A shaft of moonlight fell through the window to spill across the girl's face, making her red hair turn golden and her eyes shine like pale amethysts. It was nearly midnight, but Ruki found herself neither wanting nor needing to fall asleep. Her body could be forgotten for a while; her mind was energized, and she wanted to stay awake and attend to it.
Outside, a gibbous moon glowed softly, mixing its silvery light with the distant glimmers of streetlights and cars. Even so, a few stars managed to shine, shyly making their entrances on the sky's brightly illuminated stage. Ruki had always considered herself above such childish nonsense as wishing on stars. Even so, she couldn't help but be fascinated by them tonight - them, and what they represented. To those who dared to dream, the stars were symbols of hope, distant dreams that still looked close enough to touch. She stared at them as they made their slow way across the sky. Maybe, somewhere deep inside, she made a wish after all, even if she couldn't let herself put it into words.
This isn't getting me anywhere, she thought, a bit annoyed at herself. If I'm not going to sleep, I might as well get up.
She suited action to thought, shoving back her covers and walking to the door. The air of a fall night touched her skin, raising a chill along her arms and the back of her neck, but she ignored it. That was her nature; weakness was to be battled, not succumbed to, even such a small weakness as a few shivers. She considered putting some clothes on, but decided there was no point in it. It was the middle of the night. There was no one awake to see her if she wanted to walk around in her nightgown. She went to the doors that led out into the garden, hesitated a moment, then made up her mind. The doors were pushed aside, and she slipped out into the night.
It was even colder outside, but the cold was as good as sleep for energizing her, and she took a few deep breaths of the night air. High overhead were the stars and moon, turning everything around her into a pencil-sketch world of silver and shadows. The water in the pond rippled softly in the breeze, matching the movement of the bending water plants. A few night insects sang softly, blotting out the city noises. Ruki had never been fond of sparkles and frills, but she could appreciate this kind of simple, serene beauty. If she didn't let herself look at the skyline, she could almost convince herself that she was in a world of her own, far away from anyone.
Of course, she was never really alone. Even as the thought came to her, a bit of shadow in a far corner swirled, and Renamon stepped out to join her.
"Ruki," the fox-woman greeted.
Ruki nodded silently. They stood for a moment, face to face, saying nothing. There was nothing Ruki could say. Never garrulous at the best of times, she now felt completely incapable of speech. In the moonlight, Renamon's golden fur seemed to glow, making her look like something from a dream, or as she had when they had first met. Looking at her now, Ruki felt that same sense of awe rising up inside of her, reminding her once again, fearfully and wonderfully, that she was standing not four feet away from a being of real, living magic. She had the sudden sense that mysterious things were about to her again, as if there was something in this nighttime meeting that was predestined. She couldn't quite meet Renamon's gaze, and she turned instead to the stars again, as if she could read the answers there.
"Why are you out this late at night?" asked Renamon. "You need your sleep, Ruki. You've got to keep up your strength."
"I'm all right," Ruki answered, a bit more sharply than she meant to. "I can take care of myself, you know."
"Yes, I know," answered Renamon. The fox half-turned, as if to walk away, and Ruki dropped her gaze to look at her. Renamon's voice had always had an edge to it, something that reminded Ruki of the moonlight and the shadowed water, but now she thought she had picked up an undercurrent of sadness as well. "You know that I need to look after you. Whether you need me or not."
"Well, I'm fine, so you don't need to worry," said Ruki.
A night wind found its way past the garden walls, tugging at the hem of Ruki's nightgown and rearranging her hair. Despite all her efforts, she shivered.
"You're not fine," Renamon said. "You should be more careful, or you'll get sick."
Before the girl could react, the fox had glided behind her, reaching around her waist and wrapping her in a warm pair of arms and a furry tail. Suddenly, the wind couldn't touch her. She felt as warm as if she was sitting by a fire, a warmth that spread inside and out of her.
"Let me protect you," said a voice in her ear.
"Don't touch me," Ruki said, pulling roughly away. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm only trying to help," said Renamon. "But if you don't want me to..."
She faded into the shadows, vanishing the way she'd come.
"Hey, wait!" said Ruki. "I didn't mean... Renamon? Where'd you go?"
Renamon reappeared on the other side of the garden.
"Did you think I was going to leave entirely?" she asked. "I'm only trying to do what you want me to. Haven't I told you that? But it's so hard when you just push me away every time I think we're getting closer."
Ruki shook herself, trying to break loose from the feelings she was having.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
Renamon shrugged. "Every day. Every time. The day we met, you said you wanted me for your partner, so I fought for you with all my strength. You told me I was nothing but a computer program, a bit of data that had somehow learned to walk about on its own. I won every battle you sent me to, and you were disappointed in me. When I evolved for you, you were proud. I could see it in your eyes. I thought things would change for us, but you're just as you always were, calling me when you need me and pushing me away when you don't. What more can I do for you, Ruki? What more do you want?"
