It was the perfect climate for mischief, so no one should have been very surprised to find it afoot. There were still several weeks to go before school let out for summer vacation, just close enough that the children were looking forward to their freedom, not quite close enough to give them any real hope. All of them were restless, and were dealing with it in their own ways. Juri was working her way slowly through her homework assignment, which was reading a few acts from a Shakespearean play. Hirokazu was not so productive; he was leafing through an already much- read comic book, using Guardromon as a shade from the early-summer sun. Takato and Jenrya were beguiling the time with a disinterested game of cards, while Kenta and his partner looked on. Terriermon was passing the time mainly by teasing Guilmon, a pastime at which he'd already had much experience, and Guilmon had finally given up and dug a hole in the ground, hiding all of himself but a protruding six inches of tail. Ruki and Ryo were sitting across from each other, monopolizing the shade of the best trees by force of their dominating personalities. The hot weather combined with general boredom was making them both irritable, and sharp words between them was almost inevitable.
"You're never going to win if you keep playing like that, Takato," said Ryo.
"He'd do a lot better if you'd keep your mouth shut and quit distracting him," Ruki retorted.
Ryo drew himself up. "I'm just offering some advice. After all, I am an expert at this sort of thing..."
"The only thing you're an expert at is blowing hot air," said Ruki. "If you're so good, why don't you tell him something useful instead of bragging so much."
"I thought you wanted me to keep my mouth shut a minute ago," Ryo answered with a superior grin. "Now you're saying you want me to give him some advice. Which did you want?"
"Oh, you're impossible," said Ruki. "Just because you've won a couple of card games, you think you're so hot."
"I think I'm hot because it's so hot out here," he answered.
"Well, why don't you go jump in a lake and cool off?"
"Sounds great," he answered. "Want to come? Of course, I didn't bring my swimming trunks, so you'll have to promise not to peek... unless, of course, you can't help yourself."
Ruki rolled her eyes. "What's the matter? Afraid I'll laugh?"
"Ooh, she got you that time!" Hirokazu whooped.
Ryo grinned. "She's just in denial."
"He's in denial," Ruki retorted. "He's also getting on my nerves. I think I'll go home and watch the grass grow or something. At least that's quiet."
"We might as well go home, anyway," said Takato, slapping down a card, "seeing as how I've won."
Jenrya made a sound of chagrin. "I think you're right. I might as well cut my losses. Hey, want to come over to my place for a while? There's air conditioning there, and I think we've got some ice cream if the rest of the family hasn't eaten it all already. You're lucky you don't have any brothers and sisters."
"I don't need them. I've got Guilmon," Takato replied. "You can't leave anything edible lying around with him in the house. Come on, Guilmon, get out of that hole - we're going to Jen's house for ice cream."
"Ice cream!" Guilmon cheered, bursting out of the ground. Terriermon winced as he was sprayed with dirt.
"We're going to have to run him through a car wash first," he muttered.
Hirokazu laughed. "On a day like today, that might be fun, too. Mind if I come along?"
Ruki was giving Ryo a superior look.
"See?" she said. "I told you he could win without your help."
"He would have won sooner if I was helping him," answered Ryo.
"In your dreams!"
The two of them wandered off, still arguing. Takato and Hirokazu followed Jenrya, leaving Kenta and Juri alone.
"Well, now what happens?" Kenta asked of no one in particular.
"It looks like they've left us," answered Juri with a shrug. She closed her book, looking thoughtful. Marine Angemon fluttered around her head and chirped at her.
"He wants to know what you're thinking about," Kenta translated.
"Oh," she said. "I was just thinking about this play I'm reading." She held the book up for his inspection; it had Much Ado About Nothing printed in gold across its cover. "It's about these two people who are in love and don't know it."
"Yeah, I know," said Kenta.
"I was just thinking," Juri continued, "about Ruki and Ryo. They argue with each other a lot, don't they?"
"They sure do," Kenta agreed. "Sometimes I wonder if they really don't like each other."
"I don't think so. The people in the play fought all the time, just like Ruki and Ryo do, but they were really in love with each other and just couldn't admit it. That's why they fought so much."
"Oh," said Kenta. "So you think maybe Ryo and Ruki really like each other, and they argue because they don't want to believe it. Is that what you're thinking?"
Juri shrugged. "Maybe."
"Well, if they do like each other, they're sure doing a good job of hiding it," said Kenta. "If they keep going at this rate, they'll both be old and gray before they figure it out."
"Hm, you're right," answered Juri, frowning. "That would be really sad, if they loved each other and could never tell each other... Hey, maybe we could help them!"
"What?" Kenta exclaimed. "How are we supposed to do that?"
"Lots of ways. It's all here in the book," said Juri. "Don't look so scared - we're not going to do anything crazy. We're just going to... make it a little easier for them to talk to each other, that's all."
"Um," said Kenta.
"You will help, won't you?" asked Juri, fixing him with a sad-puppy stare. She was very good at them, and Kenta was not good at resisting. He tried to look away.
"Pi pi pu pi pi!" Marine Angemon chirped encouragingly.
Kenta capitulated. "Oh, all right. But I'm not doing anything crazy!"
"Don't worry, you won't have to," said Juri. "It will be easy. Trust me."
"Are you sure this is absolutely necessary?" asked Kenta.
"Of course I'm sure," Juri replied. "Just go up there and talk to her."
