...I went into this thinking purely about GaruxPucca, would you believe me if I said that? Then I wanted to go along with what I'd written, but the thought of Pucca not in love with Garu has never sat well with me, and the thought of Garu not liking Pucca hasn't either, and then I thought that that could still be worked out! But then I realized that I was not ready so it became kind of sad and not at all the romantic funny moments I was hoping to write.

If ever there was a person who could convince Pucca to give up on Garu - a feat Ring Ring would be ecstatic to accomplish - it was Ching. There had never been a reason, there had never been a cause, therefore Ching had never said, "Give up."

Garu was a sweet boy, he was her friend, he wasn't Abyo - in fact, he was Abyo's best friend - and he had never hurt Pucca. He was perfect for Ching's sweet, loyal friend!

That had been Ching's childhood ambition, even above graduating ninja school, above sharing a first kiss with Abyo. Above it all, Ching wanted Pucca to be happy with her beloved Garu.

She had. She had.

Now 16 years old, a year above Pucca by months, Ching's hands clung to her best friend's shoulders. Her eyes willed their way into Pucca's line of sight, their noses nearly touched, so close Ching could feel Pucca's breath on her lips.

And to everyone around them, the passerby making their way to Goh-Rong for dinner or back home from the market, this was fine. Ching was telling Pucca something important. Ching had a reason to be this close to Pucca. Ching wanted to chat, or maybe even scheme. Ching only wanted what was best for Pucca.

She did, she had in fact been readying herself to tell Pucca something, but the words lay forgotten somewhere in her mind.

Ching let her eyes stray to Pucca's parted lips...

Pushing herself off, she hid her red cheeks beneath her hands and avoided Pucca's expectant gaze. Abyo. It was Abyo who she wanted to kiss. It was Garu who Pucca wanted to kiss. In fact, Pucca had kissed Garu. Many many times.

The thought made Ching a little sad.

Pucca was pretty, and she had always known that. There was not one week that went by without Ching telling her as much at least twice. Ching liked make-up and pretty clothes and accessories, but Pucca's smile was enough to make any boy melt.

It was certainly enough to make Ching melt.

Pucca took a step forward and grabbed Ching's hand, gingerly covering it with her other hand. Ching had never felt so much heat surround her hand like this, had never been so aware of Pucca's fingers the way she was now.

Oh no, her palm was sweating. Ching quickly withdrew it from Pucca's hold, regretting it instantly.

Pucca did not speak, but she hummed questioningly, cocking her head. Obviously worried, and she should be. She should be worried because Ching was a terrible friend.

"I have to go!" Ching cried, running away with her tail between her legs. She had to think about Abyo! Abyo! Cute, funny, handsome Abyo, who relied on her to keep half his shirts from disappearing, who smiled at her when she offered to spar when Garu didn't want to. Obtuse Abyo, who had never behaved as more than a friend to her.


The heat in Ching's cheeks burned her ears. She had never realized...she'd never thought that...

She'd been running blindly for a while, but now Ching found herself in the woods, away from Sooga Village, and away from any sort of responsibility she had to Pucca as her friend. Here, she was just a girl with swords on her back, a chicken on her head, and tears in her eyes.

She stopped in a familiar setting, though the location didn't quite reach her mind as she willed herself to think of the dreaded words. A truth she hadn't dared even think anywhere close to Pucca.

Seven terrible words repeated in her head, until she had no choice but to say them out loud. Maybe it was like doing a math problem. Sometimes, you just had to say it aloud to realize how ridiculous something like "two plus two equals five" sounds.

So Ching said them, in the hopes that the thought was some ridiculous misunderstanding.

"I think I'm in love with Pucca."

...and there was nothing ridiculously misunderstood about the way Ching's heart thundered in her chest.

A rustle.

Ching jumped three feet in the air and turned around, assuming a fighting stance. It wasn't a dark night by normal standards. The light of the moon and the stars shined in the clearing Ching had found herself in. Instead of a dangerous criminal or worse, Pucca herself, Ching saw a boy in a black suit walk toward her. A red heart that reminded Ching of Pucca centered on his chest.

"Garu," she said quietly.

She didn't know if this was worse than Pucca. Either way, Ching would have preferred it if the rustle had been a criminal.

"There's no chance of you being Tobe in disguise, is there?" she asked hopefully, but her shoulders had already slumped in defeat.

