This is an experimental piece that ended up finding a life of its own. It fits into the third version of the Perhaps Universe – think of it as the prologue and epilogue to the third story that might never see light of day. For those of you who have wondered about what the third story is like, starting with the second part you'll get a glimpse into what would've been its plot.

I'm posting it for two main reasons: first, today is the first of August (when everything started!) and I'm going to be a corny Digimon fan; second, I've been working on something else in the Digimon fandom and need to get the Perhaps Universe out of my system.

This story will probably see a weekly update schedule, since it's on the short side and mostly complete. It'll be dedicated to all the readers of my Perhaps Universe – thank you for your support!

Princes on Flying Horses

When you were a little girl, your grandmother told you tales of beautiful princesses locked in hidden towers rescued by handsome princes on white horses. "And they lived happily ever after," she would always conclude, leaving you to lie awake past your bedtime, breathlessly imagining the day when you, too, would be swept off your feet.

It happens in your second year of college. You are hurrying down the hallway, late to your first French class of the semester after sleeping through your alarm, when you trip over your new flats and fall flat on your face. You are painfully rising to your feet, gathering the books that had fallen out of your shoulder bag, when he comes over to help you.

Love at first sight. You never really believe the concept until that moment. Golden-haired and blue-eyed, he is the very personification of your childhood prince. He gives you a friendly smile as he hands over the last of your books, an introductory French textbook. "Madame Dubois' class?" he asks. When you nod, his smile grows wider. "Great, that's where I'm headed as well."

His name is Takeru Takaishi, you learn during your brief walk together. He is a second year, like you, and he plays point guard on the basketball team. Then you arrive at the classroom and Madame Dubois scolds both of you for being late, except you barely notice because you are too busy enjoying the pleasant, fuzzy feeling in your stomach. You have never cared for sports, but two weekends later, you are dragging your roommate and close friend Aya to the basketball court.

"You don't even like basketball," she grumbles, as the two of you find seats on the bleachers.

"Let's show some school spirit!" you retort.

To be honest, you have no interest in the game. You couldn't care less about what is going on, or even follow what is going on. However, you are content sitting there so long as you could watch Takeru. He is very good, as far as you could tell. He has great control of the ball, weaving around the other players with ease and rarely failing to sink it into the basket. However, he is also a great team player, passing the ball to his teammates whenever the opportunity is open.

His team wins. You get up on the bleachers and cheer loudly, as if you have followed basketball your entire life. He pumps his fist victoriously into the air, his face beautiful in its intensity.

As if by fate, you run into him shortly after. His hair is still wet from his postgame shower. There is an orange pig with winged ears snoozing on his shoulder, which you would later recognize as a Digimon. To your great pleasure, he notices you and waves before jogging over to join you.

"Great game," you say.

"Thanks," he says. "Glad you came out to watch."

Aya rolls her eyes. "You weren't watching the basketball," she mutters under her breath.

You elbow her in the ribs before introducing them. Takeru makes some small talk before one of his teammates comes over and slings his arm around his neck. Time for postgame celebration.

"See you in French class!" he calls, as he is being dragged off.

You turn expectantly to Aya, who is shaking her head with an amused grin. "No wonder you like going to French class so much," she remarks. "He is incredibly good-looking, isn't he?"

You nod, blushing.

"I wouldn't get any ideas though," she continues. "He has a girlfriend."

That immediately breaks the spell. "Are you sure?"

"Well, I don't know if they are official or not," she says. "She doesn't go to school here, but she comes to visit. I've seen them around a couple of times."

"They could just be friends," you point out.

"That's true," Aya says, although you could tell that she isn't convinced at all and is merely trying to spare your feelings. "Just be careful, okay?"

This should have been the end of your infatuation, yet you still can't help liking Takeru and enjoying his company. In French class you always partner up for projects, spending hours in the library to create funny skits or correct each other's compositions. During more boring lectures you would pass notes, stupid things like, Oh-la-la, Madame est ennuyeuse, to which the other would respond, Oui, comme toi. You respect that he is in a relationship and keep your distance, even though you often find it curious that he never speaks of his girlfriend, nor have you seen her around.

