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Meet Me at Atatakai Onsen

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Meet me at Atatakai Onsen.


The words glowed on the tiny screen of Daisuke's D-Terminal. He flipped the lid shut for the third time and put the device back into pocket. Slumping back on the couch, he let out a soft sigh, his right leg jack-hammering the floor from nerves. The television was on, but only provided a low indistinguishable buzz in the empty apartment. Sighing again, Daisuke took the D-Terminal out of his pocket and popped it open.


From: Ken Ichijouji


It'd been nine years since the day the two worlds united. All the first chosen children had graduated college, and the second chosen were soon to finish as well. Daisuke opted out of college, feeling that the "hands on" approach to life would benefit him more. It always had. His best friend Ken--of course--was top of his class at Tokyo University, excelling at being a criminal catcher detective or whatever. They still made time for each other, trying to see each other every other weekend. Though, truthfully, it was harder the past few months with some of Ken's major exams coming up. He didn't like to admit that he missed that stoic bastard as much as he did.


Daisuke set his device down on the couch next to him. It was weird, though. It wasn't the act of receiving the text, but the subject of it. They'd never been to an onsen together before--they've never even talked about them before. Daisuke could think of so many better things to do than to sit naked in a bath of hot skin juice. But maybe it wasn't the lost time that was bothering him as much as it was the whole "being naked" thing...


"Dai," Chibimon cheeped as he jumped onto Daisuke's twitching leg. "What's wrong?"


Besides Ken, Chibimon was Daisuke's best friend. A blue digimon that stood about one foot tall had a heart about three times the size. And unfortunately, an incredibly keen sense of emotional distress.


"Nothing, man. Well, I mean, it's something, but you wouldn't understand."


"I'll try not to take offense to that." Chibimon huffed.


"Good. Don't." They both sat in the living room for several minutes with only the sound of their own breathing and the mumble of the news from the television. Abruptly, Daisuke stood up, causing Chibimon to fling to the floor with a small protest, and paced a couple of times in front of the couch. Finally, he picked up the D-Terminal and navigated to Ken's message again. He quickly typed, "See you at 8" and shoved the device into his pocket for the final time. Shooting a quick glance at the clock, he groaned as he realized he only gave himself a half hour, and thus, no time to clean himself up properly. Running his thumb and index finger across his scruffy chin, he sighed and rushed off to his bedroom.


"Dai~!" Chibimon scrambled after his partner. "Where are we going?"


"To the Digital World. Make sure to pack your swimsuit."


"But I don't--"


With two fluid motions, Daisuke grabbed Chibimon in one arm, his backpack in another, and the two began to digitize into the alternate reality.

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Atatakai Onsen. A haven within a haven; Ken had always been more fond of his time in the digital world than the real one. The digital world was vast and rural, on the whole, and tokyo was a jungle so dense that people were quite literally stacked on top of each other to make room. He'd much rather stare up at treetops than high rises. Worse, the more he studied the crime in the city, the more it seemed so limitless and impossible to contain. The problems humans faced in the real world were well beyond the scope of the crimes against humanity he'd stopped with the other chosen when he was still a child.


He'd always felt less accomplished about that than the others. If not for him, most of the problems he'd solved would never have started. He could appreciate, though it stung his pride, that he'd been a pawn to a larger scheme. He'd always had the option of running away once he'd seen the light. Calling his jogress with Daisuke "necessary" was a wild understatement. He really had saved the world.


He just never felt like it.


At least in the digital world he could go for a walk and no one asked for a picture with him. He and Wormmon would take a boat out on a digital lake, share a sandwich, and be lucky if they saw so much as a Seadramon disturb their solitude.


So rather than his bi-weekly meet-up with Daisuke requiring him to endure the sea of people swarming the trains that closed their distance, Ken had scheduled at a small digiworld onsen catering to humans who come visiting their digimon. It was not the first business of its kind, in fact, it was somewhat new and poorly attended because of it. Ken hadn't been able to find any reviews about it online, so he'd sent Wormmon while he was at class to check out the facilities. Cozy, with a large campus for its size, lots of small pools for private bathing with up to three or four people. The owners had seemed friendly, Wormmon reported, and the few humans around were all smiles.




Ken had barely read the room agreement before thrusting the paperwork back at the apathetic Monzaemon standing at the desk. He wondered only briefly if teddy bears would appreciate a bath.


