"I can't believe we're stuck doing homework on a weekend," Jonouchi complained.
Bakura, walking a few paces behind him, mustered up a hopeful smile. "Maybe it will be fun?"
Jonouchi snorted. "The words 'homework' and 'fun' do not belong in the same sentence."
"Oh, I don't know," said Honda. "It could be worse."
This time there was muffled laughter from some of his friends, and Jonouchi flashed him a grin and said, "Yeah, you would think that."
There were six of them walking together, ambling down the sidewalk on a beautiful sunny morning that would have ordinarily been full of pleasant things like sleeping late or hanging out at the arcade or dueling each other in the park. Their history teacher, however, had other ideas. She had divided her class up into groups of two and assigned them the task of going to the Domino City Museum and choosing a display there that caught their interest. Then they were to research the item and its background so that they could give a presentation on it in class next week, explaining what it was and who might have used or created it. As far as Honda was concerned, the situation could have been a lot worse. For one thing, the teacher had been kind enough or smart enough to pair everyone off in a reasonable fashion. Yugi and Jonouchi were working together, possibly because after their dueling successes the rest of the class was a little starstruck about them. More likely, it was because they had never been very dedicated students to begin with, and with their careers now assured, they were more inclined than ever to coast through school. If they couldn't get their acts together long enough to muster up a decent presentation, at least no one would get dragged down with them. Anzu had been paired with Bakura, largely because she was one of the few girls in their class not inclined to go to mush over him, and because she was one of the few people shy Bakura was comfortable talking to. And Honda...
He glanced over at the sixth member of their party, who was strolling side-by side with Anzu, chatting cheerfully about what had been on TV last night. He couldn't guess what his teacher's motivations had been in assigning Nosaka Miho to him as his partner (a matchmaking streak? A shortage of other students to match them with?) but he was immensely grateful for his good luck.
A flicker of movement caught his eye, and he barely stopped himself from reacting. His muscles tensed.
"Don't look now," he said quietly, "but..."
"We're being watched, yeah," said Jonouchi, just as quietly. "I see 'em, too."
The little group moved closer together, with the ones less inclined to fight drawing nearer to the center and Jonouchi and Honda easing their way to the forefront.
"All right, ya punks!" Jonouchi shouted. "We know you're there, so either come out where we can see you or go find somewhere else to be."
"Or else we'll have to make you leave," Honda added, taking his cue.
Several young men materialized out of shadows and side streets. They were all wearing identical black leather jackets with red bandannas tied around their arms or worn over their heads. Jonouchi and Honda made noises of exasperation.
"Aw, geez, not these guys again," Jonouchi muttered.
"Who are they?" asked Miho, wide-eyed.
"They call themselves the Bloodstones," said Honda.
"They're a bunch of posers, is what they are," Jonouchi muttered. "A bunch of wimps pretending to be a gang. We can take 'em."
Indeed, the newcomers seemed to be regarding them with some dismay.
"Hey," said one of them, "that little guy with the crazy hair - isn't he that Yugi kid?"
"I think so," said one of his companions. "And I'm pretty sure the blond is, um, what's his name..."
"Jonouchi!" Jonouchi shouted. "Geez, I'm not that bad! I came in second at Duelist Kingdom! I made it all the way to the Battle City finals! Is it too much to ask that someone remember me?"
"I was in the Battle City finals, too," Bakura offered helpfully.
The newcomers looked at each other uneasily.
"Maybe we better leave these guys alone," said one of them.
Another shook his head. "C'mon, man, we can take 'em. If we take these guys down, we'll be famous!"
"And everyone in Domino City will be out for our blood," said another, more practical voice. "If we mess with their hero, everybody's gonna hate us."
"And that's beside what's gonna happen if you get any closer," said Jonouchi, brandishing his fists meaningfully.
The Bloodstones conferred with each other for a few seconds more before deciding that this was apparently not a challenge they were ready to take on.
"Another time, twerps," said the one who appeared to be the leader. He and his gang faded back into the shadows they had come from.
Jonouchi sighed. "Man, that was just sad. I remember when we had a better class of lowlifes around here."
"I'm just glad they're gone," said Anzu.
"Not to worry!" said Honda brightly, flashing a hopeful look at Miho. "They never would have gotten past us."