Kenta and Juri were hiding amid some bushes that grew at the edge of the schoolyard. Their thick branches provided an effective shield while still allowing them to peer out at the rest of the world. A short distance away, they could see Ruki sitting on a park bench, flipping idly through the pages of a book.
"What do I say?" asked Kenta.
"Just sound her out - find out how she'd feel if she thought someone had a crush on her. If she doesn't like the idea, we'll just leave her alone."
"What if she doesn't like the idea and she hits me for it?"
"She won't hit you, Kenta. She's nicer than that," Juri told him. "Go on. Be brave! If I can do it, you can do it."
"But you're not doing it - I am."
"Well, I still have to talk to Ryo. That's almost the same thing. Come on. You'll be fine."
With much cajoling, Kenta slipped out of his hiding place, brushing juniper prickles off his school uniform. Plucking up what courage he had, he marched over to the bench where Ruki was sitting.
"Um... hi, Ruki," he said.
She raised her eyes over the edge of the book. "Oh, it's you. Hey, Kenta."
"Hi. Are you busy?"
"No, just reading."
"Oh," said Kenta. "Well... do you mind if I sit down."
"It's a public bench."
Kenta sat down, feeling awkward. Under normal circumstances, he did not get this close to Ruki - old habits made him keep his distance. He found the closeness disconcerting, and he was momentarily tongue-tied.
"Pi! Pu pi pi pu," Marine Angemon scolded.
"I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it!" he hissed back.
Ruki regarded him with amusement in her violet eyes. "Let me guess - you didn't just come over here to be sociable, right?"
"Well, yeah," he answered, flushing crimson. "Actually, I... wanted to ask you something."
"Do I get a prize if I answer right?" she asked. His blush deepened, and she fought the urge to grin. She found his awkwardness amusing.
"Not exactly," said Kenta. "That is, um... What I was going to ask was..." He took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and attempted to find something to say. "What are you reading?" he finished lamely.
"Just a book," she answered, offering it for his inspection. "It's kind of a spy novel."
Kenta studied the novel. "The Dark Hallway by Hisoka Hata. I don't think I've read this one."
"You should," said Ruki. "It's my favorite."
"I didn't know you liked to read."
She gave him a sharp look. "Believe it or not, I do other things with my time besides play cards."
Kenta blushed again. "Sorry. I wasn't thinking."
"It's okay," she said. "I guess you wouldn't have known. It's not like we spend a lot of time together."
"Yeah," he said. "Isn't that weird? We're supposed to be Tamers together, and we hardly ever talk to each other."
"We're talking now," she pointed out. "So, what were you going to ask me about? It wasn't the book, I know that."
"Oh," said Kenta. "Well... Okay, it's like this. Suppose... suppose there was a guy who liked you. I mean, like, he had a crush on you. How would you feel about it?"
Ruki looked surprised; it was plain that the question had caught her off-guard.
"Well, I guess it would depend on the guy," she answered thoughfully. "I'm not the kind to go drooling after any guy who crosses my path, but... maybe if it was someone I liked, it would be okay. Why? Is there someone who likes me?"
"No!" Kenta protested. "I mean... no, I don't think so. I was just... you know, curious."
"Ah," she said. "I get it. Okay."
"Anyway, I have to get going now," said Kenta. "Nice talking to you. Enjoy your book."
"Thanks. I will. See ya, Kenta."
Kenta hurried off, feeling limp with relief. That had been a lot harder than he'd thought it would be; his heart was still hammering. The shock she'd given him when she fixed him with her intent amethyst eyes and asked if someone liked her...
Juri met him behind the shrubbery.
"How did it go?" she asked eagerly.
"She said it was okay," Kenta replied. "Juri, are you sure I have to go through with this? I'm starting not to like it."
"Well, you don't have to do anything else today," she answered soothingly. "Don't give up now. You wouldn't deny a friend the chance for true love, would you?"
What could he say to that? Nothing, not to Juri. After everything she'd been through, to say 'no' to a question like that would have been far more callous than Kenta was capable of being.
"All right," he said. "We'll see how you feel after talking to Ryo."
"I'll be fine," she said brightly. Inside, however, she was starting to have doubts. Kenta was looking awfully distressed, far more than she would have expected after such a short talk with someone who was supposed to be his friend. She wondered what exactly Ruki had said to him... and what Ryo would say to her that night.
Ruki sat on the park bench with her book, but she was not reading it. She was, instead, thinking over her conversation with Kenta. It had been a very odd conversation, and she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something going on beneath the surface of it.
"Is something on your mind?"
Ruki didn't even blink at the sudden intrusion. "Just trying to figure something out."
"Might I be of help?"
"Well, now that you mention it, I suppose I could use someone to bounce some ideas off of," Ruki replied.
Out of the tree-shadows dropped a golden blur, and Renamon glided silently over to sit at Ruki's side.
"What troubles you?" she asked.
"It's not trouble," said Ruki. "It's just... something weird just happened."
"I saw nothing strange. All I saw was your friend coming to speak with you. I was under the impression that this is not uncommon behavior for friends to talk to each other."
"Yeah, but it was what he was saying that was so strange," Ruki replied. "Or what he didn't say."
"Well, it was like he couldn't quite get out what he wanted to say, and he was blushing at everything I said," answered Ruki. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that..." She trailed off, looking thoughtful.
"I have seen humans behave in such a manner," said Renamon with a hint of a smile in her voice. "It seems to happen often, here in this park, that young men and young women speak to each other that way. Not that I am any expert in human mating rituals..."