His D-terminal buzzed as he was stripping down. His shirt hung unbuttoned, like drapes framing the window of his chest. His pants were unbuttoned yet clung, however futile, to his slim hips. The response from Daisuke left him glowing as his jacket and shirt hit the tatami.


"8 o'clock, Wormmon." Ken said warmly, looking down at his partner. "Daisuke's almost here."


Wormmon buzzed with delight, eager to see Veemon as Ken was to see Daisuke. The chipper green digimon bulldozed Ken's clothing over to the side and then folded it for him while his partner slipped into a robe.

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Daisuke and Veemon walked the gravel pathway toward the onsen in silence. As customary to jumping realities, Daisuke's attire had changed to his personal whims--today sporting a simple t-shirt, pair of shorts, his favorite orange boots, and the goggles Taichi gave him so long ago. Chibimon gained the extra energy to digivolve and retain his child form. However, the transition didn't help free the dozens of butterflies that seemed to be fluttering around in Daisuke's stomach.

It's not that Daisuke was a shy guy. He was anything but. If there were such a thing, he'd be the poster child for extrovertedness. The aftermath of the whole "saving the world" thing really put the original chosen children into the spotlight. Daisuke loved it for the most part. He was proud of what he and his friends had done. He was happy to see humans and digimon living together. It provided a different outlet for the boy. Although he still had to focus on graduating middle school and high school, he knew that he could propel off of his fame a little and really move onto working toward his dream of owning a ramen cart. College was just out of the question for him. So, somedays that meant he sat around his parent's apartment watching television and testing new recipes. His parents weren't very pleased, but they knew there wasn't any use in fighting the battle any longer. Daisuke was Daisuke.

So why he was so nervous, he did not know. It was just another outing with his friend... Right?

The two entered the establishment and checked in. Daisuke checked his D-Terminal. 8:03PM. He let out a soft sigh and continued into the changing room. Looking around nervously, he didn't see Ken anywhere. Relieved, he quickly began removing his clothing in hopes of being able to wash himself down and slip into a robe before having to see his friend.

"Wormmon! Ken!" Veemon said. Daisuke's face flushed, the only thing covering his body at that point being his boxer briefs and one sock. He closed his eyes and just reserved to his fate, trying hard to tell himself there's really no big deal.

It's just that, if it was anybody else, he really wouldn't care. Daisuke wasn't at all ashamed of his body. He knew he was on the attractive side--though maybe not as "dreamy" as his counterpart.

Daisuke de-robed himself completely and quickly showered himself down. With his undeniable luck, Veemon had kept the two at bay while Daisuke finished his final preparations. Throwing on the complimentary robe and grabbing a wash cloth, Daisuke hurried out into the bathing area. Already inside of the pool was Ken and Veemon, while Wormmon was hanging out alongside the edge chatting with his two friends. "Hey!" Daisuke shouted. "Veemon, I didn't see you shower your grubby self down. Get outta there!"


"OI. Outta there!" Daisuke's tone was playful but stern. Veemon dejectedly removed himself from the pool and walked back into the changing room.

Stepping to the edge of the pool, Daisuke placed the wash cloth on his head and let out a small smile as he got his friend's eyes. At least the twilight sky was on his side. The digimon that ran onsen had yet to light the torches hanging from the exterior of the buildings. Intentionally, he positioned it so the digital sun was behind him, casting harsh shadows on his figure. Here goes nothing, I guess. Removing his robe, he carefully stepped into the pool, all too aware of how this was the first time he'd been naked in front of his friend, and just how awkward he must have looked. Finally settling into a spot, Daisuke folded his arms over his chest and let out a deep sigh. He was pretty sure the heat on his cheeks wasn't coming entirely from the bath.

"So, where on the scale of sane to bat-shit-crazy do you fall under for dragging me out to a place like this?"

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"You look like a cooked lobster." Ken glistened. He laughed lightly to himself-- even with the shadows on his side, Daisuke couldn't hide his radiant blush. Wormmon decided to scuttle away with Veemon to shower down, leaving just the pair of chosen children and a misty steamy veil.