She didn't seem impressed.
"Let's get out of here," she said, "in case they change their minds."
"If you're feeling scared, I can hold your hand," he offered, but she was already hurrying ahead of him. He sighed, wishing fleetingly that the gang hadn't run off so fast. It might have been nice to have a chance to play the part of the hero.
They reached the lobby of the museum and huddled together near the center of the room.
"We probably shouldn't all do the same sort of thing," said Yugi, "so I guess we'd better split up into different wings."
Bakura nodded. "That sounds like a plan. We can meet up at the snack bar at... let's say one o'clock? That wold give us plenty of time to look around and choose a project, and then we can have lunch together."
"And visit the gift shop?" asked Miho hopefully.
Bakura laughed a little. "Sure, why not."
"It's a plan, then," said Yugi. "See you guys at one!"
The group scattered off in various directions, with Jonouchi enthusing about a weapons exhibit and Bakura talking about a painting he'd heard was rumored to be haunted. Honda found himself standing alone with Miho in the museum's echoing foyer.
"So, uh," he said, "where should we look first?"
"I don't know," she said. She turned in a slow circle, looking at the signs indicating the direction of various exhibits. "I don't want to do the same thing everyone else is doing. I want it to be something special."
Honda thought about it. "Hey, I have an idea. Have you ever been in the geology section?"
"Geology?" she repeated. "There won't be anything in there. We can't do the history of a bunch of rocks."
"Sure we can," he said. "Here, I'll show you."
He started towards one of the many hallways, beckoning for Miho to follow, and after a moment of hesitation, she did. He smiled. As far as ways to spend the weekend went, strolling with Miho through a museum was a pretty good one. Museums tended to be full of dim corners, and this one was also fairly empty this early in the morning. Darkness and privacy sounded fine to him. On top of that, he had an ace up his sleeve.
He found the door to the geological exhibit and politely held it open, giving Miho his most debonair smile as he did so. She stepped tentatively through the door. Then she said, "Oh!"
The hallway might have been dimly lit, but the exhibit room was all but pitch black. The only light came from behind the glass exhibit windows, where strategically placed spotlights reflected dazzlingly off the surface of... well, to call them "rocks" would have been an affront. Here were glittering geodes and crystals and every sort of precious and semiprecious stone, all displayed to highlight their natural beauty. It wasn't like walking into a museum exhibit so much as a treasure trove.
"These are amazing," said Miho, wandering over to a case containing a cluster of natural crystals, some nearly as long as his arm. "I had no idea there was anything like this back here!"
"I knew you'd like it," he said.
"They're beautiful," she agreed, drifting over to look more closely at a display of pale blue moonstones. "But we still can't do a project on them, can we?"
"Not on these," he said, "but keep going further back. There's more you haven't seen yet."
They moved onwards, taking their time as they admired chunks of quartz crystal clear as water, peacock ore in vivid iridescent colors, pale pink desert roses, and tiger's-eyes that changed colors under shifting lights. Then they turned a corner, and the exhibits changed slightly. Now there were displays of how minerals and ores could be worked by human hands. There were diagrams on how stones were mined from the earth, how oil was refined, how ores were smelted. Honda hurried past these, barely even looking at them. Normally he might have found some of it moderately interesting, but he wanted to show Miho what was at the end of the collection: the jewelry exhibit. When she caught sight of them, she squealed in surprise and delight.
"See? I told you we'd find something good back here," he said.
"They're so gorgeous!" she enthused, pressing her face to the glass to admire a particularly stunning brooch.
He agreed that they were. Of course, these pieces weren't just here for their good looks. They were all unique specimens - the largest or brightest of their kind, or sporting unusual cuts or color variations.
"Hey, look at this one," he said, pointing to one of the cases. It contained a necklace made of pale green stones, cut into crescent-moon shapes and cunningly arranged so that they seemed to overlap each other like fish scales. It was clearly the work of a master gem-cutter, to cut so many stones in such an unlikely shape and to have them all match each other so perfectly.
Miho came to stand beside him, peering into the case.
"It's amazing," she said. "I wonder who it belonged to?"
"If we found out, I bet it would make a pretty good project," said Honda.
Miho backed up a little to look at the identifying card on the case.