"Do you have to put it like that?" asked Ruki, coloring a bit. "But you're right. That 'someone who likes you' bit is the oldest line in the book for people who can't admit they like someone."
"Does that bother you?"
Ruki looked thoughtful. "Not really. I guess I'd rather have a guy who's shy than one who thinks he can just waltz up and sweep me off my feet whenever he feels like it."
"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," said Renamon. "If there's one thing you can't stand, it's being told what to do."
"You've got that right," said Ruki. She looked speculative. "I guess if a guy's got to have a crush on me, there are plenty of worse people than Kenta. Somehow, I can't imagine him trying to push me around."
"Nor can I," said Renemon, twitching her tail in amusement.
"Well, if he does like me, I'm not going to do anything," Ruki declared. "He can tell me himself."
"You do not feel he needs encouraging?" asked Renamon.
"Whoever first talked about being sly as a fox was talking about you," Ruki replied. "Then again, you might have a point. He's so shy, I'm surprised he managed to say anything else at all. All right, maybe give him a little help - but not much!"
"A little push is all it takes to start an avalanche," Renamon observed.
"Yeah, whatever," said Ruki. "Thanks for the advice."
"It is nothing," answered the fox-woman. "It is in my best interests to see that my Tamer is happy."
"And who said dating Kenta would make me happy?"
"No one," answered Renamon, "but you agreed with my advice."
With a swish of her tail, Renamon vanished. It was just as well, because after all, what answer could there be to such silliness?
It had taken some delicate planning to arrange a meeting with Ryo without his finding out about it, but Juri could be very determined when she put her mind to things. As it happened, there was a bus stop not far from Ryo's apartment. A bit of discreet eavesdropping on Takato had given her the information that he and most of the other male Tamers would be making a trip to the arcade that afternoon, giving her plenty of time to get across town and lay her trap. All she had to do was sit innocently at the bus stop and wait for Ryo to come home.
A short while later, her patience was rewarded by the sight of a boy and a small purple dragon walking up the sidewalk. She was rather relieved that Ryo's partner was in his Child form today; CyberDramon could be a bit overwhelming at times.
"Hi, Juri," Ryo said. "I wasn't expecting to see you. What are you doing here?"
"Just waiting for the bus," she answered.
"Ah, I see," he answered. "You're in for a wait - it won't be here for another fifteen minutes."
"That's all right. I don't mind waiting," she answered. "So... how are things with you?"
"Fine. Lost a few bucks worth of quarters at the arcade, but that's nothing unusual. How about you? Everything all right?"
"I'm fine," she said. "Anyway, as long as I'm here, I might as well ask you..."
"Ask me what?"
"Well..." Juri's mind raced. "A friend of mine asked me to ask you something."
"Why can't he ask me himself?"
"It's not a he, it's a she," said Juri.
"Ah, I see," Ryo answered, in a tone of great understanding. "So... what has she got to ask that she can't ask in person?"
"Well, it's like this," she said. "My friend, well... she has a crush on you."
Ryo grinned. "Nothing unusual about that."
"Well, she's really shy about telling you," said Juri, trying not to be discomfited. She had not spent a lot of time around Ryo before, and she was not accustomed to getting the full effect of his charm. She hurried on. "Since she knows we're friends, she asked me to sort of... sound you out, to see how you feel about it."
"I see," he answered, flashing his devil-may-care grin again. "Well, that's no problem. If a girl wants to chase me, who am I to object?"
"So... what do you want me to tell her?" asked Juri.
"You can tell her from me," he said, "that I am single and looking. If she wants to talk to me, she can go right ahead."
"Thanks," said Juri. She had to pull her gaze away; the way Ryo was looking at her was making it very hard to concentrate all of a sudden. "I'll tell her that."
"I can't wait," answered Ryo, winking. "Anyway, looks like your bus is coming. I can't believe they're on time, for once!"
"I guess it is," said Juri. "Bye, Ryo. Nice talking to you."
"Great talking to you too, Juri," he replied. "It was nice of you to come see me. Drop by again sometime, okay?"
She blinked. "How did you know I came to see you?"
"There are no shopping places near here. Next time, just come knock on my door. I'll answer. Here's your bus."
The bus lumbered to a halt, and the door squeaked open. Ryo took Juri's hand and helped her up the stairs, then gave her a final grin and a debonair wave as the bus rolled away.
"What was that all about?" asked Monodramon curiously.
"Oh, that's easy," answered Ryo, grinning. "Juri's got a crush on me."
The conspirators met at school the next day to further discus their plans.
"So, did you talk to Ryo last night?" Kenta asked.
"I did," Juri replied, "and I don't think we'll have any problems."
Kenta looked at her suspiciously. "You're sure everything went well?"
"Perfectly," said Juri. Actually, she was not sure at all that it had gone perfectly. Now that she had done it, she thought she knew why Kenta had been so rattled the day before. She had actually found herself wanting to call the whole thing off, but she wasn't about to say so to Kenta, not after she'd made him come this far.
Kenta sighed. "I should have known I wasn't going to get out of this that easily. What do I have to do now?"
"The next thing we do," answered Juri, "is let them get used to the idea that someone likes them. I think the best way to do that is to send them a letter."
"A letter?" Kenta repeated. "Why didn't we start with the letter to begin with? Then we wouldn't have had to go through all the trouble of talking to them in person."
"Not a letter from us," she corrected. "A letter from them."
