Toei owns Digimon Adventure. I don't own Toei. You do the maths.

Thanks as always to Wolfie and Arylwren for their betaing. You two deserve gold stars.

E-mail me if you want the whole translation of Yasashii Ame. I think it's a really beautiful and sensitive song myself.

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DANCING

PART ONE OF FOUR

DRESSING UP AND DRESSING DOWN

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Hageshii ame ja nakute ii kara

Oto wo tatete zutto furitsuzukete

Ookina watashi ni nareru you ni

Chikara wo kudasai.

Since the violent rain doesn't have to be good,

build up the sound, continue to rain for a long time,

then I will become used to my size -

please give me the strength.

~ Yasashii Ame (Hikari's 02 image song)

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It had been love at first sight for Hikari.

She had been going to work one cold, grey afternoon when she had caught sight of a flash of red across the hallway and had fallen madly and truly in love with it. It was a dress in the window of an exclusive boutique. Little more than a silk slip with a chiffon overdress, it had all the rich, deep redness of fine wine to it. From that day, she had lingered in front of the plate-glass window, admiring its colour and sheen, wondering if she could afford it, hoping no one else would buy it.

She would never have screwed up the courage to go into the boutique and inquire about it, if it hadn't been for Miyako inviting her along on a shopping expedition. After trawling what had seemed like half the shops in Tokyo, they had ended up at this one. Now, she was sitting only metres away from it and wondering whether she dared to find out its price.

Pretending a casualness she did not feel, she got up from her chair and strolled across the boutique to the display in the window. Up close, the dress was even more beautiful. She ran a fold of it through her fingers, relishing the slip of smooth chiffon against her skin. She noticed there was a little tag pinned to one of its sleeves, dangling facedown so that its price was concealed. She hesitated to turn it over and see how much her dress cost. She had worn it so many times in her daydreams that it would be hard to know she could never own it in real life. She told herself to stop being ridiculous, then picked up the price tag to look at it.

She let it fall again with a sigh. She would never be able to afford the dress, even if she scrimped and saved for months. She had been an idiot to let herself hope she might be able to buy it. Her salary barely covered her expenses, let alone a luxury like this.

She turned away from it and walked back to her chair, deliberately ignoring her reflections in the mirrors that surrounded her. She knew all too well what she would see. Scuffed sneakers. Battered, blue jeans that would still have do another winter. The too bright, yellow T-shirt that was the photo studio's uniform. Takeru's red basketball jacket, stolen from his drawer that morning. In short, someone who did not belong in a fancy boutique.

She could feel the eyes of the saleswoman upon her as she crossed the room and settled uneasily back into her seat. She didn't need to look at her to know the expression of mild distaste on her face. The clerk had been watching her from the moment she had entered the shop, asking her every few minutes if there was anything she wanted, hovering around the racks through which she was browsing. The longer she stayed in the shop, the more uncomfortable she felt. She wondered when Miyako was going to come out of the changing-rooms. It seemed like she had been in them for hours.

"Miyako, are you almost done?" she asked.

"Just doing up my zip and . . . Bingo!"

The curtains of one of the changing-booths swished aside, and Miyako stepped out of it with a little, self-conscious twirl. She was wearing a sleek, sleeveless dress that shimmered around her with wintery beauty. It was cut out of silvery-blue silk, and had tiny rhinestones sewn into its neck that sparkled like frost.

"So, what do you think?"

"It's perfect," she laughed, "All the guys will want to dance with you, and all the girls will hate you for it."

Miyako smiled in satisfaction. It wasn't hard for Hikari to guess the reason behind her smugness. Ichijouji Ken was going to be at the dance with his new girlfriend, and she intended to show him exactly what he was missing.

She still didn't know why the two of them had ended their relationship. They had been together since junior high, with barely a fight or a cross word between them, and there had been talk about them getting engaged. One evening, however, Miyako had come to their apartment in tears and had sobbed that it was all over between her and Ken. Hikari had spent the rest of the night on the couch with her, eating ice cream and watching endless re-runs of old, romance movies.

"Well, you better get something equally pretty," she replied with a toss of her purple hair, "Because I know you don't want Takeru to end up dancing with me all night."