The semester passes. The two of you sign up for the same French class the following semester and your friendship continues, even stronger than before. You start to attend his basketball games more frequently, and in turn he attends some of the plays you write and direct for the drama club. Outside of class, you would sometimes go out for coffee, or café, as Madame Dubois would say. Once you even go out for lunch and a movie. However, neither of you ever make a move to step beyond the bounds of friendship.

Then, too soon, the school year is ending.

After the demoralizing French final, the two of you go to the school pub. There's nothing better than cheap beer to drown your sorrows.

"I can't believe I conjugated aller incorrectly," you say, at some point in the evening. You have had quite a few beers by then. "That's one of the most basic verbs! I don't know how I'm going to face Madame Dubois next year!"

"Thankfully, I'm done with her after this year," says Takeru, slurring his words. "I'm sticking to plain old Japanese from now on, thank you very much."

You swerve to look at him, suddenly disappointed that you would no longer have him in your class. "That's too bad," you say. "I'm really going to miss you."

For some reason, his expression changes at these words and he raises his head to stare at you, his gaze so piercing that you uneasily wonder if he is looking at you or looking through you. Then, without warning, he leans over, cups your face, and kisses you. You feel thrills down your spine – the kiss is even better in real life than in your fantasies – but somehow you muster the willpower to push him away.

He slumps against the barstool. "I'm sorry."

You cannot look at him. "You have a girlfriend," you say.

He draws a shuddering sigh. "No," he says quietly. "I never did."

Very slowly, you raise your head to look him in the eye. You can tell, by a woman's intuition, that he is being truthful. Under the dim light of the pub, he suddenly looks very vulnerable, not at all like the confident point guard you see on the basketball court, or your mischievous partner-in-crime in French. You want to chase away the sadness on his face, so you lean over and gently press your lips against his.

A few heartbeats later, he returns the kiss.

Your relationship takes off smoothly. You spend the summer volunteering at a library in your hometown, just an hour's train ride away from his hometown. He visits you once or twice every week, eventually meeting your parents at the end of the summer, drawing rave reviews. Looks, brains, he has it all.

You are not invited to visit his family, although you think you know why. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother. Both his parents are quite busy with work and his older brother has just begun an astronaut training program. Certainly the right time will eventually come.

When the two of you return on campus, you become an official couple. There is question in Aya's eyes the first time he introduces himself as your boyfriend, but soon that fades. You make a good couple, if you do say so yourself. You both love literature, for example, though you prefer plays and he prefers novels. You also both prefer greasy American burgers, despite having been raised on a Japanese diet of fish and rice. Finally and oddly enough, you both have French ancestry, you on your father's side, and he on both sides of the family.

Indeed, your romance is as perfect as you can wish for, except for one oddity that surfaces: Takeru talks very seldom about his life pre-college. You could only assume that someone as popular and kind as Takeru would have plenty of friends in middle and high school, though you have never met any of them. You can't be sure whether he even keeps in touch with them and, for you at least, they live only in the few photographs he keeps around.

Furthermore, Takeru has Patamon. You know, through your slowly growing knowledge on Digimon, that that somehow makes him special, because not just anyone has a partner. Yet he never explains where he got Patamon, or why, nor does he ever explain his connections to the monster sightings on the news reports of your younger years.

You start to realize that he keeps many secrets and sometimes you worry that you do not really know him. Not that many people in school do. Due to a combination of looks and personality, he is very well-liked in school, always surrounded by people, chatting with people, yet you sense often that his mind is somewhere else, in a world and a past that he will never share with others. Not even with you.

The closest thing that comes to a revelation occurs in the last week of your fourth year. By then, both of you have jobs lined up in Tokyo and have already found an apartment to move into together. He takes you to a small hill behind the main school building, takes out a small green gadget, and tells Patamon, "Digimental up!"