"I never took you for the type to be bashful about being naked." Ken cocked his head to the side and smirked. Honestly though, Daisuke was attractive and outgoing, and surely he'd come across a girlfriend or two in his pseudo-college years. Ken reflected briefly that he didn't know that for sure; they'd never talked about significant others and Ken never had a reason to bring up the girlfriend he'd never had. As naturally as he had in middle school when the dark spore had made him a flippant jerk to female affection, in highschool and college he without fail declined the first signs of affection. Maybe Daisuke just hadn't wanted to rub it in his face all these years-- heaven knew he never got Hikari, but there were other koimon in the digi-sea...


Besides, Ken never thought about himself like that. He was a mind with a body, not a body with a mind. He enjoyed thinking, solving problems, being puzzled. The only thing puzzling about girlfriends was why he would ever want one. Maybe that was why Ken didn't think too much about bearing his body before his best friend. Sure, he was undeniably attractive with his long body, smooth tone and tight waist; that wasn't on his mind. Daisuke would surely see him just as the close friend that he was and the mind he'd befriended, even saved, way back in the day. Nudity was hardly revealing.


"Let it soak in and you'll be as relaxed as I am... here." Ken floated around to where Daisuke had hidden himself in the shadows. He nudged him carefully to encourage him to turn away, and wrapped his hands over Daisuke's shoulders. They were warm from the bath, warmer than Daisuke's yet-to-be-submerged shoulders even with the neck-broiling blush. His fingers started a slow, soft knead, as if Daisuke were bread dough instead of a fit young man. Smiling softly behind his friend, Ken looked too innocent to ever give more than a gentle touch.


"Still think I'm crazy?" Ken let it sink in with a few rubs up and down Dai's shoulders. "I'm so glad to get away from it all. All these years, the digital world's never stopped being an escape."


A soft sigh later, Wormmon and Veemon returned shiny wet with towels wrapped around their head or waist, respectively. Ken had to let go of Daisuke's shoulders to cover up a giggle with his hand.


"Pfft, Wormmon, why did you bother?"


"Oooh, I didn't want my antennae to get too wrinkled..."

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Maybe he was being silly. He knew he was. It's just that there was something about being so free like that with Ken just seemed... Weird? No. That wasn't it. Being with Ken were the moments Daisuke could be the freest. Although it didn't matter, he couldn't get rid of the blush that claimed his face.


Then Ken started massaging his shoulders.


Daisuke choked slightly, his shoulder rigid at the soft touch of his friend's palms. Truthfully, it felt amazing. The hot water of the spring, and the gentle, precise movements of his fingers--Daisuke felt himself starting to relax. They'd worked out charlie horses and knots out of each others legs, arms, and backs before--they were big soccer players after all and needed regular bodily maintenance. But never before naked, close, and wet like this.


It was nice...


Sinking his shoulders below the surface, Daisuke relinquished his will to care. "I know what you mean..." He trailed, his eyes fluttering shut for a few moments as Ken worked out a knot below his shoulder blade. "Real life has been so crazy for the past few years. At least the Digital World has been an oasis on the other side of the computer screen."


Over the years, the Digital World hadn't been without its troubles. With Diaboromon returning a couple of years after the worlds merging, and that one stint with a Lucemon and the Catholic Church (don't ask, it was weird)... There was still drama to be had between both worlds. But Daisuke knew Ken was talking about their shared fame as being heroes of the world, and the intense dedication Ken had toward his studies. A small vacation like this must really help the genius come down to layman levels.


Daisuke didn't even realize their two digimon returning until Ken said something. Looking up, he couldn't help but chuckle at Wormmon's ridiculous get-up. "I swear, you're like an eighty year old man, Wormmon!"


"Be nice to Wormmon, Dai!" The blue digimon held up a fist, hiding the toothy grin behind it.


"Or what?" Daisuke regained his footing, putting his shoulders above the water. The cooler air hitting his warm skin made him shiver, which just added to the show.


Without hesitation, Veemon dove into the small pool, towel still wrapped around him, and grabbed his partner's leg. Daisuke let out a yelp, his head submerging under the water, until he was released. Coming back up for air, he let out a sharp hiss between his teeth. "Hothothothohot," he clamored, shaking out his hair and swimming to the edge of the pool to expose more of his body to more a more moderate temperature. Veemon surfaced with a uproarious laugh, his wet towel draped over his horns. "I really can't bring you anywhere!"


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Ken found it hard to repress his usually subtle giggling. Daisuke was the source of the most fun Ken had in life-- the only fun, honestly. Not like he hated what he did for a living, but it didn't bring a smile to his lips or a chuckle from his lungs. Just a warm sort of pride, he supposed.