"No danger of that," Hikari smiled weakly at her. Ever since Miyako had invited her shopping, she had been dreading telling her that she wasn't going to the dance. They had had such a fight the last time, and she had only placated her friend by promising that she would be at the next one. And it would be so humiliating to tell her that she had nothing to wear and no money to buy a dress, because she was still repaying the instalments on the new digital camera that her lecturer had recommended she get.

"Too true. I don't think your darling Takeru even realises there are other women on campus," Miyako laughed. Something in Hikari's expression must have betrayed her, however, because her friend continued in slower tones: "But you aren't going to the dance, are you?"

Scuffing the floor with a sneaker, "I'm going to have to miss it."

"Takaishi Hikari! You can't! Why?"

"This isn't really the place to discuss it," she replied, seeing the saleswoman begin to rise from her chair and move towards them. She was probably afraid of a nasty scene putting off her other, richer customers, "I'll tell you over lunch. My treat?"

"Whatever," Miyako raised her eyebrows sardonically, "But your reason had better be good, or else I'm holding you to that promise."

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Clutching her handbag to her chest, Miyako looked around the little bistro for Hikari. She had told her to go ahead and get a table, while she took her new dress back to the car so it did not get wrinkled. She was just beginning to wonder whether her friend had left in order to avoid the inevitable argument, when she spotted her sitting at a corner table. Hikari was staring at a menu in front of her, and playing with the ring on her finger. A cup of coffee steamed gently in front of her. She seemed very tired and careworn with soft, dark smudges beneath her eyes and the overlarge jacket draped around her shoulders.

Not for the first time, Miyako wondered if her friend was happy. When she had asked Hikari that question, her friend had laughed and replied that she wouldn't change a thing about her life. Was that the truth, however? She knew that Taichi and Yamato thought their siblings had married too young, and she agreed with them. Hikari was twenty-one and Takeru only twenty, and they had the sort of responsibilities with which people twice their age would have battled. In addition to studying full-time at Odaiba University, they were both working afternoons and evenings to pay the bills. And they refused to accept any help from their parents, because they wanted to prove that they weren't just playing at being married. (1)

"Miyako! I'm here!" she waved her hand. Raising her eyebrows in acknowledgement, Miyako crossed the room and took the seat opposite the younger woman at the table. Hikari smiled at her, then pushed the menu towards her. (2)

"I'm just going to have a sandwich myself, but you can have whatever you like. I'll pay."

"I'll order in it a bit, but a sandwich sounds good," Miyako laid the menu aside and looked at her friend, "But are you sure you're eating okay?"

"Ugh. You sound like my mother."

"It's just . . . ."

"I might burn water, but Takeru knows how to cook," Hikari's voice was annoyed, and she was drumming her fingers on the table in front of her, "He's good at it too. He used to make dinner the whole time for himself and Ms Takaishi."

Miyako held up her hands defensively, "Don't get mad at me. I was just being a friend."

"I'm sorry," she bowed her head, her long hair falling forward to hide her face. Her hand twisted the wedding ring around and around on her finger. It was a slim, silver band set with a tiny chip of rose-quartz. It was nothing like the rings about which they had fantasized on hot, summer afternoons when they had been girls. Those had always been pure gold and had white diamonds the size of their knuckles, "I'm just sick of people thinking that Takeru and I are silly kids who are playing at keeping house, like we used to do at kindergarten. I know our parents think we're going to stop finding it fun one day and get a divorce and go back to our normal lives. That isn't going to happen."

"Even if you're unhappy?"

"I'm not unhappy, Miyako," Hikari looked up at her with a puzzled expression, "Why would you think I was?"

"You seem totally run-down," she replied honestly.

"I've been working extra hours at the photo studio," she pushed her hair out of her face with a hand, "I want to pay off my new camera as soon as possible, and my boss said he needed someone to cover things like weddings and parties. It'll only be for a few weeks more, then I'm going to sleep for a month at least."

"Is that why you can't make the dance? You could ask your boss to give you the evening off, you know."

"I wondered when you were going to bring that up," she laughed, "No, I'm not working that night."

"So, what's the problem?" she demanded, "You can't tell me Takeru doesn't want to go. I know he hates dances, but he'd walk across a bed of coals for you."