Ruki had to shake herself again. She was remembering the day Renamon was talking about, the day she had first digivolved. She had held Ruki in her arms that day, trying to protect her just as she had been a few moments ago. She had been willing to die that day, all for Ruki's sake. The memory stung, and she bowed her head, trying not to let Renamon see her on the verge of tears.
"Maybe I want something you can't give me," she said.
"What could that be?" Renamon asked. "Don't you know I'd do anything for you?"
"But there are things you can't do," said Ruki. "You can't change me."
"Why would I want to do that? There's nothing about you that needs to be changed."
"Yes, there is."
"Why won't you look at me when you say that?"
Ruki said nothing. Renamon padded closer again, touching a paw to Ruki's chin, gently tilting her head so she could look into her eyes. The moonlight sparkled on two damp tracks on her cheeks. Renamon turned her head, closing her eyes.
"No wonder," said Renamon softly. "I'm sorry, Ruki. I didn't mean to."
"Didn't mean to what?"
"Didn't mean to see you cry. Forgive me."
Ruki gave a shrug and turned away again, rubbing at her face with the sleeve of her gown. She wasn't sure she wanted to forgive Renamon right now. That was part of the whole problem. She wanted her partner to know what she was feeling, but she couldn't tell her. She couldn't, because everything she'd ever made herself believe told her that displaying her feelings before anyone was a sign of weakness, and Renamon was the last person she'd ever show weakness to, not after she had been so merciless in trying to beat out every vestige of weakness in her. She sighed deeply, staring up at the sky.
Just once, she thought, even for a few minutes, I wish I could be someone else. Someone who didn't have so much damn foolish pride she can't even talk to her own Digimon.
"So, what are you doing out here, anyway?" she muttered. "Besides spying on me."
"I don't spy," said Renamon mildly. "You should know by now that I'm always near you, watching and waiting... but at night, when you're asleep, sometimes I walk by myself and think."
"About everything. About my life. About you," Renamon replied.
"You think about me?"
"What else should I think about?" asked Renamon. "You've told me often enough that I'm only a program, something from a game. It was your strength of will that brought me into being. You are my life now."
"Don't say things like that," said Ruki. "You could do just fine without me."
"I wouldn't be happy," Renamon answered. "Ruki... why are you so cold to me? I thought you cared about me. Why won't you show it?"
"What would be the point?" Ruki replied. "What does it matter? You - you're just data. You're here to fight. Why do I have to care about you?"
"You say that as if it mattered."
"What I am. What difference does it make whether I'm a computer program or a playing card or an animal - or even a human?" Renamon asked. "I'm still alive. I have feelings. I care more about you than anything else. Shouldn't that be a good enough reason for you to care in return?"
"No," Ruki snapped. "Look, just because I don't want to lose you doesn't mean I - I'm in love with you or something. That'd be so stupid, to have feelings for something that might not even be real."
"What do you mean by real? Do you mean that I might not be standing here talking to you?"
"No! Of course not."
"Well... you're just not like me. You're a program, and programs can end any time. I could turn around tomorrow and you won't even be there."
"People die, too. That doesn't stop you from caring about them."
"Yes, it does."
Wait, I didn't mean that, Ruki thought. Or did I? Who do I care about? I don't have any friends but Renamon... Mom and Grandma never understood me... I don't even know who my father is... Love is for losers. I don't want anyone to be able to hurt me. I especially can't care about Renamon. If I give her part of myself, and then lose her, I'll never be good for anything ever again. But... she's my partner. No matter how hard I try, I just can't not feel anything... Damn you, Renamon, why do you have to ask me these questions? Why do you have to get in my heart and pull out all the things I don't want to look at? I hate it. I... I hate it...
"You don't really mean that."
"That you don't care about anyone. You can't lie to me, Ruki."
"Oh, yeah? Well, maybe I have a good reason for saying the things I say. Maybe I don't want you poking your nose in my business all the time. Do you have to know everything that goes on in my head? Huh? Do you?"
"No," Renamon answered. "I just wish you would trust me, that's all. What are you afraid of?"
"How dare you ask me that? I'm not afraid of anything."
Renamon nodded. "Yes. How well I know."
Ruki glared at her, but those emerald eyes were as unreadable as the ripples in the pond. Still, she thought she had caught something - maybe in her tone of voice, maybe in a change of stance or a flick of her tail - something that communicated a very different meaning. She stared, trying to be sure.
I guess we really can't lie to each other, she thought. You know exactly what I'm afraid of, don't you? I'm afraid - I was always afraid - to care about anyone, or have anyone care about me. I kept everyone away from me. Then you had to show up... For you, just you, I wish I could change what I am. I wish it were easy to love you.
The wind whipped by again, chasing clouds across the heavens, making stars wink in and out of sight. The garden became dark, and Ruki shivered, pulling her gown more closely around herself. She turned her back on Renamon, looking back toward her room.
"I shouldn't be out here," she said. "You were right, it's too cold out here. I think it's going to rain."
