Juri pushed herself on the swing a little, watching Ryo's feet dig into the dirt. He probably wouldn't be happy when he heard that she'd gone to the tournament yesterday, even if she begged out of playing by using the excuse that she'd forgotten her cards and didn't want to use any replacement set. She'd just wanted to see what it was all about.
Setting up a mini play for herself using someone else's spare cards as characters had earned her a few odd looks.
But it was so boring… doesn't anyone at those things have any imagination?
She probably shouldn't have gone in the first place.
I'm ready to be back in my own body now… Juri sighed. She loved her friends, even Ryo - though she wasn't as close to him as she was to Takato and Ruki. But she didn't want to live their lives.
And Ryo's classes were impossible to understand - hopefully she was copying down the right things when she took notes.
Juri was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't even notice she had company until Ruki's body slumped into the swing next to her and let out a long, unhappy breath.
"Oh, hi!" she said brightly. Who was Ruki, again…? Oh, right - Kenta. Juri smiled. Kenta was someone she'd known for a while; he fell somewhere in the middle for her close friends. "How was school?"
"Could be worse, I guess." He slumped further. Juri felt privately that he was not doing a very good job of making Ruki look like herself. But… then… she knew how hard it was, trying to be someone you weren't. "I can't concentrate. I really want to be me again."
"I know." She sighed. "I don't like any of the same things Ryo likes. He doesn't even have any good books or movies! And his friends get so weird if you try to be creative."
He gave her a funny look - or rather, Ruki did, although Ruki wasn't really there. Very confusing. "What exactly do you mean by 'creative'?"
"Well… they were talking about some kind of fight on TV - or maybe it was a race. I can't remember exactly." Maybe Kenta could explain to her why they'd reacted the way they did - he was a boy too, after all. "And I said 'Wouldn't it be funny if someone was just pretending all along?' They all just stared at me!"
Kenta was staring, too. "Pretending?" he repeated, baffled. "In a fight?"
"Haven't you ever seen those shows where some of the people are really actors and the others don't know?" Juri really didn't get this. What was wrong with looking beyond the obvious? Didn't they get bored, having to be so straightforward all the time?
"You compared a fight to reality TV?" Kenta was still staring at her.
"But it would be a surprise," she insisted, defensively. "No one would be expecting it. If I were in charge, I might do something like that. It would really throw people off, don't you think? And that'd be funny. See?"
"No one's supposed to be in charge of what happens in those fights," Kenta explained slowly, looking as if he weren't sure whether to laugh out loud or bury his face in his hands in a show of dismay. "They're supposed to be real fights."
Juri waved a hand. "Oh, don't be silly - everyone knows they're not really real."
"Well, they're at least supposed to seem like they're real!" He obviously didn't understand at all. "That's the whole point!"
She wasn't going to get a straight answer out of him either, apparently. "Boys are so weird."
"Yeah, well… then I'd rather be weird." Kenta frowned a bit. "Where is everyone, anyway? Aren't they usually here before us?"
"I don't know." Juri shrugged. "I didn't really think about it - I'm just so used to being here early, you know? I forgot that Ryo and Ruki usually get here after everyone else."
"I hope nothing happened…" Kenta began, but before he got a chance to continue or let her reply, he was interrupted.
"You guys are already here?" Takato walked over to the swing set, and checked Jenrya's watch. "Oh, man - I didn't realize it was this late. People just kept asking questions and wouldn't let us leave."
Juri blinked at him. "What sort of - ?"
"Those two are unbelievable!" Hirokazu stalked into the clearing, a petulant scowl fixed on Takato's face.
And behind him came Ryo and Ruki, in Hirokazu's and Kenta's bodies.
Ryo had his arm slung casually around Ruki's waist, and she hadn't yet killed him. She didn't even seem to care, in fact. Juri stared at them. The grin on Kenta's face did not look at all like an expression that belonged there. It might've looked better on Hirokazu - but his face was abnormally cool instead.
"Wh - Wha…?" Kenta gaped at them.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Hirokazu crossed his arms, his voice thoroughly irritated. "They outted us. How d'you like that? They're in there, living out our lives and going around kissing each other in front of the whole damn school!"
"Just setting the stage for you two," Ryo said, not losing the grin.
"You said you wanted that rumor fixed, so I fixed it." Ruki said, finally shoving Ryo's hand away from her. "You don’t need to do that any more - no one's around to see it."
"What rumor?" Kenta demanded, still looking shocked.
"Ryo made another move on Ruki, and a bunch of girls saw her turn him down flat." Hirokazu was still scowling like a thundercloud. "The rumor said that you wanted me, and I was a crazy bastard about it, and half the school believed it."
"Are you kidding me!?" Kenta gawked at him. "Please tell me you're kidding me!"
"No one thinks that any more," Jenrya assured him. It was awfully strange, Juri found, watching yourself move and speak from the outside.
"Yeah, Ruki went and kissed Ryo in the lunchroom while standing on one of the benches," Takato said, grinning like anything. Apparently, he thought the situation was really funny.
"What are you laughing at, huh?" Hirokazu apparently did not agree.