"And might find it slightly less painful," Hikari made a face, but there was the soft, distant expression in her eyes that she always got when her husband was mentioned. Miyako felt a momentary twinge of jealousy.

As much as she tried to pretend that she was over Ken, she knew she wasn't. Her friends said she couldn't expect to get over a six-year relationship in six months, and she knew what they said was true, but it didn't make the pain any easier. It was hard to pass the restaurant where they had been on their first date, hard to look around her room and see all the reminders of him, hard to see him laughing with other girls on campus. Worst of all, however, was her lingering suspicion that she had never really loved him. She had enjoyed his company, she had thought him beautiful, she had wanted to marry him, but she had never loved him.

Not wanting to think about it, she turned her attention back to what Hikari was saying, "It's not him. It really isn't. It's . . . I don't know why I'm so embarrassed about this . . . I don't have a dress to wear to it."

"You don't need to buy a new gown," Miyako replied.

"I don't even have an old one," she laughed, "Unless you really think I could get away with wearing my wedding dress."

"I wish I had one to lend you, but . . . . I burnt them all. They reminded me too much of . . . of the past," she admitted, hating herself for being unable to say his name. She didn't know how she would get through the dance. He would be there with his new girlfriend, dancing with her, holding her close, stroking her hair . . . Miyako pushed the image firmly away from herself. She was just glad that Daisuke had agreed to take her and that she would not have to go alone. He had been a good friend to her after Ken dumped her.

"It's fine, Miyako," she smiled at her, "Anyway, I probably should spend the evening in the dark room. I have an assignment due the morning after the dance."

"I really admire you," she said, "You're so brave."

"What's there to be brave about?" Hikari pulled her coffee towards her, "It's a dance. There will be lots of them."

"Yes, but will you get to go to them, though?" Miyako asked, "You haven't been to one since you got married, if I think about it. At Christmas, it was dinner with the Ishidas. For New Year, you were with Taichi and Sora. Then, you weren't at the Winter Ball because you were repainting your apartment and were too tired. And you missed the last one on Valentine's Day because Takeru had pulled a hamstring at basketball practice."

"You have a good memory," Hikari tore open a sachet of sugar and added it to her coffee. Her spoon clinked angrily against the side of the cup as she stirred it, "You should use it for classes, or tests, or something useful."

"Don't be like that," she sighed, not wanting another fight with her friend, "I just know you love to dance, and I think it's a pity you don't get given the chance."

"Don't get given the chance?" she took a sip of her drink, looking at Miyako through the rising steam, "I missed those dances because there were more important things happening in my life. It was my choice. I barely see Yamato and Yuu or Taichi and Sora, except in the holidays, and they're my family. The apartment had to be painted before term started. I didn't want Takeru to limp around the dancefloor and destroy his chances of recovering that season, even though he said he'd take me."

"And you can't afford to buy a dress for this one," Miyako finished for her, "I know you say you're happy, but don't you sometimes wish you hadn't gotten married? Life would be so much . . . "

"Shut up!" Hikari slammed her coffee cup down in front of her. Hot, dark liquid splashed onto the tabletop, steam curling upwards from it. She stood, pushing the chair out behind her. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were bright with anger, "I don't even want to hear it. I don't want to hear how much happier I would be, or how much richer I would be, or how much anything I would be!"

She opened her purse and extracted a handful of coins, before dumping them on the table in front of her without counting them, "Buy what you want. I don't want to hear another word from you about me or my life or my marriage. I get it from everyone else. I don't need it from you."

Slinging her handbag over her shoulder, Hikari turned on her heel and marched out of the bistro.

"Hikari . . . Hikari . . . " Miyako called after her, but the younger woman carried on walking. She did not even pause or look behind her. Sinking backwards in her seat, "Crap, I've really screwed up this time."

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TO BE CONTINUED

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NOTES:

(1) When you're twenty (hatachi), you're considered an adult in Japan. I've heard you can get married at 16 there, but I'm hedging my bets. Anyway, I suspect it's like some US states' legislation that permits you to marry at 12! It's there in law, but it probably seldom happens. (I'm not making this up! In Massachussets, if you're female and have the consent of your parents\a judge, you can get married at 12!)

(2) The Japanese have a different use for the wave. Westerners use it to greet people, but they use it to beckon people closer. This leads to interesting cultural confusion at times.

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