"I don't follow."
"It's simple," she said. "Since they won't tell each other they like each other, we have to do it for them. We'll write them both letters - address them from a secret admirer, maybe."
"Let me get this straight," said Kenta. "You want me to write a love letter to Ruki? Is that where you're going with this?"
"Right!" she said brightly. "So, will you do it?"
"Not a chance," said Kenta. "I told you right from the start, I wasn't going to do anything crazy. This is definitely crazy."
"Pi pi pu po pi!"
"I am not a coward! I'm just not stupid, either," said Kenta sullenly. "Besides, I've never written a love letter before. I'd just make a mess of it."
"Oh, it's not hard. I've done it lots of times. All you have to do is think up all the good things about her and write them down in a letter," Juri said. "Come on. She'll never know it was from you. She'll think it's from Ryo."
"I guess," said Kenta. "Okay, I'll give it a try. Unfortunately, I have nothing better to do today."
"Pa pa pi pu pi pi!"
"What do you mean, you'll help? What do you know about love letters!"
"Pu pi pu!"
Juri laughed. "There are times I wish I could understand what he's saying."
"I'm not sure you really want to know," Kenta replied.
The school bell rang, and both of them went to their seats. Their history lesson came first, a dull subject that Kenta could get away with not paying attention to for an afternoon - everything the teacher said was in the book, anyway. He pulled out a sheet of paper and pretended to be taking notes.
*Now, what can I say about Ruki that will work in a love letter?*
He was under the impression that if he was going to write a love letter to a girl, the first thing he was supposed to tell her was that she was the most beautiful girl in the world, or something similar to that. He wasn't quite sure Ruki would buy that... though she did, he reflected, have those amazing violet eyes. Every time she'd looked at him yesterday, he'd felt himself mentally frozen in his tracks. That was probably a good place to start.
What else? Personality, that was it. Ruki was the most un-superficial girl he'd ever met, so if he really wanted her to be impressed, he would have to say something about something besides her looks. Well, that wouldn't be too hard...
By the end of the lesson, he'd worked his way through three drafts of his letter and finally had one that said what he wanted to say. He skimmed over it with a critical eye, checking for any areas that might stand improvement.
This is probably going to be unexpected. You've probably never thought of me as being anything other than a friend, but the other day, I looked at you and suddenly started thinking that maybe, somehow, we could be something more. Suddenly I'm watching you and thinking how beautiful you are. Not that silly frills-and-ribbons pretty, but beautiful, like a thunderstorm, graceful as a wild animal. Most of all, I admire your strength and your courage. I know I'm not really good enough for you, but I had to tell you how I really feel. Maybe someday I'll have the courage to tell you, but until then, I remain,
Your Secret Admirer
He finished reading the letter and decided it was appropriately mushy. Marine Angemon hovered next to him, reading over his shoulder.
"Pi pi pa pi pi," he commented.
"What do you mean, fake?" he replied. "It isn't fake; I meant every word of it."
He froze, realizing what he'd just said. Marine Angemon gave a high-pitched trill of laughter, and Kenta glared at him.
"You little scamp! You were trying to make me say that, weren't you?"
"Pa pi pu!"
"Excuse me," said the teacher, giving them both a stern look. "Would Mr. Kitagawa like to send his partner outside?"
"Sorry, sensei," answered Kenta, sinking into his chair in embarrassment. "Yes, I think Marine Angemon would like to go outside for a while."
He gave his partner a meaningful look, which Marine Angemon responded to by sticking out his tongue. With a final giggle, he fluttered out the window. Kenta bent back over his paper, pretending to be absorbed with his work.
*Did I mean what I said?*
He looked back over his letter. He had to admit, it didn't look exactly like something Ryo would write. He also had to admit that it was a bit more honest than he'd intended. He had been thinking, the other day, that Ruki was really quite attractive in her way, and he did admire her character. Deep down, he'd always considered himself the weakest link in the band of Tamers. He had no particular abilities or attributes; he simply followed everyone else around and pitched in where he could. His Digimon might be worthy of respect, with his powers to dispel evil and bring healing, but Kenta himself was rather unremarkable. Not Ruki. There was no doubt that she deserved her title as Digimon Queen, on or off the battlefield. Deadly to her enemies and fiercely protective of her friends, she was more than worthy of admiration. The more he thought about it, the more he wondered if he didn't admire her more than he thought he had...
*This is ridiculous. I'm supposed to be hooking her up with Ryo, not me!*
He scowled down at the letter. He obviously couldn't send it. There was no way she'd ever believe it was from Ryo, and she would never have any interest in Kenta...
*I'll send it anyway,* he thought in a flash of stubbornness. *I never wanted to do this, anyway. If Ruki doesn't believe it, that can be Ryo's problem.*
Juri chewed her eraser, her eyes fixed at a point halfway to the blackboard. She'd been trying for the last fifteen minutes to get her letter the way she wanted it. She had written a few of them before, but she seemed to have lost her knack for them, now. Perhaps it was because she hadn't written any in so long, not since she had lost Leomon...
She shook her head, trying to push that unhappy thought out of her mind. She had been doing her best to keep that particular ache hidden while she was out in public; it worried her friends when they caught her with that faraway look in her eyes. Some of them, Takato in particular, seemed to think it was their duty to cheer her up when all she really wanted was a little space in which to grieve.
*Mind on business,* she scolded herself. She looked back down at her letter, making a few additions here and subtractions there, until it felt right.