Or at least, you think that is what he says, and what happens next completely befuddles you. Patamon glows with yellow light and, right before your eyes, becomes a golden winged horse.

Your mouth drops open. "Care to explain?" you finally manage to ask.

He only laughs. "Come on," he says. "Isn't there always a prince on some horse in your plays? Well, here I am."

"White horses," you correct him. "Not flying horses."

He flashes you a grin. "But close enough, right?"

Blushing, you allow him to help you onto the flying horse, whose name is really Pegasmon. You take off into the bright blue sky and circle around the campus. The students who notice laugh and wave, and some even take out cameras to take photographs. You voice your delight when Pegasusmon flies even higher, so high that you can see the cityscape beneath you and touch the clouds.

"This is amazing," you breathe, turning around to Takeru. This is more romantic than anything you could have ever imagined.

He smiles back at you, a smile that looks oddly brittle.

After graduation, you and Takeru move into your new apartment and settle into life after work. He remains your perfect boyfriend, always considerate, always polite, adored by your friends and family. He remembers anniversaries and birthdays, and always makes time for you on weekends. When you walk down the street, you are intensely aware of how compatible the two of you look as a couple. It is vain, yes, but you cannot help basking in the attention, just a little.

You do meet his family at some point. The five of you sit in a small noodle restaurant, around a table that is a tad too small for the party. His parents do their best to keep a conversation going, but his older brother remains quiet throughout the entire meal, giving only a nod or a shake of his head whenever you try to involve him in conversation.

"I don't think he likes me," you later confide worriedly. You want Takeru's family to embrace you as much as your family embraces him.

"Yamato?" Takeru laughs. "No way, he likes you, I'm sure of it!"

And he appears to be right. You must have somehow made a positive impression. Five years after you first lay eyes on each other, when you are vacationing at a Kyoto resort, he gets down on one knee and proposes with a diamond ring. You cry and tell him yes. When he hugs you and when you lay your head on his shoulder, when he carries you into the hotel room to make love, you think to yourself, this is it. This is my happily ever after.

This is the story you will one day tell your grandchildren. This is the story of how you met your prince.

What you do not know is that the two of you are never destined to have a happy ending.

You first hear the name when Takeru announces your engagement to his older brother and sister-in-law. The initial expression on their faces is not one of joy, but one of surprise, even shock. In turn, you are surprised, because you and Takeru have been dating for four years, have been living together for the past two years. You are two adults in a serious, committed relationship. Isn't marriage the next natural step?

Sora recovers first. "I'm so happy for you!" she says, coming over to hug you.

Yamato, however, is less tactful. In a whisper perhaps meant to be inaudible, he asks Takeru, "What about Hikari?"

Hikari Yagami. The name haunts you in whispers. You start to hear it everywhere you go, implicit in every congratulation you receive from Takeru's family and friends. You see her in Miyako's wide eyes, Koushiro's confusion, and Taichi's frown. You see her in Hiroaki Ishida's questioning eyes and Natsuko Takaishi's resigned smile. You even see it on the Digimon's faces, for like children, they are not good at concealing their inner thoughts.

To them, to those people and monsters whom you've never met before or met only in passing, she is an insider and you are forever an outsider.

By then, you have figured out that Hikari was the girl Aya had seen with Takeru around campus, though it isn't clear whether or not she was ever Takeru's girlfriend. It doesn't matter. She was very much a part of Takeru's pre-university life, one of the Chosen Children who had Digimon and who saved the world. They must've known each other for years, yet he so rarely speaks of her, even when some of his old friends try to bring up the topic. His expression would inevitably become closed, and having known him for as long as you have, you realize that Hikari is one of these secrets that he will never willingly betray.

Many times you have typed her name into search engines, hoping that something, anything, would pop up. You are never successful beyond learning the schools she attended and finding the photography projects published on course websites. Many times you have flipped through Takeru's old photograph albums. While it is full of pictures of his friends and their Digimon, there are no pictures of her, who had presumably been the photographer.

