Sora and then walked away. Mimi, Sora, and Koushiro then hurried to catch up with the others. "What took you guys?" Taichi asked when they joined up. "Hey, where'd Yamato go? Isn't he coming with us?" Taichi asked Mimi when she fell into step beside him at the front of the group.

She shook her head. "No, he said he needed to practice his music some more."

"Ah, okay. I'm not surprised, he's been doing that the entire time we've been in camp. As a best friend, I've definitely been feeling neglected by him," Taichi joked, his eyes crinkling.

Mimi laughed. "Aww, Taichi, it's okay." Suddenly she was struck by inspiration, and she looked at Taichi speculatively. She had forgotten that Taichi was best friends with both Sora and Yamato. Wouldn't he know better than anyone what was going on between the two of them? After all, everyone confided in their best friend when they were going through something. But would Taichi answer if Mimi asked him about Sora's relationship with Yamato? The chances were slim, Mimi concluded after a moment's consideration. Taichi could be very protective of Sora, and he might have some sort of bro-code of silence with Yamato. If she wanted Taichi to tell her what was going on, she had to maneuver him into it very carefully.

She was going to have to be sneaky.

First she checked behind them to make sure there was enough space between them and the rest of the group. When she saw that there was, Mimi cleared her throat and sidled up closer to Taichi. "So... Taichi…"

"Uh oh." He looked down at her wryly. "I know that tone of voice of yours. What do you want?"

Busted. Mimi told herself to stay cool. She could still get this to work. "Who says I want anything?" She blinked at him innocently, using all of her effort to pretend to be confused.

He just wrinkled his nose at her. "Tachikawa Mimi, I know you better than that."

"I was just going to ask how you were doing." She pouted and crossed her arms. She continued dramatically, "Aren't I even allowed to ask one of my best friends how his life has been? Or is that a crime now?" She huffed and turned her head away, nose up in the air.

Taichi laughed. "Geez, Mimi. Okay, okay! I get it, I'm sorry."

"That's not good enough," she insisted, though she bit her lip to hold back the laughter that threatened to escape from her.

He started to jokingly plead, "Please, Mimi? C'mon, don't be mad with me. I'm sorry, I was just joking. I'll make it up to you. How about… hey, look, they're selling ice cream over there. Do you want one? My treat, if you forgive me."

Mimi threw him a mock-glare. "You're terrible. Bribing me to forgive you?" She flipped her hair over her shoulder, turning away from him.

"Well, it's not like I can buy you flowers. I figured ice cream was the next best thing." He shrugged and smiled crookedly at her. "Really, though, Mimi. Forgive me? I didn't mean to offend you."

She paused - giving him time to sweat a little - before sneaking a glance. He looked properly apologetically and she gave in. "Oh, all right." She giggled and relaxed. "So, ice cream?"

"I did promise." Taichi turned around. "Hey, Koushiro, Mimi and I will catch up with you guys in a bit, okay? I'm going to buy her an ice cream."

Koushiro nodded agreeably. "We'll see you soon then."

"Taichi, you're so sweet," Mimi trilled as she and Taichi walked toward the ice cream stand. "I hope they have green tea, it's my favorite flavor. Ooh! Or strawberry. Or vanilla. The classics are always delicious."

Amused, he smiled. "I'm positive they'll have green tea ice cream. Anyway, so what was it that you wanted to talk to me about? Before you got all mad at me and everything?"

Mimi shrugged easily. "I really did want to ask what's been going on with you and everyone else. Like, aside from camp. What's changed since I last saw all of you?" She admitted with true sincerity, "To be honest, it's not easy being the only one who lives far away. While the rest of you guys are all here and going out on the weekends with each other, I'm… by myself. With people who are nice, don't get me wrong, but people who don't really understand our culture and heritage."

Taichi stopped to look at her, concern etched in his face. "Mimi, is this the real reason why you're coming back to Japan? I thought you said you were coming back because your dad was getting transferred back to his company's headquarters."

"No, he is!" Mimi hurriedly reassured, not wanting him to get the wrong idea. "I do love New York and America. I'm happy I had the chance to learn new things and make strong bonds with new people. I'm just saying that I miss being here. Being a Chosen with the people who I went on my Digital World adventures with."

He was visibly relieved at her answer. "That's good. None of us want you to be unhappy. We miss you too," Taichi said anxiously. "Even when we do get the chance to go out - and it's a lot rarer than you think - it's not complete. We always feel the hole from where you're supposed to be. Don't ever think that it doesn't matter to us that you're not around, even for the little boring things."

She felt unexpectedly touched by his words. She wiped at the inner corner of her eye and coughed. "Gosh, that got emotional. So tell me, what's being going on with you?"

Taichi filled her in on the details of his camp experiences - the struggles with his team, the new friends he had made. "Hopefully you'll get to meet Wakana and Susumu later, but I don't know how much time we'll have after the orchestra performs," Taichi said as they waited in line for Mimi's ice cream. "But I think that Wakana is pretty close to Sora and Yamato, so you might meet her at some point during your visit."