Garu grunted and shook his head. Ching sighed woefully, feeling the breath leave a little shakily as she tried her best to hold in tears. She sat down heavily, facing away from Garu and wiping her eyes before they spilled.

"I didn't think so. Did you hear what I said?"

He assented and also dropped down to sit next to her. Kindly, he pressed his back against hers, easily avoiding eye contact this way. Ching was grateful. She had been scared before, but she knew she was braver than she was acting. She had to confront her feelings, even if she didn't dare confront Pucca.

She needed a friend right now, and she needed to talk to Garu, because this also involved him. So while she settled herself down, she refused to run away from the solitary ninja.

They stayed silent for a few moments, a patient atmosphere surrounding them. What she had been ready to tell Pucca a few minutes ago came to mind again.

"I almost told Pucca to give up on you tonight."

Garu jolted slightly. He hummed for her to continue.

"I was angry at you. Pucca looks really pretty tonight, you know!" He agreed. "She always looks pretty, but tonight she put on a really nice dress and really cute earrings. There were these cute red bows on her hair..." she went on a while, knowing this was the sort of conversation that made Garu's mind dawdle, but not caring. "And she was so happy when I saw her. All because she was waiting to go on that date with you!"

Finally, Garu seemed a little guilty.

"You accepted, so why didn't you come?"

But he couldn't explain. It didn't matter anyway, Pucca had already been disappointed.

"She was so sad, Garu. So I thought, Pucca doesn't deserve this. Then I almost told her that it was time to move on. I almost told her but then-then I realized that I..."

Garu said nothing, of course.

"Garu, do you...like Pucca? She's loved you so long."

Garu made a confused noise. He elbowed her lightly, harrumphing at the change of subject.

"I just admitted my own feelings, but that has nothing to do with yours. Pucca's in love with you, I can't change that."

He groaned a bit. Ching felt him shift forward, and turned a little to see him sinking into his arms to hide his face. He was red, but the subject of Pucca always made him a little red.

"I can't tell if you like her or not, Garu. I used to think you did and that you were shy, but maybe you never did and you really are just shy," she said.

She waited for his response, eventually feeling that it was just as well if he never answered.

Just before the silence had stretched on for so long that Ching thought she should speak again, Garu grunted timidly, mostly confusing noises. He made a significant pause.

"Mm-hmm." Yes.

So it was mutual.

Instead of feeling heavy with the realization that no, there never had been a chance, Ching felt a small smile on her lips. The relief made her shoulders feel lighter as she exhaled a sigh.

"Good," she said, much to his surprise. "She deserves you."

He grunted.

"It's not like I'm super happy about this, don't worry. I would probably be really excited if you'd said no. It's just much less complicated this way."

He made more surprised noises.

"Don't complain. You're lucky. Though if you make her this sad again, I will find a way to convince her to move on."

He made a noise that made her feel like she'd just been accused of cheating. She didn't deny it.

She sniffed. Garu grunted with worry.

"I'm not crying," she lied. "It's just kinda chilly out today. I might have a cold now." A warm summer breeze blew through them just then, somewhat a relief in the heat of the night.

He hummed plausible deniability back at her, a little bemused.

"I might have to stay home a few days. To recover."

He seemed to catch her drift and hummed. Ching stood up, dusting herself of grass and dirt. Garu tilted backward for a moment before he caught himself and stood up accordingly. He didn't meet her eyes as they faced each other.

Ching took a deep breath and steadied herself inwardly, using the ninja meditation lessons for her own purposes. She wanted to see Pucca and tell her that Garu liked her back, and then she wanted to share the happy moment by hugging her and...but it was simply not going to work out.

She'd take a few days. She would give up on Pucca, if only because Ching never wanted to give up Pucca. In a way, Ching thought, she had beaten Garu in this funny love triangle they'd made.

"Good night, Garu." Ching said. He gave his own goodbye and they parted ways.

Exactly one week later, Garu made it to his date with Pucca on time.

The ending's a little disappointing. I would have loved to give Ching a happy kiss with Pucca, but I don't know how. I'm just sad now :(

Ching has been in love with Pucca for a while. Possibly a long long while now. But she only just realized it because it's the first time she's really wanted to kiss Pucca.

I don't know what this means for Ching and Abyo? Nothing much, I guess. I'm sure Ching could easily fall for him again, or maybe she never stopped, but it might be a while. It's fine, s'not like he's waiting.