Takato didn't stop grinning. "Nothing."
Kenta looked utterly shocked. "So now the whole school knows about us!?"
"Pretty much, yeah." Ryo gave him a funny look. "What do you mean 'knows'?"
Juri swung her head around to stare with interest as Ruki's cheeks starting turning an odd red shade. "Um… well…"
"I don't believe this!" Ruki raised her eyes to the sky for a moment, then brought them back down to glare at Kenta. "You are not telling me you let that freak near my body!"
"Hey!" Both Takato and Hirokazu responded to that one.
"I didn't! I swear I didn't!" Kenta looked thoroughly alarmed. "All we did was talk! Honest!"
"Yeah, as if I'd want anything to do with your body." Hirokazu glared at Ruki. "And anyway, like you can talk! After what you just did in the lunchroom…"
"Hey, everyone knows you two want each other," she snapped back. "I didn't do anything you wouldn't have done, and you know it! But if you keep spending so much time over at my place, my grandmother's going to start thinking Takato's my boyfriend!"
"What!?" Takato looked horrified. "No!"
"Well, maybe you should've thought of that before you went and messed with mine and Kenta's lives, huh?" Hirokazu didn't seem to be in any mood to back down. "Anyway, what about Jenrya, dragging Juri's body over to his place so he can make out with Takato!"
Juri's mouth fell open. "What!?"
"What!?" Jenrya and Takato echoed her, almost identical flushes spreading on their cheeks.
"I never - I wouldn't - " Takato sputtered.
"Please. You think I don't know how glad you are that you just have to strip down to see your love interest naked?"
That was cruel. Juri winced, watching Takato desperately try to work some damage control with a voice box that didn't seem willing to function. Jenrya's eyes were about as wide as they could go, and he seemed no less flustered.
"Hirokazu…" Kenta got up from the swing to put a hand on his best friend's arm.
"Don't do that!" Ruki shouted, looking very angry. She probably thought Hirokazu's snide remarks were cruel, too. "Keep my hands off that body! Especially with him in it!"
"Yeah, what are you gonna do about it?" Hirokazu balled his fists, glaring at her. "Kiss Ryo again? Fine! Go ahead! Steal my life! Make out on a table with him for all I care!"
"Hey, what was she supposed to do?" Ryo came to Ruki's defense. "You were the one who told her to fix it, and she fixed it!"
"By kissing Kenta! She can't just do that! It's against all the rules!"
Juri got to her feet. This was starting to look very ugly. "Guys…"
No one paid any attention to her. "It's not even Kenta, you moron!" Ruki snapped.
"Oh yeah?" Hirokazu's eyebrows went down. "Well, in that case, it's perfectly all right for me to do this!"
And he turned around, grabbed a startled and panicky-looking Kenta, and bent him backwards in a sloppy parody of a kiss.
"NO!" Ruki and Takato both howled.
Hirokazu leaned back up, staring defiantly at them. "What? 'It's not even you two', remember?"
"You jerk!" Ruki's hands had balled into fists; her expression was murderous. "You just made me kiss Takato! What if someone saw that?"
"Well, it's not even you, and I'm not even Takato, so what the hell does it matter, right?"
Even Ryo looked pissed off. "That was just plain nasty!"
Kenta looked a bit dazed; he touched two of Ruki's fingers to his lips as if he couldn't figure out what had just happened.
"Hey, bite me!"
"You just made me kiss Ruki!" Takato's cheeks were red - with fury this time instead of embarrassment. "I didn't do anything to you!"
"Would you rather I jogged over there and made you kiss Jenrya instead?"
"Shut up! Stop saying that! It's none of your business!"
"Yeah, well, mine and Kenta's lives are none of Ruki's business, and she went around messing with them anyway!"
"So that gives you a right to mess with mine?"
"I'm going to make you sorry you were ever even born!" Ruki snarled.
"How? By sticking me in your life?"
The area around the swings abruptly erupted into a verbal war zone.
Juri sucked in a couple of deep breaths, reaching out with one hand as if she could halt everything. This was terrible… "Please stop," she said, but her voice was swallowed up by the noise.
Takato and Ruki were yelling at Hirokazu, Ryo backing them up with uncharacteristic heat. Jenrya stood a bit behind Takato, still looking too flustered and confused to be of any use, and Kenta was leaning against Hirokazu as if his legs were incapable of holding him up, his eyes a bit fuzzy. And Hirokazu argued right back with everyone, waving his hands and glaring with more anger than she would've thought he could summon up.
And she was the only one capable…
Juri took in a deep breath, clenched Ryo's hands into fists with some determination, and yelled out, "STOP IT!" at the top of her lungs.
Ryo had a good, strong voice - and neither he nor Juri shouted very often. Silence fell almost immediately, and her friends all turned to look at her, startled.
"I can't believe you're all doing this!" she rushed on, once she'd gotten their attention. "We're supposed to be friends, and just look at you! How are we ever going to find this Digimon and get ourselves back to normal if we can't even work together?"
"I can't believe that's my voice," Ryo mused - almost too quietly for her to hear.