"Hm," she said. "It only says this was found in Japan, and there's a date saying when they think it was made. That isn't much to go on."
"I guess we could talk about what things were like for people around that time," said Honda, but his heart wasn't really in it. It would have been better if the necklace came with a story.
"Oh, are you interested in that dragon scale necklace?" a voice asked.
Honda turned, startled. Usually he was better at noticing when someone was coming up behind him. He relaxed a bit when he saw it was only a young man wearing the uniform of a museum guide. He was a pleasant-looking fellow, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and with a tan that looked rather out of place in this dim room. Clearly he didn't spend all his time in the geological exhibit.
"Do you know something about it?" Miho asked eagerly.
"As a matter of fact, I do," the man replied.
"We're supposed to be doing a school project on one of the exhibits in this museum," Honda explained. "We'd really like to do a presentation on this necklace, if you can tell us more about it."
"I can do better than that," said the guide. "If you'll follow me back to the office, I'll get the documents that came with it and make photocopies. That way you'll be able to prove to your teacher that you aren't just making up a romantic story."
"Ooh, is it a romantic story?" asked Miho eagerly. "Tell us!"
The guide smiled. "I'll tell you while we're walking. Come on."
He began leading them back through the exhibit, and they scampered eagerly after them. Honda was feeling rather pleased with himself. He'd been hoping something might put Miho in a romantic frame of mind, and clearly he'd found the best way to do it. Never mind that he hadn't realized what he was doing while he was doing it...
"The way the story goes," the guide was saying, "there was a soldier. He was in love with a rich man's daughter - a real beauty. Of course, since she was rich and beautiful, she had a lot of suitors, some of whom were also rich and good-looking. Sadly, this soldier wasn't rich, and not especially good-looking either, as far as we know, but he really did love her. He decided to do whatever he could to prove it. Then one day, he had some good luck. He was fortunate enough to be standing guard over his master's son when a group of would-be kidnappers attacked. He held them off until help could arrive, and even though he was injured in the fight, the child never took a scratch. The master rewarded our soldier handsomely, so the soldier took the money to a jeweler and asked him to make a necklace like no one had ever seen before, which turned out to be the necklace you just saw."
"And he gave it to the girl?" Miho guessed. "Did she like it? Did she marry the soldier?"
The guide shook his head. "No. He never had a chance to collect it. Before he could pick it up, a dispute broke out between his lord and another man, and he was called away to battle. He didn't come back alive. The jeweler kept the necklace for him, hoping someone would come forward and claim it. It's through his records that we know all this. He left the necklace as a keepsake to his family. He felt sorry for the poor lovestruck soldier, you see, and he wasn't the sort to sell something someone had already paid for. He told his children that they were to keep the necklace and try to get it back to the soldier's sweetheart if they could find her, or to the soldier's family if they couldn't. They never did find its proper owner, though, so it got passed down through the generations until a few years ago, when it ended up here."
"That's sad," said Miho. "The poor soldier.. She probably never even knew how much he loved her."
"There's another part of the story," the guide went on. "Some of the jeweler's descendants claim to have seen the soldier's ghost hanging around that necklace. They think he's still trying to take it back to his sweetheart."
"You mean that thing is haunted?" asked Honda, a bit startled. After everything he'd been through, he was in no position not to believe in ghosts.
The guide laughed. "So they say. It's not exactly something we can prove. No one around here claims to have seen him, anyway."
They reached a door marked "Employees Only", and the guide unlocked it with a card key. The room it led to was a small, drab space, filled mainly with filing cabinets and shelves full of dusty cardboard boxes. There was a small desk jammed awkwardly into a corner, as though it were an afterthought, holding a computer so old that Kaiba would probably get heartburn just looking at it. There was also a worn-looking copy machine and a coffee pot full of black sludge. It was a bit of a letdown, after the glories of the gem exhibit. The guide began rummaging through the file cabinets until he found the papers he wanted, and then began carefully feeding them through the copier. Within a few minutes, he had a fat stack of papers to hand over.
"Here you go," he said. "Most of it is pretty dry, I'm afraid, but you should be able to find something for your project."
"Thanks a lot," said Honda sincerely. "You've been a huge help."
"This is going to be the best project ever!" Miho agreed.