No amount of pride could make him want to leave this moment, though.


As Veemon dove in and tried to drown or boil his partner, Ken's childish glee distilled into a smooth, familiar comfort. The hot water around him felt as a part of him as the blood in his veins. Soft currents eddied against his unclothed skin where Wormmon swam circles around his shoulders. All of a sudden, he felt far more at home than he ever had... at home. His digimon, his best friend, the world they saved together. No stress, no admirers, no needs, not even wants. Ken had every possible comfort...


"I never want to go home..." Ken pleasantly sighed. He was a diligent boy, and surely to Daisuke's ears he was just being facetious. He meant it though; the overwhelming sense of calm seemed to subdue his higher intellectual interests.


Which was odd. Ken snapped up when it was done leaving his mouth-- the honesty of it surprised even him. He wasn't the sort to flippantly disregard his obligations, to run away on his romantic little getaway with his best friend forever.


Hah, romantic. Right, maybe if he was Hikari drifting around barely modest beneath the steam-capped pool.


"Um, hm, I think the steam is getting to my head." Ken muttered quietly, drifting over to the pool edge where Daisuke had lingered. Thinking little of it, he heaved himself up from the water right beside his friend. Water slooshed from his skin and pooled by his feet, leaving him at first shiny, then shimmering with the little beads of water. The sun had gone down by then, and the torches around the property had lit fairly automatically since. Flickering orange light warmed the tone of Ken's otherwise cool-pale skin, and illuminated his slim form quite flatteringly.


"I heard there's shaved ice somewhere inside, if you're interested." Ken took a few strides to his robe, draped over a low rock close enough to the spring to be nice and warm. Unlike Daisuke, there was no hurried panic to getting dressed or covered-- not that he was showing off, of course. Ken was still better than Daisuke at soccer, so there was no question whose body was better. He didn't need to be naked to show that off. It brought a smirk to his cheeks.


"Unless you're still too bashful." Ken gathered Wormmon up from the pool into his arms. "I'm sure Veemon would help preserve your modesty." Ken motioned to hold Wormmon a little lower, so his hind section was covering his groin behind the robe. Wormmon giggled-- digimon were naked all the time, after all, what was the fuss? So what if that was a weird place to put a tail...?

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Daisuke tried not to admire his friend's body, because that's just not what friends do. Especially not guy friends. But seeing Ken hunched over the pool--his slender yet strong legs kicking mindlessly in the water, the bones of his ribs hinting against his paper skin, the damp ends of his dark hair clinging to the edges of his playful smile--Daisuke couldn't help but give a sideways glance up and down... Even if it was just for comparative notes. Unconsciously, he smirked as he watched the bare-ass boy walk away.


Ken never ceased to surprise Daisuke. He was like some sort of human puzzle that just kept growing in size, never to be fully completed. He had the corners together--hard working, athletic, private--but the inside pieces were all different. Ken's sassy nature and his constant need to rile up the smaller boy was one of their great dynamics. They were playing a game now, and Daisuke had to win.


Daisuke climbed out of the spring, and walked over next to Ken to grab his own robe. It took a lot of trying in order to hold together his new found sense of indifference. It was still weird, he still felt self conscious, and he was pretty sure he was still red in the face... But he wasn't backing down from the challenge. "Shut up, Ichijouji." He looked his friend in the eye for a few moments before finally slinging the cloth over his shoulders and tying it shut. "I ain't embarrassed. I clearly have a better ass than you." With that, his hand snapped across Ken's butt, and he turned heel to go inside the resort. "Shaved iced, bitch!" Daisuke paraded, Veemon hurrying behind, following the same motions of enthusiasm as his partner. "I'm gonna get blue!"


"That's my color!" Veemon interjected as they continued into the resort. The establishment was decorated in traditional Japanese decor--on par with houses found high in the mountains. It was gorgeous, but also maze like, and the two had no idea where they were going. Daisuke's competitive adrenaline and masked embarrassment was putting him practically on auto pilot. Plus, he really just wanted that shaved ice. 


"Then I'll get red."


"That's my color too!" The two laughed, continuing down the hall until finally Ken stopped them to let them know they were going in the completely wrong direction. One point for the boy genius. Daisuke would have been upset if he wasn't promised shaved ice at the end of it.