She glared at him. "You all need to stop fighting right now - or we're never going to sort this out! You don't really want to stay like this, do you?"
More silence answered her.
Ruki was the first to break it, letting out a long, slow breath. "She's right," she admitted, in a tone that had some forced calm to it.
"Hard as that is to believe." Hirokazu's tone was subdued as well, the feeble joke not so enthusiastic as it might've been.
Takato nodded slowly. "We're acting stupid, aren't we?"
"Well, you are." Apparently, even being scolded couldn’t suppress Hirokazu's need to turn everything into a joke or an insult.
Juri glared at them. "Don't you dare start that again!"
Takato held up his hands. "We won't, we won't!" He managed a weak smile. "Sorry."
Ruki sighed. "Well, I might as well be the first… I'm sorry for messing up your life," she told Hirokazu. "And if you make a joke about that, I'll bury your face in the ground," she added - not entirely serious, but not entirely kidding, either.
"Yeah, yeah." He grudgingly went on. "I'm sorry for kissing Kenta and making it look like you and Takato were getting it on."
She grimaced at that. "Don't remind me."
He turned to Takato next. "I guess I should apologize for making all those comments about you - even though they're all true, and you guys really need to get it over with already."
Takato made an 'eep' sound and went beet red again. So did Jenrya.
Juri stamped her foot. "That is not a proper apology!"
Ryo straightened Kenta's glasses. "I guess we should all go our separate ways," he pointed out, voice calm and even again. "Ruki and I have to get back to tracking down that Digimon."
"We still need to figure out how we're going to make it turn us back, though," she added, frowning a bit.
Juri blinked at her. She had just assumed… "Would its attack still stick around even if you beat it?"
Ruki and Ryo both turned to stare at her.
"What? I thought that sort of thing disappeared after you win a battle."
They glanced at each other. "I didn't even think of that," Ruki admitted, making a face.
"I feel kind of dumb right about now," Ryo added, sheepishly.
Juri smiled. "Well, it's a good thing you guys have me around to remind you!" she said, and looked around at everyone else, feeling much better already. "So who wants to go see a movie while we wait?"
The silence was eerie.
Kenta tugged at the straps of Ruki's bag, getting more and more edgy as the seconds ticked by. If it had really been Takato in that body, it wouldn't be so bad, but this kind of quiet, going on this long, with Hirokazu around…
He checked his watch. Five minutes.
I can't take this…
"Hey, Hiroka - "
Kenta pulled Ruki's knees up to his chest and resigned himself to staring at Takato's sprawled-out form until his best friend started talking again. There was only so long the more outspoken boy could go under this kind of scrutiny.
Thirty seconds later - some kind of record, maybe? - Hirokazu sat up, turned around, and glared at him. "Dude, would you quit staring at me?"
Much better. "Then you stop being so quiet! It's really creepy, you know."
"Well, sor-ry! Maybe I just have things to think about! Ever think of that?" The gaze directed his way was an irritated one.
Kenta relaxed. He was familiar with this tone and behavior. "Well, if all you want to do is think, then maybe I should just go home," he said, not moving to get up. That was a bluff, and it wouldn't fool anyone; it was only supposed to make a point.
"Yeah right. Back to Ruki's? Nice try." Hirokazu actually smirked at him. "I think you're stuck with me - at least until dinner time." He flopped back down onto the grass, tucking his hands behind his head.
Kenta decided not to copy him just yet. "How come you said those things about Takato?" he asked instead. Hirokazu was usually obnoxious and occasionally thoughtless, but he was only deliberately mean if someone really pissed him off.
And as far as he'd seen, Takato hadn't done anything.
"He was asking for it!" There was a defensive note in Hirokazu's voice - almost overshadowed by the indignation. "Didn't you see him laugh? He was laughing at us!"
"So? We would've laughed at him, if it was the other way around." There had to be more to it than that. "It's not like it's such a big deal; we weren't planning on keeping this a secret, were we?"
"That's not the problem!" Hirokazu gave him an annoyed frown. "Man, are you being stupid on purpose or something?"
"Like I give a damn if people know about us," he went on, ignoring Kenta's outburst. "In fact, it's better that they do. 'Cause you're mine, and now everyone knows that means hands off."
Stupid blushing… Kenta frowned, trying to cover that. "What do you mean 'yours'? I never said I was yours!"
"Yeah, well, it's implied." Hirokazu brushed that aside. "Anyway, that stuff doesn't matter. It's just that stupid… ah, you know. Why'd she go and do that, anyway?" He scowled up at the sky, not looking over at Kenta.
"What? Kissing Ryo?" He was glad he hadn't been there for that… It would've been weird to see. "So what? It's not like either of us was even in there, so it doesn't count anyway."
"You don't get it, do you?" Hirokazu still wasn't looking at him. "She kissed you."
Kenta shook his head. "Not really - I wasn't even there."
"But it's your body - it looks like you, and belongs to you, and eventually you're gonna be back in it." There was an angry sort of feel hovering around him by that point - direction-less, embarrassed anger. "No matter how you look at it, she's the one who saw and felt and went through all that, and that means she's the one who got to kiss you first. Now either shut up and leave me alone or do something that'll make me feel better instead of worse."