"Glad to help," said the guide. "Anyway, I'd love to show you around some more, but it's getting close to my lunch break, so..."
Honda glanced at his watch. "Whoa, yeah, we should be getting back to the rest of the gang."
"Oh, you're right!" said Miho, sounding mildly dismayed. "I can't believe how fast the time went by..."
"Well, at least we got some great stuff for our project," said Honda. "Thanks again, pal. Maybe we'll get that tour another time, huh?"
"Maybe so," the guide agreed. "See you around."
Honda and Miho hurried back to the front of the museum and found their way to the snack bar. The others were already waiting there, with their notes and lunches spread out in chaotic disarray.
"Hey, where have you been?" Jonouchi asked. "We've been waiting on you guys. We thought you might have, you know..." He trailed off and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Honda felt himself blushing.
"We didn't get lost," Miho chirped. "We were just talking to one of the museum guides. He gave us some really good information to use in our project."
"Lucky," said Anzu. "Do you think he'd do that for us?"
"No idea," said Jonouchi. "He said he was going on lunch break after this, so he might not even be in the building anymore."
"Too bad," said Bakura. "There were some things I would have loved to have asked about."
"We have enough to get started on, anyway," said Anzu. "We can always come back if we need more. So, what did you guys end up choosing?"
"Hey, let us at least get some lunch first!" said Honda. "No fair making us watch you eat while we talk."
He and Miho grabbed trays of food, and then rejoined the others to hash over their various projects. Yugi and Jonouchi appeared to have had fun looking at everything, but it was hard to tell from their descriptions just what they had ultimately settled on. Honda had no doubt, though, that they would put their heads together and come up with something impressive in the end. Anzu and Bakura were a little more restrained in telling everyone about what they'd seen in the art gallery, but apparently there had been enough there to satisfy Bakura's taste for the mildly ghoulish, or at least enough to give him some new stories to tell.
"We got to hear a ghost story too!" said Miho.
"Yeah," said Honda, "but maybe we'd better save it for a surprise."
"That's not fair," said Bakura. "I told you my stories."
"Yeah, but we only have the one!" Honda protested.
"I think he's right," said Miho, making him glow with pride. "This story is special, so we have to save it until we can do it right."
There didn't seem to be any changing her mind on the subject, so the others let it drop, and turned their attention to chatting about other things instead. It seemed that Otogi had been assigned as Kaiba's partner, despite the fact that Kaiba only really made token appearances at school these days anyway, and he had been having fun giving him a hard time about it and periodically calling to tell Yugi about their more humorous interactions. It made for good lunch conversation, and they were all in a good mood by the time they finished eating.
"Guess we'd better go home and get to work," said Jonouchi. "Hey, mind if I crash at your place tonight, Yugi?"
"Sounds great!" Yugi replied.
"Just try to get some work done," Anzu mock-scolded, "and don't spend the whole night dueling."
"We won't!" Yugi promised.
"Do you want to come over to my place to work, Anzu?" Bakura asked. "I could make dinner. It might be fun to have someone besides myself to cook for."
"Suits me," she said. "Just let me call my parents and let them know I'll bet getting home late." She waved to the others. "Good luck with your projects, guys! See you on Monday!"
Then there was only Honda and Miho left. He looked at her hopefully.
"So, what do you think?" he said. "I guess you could come over to my place? Or we could work at the library or something, maybe..."
She shook her head. "You promised we were going to the gift shop."
"Oh," he said. "Right."
They went to the gift shop. It was actually rather fun. There were a lot of interesting things there, everything from tiny fossils to gyroscopes to art prints. Honda smiled as he watched Miho cooing over a pile of assorted plush animals. That was one of the things he liked about her. The smallest things could make her happy, and when she was happy, the whole world seemed a little brighter.
"Ooh, come look at these!" she called, and he hurried over to join her.
He was not surprised to find that she'd discovered the jewelry counter. Most of it was pretty tacky stuff - the usual mood rings and glass "gemstones" - but there was also a locked glass case containing some things that wouldn't have looked out of place back among the exhibits. In fact, a few of them looked awfully familiar - very much, in fact, like the displays he had been looking at not long ago.
"It's a reproduction," he said out loud. "Pretty good one, too."