This probably won't come as much of a surprise to you. Someone like you probably hears this kind of thing all the time, so maybe it won't mean a lot to you, but I think I'm falling in love with you. I try so hard to pretend that I don't care about anyone as anything more than a friend, but it's all just an act. The truth is, I'm afraid. I know what it's like to love someone and lose them, and deep down, I'm afraid it's going to happen again. I act like I'm happy on my own, like I wouldn't be happy if there was anyone else in my life, when all I really want, deep down, is someone to take me in their arms and tell me they'll never leave me... someone like you. It's so hard to tell you what I feel, so for now, I'm just going to be...
Your Secret Admirer
She reread the letter a few times, wondering what was wrong with it. She had the oddest feeling there was something not quite right, but she couldn't pinpoint what it was...
*You know, this really sounds a lot more like me than Ruki,* she thought.
True, she had chosen the words with Ruki in mind. It was true that Ruki would know what it was like to be left alone - she had lost her father when she was just a little girl, after all. It would also make sense that she was so rude to Ryo because she was overcompensating for emotions she didn't want to admit to...
*But the truth is, I'm the one who's hiding something. I'm the one who's been trying not to fall in love. I miss having someone strong to protect me, and Ryo... he's like some kind of knight in shining armor. It's hard to imagine him being afraid of anything. If I were with him, I think I'd feel absolutely safe...*
She shook her head. Who did she think she was writing this letter for, anyway - herself, or Ruki?
*I'll let Ryo decide. If he really does care about Ruki, I won't interfere, but if he doesn't...*
Ruki jumped. She had been strolling restlessly around the park, out of lack of anything better to do, and had been surprised to hear an unexpected voice calling her name. She turned around to see Hirokazu dashing up the path behind her.
"What's your hurry?" she asked.
"Got some news for you," he answered, grinning.
"Oh, really? Okay, spill it."
"Okay," he said. "I was goofing off in class, and I saw Kenta writing something, so I leaned over to sneak a look."
"Don't people usually write in class?" asked Ruki.
"They don't usually write love letters," Hirokazu answered, grinning. "From the looks of things, Kenta's got a serious crush on you."
"Oh, that," answered Ruki, waving a hand negligently. "I found out about that a long time ago."
Hirokazu blinked. "You did? How? I mean, he didn't put his name on the letter..."
"Woman's intuition," answered Ruki. "I don't know who he thinks he's fooling. He was talking to me the other day, and it stuck out all over."
"Ah," said Hirokazu.
He gave Ruki an appraising look, realizing for the first time that something was different about her. she seemed to have done something different with her hair, pulling it up in a clever twist instead of its usual untidy ponytail, and she was dressed more nicely than usual.
"Hey, wait just a cotton-pickin' minute," he said. "What are you all dressed up for? School pictures today or something?"
"No, I just felt like dressing up a little today. Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
"Yeah," Hirokazu answered. "It's downright weird for Miss Jeans-and-Tee-Shirt to be wearing a skirt."
"It's a jean skirt."
"Big deal - a skirt's a skirt," the boy replied. "I think I know what's going on. You're trying to impress him, aren't you?"
"I am not!"
"Like you'd admit it if you were," said Hirokazu. "Ha! I can't wait until this gets out!"
A hand latched onto the front of his shirt and hauled him onto the points of his toes. Ruki looked at him with narrowed eyes, a fist hovering dangerously close to his nose.
"But it's not going to get out," she said quietly, "because if it does, I will personally and with great pleasure rearrange your face. Got it?"
"Absolutely," he said. "Nobody finds out you've got a crush on Kenta. Got it."
"Oh, you're impossible," answered Ruki, dropping him back to the ground. "So... what happened to this letter, anyway?"
"Last I saw it, it was with Kenta," Hirokazu replied, "and Kenta was heading for your house."
"Fine," she said. "Thanks for the tipoff."
Hirokazu grinned. "If you hurry, maybe you can still catch him."
"Hirokazu Shiota, I am warning you..."
"That's better," she answered. "See you around... and Hirokazu?"
"If you have any more interesting information, feel free to pass it along."
"Only if you promise not to hurt me."
"That is going to depend on how you deliver the news," she replied.
She walked home quickly, only to find Renamon relaxing on the front porch, guarding a folded piece of paper.
"This was pushed under the gate," she said. "It is addressed to you, but whoever left it hurried away before I could get a good look at them."
"That's okay; I know who brought it," Ruki replied. She picked up the note and began skimming it. "Dear Ruki, this is probably going to be unexpected..." She trailed off as the content became more personal. Close as she was to Renamon, she didn't think she wanted that closeness to extend to reading love letters. Certainly she didn't consider it her right to know if Renamon was having dalliances with other Digimon.
"Wow," she said, when she'd finished the letter. "I had no idea he knew how to write letters like that... I can't believe Hirokazu read this. No wonder he was laughing."
Renamon tilted her ears in a vulpine smile. "I take it you aren't impressed?"
"Just surprised," Ruki answered.
She read the letter again, more carefully. It was actually, in her estimation, a reasonably good letter. She'd gotten worse ones from a few fans who had seen her at card games, and once from a boy at her school, but they had always struck her as superficial. This, she felt, was an honest reflection from someone who knew what she was really about and admired her for it.