So that was it. Kenta ducked his head to hide a smile, experiencing some guilt for the surprised pleasure that came with Hirokazu's admission. It was making his best friend feel rotten, after all… but he couldn't help feeling like he was the special one then, just for a little while. And despite everything, that was kind of nice.
"Cheer up… at least it wasn't someone else's lips she used." He unwrapped his arms from his knees and let himself fall back to lie beside the still-sulking boy. "Anyway, the one I'm going to remember is you trying to suffocate me back at the park."
"Hey! I was a little distracted there!" Finally, Hirokazu turned his head to look at him. "Anyway, it wasn't that bad…"
"Yeah right! That's why I spent so much time at the fountain earlier, trying to wash all the spare slobber out of Ruki's mouth!"
"Aw man, did you have to mention that before supper?" He made an exaggerated gagging noise. "That's disgusting!"
"You're telling me - I was the one who had to put up with it, thanks to you."
"No one asked you to open your mouth, you know," Hirokazu reminded him, the usual superior look back on his face. "It's not my fault you can't figure out how to mash lips with someone. Not like it's rocket science or anything…"
Kenta shot back a good-natured glare. "Well, at least I don't have a drooling problem…"
"I was talking, moron," Hirokazu said, in his best condescending tone - which Kenta was barely starting to get used to hearing from Takato. "Or maybe you were so busy searching through your head for your brain that you didn't notice."
"Yeah, whatever." Kenta gave up, feeling very good as he stared up at the sky.
"Hey, what are you smiling about, anyway?"
He reached up and tucked his hands behind his head, mimicking Hirokazu's pose. "Just thinking," he said innocently. "That's all."
They just happened to be some pretty nice thoughts.
"Is this going to be as pointless as yesterday?" Ruki was still feeling somewhat cross - she was keeping her temper under control, mainly because she was still feeling guilty from last time, and this had been amplified by the way Ryo had automatically backed her up during the argument with Hirokazu. But the frustration wasn't helping.
"Hopefully not." Ryo at least was serious now; she could tell by the setting of Kenta's shoulders and the determination visible on his face. He looked down the street instead of turning to face her. "I have a better feeling about this area, for some reason."
"Instincts are good," Cyberdramon approved.
Ruki shook her head. "That depends on the instinct." She knew Ryo well enough to know that he wouldn't have said something like that if he didn't mean it. "But in this case, I guess any kind of hint is better than nothing."
"All right… let's give it a try." Ryo glanced sideways at her with a bit of a smile. "If anything feels about right, let me know. You too, Cyberdramon."
She nodded, and glanced at Renamon. It wouldn't be necessary to repeat it; she would know what to do. "Let's do it then."
Ryo led them down another side street - one Ruki might have passed over, if she hadn't agreed to this 'follow our feelings' experiment. This was a good way to keep the impatience away; keeping herself on alert increased the tension of the search. It was almost like stalking her prey, in a way. Ruki smiled a little.
"What's that for?" Ryo asked, glancing at her again.
"That smile." He shrugged, and smiled a bit himself. "Looks like you're enjoying yourself."
"I am." She didn't have any kinds of reservations about admitting it. "This is a lot better than what we were doing last time."
"We do seem to be on the right course this time," Renamon agreed.
"Well, let's hope it doesn't end like last time," Ryo said, shaking his head a bit. "After what happened at the park, I don't think we want any more rumors being spread about Hirokazu and Kenta."
"Tell me about it." Ruki rolled her eyes upward. "Knowing the people at that school, they'd probably come up with some kind of crazy story about a lover's spat where someone confesses to already being married - to two women, three men, and a Digimon."
Ryo laughed out loud. "People really like to embellish things when they have a good story, don't they?"
"No kidding." She turned her eyes back to the street, glancing both ways at the intersection they'd just reached. "I think this way."
"Yeah." Ryo nodded, and they turned to the right.
"There don’t seem to be a lot of people around," Renamon noted.
"That's probably a good thing - especially if we catch up with this Digimon." Ruki looked around herself. "Do you think the fact that the streets are empty around here has anything to do with it being in the area?"
"I don't know," her Digimon admitted. "I suppose it could."
"We need to be ready for just about anything," Ryo added, frowning thoughtfully. "And we still can't be sure it's in the area - I haven't picked up anything yet."
"Maybe we're not close enough," Cyberdramon suggested.
Ruki nodded. "We've still got some walking to do. And I still think we're making a lot more progress this time."
"You're probably right." Ryo hesitated for just an instant, then went on. "If we're lucky, you won't have to kiss me in front of everyone in the lunchroom this time." A grin was tugging at the corners of his mouth, but something about the way he said it suggested that it wasn't just a casual observation.
This had to come up sooner or later… Ruki had been waiting for it, really, but she hadn't come up with something she really wanted to say in response. "I suppose it wasn't so bad," she conceded after a moment's thought, grudgingly. "If you don't count the fact that you look like Kenta, and he's not high on my list of people I'd be interested in kissing."