Mimi couldn't have asked for a better opening that that. Casually, she asked, "Speaking of Sora and Yamato, how are they doing? You know, in that way," she said with emphasis so that there would be no room for doubt. "I couldn't help but notice that Sora and Yamato were acting a lot better than how they were the last time we saw each other in the DW, so that makes me happier. But there's something still not right going on, isn't there? I kept getting that feeling at lunch. I couldn't figure it out though."

At this point, they had reached the front of the ice cream line. "One scoop of green tea, please, in a waffle cone," Taichi requested. He handed over the appropriate number of tickets and delivered the ice cream to Mimi before hesitantly saying, "A lot has been going on since the last time you were here, that's true." He carefully evaluated Mimi's expression as they left for the engineering area. "You look like you at least have some idea of what's being going on, though. Tell me what you already know and I'll try to fill in the gaps for you if I can."

"Okay." Mimi licked at her ice cream first while she thought back. "The last time I saw Yamato and Sora was when they were still really angry with each other, around winter break last year. They were doing the whole cold-shoulder thing. But I know that you and Gabumon and Piyoman got through to them eventually and they started being nice again. Sora told me herself that she and Yamato were at least friendly when the whole camp idea started." She then recounted her last conversation with Koushiro. "The thing that's throwing me off is that Koushiro said Yamato and Sora were back to normal. But today at lunch, it definitely didn't look that way. So did something else happen? Or is this just the way things are now?" Mimi shook her head. "Because that's… that's not normal. Not to me."

Taichi rested his hand on her shoulder. "I know how you feel, Mimi. I felt the same way for a long time too. But the thing is, if 'normal' to you is when Sora and Yamato are girlfriend and boyfriend… I'll be honest, I don't think things are ever gonna go back to 'normal' again."

Crestfallen, Mimi's shoulders fell. "What do you mean?"

"They've been dealing with all sorts of issues. You know, the kind of stuff that's been left over from their messy break up? I'm pretty sure that's why things are still weird for them."

"You sound like you know a lot more than you're saying, Taichi."

"I may have butted my way into some of their issues even though it probably wasn't a good idea," he admitted. "I've learned my lesson, though. I kind of promised to leave them alone about it and to stop interfering in their business."

That made her crack a smile. "Sounds like a hard job for you."

"You have no idea."

Mimi's smile faded. "So in your opinion, what are the chances of their getting back together again? I mean, Taichi, is it totally hopeless?"

She noticed that her question had made Taichi uneasy. He scratched his elbow and said uncomfortably, "You know, if you asked me that last week, I would have bet that their chances were pretty high. They were starting to get close again, and, I don't know, I thought it was a good sign. But after kind of hearing both sides of the story… who knows? Every time they work through one issue, more pop up and get in the way. I get the feeling that there's even more things keeping them apart, stuff that they're just hiding inside themselves still." He sighed. "To tell you the truth, Mimi, until they get all their issues sorted out and get through all their misunderstandings, I don't think that Sora and Yamato are gonna get back together."

In truth, after hearing everything else that Taichi had to say, his conclusion didn't really surprise her. If there was one thing she despaired most about Sora and Yamato, it was their mutual tendency to keep their deepest feelings to themselves. The only thing that Mimi could think of off the top of her head that would be harder than getting the Chosen of Love and Friendship to open up about their personal turmoil was convincing Koushiro to go anywhere without his laptop. "Too bad we can't just lock them inside a closet together until they work all their issues out," she attempted to joke half-heartedly. "That always seems to work well in the romantic comedies."

Taichi answering smile could only be described as strained. "Yeah. Too bad."

Manami spread out the conductor's score of Ghosts of Brandenburg on her office desk. While she carefully scanned the measures, she conjured up the memory of her orchestra playing each part, remembering their synchronization and overall sound. As she went through the music, she removed Post-It notes and placed new ones accordingly, marking trouble areas and last-minute reminders. Review with second violins, she'd written on one movement. Have violas and cellos rehearse, on another. By the end of her appraisal, Manami had removed most of the Post-Its. Only a few remained.

Thank goodness for that, she thought, leaning back in her chair with a small sigh.

Even though the dramatics of the orchestra at times suggested otherwise, Manami was certain that their performance that night would go well. It wouldn't be perfect - no one could expect that much from a group of high school musicians - but it would be far from the disaster that Kosuke insisted it would be. At the thought of her concertmaster, Manami had to bite back a small laugh. As ungracious as it would be to admit, she couldn't wait to not have to be in charge of reigning in Kosuke once camp was over. One primadonna musician was quite more than she wanted to deal with in her career as a conductor, thank you.

Her eyes caught the reflection of her desk clock. A quarter to four - she would have to get going soon. The music scouts were due to arrive at around four fifteen, and Manami wanted to be there to welcome them to Camp Odake with Ran. It never hurt to gain more contacts within the orchestral industry after all.

While Manami cleaned up her desk, a knock on the door interrupted her. "Come in," she called. It was with surprise that she saw the cello section leader standing in her doorway. "Kayo, what can I do for you?"

The younger girl stepped inside the office. "There's something I need to talk to you about. About tonight's performance."

Perplexed, Manami glanced at the clock again. "Can it wait? The music scouts will be arriving soon and I need to go greet them. Maybe after I come back?"

"It will only take a minute, I promise," Kayo insisted, determined. "This is important."