You do find one picture of her by chance. You are flipping through Takeru's favorite book of poetry when it falls out from where it was, between the pages of his favorite poem. The picture dates before college. Hikari has obviously been caught by surprise, because she is hiding her face with her hands so that all you can see of her is her brown hair. Takeru stands beside her, half-shielding her with his arms and laughing. The look in his blue eyes when he looks at her, even when frozen in time –

He's never looked at you like that.

You quickly replace the picture and the book.

At some point, you start to wonder what happened to Hikari. Why has she disappeared, when her friends and your own fiancé remember her so vividly? Has there been a fallout, a tragedy? In one of your crazier theories, you imagine that she has passed away from a terrible sickness, and in bitter jealousy purposely casts a shadow on Takeru's relationship with you.

Eventually you realize that none of your theories, rational or crazy, is correct through Miyako's lack of discretion. You and Takeru are having dinner with her and Ken, six months after Takeru's proposal, when she says, out of the blue, "Guess who is back."

"Miyako," warns Ken, but it is too late.

When you turn to Takeru, you see that his face has turned very pale and his hand is clenching the chopsticks too tightly. "Oh," is all he says, though he is distant for the rest of the evening.

Later you would learn that Hikari has been abroad, doing a photography program, and stayed there for a couple of years afterwards to work on a project that would profile the Digital World through pictures.

You finally meet her at a Chosen Children reunion. It would be a lie to say that you did not prepare for days in advance, spending hours to find that perfect dazzling dress and hairdo. Even so, you are completely unprepared when the two of you are finally introduced. You have envisioned her as a heartless bitch, an evil witch who once ensnared your handsome prince. The girl you end up meeting cannot be farther from your mental image. Dressed in a soft pink summer dress, her long brown hair held back by a matching headband, she is not conventionally pretty, but glows with an inner light that renders her beautiful.

You watch as Takeru's friends and older brother, who once greeted you with doubt and suspicion, rush to greet her with hugs and kisses. In turn, Hikari graces everyone with a sweet smile and spends time with each one to catch up, completely unaware of your attention.

At last, she comes over to where you are standing with Takeru and Sora makes the introductions. Your initial aggressiveness cannot help melting away when she lays a gentle hand on her arm and smiles.

"Hi, I'm so glad to meet you at last," she says. "Congratulations to you and Takeru. I'm sure you will be very happy together."

All the witty, cutting remarks fade from your mind in face of her sincerity and you cannot help smiling back. "I'm very glad to meet you too," you say.

She turns then to Takeru, who has been watching her the whole evening from a distance, just as you have been. Their eyes meet and you almost shudder at the change in atmosphere. It is not merely paranoia, for you see the others turning around or sneaking glances at the pair.

"Hello, Takeru," she says, her voice very soft. "Long time no see."

"Right." He clears his throat; his voice is equally soft. "Long time no see."

You cannot tear your eyes away when they share a hug, even though something tells you that the moment is private. She lays her head in the crook of his neck as she wraps her arms around his waist and he buries his face in her hair as he wraps his arms around her shoulders. Everything is so natural, so instinctive. He closes his eyes and he looks more at peace than you have ever seen him. It is obvious that, for the two of them, the rest of you have ceased to exist.

Only a few seconds pass, even if it seems like an eternity to you. This is not a hug between friends; this is the embrace of soul mates. Your throat aches, and not only because you are jealous.

"I'm very happy for you," she says, when they break apart.

His response is too quiet to make out, but you see Hikari give a slight nod in response.

You and Hikari talk for a few minutes more, before she is pulled away by an enthusiastic Miyako. You turn to Takeru, who has not said a word the entire time, to find that his eyes have never strayed from Hikari and his face is raw with emotion. He composes himself only when Patamon arrives to land on his head.

Alarm bells ring.

That is when you know that you are in trouble.