The grin broke free of Ryo's control - not that he'd been trying very hard to keep it contained. "I somehow can't believe you actually have a list like that."
"Maybe you're smarter than I gave you credit for, then," she said, returning a hint of the same grin. "Keep that up, and you might even get someone to give the real you a kiss one day."
"I'll only be looking forward to that if you spell someone R - U - K - I." He didn't even try to make that sound like a joke.
Ruki punched him in the shoulder - not hard. "Cut it out. We've got work to do." She didn't acknowledge the fact that he was still watching her, but the corners of her mouth were still turned up.
Something like this wouldn't be too bad…
"Down here," Ryo said after a moment, and they moved around another corner. The silence between them was companionable rather than tense; it relaxed her and freed up her mind for the business at hand.
Not too bad at all.
"Ruki." Beside her, Renamon tensed up - and on Ryo's other side, Cyberdramon was doing the same.
And Hirokazu's D-Arc… "I think we've got it."
"Don't get too excited," Ryo cautioned, as they picked up the pace to follow the signal. "This could be a completely different Digimon, you know. It's not necessarily the same one we're looking for."
"I know, but I still think…" Ruki came to a halt as they turned down another street, leaving that sentence unfinished.
Sitting there on someone's front lawn, in the middle of an area that appeared to be completely free of people, was a Digimon she had never seen before - even on a card. Its body was like a large cat, but it blurred at the edges, swirling blacks and greys making the outline indistinct. The face had no real shape at all; like wisps of dark mist blocked it from view. A set of grey-green eyes stared back out of that mask, dark with a wicked sort of glee as they regarded Ruki and Ryo. The tail lashed, an indication that it was already prepared for battle.
This is it. "Renamon," Ruki said, and her partner was at her side even as she gripped the D-Arc tightly in her hand, a familiar exhilaration taking hold of her.
It was time to fight.
Takato rested his arms on his knees, not quite willing to take his eyes off the figures of Terriormon and Guilmon, who had come up with some kind of game that involved lots of spinning, more than a little falling down, and a good deal of laughter.
Takato had turned down offers to join in. He - and Jenrya as well, by the thoughtful look on Juri's face - had other things on his mind at the moment.
I can't believe Hirokazu came right out and said it like that! What did Jen think of him now? Was he wondering what kinds of sick and twisted things Takato had done to his body while he was in it?
I wouldn't blame him… A guilty flush was rising on his cheeks again. Hopefully Jenrya wasn't looking at him any more than he was looking at Jenrya. He had spent a lot of time staring into the mirror… But I tried so hard in that shower! I really did!
He had caught more than a few glimpses anyway, and they were burned onto his brain - probably permanently. Which wouldn't be a bad thing if it didn't make him feel terrible for betraying his best friend's trust.
Not that I did anything… but still… He'd been thinking about it. The temptation had been there. Takato could very easily recall lying awake the previous night and struggling with himself over whether it was worth betraying Jen to get take what would probably be his only chance to… well…
His ears were getting hot.
Jenrya coughed, drawing his attention over. Juri's body was leaning against a tree, and the expression on her face was definitely not typical. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Juri look so thoroughly embarrassed - not to mention uncertain and a bit apprehensive.
Takato felt lower than dirt.
"Just something in my throat," Jenrya said awkwardly, avoiding his eyes. "Uh… how long did you want to give those two to play, anyway?"
Great. He's already wishing he can get away from me. Takato turned his gaze back to the ground, feeling miserable. He'd wanted to know what Jen would think of his feelings… Apparently, this was his answer. "We could go home now, if you want."
"Do you…?" Jenrya coughed again, and made a second attempt. "Do you want me to just go back to Juri's place instead of coming over?"
Do you? Takato looked up again - and found his best friend staring right back at him, the same miserable guilty look reflected out from Juri's brown eyes. The expression on her face was set, too, as if Jen were bracing himself for something.
But what…? Takato hesitated for just a second, then answered truthfully. "No, I'd like it if you were there."
Jenrya blinked at him. "You would?"
He couldn’t meet that gaze for too long… It might've been Juri's face, but he still got that sense of Jen from it - the expressions, the look in her eyes, the way things were said… It unnerved him. "Yeah… I guess that's not really a surprise, though, is it? You can go back to Juri's if you want. I'll understand." The words came out of him in a rush, and he had to brace himself for Jen's rejection.
He wouldn't be cruel - Jenrya was just that kind of person. He'd probably say something nice like 'hey, you'll find someone else' or 'just because I don't think of you that way doesn't mean there aren't plenty of people who will'. Takato stared at the ground, gripping Jenrya's elbows tightly. He just couldn't face him when he said it…
"What do you mean 'not really a surprise'?" There was a startled note in Juri's voice.
"Oh, come on, don't tell me you don't know." Takato balled his hands into fists to keep them from digging into Jenrya's arms any more. "You were there when Hirokazu went and blurted it out."
"When he…" Jenrya halted there - Juri's voice faltered a bit as he went on. "You mean… you…?"