*It's weird. I never thought I'd care about this romance stuff, but... it feels pretty good to think someone might love me, even if that someone's just Kenta.* She paused and reflected. *Then again, there's nothing wrong with Kenta. He's not one of those jerks who's always trying to prove how macho he is. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a guy trying to be all that and convince me I ought to be grateful he's letting me be his girl. Kenta's not like that. He's just always there when you need him. I could be happy with a guy like that...*
Juri was having dilemmas. She had her note all prepared, but there was no one to give it to. She had been halfway to Ryo's apartment building, only to remember belatedly that she did not actually know which room he lived in. Furthermore, they went to different schools, so there was no chance of anything like slipping it into his locker. Now she was roaming aimlessly through the park, hoping for a brainstorm that would tell her where she could leave the note where he would find it.
Her problem was solved when she rounded a corner and nearly tripped over him. He was stretched full-length on the grass, head pillowed on his hands as he stared up at the sky. For a brief instant, she thought she saw something in his eyes, something that was distant and almost sad. Then he saw her and smiled.
"Hi there!" he said. "I was wondering if I would see you today."
"Well, I didn't really mean to meet you here... I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"No. I was just thinking," he answered. "I could stand some company, though. Come on, sit down. This is the best cloud-watching hill in the whole park."
Feeling somewhat awkward, she settled down on the grass a short distance away from him. Turning her head just a bit, she could see that he was not looking at her, but at the sky, which made her feel a little more comfortable. Even so, she couldn't help noticing that the sky wasn't nearly as nice a shade of blue as his eyes. She'd always been rather partial to blue eyes... She quickly put the thought out of her mind.
"So," she asked, after a moment of silence had passed, "what are you thinking about, way out here?"
"Just life," he said. "Things that happened... in the past."
She suddenly realized that, though her life story was fairly common knowledge by now, she knew almost nothing about Ryo.
"Can I ask what happened?"
Ryo shrugged. "That's just it. I don't really know."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"It's kind of hard to explain. Sometimes, I just get this feeling that something has happened to me, something I don't know about or can't remember. I worked it out, once - there's a little gap in my life, a space that I don't know anything about. Sometimes I even have these dreams, things I'd swear were real, but I can't remember them happening to me. It's a creepy feeling."
"Are you sure it's not just your imagination?"
He gave a small laugh. "It sounds that way, doesn't it? It sounds like I'm crazy, or paranoid or something. That's why I never talked about it... but one night, I heard Cyberdramon talking while he thought I was asleep, and he said something about how they could erase one memory, but not two, whatever that means. I asked him about it later, and all he would say was that it was for my own good that I couldn't remember anymore. I can only guess that something terrible must have happened, something so bad that it got wiped from my mind, somehow, so I wouldn't have to deal with it."
"That doesn't sound fair," said Juri. "Terrible things happened to me, but... I wouldn't want to forget it ever happened. It would be awful if Leomon had died and there wasn't even a memory of him left..."
"I agree," Ryo replied softly. "Sometimes I wonder who I must have known, and if they miss me or wonder if I'm ever going to see them. I watch people in the crowd wondering if maybe they knew me, once."
"Maybe you'll find them, someday."
"No, I don't think so. I mean, after everything that's happened... Well, not to brag, but we're heroes. We've been all over the news and TV... if there was anyone out there who knew me, they would have seen me by now. I can only think that either they're dead, or they can't remember me any more than I remember them."
"Yeah... What bothers me most is wondering if it's going to happen again. Who knows, maybe it's happened to other people besides me, that they've had part of their lives taken away. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and it'll be a whole new world."
"Do you ever just wish," she said softly, "that you had someone safe to hang on to?"
He turned to meet her eyes. "All the time."
For a moment, time stood still. Then she turned away.
"It's getting late," she said. "I've stayed too long - I need to go home. I'm sorry, Ryo."
"That's all right. I didn't mean to burden you with my problems. You've already been through so much... I guess it was insensitive of me to give you my troubles, too. Especially since it could very well be all in my head."
"No. I'm honored that you trust me so much," she replied. She turned to walk away, then stopped and came back. "I almost forgot - this is for you."
She held out the letter. Ryo glanced at it curiously, then up at her.
"Oh. Is this from your friend?" he asked.
"Right," she answered. "From my friend."
He smiled. "Thank you. Better hurry up now - I wouldn't want you to be late for dinner on my account."
"All right. Bye, Ryo."
"Bye, Juri. Thanks for listening."
She hurried off, berating herself. For a moment, she had been tempted to tell him the note was from her... but she couldn't, of course. She was glad he had reminded her of her true objective.
Meanwhile, Ryo was reading over his note, smiling wistfully as he considered the possibility that maybe he wasn't as adrift as he'd thought he'd been.
Juri called Kenta on the phone as soon as she got home.
"How did it go?" she asked.
"Not a hitch," he answered. "Even Renamon didn't spot me. That took some doing, too. How did it go with you?"
"Well, there was a close call, but I dealt with it."
"Ah," said Kenta. "So... what kind of hoops do I have to jump through now?"
"Oh, we're almost done," said Juri, trying not to let her relief show. "All we've got to do now is get them together."
"And how are we going to do that?"
"Just send another note. Tell Ruki that if she wants to know who sent the letter, she can meet them at some spot or another... How about six o'clock in the park next to the fountains?"
"All right," said Kenta. "And after that, we're all through with this, right?"
"Right," Juri agreed.
"Good. This is getting to be a strain on my nerves."
"Well, it's almost over," she reassured him. "Bye, Kenta. See you later."