The shaved ice stand was a small food counter that overlooked a porch. The group picked their flavors, and with cup in hand, Daisuke walked off to sit outside. He had nearly finished his treat by the time Wormmon and Ken showed up (Veemon had already finished his in one head freezing gulp). "Good choice," Daisuke said, grinning wildly into his shaved ice. He took another bite and let out a groan. "Red is better than blue, for sure." 


Finishing his treat, Daisuke turned his attention to his friend. Ken really did look happy. Content. There was something about his face when he was in the digital world... Whenever they met in the real world, which honestly wasn't often anymore, Ken had very prominent stress lines on the corner of his mouth. Knowing Ken, he probably never noticed--but Daisuke did. His skin was always smooth here, his face always gentle and at ease. Turning his gaze to the empty cup in his hand, Daisuke smiled softly. "I know what you mean," he said. "I mean, about not wanting to go home." All embarrassment, all rivalry, all attempts of showing off were gone for the moment. "I really love it here, too. This is our home away from home. Well, you know, minus all the stuff that makes actual home crap." He locked eyes with his friend, offering a sincere appreciation of their friendship, "Thanks for taking me here."

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What a numbskull Daisuke was at times. As if Ken needed any flattering for his ego, Daisuke made it really obvious which one of them was the genius child. And Veemon seemed like a better partner for Daisuke than Ken would ever be, but human partnership was different. Digimon were their closest friends, sure, Ken would be the first person to say he trusted and respected Wormmon beyond shadow of a doubt (honestly, given their past); human friendships were still different though. At least, his one with Daisuke was.


What was it about the two of them... their digimon had shared bodies, by all means, the only real bond there was between those two. Yet Ken felt an undeniable closeness to Daisuke that he lacked with Wormmon.


He was still lapping up a bright green shaved ice (same as Wormmon's, naturally) when Daisuke got touchy-feely for a moment. Maybe if he'd been talking to anybody else, they would have made fun of Daisuke for getting so serious so suddenly. He was the funny man, full of jokes and levity. But Ken felt closest to Daisuke when he really let his serious side glimmer through. To Ken, Daisuke wasn't the comic relief. He was the leader, full of passion and strength.


Strength that Ken had always lacked.



"Ken, Ken!?"


Ken's nose felt sticky, and his ice had rolled onto the ground. Apparently he'd faceplanted in it shortly before it dropped from his limp hand. Wormmon was tapping on his side and Daisuke had moved in close, holding his shoulder and looking like he'd seen a ghost. Had... Ken just nodded off? It didn't feel like time had passed at all, but thankfully he'd been sitting down the whole time. His hand took a hold of Daisuke's outstretched arm to reassure him he wasn't dead.


"Sorry I... guess I was more stressed than I thought. This place really soothes the nerves..." Ken blushed, unsure how to explain his fainting spell. He wasn't known for collapsing like a damsel tied up in a corset. Overtired? He hardly felt sleepy...


"Let's, um, go lie down?" Ken swept his hand back through his hair, letting the thin dark strands slip through his fingers. "We can catch up while we relax."


It didn't take much convincing Daisuke at that point that Ken needed to rest, in fact, the goggle-headed boy wouldn't even let Ken walk down the halls on his own strength. One strong, tan arm wrapped firmly around Ken's waist, and another pressed into his chest to hold him steady. Ken reluctantly slung his arm over Daisuke's shoulders, and griped at him every time that he made a wrong turn again. Not that it wasn't authentically mazelike in here. Were Ken any more out of it, he was sure they'd never make it back.


By some miracle they made it to the room that Ken had reserved. He left Daisuke to unfurl the futon roll in the corner, tending instead to drawing the rice-paper walls fully closed. When he turned around, it was just one, single bedroll laid out on the ground. Ken furrowed his brow briefly, wondering why Daisuke had only set out one bed-- and then it was clear. There only was one bed.


Wormmon wriggled over to Veemon. "Rock, paper, scissors you for it?"

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It didn't take long for the quiet serenity to turn. Daisuke had only looked away for a few seconds when he heard the plat of Ken's shaved ice hit the ground. With his quick reflexes, Daisuke flung his arm around his friend and held him close. Ken's head jerked forward, hanging below his shoulders, and the rest of his body had clearly gone limp. His eyes didn't reopen until Wormmon poked him awake with a concerned beckon. "Woah!" Daisuke exclaimed. He pressed his other hand against Ken's chest, righting the boy as he came back to consciousness. "What was that? You okay?" He waited for Ken to acknowledge with a careful nod and casual excuse.