"I swear I didn't take advantage of you!" Takato blurted out, finally coming out of the position he'd curled into and spinning around to face his best friend. "I wouldn't do something like that - you have to believe me, Jen, I really tried not to look… It was just hard sometimes, and you know, it's really tough to shower without - "
"Uh… Takato?" Jenrya interrupted. Juri's eyes had gone a bit wide, and her cheeks flushed again. "It's okay. I believe you."
He couldn't help but blink at that, taken aback. "You do?"
"Yeah…" Jen was still bright red, but he seemed willing to meet Takato's eyes. "Look, I can't really blame you if you did look - I mean, I might've done the same thing if it were the other way around. That is…uh…"
This… Taking in the flushed face, the nervous posture, and the words that had just come out of Juri's mouth, Takato could only jump to one impossible-seeming conclusion. "You like me?" Jenrya's voice definitely squeaked on that.
"Well… yeah. I guess I do. I mean, I don't just guess - I know." Jenrya managed a small smile, looking somewhat relieved. "I thought you liked Juri."
"Well yeah, for a while, but not any more." This was incredible… Takato could feel his palms tingling - there was a nervous excitement building at the pit of his stomach, rising up to clog his throat and make it hard to talk. "I've - well… it's been you for almost a year now - I just never… never really thought I could say anything about it."
Jen liked him back! Jenrya Lee, the same wonderful, kind, captivating person Takato spent his daydreams on, felt the same way about him!
If this is a dream, I'd better not be about to wake up!
"So," Jenrya began, hints of a smile tugging up Juri's lips as they continued to stare at each other. "What now?"
Takato opened his mouth, but never got the chance to answer.
"Cyberdramon!" Ryo had to duck as a burst of green light exploded past his head, bits of someone's fence scattering in all directions. They had to have been right about the explanation for the deserted streets; if things were normal, there would've been more people running over to find out what was going on.
At the moment, though, all Ryo had on his mind was his partner. The black Digimon, whatever it was, had a great deal of strength; they were grappling on the destroyed lawn, seemingly evenly matched. As he raised his head to look on, a gaping hole opened in what passed as the thing's head, gleaming fangs poised to strike.
If only I were in my own body… I could do something more than just watch!
"Renamon!" Ruki called, from somewhere to the side - and the air around the two exploded in the glowing arrowheads that were her partner's attack.
The strange Digimon shrieked, breaking free of Cyberdramon to claw at the pieces embedded in its form. Renamon was still above it, arms spread, as the attack glowed and worked its damage.
Ryo shoved Kenta's glasses back into place. "Yes!"
The end of the fight had caught him up so completely that he didn't even see the danger until Ruki was already running at him to knock him back out of the way - as the Digimon they had just defeated actually exploded.
The world sped up, and he got lost in the blurring colors it created.
"Did you feel something weird just now?"
Kenta glanced over at Hirokazu, who had started to rise up a little, propping himself on his elbows. "No… what do you mean?"
"I swear, I just - "
The rest of his words were cut off. Kenta's world lost its stability abruptly, dropping him beneath it into blackness - and then just as quickly hurtling him back up, coming to an abrupt halt that left him breathless.
That wasn't Ruki's voice…
Kenta sat up, feeling a bit shaky - and not just from the mental jolt. He felt like he'd been doing some sort of heavy exercise, one that left him tired and gasping.
And he couldn't see.
"Owwww… what the hell?" a familiar voice groaned, beside him. Kenta stared, watching a blurry shape he could've recognized on a dark night with a blindfold on push itself up off the street.
"Hirokazu?" Yes, that was definitely his voice - his voice, not Ruki's.
"What?" his best friend snapped, turning toward him - at least, Kenta thought he was turning toward him. "I just got knocked back six weeks, in case you - hey!" He held out his arms and looked them over. "Hey! I'm me again!"
"Me too!" Kenta wrapped his arms around his midsection excitedly, determined never to take his body for granted ever again. "I'm a boy - thank god I'm a boy!"
"You're you!" Hirokazu grabbed his shoulders, his grip a bit too tight. "We're back to normal! Ruki and Ryo must've kicked that thing to the curb!"
Something landed beside him with a thud, startling them both. "I take it this means the attack was reversed," Renamon's voice said. Kenta could barely make out her outline standing beside him.
"That's not the only attack," a gravelly voice that his brain was vaguely able to identify as Cyberdramon added, from his other side. "There's no damage to this area."
"And there appear to be people moving about again," the fox-type Digimon commented. "I wonder just what that Digimon was - it had power, to cause all of this, and yet it didn't seem capable of defeating us."
"Er - yeah, and we're sitting in the middle of the street." Hirokazu let go of Kenta's shoulders, and reached for something on the ground. A second later, he shoved the missing set of glasses into his shorter friend's hands. "Come on, we'd better get out of here."
Kenta slid his glasses back on. There were a few people staring… "Uh, good idea." He still felt kind of drained, from whatever Ryo and Ruki had been doing - and partly from the excitement of being himself again. He followed Hirokazu and the two Digimon off the street and down a more deserted alley where there'd be some cover.
"You two will be fine on your own?" Renamon asked, glancing at them.
"I… I think so…" The area did look sort of familiar.