*Almost over,* she reflected. *Just one more day, and it'll be finished, and then Ryo will be with Ruki. And I was just starting to like him...*
She sighed. She had thought it would be fun to help her two friends find each other. Now she was not sure whether to be glad it would be finished soon, or to wish it would never come to completion. Perhaps this hadn't been such a good idea. All she'd thought she was doing was pretending, doing a little acting to convince Ryo that someone liked him...
*And it turned into reality, because I think I'm starting to fall for Ryo. But that can't be right - Ryo likes Ruki, doesn't he? He'd never even think of me as being something more than a friend...*
She shook her head. She was really going to have to finish this, and soon. She would write her final note and send Ryo off where he belonged. As for herself, well... she was used to losing people. It couldn't be any worse this time than any other time...
The only way to deliver the note was to sneak back to Ruki's house. Kenta didn't care for that possibility, but there wasn't much else he could do about that. He settled for wearing the darkest clothing he had and sneaking through shadows, feeling a bit like an inept spy. Marine Angemon was determined to ruin the effect, and fluttered along without a care until Kenta finally caught him and stuffed him into his coat pocket. Thus disguised, he made his way to the Makino residence.
The lights were on inside the house, casting a cheery glow across the garden. Kenta stood at the front gate, surveying the scene and pondering what to do next. Earlier, he had simply put the note under the gate, but as dark as it was, he was afraid that it might be overlooked until it was too late, or that it would get so wet and dirty that no one would be able to read it. If he was going to do this properly, he was going to have to put it under the front door.
"Don't make a sound," he hissed to Marine Angemon, who cheeped quietly in agreement.
As quietly as he could, Kenta began picking his way across the front lawn. He did not use the main walkway, but darted among trees and shrubbery, trying to keep to the darkest parts of the garden. Finally, he was able to creep up to the porch, all but crawling on his hands and knees in an effort to keep from being seen. Inside the house, he could distantly hear people talking, and he thought he recognized Ruki's voice. If she should find him out here... He pushed the thought out of his mind and slid his note under the door.
*Now to get away,* he thought, hurrying back to the cover of darkness.
Inside, Renamon suddenly raised her head.
"Is something wrong?" asked Ruki's grandmother.
"There is someone in the yard," the golden fox replied. "A human. An animal wouldn't move with so much noise."
"A robber?" asked Ruki's mother with a trace of alarm.
Renamon considered a moment. "No. They have a Digimon with them. They are one of us."
"I'll check," Ruki volunteered.
She left the sofa she'd been sitting on and hurried for the front door. Immediately, her attention was caught by the note, and she felt a small thrill as she saw her name written on it. She opened the door and stepped outside.
"Hello?" she called, looking around the dimly lit garden. "Is anyone there?"
Kenta froze, his breath suddenly catching in his throat. How had she known he was here? He'd thought he'd been moderately stealthy, but what if he had been seen anyway? If Renamon were to come out and make a search, he'd certainly be caught, and then what would he say? What would he do? He didn't like to think what would happen if someone got the idea he was up to no good. Nervously, he peered through the branches of the shrub to see what Ruki was doing.
She was still standing in the middle of the garden, peering out into the darkness. The light of a full moon reflected in her pale eyes, giving them a luminance that was almost magical. The open door spilled out a shaft of warm lamplight, reflecting around her fiery hair in a golden halo.
*Wow...* he thought. *I hadn't realized... When you look at her like this, she really is beautiful.*
When he was young, his grandmother had entertained him with stories about the kitsune, the magical fox-people who lived in the deep forests. From time to time, they would take the forms of humans and go out into the world, working their magic as they pleased.
*That's what she reminds me of. Right about now, I could imagine she could run off into the forest and disappear...*
He shook himself from that silly flight of fancy. She was only an ordinary girl - he had known her for years, and he shouldn't let a trick of the light fool him on that count.
*Or maybe it's not the light that's playing tricks on me. There's got to be some kid of trickster spirit following me around, because what else could make me start falling for Ruki?*
He looked back at her. She was reading the letter now, holding it up carefully to the moonlight so she could see. Then she folded it up.
"So, you're going to confess to me after all, huh?" she said. "Well, if you're still out there... don't worry. I'll be there. I wouldn't miss this for anything."
Then she smiled. It had to be only a coincidence that she was looking right in the direction of Kenta's hiding place, but even so, he felt his heart skip a beat. She turned and walked into the house, and he heaved a sigh of relief.
*That was a little too close,* he thought. He sat down where he was, leaning against the trunk of a tree for support.
She had been smiling. He hardly ever saw her smile like that - not the calculating smile that meant she was about to trounce some enemy or opponent, but a genuine, happy smile. She was actually looking forward to meeting whoever had written her that letter. She was happy to know that they loved her.
*Will she smile at Ryo like that tomorrow?*
He shook his head, feeling a flash of stubbornness welling up in him. It hadn't been any of Ryo's doing that this had happened, so why should he benefit from it? It had been Kenta who went through all the trouble of writing letters and sneaking around in cold gardens at night. He was not going to sit there and let someone else take the rewards for his work.
*If Ryo really cared about her all that much, he could have done some of this, but he didn't. I did. And I do like her. I want my chance.*
Then he sighed, as reality caught up with him.
