"Oh, please don't rain, please don't rain, please don't rain..."
Carly vaulted out of her car and went pelting up the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians, running in a crouch as though already trying to shield herself from the rain that mercifully wasn't falling yet. Clouds hung menacingly over the city, pressing down on it like a great gray hand, and winds whipped at her long hair and threatened to tear the papers she was carrying right out of her grip, but she hadn't been able to find a parking place any closer to her apartment building. All she could do was run as fast as she could and hope to get there before the weather did.
The first few tentative drops started to fall just as she reached the front door. She nearly dropped her things in her hurry to get inside, and it took an effort to make the door shut again with the wind blowing on it. She managed to slam it shut at last and leaned on it, panting, as though she expected the storm to try to fight its way inside.
"The reports all said it was going to be sunny today," she complained. "Why do these things always happen to me?"
Still, she had made it home safe and mostly dry, and that was an accomplishment. She took the elevator up to her floor, taking advantage of the ride to go over the armload of printouts, magazines, and newspaper clippings she had assembled. She was working on some background research for a feature story she was supposed to be doing on the renovation of Satellite, trying to get a before-and-after view of things. Her boss had not been strongly in favor of the idea, but that only made her more determined to make a go of it. Her mind was still mostly occupied with that when she reached her door and realized that noise was coming from the other side of it.
Carly tensed. Carefully, she tucked the things she was carrying under one arm. With one hand, she began noiselessly unlocking the door and turning the handle. With the other, she reached into her pocket - not for a weapon or a phone, but for her camera. If she could catch a burglar in the act of robbing her home, it would be the most exciting story she'd covered in months. She pushed the door open a crack and peered inside.
Her television was on, the volume cranked up. A pair of D-Wheelers were locked in a tense battle with each other, filling the screen with blasts and flashes as their monsters clashed. Enjoying the spectacle was a man sprawled across Carly's sofa eating popcorn.
"Oh, it's you," said Carly. "I was hoping for a burglar."
Jack turned towards her and raised an eyebrow.
"Nice to know where I rank," he said.
Carly blushed furiously. "Ah, no, I didn't mean..."
Then she stopped, because Jack has obviously stopped paying attention to her. He had already gone back to watching the game. She shrugged and ambled over to her desk, dumping her things onto it. She started to boot up her computer. As nice as having Jack around was, she knew better than to expect much of him while there were duels to distract him.
"So, what are you doing here, anyway?" she asked, as the startup screen blinked into view.
"I'm watching the game."
"Well, yeah, but why are you watching it here?" she persisted. For one thing, her television was secondhand and rather on the small side. The one that Jack shared with Yusei and Crow was likewise secondhand, but unlike Carly's, Bruno and Yusei had taken it apart in a bored moment and had reconfigured it to do all kinds of interesting things. It was probable that no one else in the city had a TV with as many functions as that one.
"They started repainting all our D-Wheels today," said Jack, "so they'll look good for the tournament, and the whole garage smells like paint. You can't even breathe in there, much less do anything else. So I used the spare key you gave me and came in here."
"Got it," said Carly. "And I see you found the popcorn, too."
"Were you hiding it?"
"I guess not," she said. She decided that pursuing the subject would only lead to a headache, and distract her from her story, so she let it drop. She supposed she should just be glad he was here watching her TV and eating her popcorn when he could have probably done the same anywhere else, if he chose. Certainly she could think of a few other women who would volunteer. Then again, he probably didn't have a key to their apartments...
"I'm getting something to drink," she said. "Want anything?"
"Whatever you're having is fine."
Carly interpreted that as "As long as what you're having is coffee" and started a pot brewing. It began gurgling to itself, and Jack made a noise of approval. While Carly waited for it to finish, she drifted over to the window to look out at the wet world. The storm had begun in earnest, and the rain was coming down so hard it was hard to see anything across the street but the blurry glow of lights.
"Boy, I got home just in time," said Carly. "Any longer and I would have had to swim home."
"You think you're lucky?" said Jack. "I drive a motorcycle."
"Hey, if this keeps up, you might have to spend the night here," Carly teased. "Wouldn't that be fun?"
Jack mulled the idea over for a few seconds before shrugging. "Wouldn't be the first time I camped out on your sofa."