"We can handle it." Hirokazu waved a hand. "You guys want to go find your Tamers, right? Don't worry about us - we're cool."
"Good." She vanished.
Kenta watched Cyberdramon leave, still a bit bemused. "Okay… so where are we?"
Hirokazu shrugged. "No idea. Never seen the place before in my life."
"Why'd you tell them we could handle it if you didn't even know how to get home?" Kenta stared at him. "We can't handle anything if we're lost!"
"Oh, come on…" Hirokazu was suddenly very close - and the look in his eyes silenced whatever protests Kenta had been thinking of making. He smirked. "I'm sure we can find something to handle - can't we?"
His breath was fanning out over the shorter boy's face - making independent thought very difficult. Kenta allowed himself to be backed into a wall, every nerve tingling in anticipation. "What… were you thinking of?" he managed to ask.
"How about proving to you that I really don't drool when I kiss," Hirokazu suggested, and leaned forward to close the remaining distance between them.
Kenta's heartbeat sped up even more as he turned his head and let his best friend press their lips together in the first kiss they'd actually been in their own bodies for.
If this wasn't heaven, he'd settle for it until they could reach the real thing.
"Ugh…" Ruki sat up, disoriented. She was lying on the grass - when had she fallen on the grass? Weren't they in the middle of a street?
Someone beside her groaned. Probably Ryo - she'd just shoved him out of the way, hadn't she?
"Ryo… you okay?" She opened her eyes - as wide as they could go, once she heard her own voice.
Her own voice.
"'Ryo'? What the…?" Takato suddenly jolted upright beside her. "Wait a sec! That was - I'm me again!"
"It worked!" Triumph laced itself into Ruki's mind, making her grin. "We did it! Everyone's back to normal!"
He stared at her. "Ruki…"
"Looks like we're at the park - that's a big jump from where I was before." She couldn’t help but wrap her hands around her arms, elated to be back in a familiar form. "I'll have to - hey! Where are you going?"
Takato had stumbled to his feet, eyes still a bit wide. "I have to go find Jen!" he blurted out, and turned to run off further into the park.
"Okay…" Ruki raised an eyebrow. That was a bit strange… Still, it couldn't dampen her mood. "Well, never mind him - I'll have to try and track down Renamon and Ryo."
The best way to handle both of those would be to go back home first. That would be the place Renamon would look for her, and she could call Ryo from there to make sure he'd made it back to his own body safely.
Ruki picked herself up off the ground and almost sprinted all the way to her house.
"I'm home!" she called out - those words were wonderful to say, back in familiar surroundings. "Grandma?"
"Ruki? I thought you were going to be at the park until dinner…" She was obviously not prepared for the huge smile that her granddaughter was directing her way. "What happened?"
"I just… I wanted to be home." Ruki forced herself to sound casual. She had missed this place - it hadn't seemed so perfect back when she was taking it for granted, but now… "I need to make a phone call."
"Oh - yes, of course." Her grandmother looked a little bemused, but that was all right. It was good to keep people on their toes anyway - Ruki didn't like to be predictable.
She picked up the phone and dialed in Ryo's number.
He answered it after only one ring. "Hello?" His voice sounded breathless.
"Is that… Ryo?" She had to be sure…
"Ruki! Yes - it's me!" He had to be at least as elated as she was. "It worked! We did it!"
"We sure did." Ruki leaned against the wall, beyond relieved. "Thank god - I don't think I could take another day of being in that moron's body."
The answering sound of his laughter was like music to her ears - just because she knew that it was actually the right person laughing this time.
I never want to go through that again.
"Jen! Jen, are you okay?"
Jenrya groaned, reaching up to rub at his face with a trembling hand. Terriormon's voice sounded off - like he wasn't hovering over him as he said it, the way he should be with his partner lying on the ground after being knocked senseless.
"H… uh?" And that was Juri's voice, coming from somewhere near him.
Wait a minute… Juri? But I was -
Jenrya sat up abruptly, and held out his arms to stare at them, wide-eyed. Those were definitely not Juri's arms.
I'm back in my own body!
"Jen?" Terriormon said again, from where he was hovering worriedly over Juri.
"Terriormon…" That was his voice coming out of his mouth. Jenrya still felt shocked by all of this - but it was definitely a good kind of 'shocked'. "I'm over here."
"Takato?" Apparently he'd confused Guilmon - who had been standing right beside him.
"No, I'm - "
"Jen!" Terriormon bounded over to be gathered into his arms, which Jenrya did automatically, despite his bemusement. "You're you again!"
Guilmon looked confused. "Then where's Takato?"
"Oh!" Juri had just sat up - and her eyes were alight. "We're back to normal, aren't we? Hooray!" She hugged herself tightly, then suddenly broke off, blinking. "But I never got to finish that movie of Ryo's I was watching…"
"Jen! Guilmon! Juri! Hey!"
That was Takato's voice. Jenrya stood up and looked over, licking his lips a bit nervously. They had just been talking about… about…
Takato himself ran across the clearing Guilmon and Terriormon had just been playing in, waving an arm enthusiastically. "We're back to our old selves!" he called out, his eyes bright with excitement.