"It looks just like the real thing!" Miho said, leaning down to better inspect it. "I was thinking, we should buy this and use it in our presentation! We can act out the story for the class - maybe we can get Jonouchi and Yugi to be the evil ninjas."
"I don't remember any evil ninjas in that story, exactly," Honda murmured, but she clearly wasn't listening.
"I can get out my holiday kimono and dress up as the beautiful maiden," she went on cheerfully, "and you can make some armor or something and be the soldier. But first we have to get the necklace."
She looked at him in a way that meant that by "we" she meant "him". He sighed a little.
"Let's at least find out how much it costs," he said. He bent over to try to get a look at the price tag. "Yowch! That's way too much for a school project."
"How much is it?" Miho asked, not easily dissuaded.
He told her. She pouted. Clearly she did not want to give up the idea of using the necklace as a prop, but even she couldn't argue with a price tag like that.
"We can make one," Honda offered. "I'm not too bad at making stuff."
"It won't be the same," she said.
"It'll be good enough," he promised. "Tell you what - if you make the costumes, I'll get some supplies and see about rigging up a decent prop necklace."
"I could probably do that," she said. "Get some things for me to make armor out of while you're shopping, and we can work on everything together at my place."
"Sounds great," he said. "While I'm shopping, why don't you look through that folder and see if there's anything else useful in there."
She nodded. "I can do that. See you in about an hour?"
"I'll be there," he promised.
They parted ways, with Miho still looking somewhat subdued at not getting the necklace, but still buoyed by the prospect of making costumes. As for Honda, his mood was one of determination.
He had some serious shopping to do.
Miho began her studies with the best of intentions. When she sent Honda out shopping, she really had intended to read over the stack of papers the guide had given her and make notes on anything useful she found. That intent had lasted for about fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, the papers were mostly very dry, scholarly things, full of the kind of minute details that only the most devout archeologist or historian could read without their eyes glazing over. She slogged on dutifully for a while anyway before getting up and going to her closet to dig out her kimono and the rest of the accessories she usually wore with it. Playing with those for a while was enough to clear her head a little and formulate a new plan of action. She could get on the internet for a while and start looking up some historical background. That wouldn't be fascinating, but it would be better than what she had been doing. At least she had a general date to go by. Maybe the soldier's master had been important enough that she could find out something about him.
Her thoughts drifted to the poor soldier. She wondered what would have happened if he'd actually been able to deliver the necklace the way he'd tried to. Would she have accepted him? Or was she already in love with someone else? If she was wealthy and beautiful, she probably had lots of handsome, charming suitors clamoring for her hand. She might not have even noticed one ordinary soldier, no matter how much he might have loved her. Sad, really, that she'd never found out how extraordinary he really was...
If I were her, I'd have noticed, she told herself.
There was a knock on her door.
"Miho?" called Honda's voice, slightly muffled. "Can you let me in? My hands are full."
Miho hurried to open the door. She found Honda juggling several shopping bags and some sheets of poster board. It was a miracle he'd been able to walk, much less see where he was going. She hastily took a few things from him before he could drop them.
"Thanks," he said. He stepped into the room and carefully set down the rest of his shopping bags at the foot of her bed. "So, did you find out anything good?"
"A little bit," she said, gesturing at the pile of papers and her screen full of notes and scraps of information copied from various online sources.
"Great!" he said. "I got a lot of stuff - I wasn't sure what you'd need to make armor, so I got some of everything."
"Well, spread it all out and let's see!" she said.
Honda obediently dumped everything out on the carpet. Miho found herself impressed - he really did seem to have picked up a little of everything that might conceivably be used to make the kind of props they needed. There was poster board, yarn, wires, rolls of thin chain, assorted glass jewels, sheets of thin metal, paint, brushes, glue, and a few different kinds of cutters and pincers.
"We could outfit a whole army with this," she said approvingly, and he glowed at the praise.
"Glad to help!" he said.
She went rummaging in a dresser drawer to find her sewing things. Everyone learned at least a little basic sewing in school, but she had enough of a passion for nice clothing that she liked to be able to mend her things when the hems frayed, and sometimes she even amused herself by buying simple clothes and embellishing them, so she always had a few sewing notions close at hand. Now she took out a measuring tape.
"Could you take off your jacket?" she asked. "I want to get your measurements so I can make the armor fit right."