Carly made an exasperated noise and stalked back over to see how the coffee was coming along. As she did so, there was a distant flicker of lightning and an answering growl of thunder. She darted back to the window again in time to see another flash of lightning follow the first. Carly groaned.
"Rats," she said. "I'm going to have to unplug my computer now."
She set about the routine of unplugging things that needed to be unplugged. Technology had come a long way, but no one had ever completely eradicated the chance of something being fried by lightning, and Carly took danger to her appliances seriously. For one thing, anything happening to her computer would cost her a lot of files. For another, she couldn't afford to replace everything.
"I suppose this means the game is over," said Jack resignedly. "That's all right. I have a good idea by now who's going to win anyway."
Carly was interested. Knowing who was going to win a tournament before it was over was probably a useful skill. "Who?"
Jack pointed. "That one. He's the only one in the lot with any real talent. The rest of them are just going through the motions. I'd wipe the floor with any of them in thirty seconds flat."
"So how long would it take you to beat the winner?"
Jack considered. "I'd give him maybe five minutes."
He got up and turned the TV off, and then went to stand by the far window to watch the rain come down. Carly waited a few more seconds for the last few drops to fall into the coffee pot before she unplugged it. She poured two mugs full and carried them into the living room to stand next to him. They stood side by side for a moment, waiting for their drinks to cool and watching the lightning flash.
"I always liked storms," he said, surprising her. She wasn't used to him volunteering personal information.
"How come?" she asked.
"I just do," he said. "Thunderstorms are when the weather decides to go all out and show you everything it can do and remind you who's really in charge. You can't ignore a thunderstorm."
"I never thought of it that way," she said.
He shrugged a little, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "Well, you know, there wasn't much to do back home, when it rained. I had to think about something."
"It's okay," she told him. "I like it."
"You like everything I do."
"Well, I didn't think much of you eating my popcorn, but I'm willing to let it go."
He laughed. "I'll share."
She made her eyes go wide. "You'll share my popcorn with me? Really? Gee, that's nice of you."
Jack only laughed again. "Nobody pushes you around either, do they?"
"Nope!" she agreed, feeling absurdly cheerful.
"Well, then, I suppose this is a gift for you," he said.
Carly blinked. "What is? The popcorn?"
"No," he said, "the storm."
"You can't give someone a storm, can you?"
"Sure you can," said Jack. "That was the kind of thing we did back on the island, if you wanted to give someone something. We didn't have much to give, so we had to give people things they already had."
"I'm still not following," she admitted.
"You told me once, didn't you, that what you liked most in the world was watching someone doing their best," said Jack. "Now you can look at thunderstorms that way too, instead of just something that means you have to turn your computer off."
"Oh," she said. "I... guess that makes sense."
Jack gave her a half-smile. "You're a smart girl. You'll figure it out."
"So what do we do now?" she said. "We can't watch TV anymore, and the coffee's getting cold..."
"You've still got a deck, don't you? We could play a few rounds on the table..."
Carly laughed. "You have a one-track mind."
"Humor me a while. Then maybe you can have your turn to pick what we do."
"Oh, well, in that case..." said Carly, and hurried to get her cards.
Carly turned off the television and sighed. Her feelings were mixed. On the one hand, it was good to see that Jack had been doing well since he'd left Neo Domino. He was doing what he loved most, winning tournaments and generally keeping himself in the limelight. And that was good, because the more of that he did, the sooner he would make it to the top and keep his promise to come home.
It was only that she wished he was home now. Neo Domino just wasn't as exciting as it used to be, with him gone. It felt like lately everything had been the same old grind. The day had been gray and gloomy, and it was hard to keep her spirits up.
She got up from the sofa and drifted over to the window. Rain had started falling, beading on the glass and sparkling in the colors of the city lights - yellow from window-lights, red and green for stoplights, pale blue from street lights. At another time, it might have seemed festive.
Then everything went purple-white as a flash of lightning sizzled across the sky, and thunder shook the air. Carly caught her breath as rain began pouring down. Another flash of lightning traced forked patterns across the roiling clouds. For a moment, she just stood and watched. Then she smiled and pulled up a chair so that she could lean her elbows on the windowsill.
"Thanks, Jack," she said, and settled in to enjoy her gift.