"Takato!" Guilmon waved both arms in the air, at least as excited as his Tamer.
"Ruki and Ryo must have finally got things straightened out!" Juri clasped her hands together happily. "Oh, this is wonderful! I can't wait to hang out with my own friends, and go back to cheerleader practice, and do all the things I like to do again!"
Jenrya barely heard her. His eyes were on Takato, who had slowed down a bit as he got closer, and jogged up to meet him. Takato… in his own body, and with his eyes fixed on Jenrya's face at least as firmly as Jenrya's were on his.
He looked great.
"Jen…" he began, coming to a halt just in front of him. "I…" His cheeks were flushed - from running, or because he was getting nervous again, Jenrya couldn't really tell.
There wasn't really anything else that needed to be said.
Terriormon jumped down out of his arms - when Jenrya turned to look at him, he just beamed. "This is your moment, isn't it?" And, of course… "Moumantai!"
"What's the moment?" Guilmon still sounded confused.
"Just watch, and you'll see!" Terriormon promised brightly, toddling over to climb up onto the bigger Digimon's back and peer at them over his head. "Well?"
Jenrya could feel his own cheeks growing red; he looked back to Takato again, taking in his friend's almost amber-shaded eyes and eye-catching features. "Takato…"
From the background somewhere, Juri said encouragingly, "You can do it!"
And that was all he needed - without another word, Jenrya leaned forward and caught the shorter boy's lips in a half-nervous, half-eager kiss.
It lasted about ten seconds, and then they broke apart, slowly. Jenrya let his eyes slide to about half-open, feeling dazed but warm all the way through. That was… wow…
They stayed that way only long enough for him to see the small, elated smile on Takato's face, before his best friend leaned forward and kissed him again.
Juri clapped her hands. "This is better than the movie!" she exclaimed happily.
It was five minutes before lunch, and the teacher had announced a free study block - only for those five minutes, and really only because her aspirin hadn't kicked in. She preferred to sit at her desk with her head in her hands rather than attempting to teach any more, while her students talked and laughed.
Juri leaned back in her seat, pen in hand but not working, as the girls she considered her friends clustered around and chattered on. A little harmless news broadcast was usually fun.
"I can't believe Jenrya Lee is taken!" Sherri moaned, kicking her legs in agitation from where she was sitting on top of someone's desk. "He's too sexy to be gay!"
"The Chinese guy with the dreamy eyes?"
"He's dating Takato," Juri supplied helpfully, and smiled. She had witnessed the beginning of that, and it was nice, but such a private moment wasn't one she would tell her friends about. "They really like each other. It's cute."
"Takato Matsuda is gay?" Taya exclaimed. "No fair! He's so sweet!"
"Maybe that's what such a hottie like Jenrya sees in him, too."
"It's still not fair!"
"You know what's not fair?" Seira looked disgruntled. "You can't even walk around a corner safely any more! I almost ran into Hirokazu and Kenta making out up against the side of the school building this morning at break!"
"Ew!" a group of voices chorused.
Juri bit her lip, but couldn't hide the smile.
"That's old news, Seira!"
"I know, but it's still weird when you have to see it up close like that!"
Juri let her mind wander. It was only a few days ago when she'd been stuck in Ryo's body and watching her friends bicker with each other as they failed to adjust to each other's lives. Now, though, things seemed better than they had been. It was almost like it had been necessary to switch bodies the way they had, just to solve those problems that hadn't been capable of working themselves out as they were.
It's nice, though…
She could picture, even without being there to see it, how Jenrya and Takato acted around each other - smiling a lot, staring into each other's eyes with matched fascination, initiating more than a few seemingly casual touches that weren't really so casual. Hirokazu made a comment that it looked like their brains oozed of their heads whenever they were even in the same room, but he didn't seem very serious about it.
He's probably got his mind on other things.
Juri would've felt sorry for Kenta, if it didn't look like he was so happy about his situation. He and Hirokazu continued to banter and act silly as if nothing had changed; the more-than-friendly parts of their relationship eased in to fit with the rest of it in an odd mess of feelings and friendship and a good deal of physical contact.
Well, whatever makes them happy, I guess…
They had also never really figured out the identity of that strange Digimon Ruki and Ryo had found and defeated. Renamon and Cyberdramon had no ideas or clues, and their Tamers spent a good deal of their time now in each other's company, discussing appearances, attributes, and possibilities. Those discussions were often spirited, almost impossible to interrupt - for any reason - and occasionally erupted into arguments. Neither of them seemed very anxious to resolve the issue, though.
I wonder why that is…
Juri smiled to herself again.
"Juri? Hey, Juri!"
"Huh?" She blinked. "Oh, I’m sorry. What were you saying?"
Seira shrugged. "That's okay. Are you coming to cheerleader practice today? I mean, now that your ankle seems better… I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself, but we really do need you out there."
This was the best part. Juri beamed. Back in her own body, and loving every second of it. Maybe that was the good it had done her, switching around the way they had. Now she appreciated these little things so much more.
"Of course I am!"
And that made everything worth it.