"Um... okay," he said.
He stripped off his jacket and stood stiffly in the middle of the floor. Miho giggled, thinking he did in fact look very soldierly, standing ramrod-straight and staring straight ahead that way. She began taking measurements, looping the tape around his shoulders and down the length of his spine. She could feel him trying not to squirm at her touch.
"Hold still!" she said.
"That tickles!" he complained.
Impishly, she ran a finger down his back, and he yelped.
"I didn't know you were ticklish," she said. "I'm going to remember that, the next time I want you to do something."
"Hey, don't I always do what you ask me to do?"
"Hmm, true," she said. She went back to measuring his waist. She reflected idly that for all his face was rather plain, he had a good physique. He really would make an admirable soldier, once she'd made some proper armor for him.
She jotted down the last of the measurements on a bit of scrap paper and brandished it triumphantly.
"Got it!" she said. "Don't worry about a thing. I'm going to make you look like a genuine dashing warrior!"
He gave her a jaunty salute. "Sounds good! I'll start working on the necklace, then."
Suiting action to words, he sat down on the floor and started pulling out thin sheets of metal and marking something on them. Miho watched a moment, uncertain what exactly he was trying to accomplish, then shrugged and got to work trying to turn some poster board and aluminum foil into creditable armor.
While she worked, she watched Honda out of the corner of her eye. He messed with the metal sheets for a bit, then opened one of the bottles of paint and began experimenting with various ways of dabbing paint onto his materials. Apparently he found an effect he liked, because he went to work with a will, cutting out shapes, painting them, and fitting them together. She thought he looked like he was having fun. Before long, he had something even she was willing to admit made a reasonable approximation of treasure from a distance, even when she knew it was only made of foil and paint.
"What do you think?" he asked, holding it up.
She smiled. "You're a real artist."
"Thanks!" he blurted. He blushed and rubbed the back of his neck, leaving streaks of paint on his skin. "That armor is looking pretty good too. I mean, you're really talented."
"Try it on and see how it looks," she suggested.
There was a bit of awkward shuffling as he tried to get the contraption she'd rigged over his head and she tried to help him. They ended up working at cross-purposes for a while, but eventually they got him strapped in and got his makeshift helmet shoved into place. It took a few tries to get his hair tucked away properly, but once he had his gear on and his aluminum-foil sword strapped in place, she thought he made a rather fine soldier. She took his hand and led him over to her mirror.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"Hey, not bad!" he said. "Just like in the samurai movies!"
Grinning suddenly, he dropped to one knee and held up the prop necklace to her.
"Oh, beautiful maiden," he declaimed, "I bring you this token of my eternal devotion! Please say you'll be mine!"
She laughed. "Of course, noble soldier! I couldn't possibly turn you away."
He grinned, looking a little embarrassed. "I don't guess we'd better play it that way in front of the class, huh?"
"It wouldn't be very historically accurate," she admitted. She frowned a little. "It would make a better ending, though. What really happened was so sad!"
"I guess so," he agreed, getting back to his feet. "But I also figure we kinda owe it to them to tell it like it is."
"Maybe so." Her gaze strayed over to the piles of paper still waiting for their attention. Making costumes had been fun, but now it was time to get down to the real work. She sighed. "But I still wish we could make up our own ending."
On Monday morning, Honda walked Miho to school. He had offered to do so on the grounds that they had costumes and props to carry, but it was nice to have a reason to walk with her, too. It was the sort of day that invited walking, sunny and warm, with just a hint of a breeze to keep things fresh. As he walked, he toyed with the idea of suggesting that maybe if their presentation went well, they should have a picnic in the park to celebrate.
"I hope the others don't forget their lines," Miho murmured.
"It'll be fine," he assured her. "All they really have to do is jump around and try to look dangerous, right?"
"I guess so," she admitted, "but what if..."
Honda didn't hear what she said next, because something slammed into his side, throwing him off his feet and sending the things he was carrying tumbling all over the sidewalk. Miho shrieked and jumped backwards just in time to avoid a second boy's clumsy attempt to grab her. Honda staggered and managed to regain his footing. While he and Miho had been chatting, it seemed that several other boys, all wearing the jackets and bandannas of the Bloodstones, had crept up around them. Honda shoved the one who had tackled him, knocking him back on his rear, and Miho swung her bag as hard as she could at the one who had grabbed her. It smacked him squarely in the nose with a heavy thud; she was carrying her school books in there, and Honda knew from many mornings of carrying them for her that they were heavy. The boy staggered backwards with his hands clapped over his face, blood dripping through his fingers.