"It will," said Renamon's voice. "It would be best if you went back inside."
"What about you?" The words slipped out before Ruki could think about them.
"The cold doesn't bother me. Or the rain. Or darkness."
"Isn't there anything that ever bothers you?"
"Only one thing."
Ruki was glad Renamon couldn't see her wince. Why are you doing that? I liked it better when you just came out and accused me. I can't deny an accusation you aren't making, not without sounding like I'm admitting something... I'm admitting something, aren't I? Why are you telling me the only thing that hurts you is not being with me? You can't like me that much, can you? Not with me being the way I am... but its true, isn't it? If I looked now, would you be crying, like I was?
"If I was with you, would I be safe from the rain, too?"
There was a thoughtful pause. "I think I could make sure of that."
"Then why should I leave?"
"I thought that was what you wanted to do."
"Yeah, well... sometimes even I don't know what I want. But it would be pretty pointless to come out here just to turn around and go back inside, wouldn't it?"
"Perhaps," Renamon replied. "Can you think of something else you'd rather do."
"I don't know... Where do you go at night?"
"Would you like me to show you?"
"I guess so," said Ruki, not quite hitting her usual bored tones.
"You can't travel where I can," Renamon informed her. "I'll have to carry you."
"I don't mind that."
"Don't you? I was under the impression that you didn't like being carried."
"If I don't let you carry me, I'll never get anywhere, will I?" Ruki replied.
The shadows in front of her warped again, allowing her partner to materialize in front of her, crouching on the ground, less like an animal and more like a sprinter preparing for a race.
"Climb on," said Renamon.
Ruki did as she was told, climbing onto her partner's shoulders like a child going for a piggyback ride, clinging to Renamon's golden fur.
"Hold on tight," the fox commanded. "You're safe as long as you're with me."
"Huh?" said Ruki. "What do you mean, I'm safe? There's nothing out tonight that could-"
She didn't have a chance to finish the sentence before Renamon moved, and she had no choice then but to stay quiet and hold on. The fox moved like a beam of light, straight up, landing lightly on the roof. Then she jumped again, up into the sky, and Ruki got a brief impression of stars and clouds and shadows, swirling shadows...
And suddenly they were standing on a rooftop in Tokyo, looking down on the rivers of streetcars.
Oh. So that's how she does it.
Renamon leapt again, landing on the next rooftop, moving weightlessly as fog, finally dropping into an alley and slipping under the shelter of a rusty fire escape just as a soft rain began to fall. From the protection of the shadows, they watched the cars trundle by, their lights shimmering on the wet streets, the raindrops glinting like jewels as they fell past lamps and neon signs. No one bothered to look at the golden fox and the redheaded girl who watched the light show in contented silence.
"Is this better than being indoors?" asked Renamon after a while.
"Yeah," said Ruki, not knowing that she was smiling. "Thanks, Renamon."
Renamon's face was not an expressive one, but the light in her eyes and the tone of her voice was content. "You're welcome."
They were quiet after that, watching the rain go from a solid shower to a drizzle to a thin mist that made everything glow. Then it stopped altogether, leaving nothing more than a sheen of raindrops on the road and a few rapidly dispelling clouds.
"Look," said Ruki drowsily, her head leaning on Renamon's shoulder. "The stars are coming back."
"Why don't you make a wish?" Renamon replied.
"I've already had my share of wishes," said Ruki. "I don't need any more."
"You should never run out of wishes. People like you and I need something to fight for, or our lives are empty."
"Maybe," said Ruki, "but when I first got my Digivice, I thought I could make a wish, so I did, and it came true. How many times can that happen?"
"As many times as you're willing to fight for your dreams," Renamon answered, "and I know you're a fighter."
"All right, then," said Ruki. She turned her eyes to the single star she could see glimmering through the clouds. What was there to wish for? Not much, only that maybe there would be another rainy night like this one, someday when she was older and wiser and knew how to say what she felt.
"Okay," she said. "I made my wish. Now we wait and see, huh?"
Renamon nodded. "And I've made mine. Are you ready to go home now? It's not long before morning, and you still need your sleep."
Ruki yawned. "I'm ready. Let's go home."
She hardly noticed how the trip home passed, getting only a feeling of movement through light and darkness, caring only that Renamon was there to protect her. It was funny how you felt things so much more deeply when you were tired. She could barely keep her eyes open as they landed back in the garden, and she didn't object as Renamon carried her into her room and tucked her back into her bed.
"Thanks," she murmured, snuggling under the blankets.
"It was nothing. I've enjoyed tonight," Renamon answered. "Rika... I know they say if you tell someone the wish you make, it won't come true, but... what about the wish you made that's come true already? What did you wish for?"
Ruki was almost asleep; the question might as well have been part of a dream - the only place where she ever would have answered.
"You," she said.
Renamon was stunned. It took her a moment to find any response at all. "Really? Do you mean it?"
But there was no answer. Ruki was already sound asleep.