*If Ruki doesn't pound me for this, Juri probably will. Or Ryo. How do I get myself into these messes?*
Six o'clock came all too soon. Juri concealed herself behind a large shrub, peering out at the fountain, waiting. Any time now, Ruki and Ryo would be arriving, and the trap would be sprung. As surely as if she'd shot them with Cupid's arrow, they would come together, and that would be that... unless, of course, something went wrong. It was possible that one or the other of them would decide not to show up, or that they would somehow realize they'd been manipulated, and then it would all fall apart. There was a very slight chance that would happen.
*I suppose I should leave them alone. I mean, this is going to be a private moment... but I just can't. I have to see how it ends for myself.*
Even as she was thinking that, Ruki came wandering into view. She was, Juri noted, looking rather nicer than usual - she wasn't sure, but she thought she might have even been wearing makeup, though it was hard to tell from this distance. She did look like she was expecting something. She was walking slowly, moving in vague circles as she tried to watch for someone's approach. Finally, she reached the fountain and sat down beside it.
A short while later, Ryo arrived, jogging as if he feared he was late. He slowed down when he spotted Ruki.
"Hey," he said. "What are you doing out here?"
She gave him a glare. "None of your business."
"Well, could you do whatever you're doing somewhere else? I don't mean to be rude, but I was expecting to meet somewhere, and I wanted it to be a private meeting."
"You were meeting someone here?" asked Ruki, looking up at him in surprise.
"Yeah. Is there something wrong with that?"
"I was going to meet someone here!"
Ryo stared at her. "At the fountain? Six o'clock?"
She stared back. "That's right."
There was a moment of confused silence, and in the shadows, Juri held her breath.
"What are they saying? I can't here!" a voice hissed.
Juri's head snapped around. Kenta had crept up behind her unnoticed, and was now staring anxiously down at the couple beside the fountain.
"Kenta, what are you doing here?" Juri whispered.
"I could ask you the same question."
"I just wanted to see whether or not it was working, that's all!"
"Oh," said Kenta. "Me too."
"Fine. Be quiet, or they'll hear you!"
Just at that moment, Marine Angemon, who had been hovering silently at Kenta's side, suddenly began fluttering around in circles, colliding with the shrubbery and making a commotion that would be hard for anyone to miss. Kenta pressed his face into his hand.
By the fountain, Ruki and Ryo both turned around to stare in the direction of the noise.
"What's that?" asked Ruki.
"I don't know," Ryo replied. "Maybe we should check it out."
The two of them began moving in the direction of the bushes. Hidden in their shadows, Kenta sighed.
"Guess it's time to come clean," he said. He grabbed Marine Angemon out of the air and stuffed him back in his pocket. "Come on, you. You've caused enough trouble for today."
As Ryo and Ruki came hurrying up the path, Kenta and Juri stepped out from their hiding place to meet them. As soon as they saw them, Ryo and Ruki relaxed.
"Oh, it's just you," said Ryo. "What are you doing back here?"
"Well, um..." said Juri, casting around frantically for an explanation.
"We have a confession to make," Kenta said, steeling himself. "We were the ones who sent the letters."
Ruki laughed a little. "And I think I'd better tell you, Kenta - I already knew."
"You - you did?" Kenta stammered.
"Well, sure. I mean, it didn't take a genius to figure it out."
"And... you don't mind?"
She shrugged. "Why should I mind?"
Kenta still couldn't believe it. "But - but I thought that..."
"We saw you two together," said Juri, coming to the rescue, "and we thought you liked each other..."
"So that's what you were doing hiding in the bushes," said Ryo. "I wondered! You should have come out earlier. I was a little disappointed when I didn't see you, Juri. For a scary minute there, I was afraid it was Ruki who had sent those letters."
Juri blinked. "So... you don't really like her?"
"Like her?" Ryo laughed and ruffled Ruki's hair. "Ruki is the annoying little sister I never had. I love her to death, but I wouldn't want to date her."
Ruki aimed a mock-punch at Ryo. "Well, that's just fine, because I don't want to date such an arrogant jerk!"
"Ryo's not an arrogant jerk!" said Juri.
"Oh, yeah? Just wait until you get to know him better."
Ryo laughed. "Ladies, don't fight over me!"
"So, Ruki..." said Kenta, fighting back a blush, "does that mean... that maybe... you and I..."
"I didn't come out here just to admire the view," answered Ruki. She softened a little. "I knew all along it was you. That's why I came."
Juri leaned against a tree. "This is all really confusing. This is not how I thought this was going to come out..."
"I'm getting the feeling there's more going on here than I thought there was," said Ryo. "Maybe we all need to sit down and tell the story from the beginning, before we get any more confused."
Ruki looked at Ryo. "Have you got something in mind?"
"Yes," he replied. "We'll all go on a double-date, have some milkshakes somewhere, and we'll tell this story from the beginning... that is, if everyone else thinks it's a good idea. What do you say, Juri? Will you go out with me?"
She beamed. "I'd love to."
"Then, Ruki... would you go out with me?" asked Kenta.
"Well, I'd rather go out with you without Big Brother watching me," she answered, "but maybe we can go somewhere else together later?"
"I like that idea," he said.
"Great! It's all settled," said Ryo. "Let's go find the nearest place with food. We can figure out what just happened on the way there."
"Well, it was Juri's idea first," Kenta admitted.
"It was Shakespeare's idea first!" said Juri. "He wrote the play!"
Ruki shook her head. "This is going to be some story."
"A comedy of errors," Kenta agreed.
"Does it end with 'They lived happily ever after?'" Ryo wanted to know.
"I'm sure," answered Juri. "All's well that ends well."