"Hey, what's the idea?" Honda shouted.
"This is for showing us up the other day!" said the one who seemed to be the leader. "This time you don't have your celebrity friends with you, so we've got no reason to go easy!"
Honda rolled his eyes. "Terrific. Miho, watch my back!"
She nodded, face white, and stood so that they were back to back. She held her book bag up threateningly.
After that, things became hectic. The gang came at him in a group at first, but they didn't seem to be used to fighting as a unit, and they kept getting in each other's way. He managed to give several of them bruises and bashes to remember before they backed off to think of a different strategy. Honda was rather proud to note that Miho had scored several more hits; she almost looked like she was having fun.
Then the leader of the gang made a sudden lunge at him. Honda tensed himself, preparing to strike, but the leader veered away and instead made a grab for something on the ground.
"Ha! Look what I've got!" he shouted. He was waving the prop necklace that Honda had been carrying.
"Hey, give that back!" Honda shouted. He made a grab for it, but the boy darted away.
"Mine now!" he shouted. "We'll take this as our compensation for last time. See ya!"
The group scattered, leaving Honda shaking his fist at them and shouting insults. Within seconds, they were out of sight.
"Damn!" he shouted, kicking a utility pole. "I can't believe I let those little punks sneak by me!"
Miho stared off the way they had run. "Can't we get it back?"
"Not if we don't want to be late for school," said Honda. "We're running behind as it is."
"But..." said Miho, looking at the items scattered on the ground. "What about the necklace?"
"Don't worry," he assured her. "It'll be okay."
"But... our project!"
"I can get us a replacement," he said.
"It won't be the same," Miho replied.
"I know," he said gently. "Look, we'll deal with these guys when there's time, but right now, we've gotta get to class. I'll take care of it, though, okay? You've just got to trust me."
She gave him a worried look, but she nodded bravely. He smiled, trying to look reassuring.
"I promise it'll be fine," he said. "You can count on me."
With that, he gathered up the rest of the things that had fallen, and the two of them hurried to school.
History was the last class of the day, and by that point, Miho had worked herself up to a case of nerves. In fact, she was feeling half-inclined to have a fainting fit and get herself excused from class. She felt reasonably sure she could manage one, or possibly a fit of hysteria. There were few things she disliked more than looking ridiculous in public, and the sketch she and Honda had worked out for class made heavy use of the prop necklace. With it gone, what were they going to do? Use an imaginary one? Make one out of paperclips and soda can tabs? Talk one of the girls in class into loaning them some jewelry? It was extremely tempting to just give up, fake a sudden debilitating disease, and ask if they couldn't please try this again on, say, Thursday.
The only thing that was keeping her from completely losing her cool was that Honda didn't seem to think there was anything to worry about. If there was one thing she knew about him, it was that he was reliable - he'd do what he'd said he would do or die trying. If he said there was nothing to worry about, then she couldn't completely make herself believe that there was. She just wished he would tell her what he was going to do. She'd made several attempts to catch him, but he always seemed to be busy doing something else. She had the distinct impression that he was avoiding her, and made a mental note to get him for it later.
At last, their turn to present arrived. The two of them went up to the front of the class and took turns reading the pieces they'd prepared giving historical background, and when they were done, asked permission to step out for a moment to change into their costumes. With permission granted, Miho scurried off to the girls' room to pull on her outfit. When she returned, she found Honda waiting for her, dressed in his armor and looking slightly ill at ease.
"You didn't get it?" she asked. "Please, tell me you have it."
"I have it, I have it!" he said. "It's just, well..."
"What?" she asked. "Spit it out!"
He didn't say anything. Instead, he fished in his pocket and took out something that sparkled. She stared at it.
"That's..." she said, and stopped, not quite sure whether to believe what she was seeing.
"The replica from the gift shop at the museum," he said. "I could see how much you wanted it, so when I went to get the crafting stuff, I went home and shook out my piggy bank, and I got a couple of old video games I don't play anymore and traded them in, and I scraped up the money to buy it. I mean, I know I said it was too much for a class project, but I didn't think it was too much for you. So. Um." He offered it to her. "Here?"
She stared at it. "I... don't know what to say."
From within the classroom, the teacher called, "Are you two ready out there yet?"
"Guess we'd better talk about this later," he said, looking slightly relieved. "Come on."
It was a good thing she had worked so hard to memorize her lines, because she went through her presentation in a daze. Fortunately, Honda was as reliable as ever, and Yugi and Jonouchi managed an energetic performance as various wicked soldiers. It seemed like no time at all passed before the sketch was over, and the teacher released the class for the day. Everyone poured out of the classroom, on their way to enjoy a few hours free from school. Inevitably, Miho found herself walking down the sidewalk beside Honda.
"Well... so," he said at last.
"So," she said. "You... actually got that necklace for me?"
"Yeah," he said. "I guess I just wanted to do something that would impress you. I mean, I know I'm not super good-looking, and I'm not a great duelist or anything. I guess I'm pretty ordinary, but, well..." He fished in his pocket and took out the necklace again. It sparkled in the sunlight. "I understand if you're not interested, but I still want you to have it."
She looked at it, and then at him, and a slow smile crossed her face.
"I don't think you're as ordinary as all that," she said. "Thank you, noble soldier."
And she leaned forward to give him a peck on the cheek. He blushed brilliantly.
"Aww, it was nothing," he said.
They walked a little further. The sky, which had been blue up until then, became slightly overcast. As they neared the park that stood between Miho's apartment and the school, a fog began to roll in. Miho shivered a little.
"Where did this come from?" she asked.
"I don't know," Honda answered, bewildered. "Think it's going to rain?"
"I don't think so," she answered. "It's just..."
As they neared the entrance to the park, she saw a dim figure emerge from the fog. He soon became identifiable as a young man - and a familiar one.
"That's the guide from the museum!" she whispered to Honda.
The man didn't seem to see them. He walked through the park entrance and deeper into the fog. Without even consulting each other, Miho and Honda followed him. He strode purposefully through the park, moving further away from the streets and the eyes of other people. Normally there would have been a few people nearby - elderly folks out for a stroll, mothers with small children, the occasional dog-walker - but the sudden ominous weather seemed to have chased them all indoors. No birds sang, and even the traffic sounds were oddly muffled. The young man made his way to a small gazebo that was often used by picnickers when the weather turned uncooperative. The only person sitting there now, though, was a very pretty young woman with long dark hair. She looked up as she heard the young man's footsteps approaching her. Realizing they were in danger of being seen, Miho ducked behind a shrub, yanking Honda after her.
The young man didn't notice them, though. He walked up to the gazebo and dropped down on one knee before the woman, holding up something that glittered. The woman smiled at him and accepted it, lifting it daintily from his hands and fastening it around her neck. Then, as Miho watched in amazement, the two of them became transparent, fading slowly out of sight. The fog lifted, and the sun broke through the clouds. Miho turned to Honda, her eyes wide.
"Did you just see...?"
"I saw," he said. "I just don't know what I saw. What happened?"
"We changed the ending," she said softly. "I mean, we fixed it in their place. You brought me the necklace he couldn't bring to her, and somehow that fixed it..."
He looked at her. "If I don't think about it too hard, that almost makes sense."
"It did happen," she said firmly. "We saw it, didn't we?"
"I guess so," he said. "Anyway, I guess it doesn't matter how it happened. I'm just glad he got to be with his girl at last. He seemed like a nice guy, didn't he?"
"He did," she agreed. "It's not every ghost that helps people with their homework."
"So, uh, now that we've got that sorted out," he said, "do you maybe want to go get some ice cream or something?"
She looked at him seriously, evaluating.
"I think we have to," she said at last. "It's fate, or something. I wouldn't want to mess with that." She took his hand, and he followed her willingly. "I like sprinkles on mine."
"You got it!" he agreed cheerfully.
She gave him a smile, and he blushed again. Well, so what if he wasn't the most suave or good-looking? There were other things that counted for more.
As they made their way out of the park, she reflected that maybe they hadn't just arranged for only one happy ending.