Daisuke wasn't satisfied, but didn't press it. No matter what his friend said, this wasn't normal.


"All right. All right. Let's get you back to the room." Carefully, the two navigated their ways through the hallways. Ken seemed to have been doing all right, but Daisuke insisted that he help guide him. If it happened again, Ken could take a nasty fall and hit his head or something. At least with his support, Daisuke could carry him the rest of the way. They finally reached their quaint little quarters, the room warmly lit by a series of short floor lamps. Sitting Ken down, Daisuke made his way to the corner of the room and grabbed the futon, unrolling it onto the empty floor. It was a comfortable size for two, but well...


"Huh..." Daisuke trailed. "Did you get this room on a deal or something?" He scanned the room again, checking behind the closet door, only to confirm that it was, indeed, one bed. "Well..." He watched as Veemon won the rock-paper-scissors game with Wormmon. It wasn't hard to win--Wormmon could only ever throw rock. "Oi, leave it. Ken and Wormmon can have the bed, all right?"


Veemon nodded. He was stubborn, but full of heart. He understood something was amiss--that things like this never really happened to humans. And especially not to Ken. "Sure!" The blue digimon trotted to the opposite side of the room and grabbed two of the seating cushions and brought them back, throwing one into Daisuke's face. "For you, Dai!"


Having too much focus on the well-being of Ken, Daisuke didn't see the pillow come hurling at him, and it clobbered him backwards onto his back. He let out a hearty chuckle until he couldn't breathe anymore, finally removing the cushion from his face. His breathing normalized, and his grin slowly turned into grimace. There was something wrong, and he couldn't just let it go.


"Are you really okay, Ken?" He lifted himself up by his elbows to look at his friend. Ken had already started to get himself prepared for bed, climbing underneath the blankets with a wiggly little Wormmon behind him. "You know you can tell me, don't you?" Hesitantly, he crawled over to Ken's side, slapping his pillow down in front of him so he could lay facing Ken. "You've never..." Without thinking, he pressed the back of his hand against Ken's forehead, feeling that Ken might be running a slight fever. Trailing an index finger down the side of his smooth face, he brushed away a string of dark hair from his soft skin. "I'm sorry." Retracting his hand, he frowned at his own awkward behavior. "I guess I've been acting a little weird today too. I don't mean to pry. You're a big boy."


Daisuke closed his eyes. What was his problem tonight? He was so anxious to come at all. Normally, he'd be beyond excited to spend a weekend with Ken. But the location and the sheer... Well... Intimate idea of the whole setting really got to him. No matter how many times he told himself, he couldn't just tell himself that he was being ridiculous. Ken and Daisuke had shared so much in the near decade of their friendship. Spending a weekend like this with him wasn't even so uncommon, though never as fancy or secluded. There was nothing he wouldn't do for Ken. Hell, he even got stripped down for him tonight. 


So why did he feel such unease? Was Ken feeling the same thing? Was he just being paranoid at this point?


Daisuke huffed. He hated thinking. And feelings were dumb. He just wanted Ken to be okay...

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"You worry about me too much." Ken smiled, rubbing his neck as he looked at the bed and the floor. The digimon would probably be fine sleeping at the end of the bed like pets, but Ken didn't want to see Daisuke curled up on the floor because of his clerical error. The most logical thing would be to go back and ask for another futon in here, but it was a long ways back to the main desk, and they were both tired. Even if he wanted to go off and do it quickly, Daisuke would insist on holding him like an invalid until he got some rest...


It could wait until morning.


He curled up under the sheets, and assessing the width of the bed, waved Daisuke off his pillow. He scooted away from him, and patted the space that he'd made. "Motomiya, share the bed. That pillow won't be comfortable all night." Though honestly, Ken was starting to feel like he could even fall asleep on concrete. Ken scooted more, and prompted Wormmon to make more space. They'd definitely all fit. "Veemon, you could sleep on the end?"


Ken's organizational tactics were thorough as always, and everyone did fit. Because Ken was not going to lie peacefully and calm Daisuke's unfounded fears about his well being until he crawled under the sheets with him. Ken was only comfortable when he had his squirmy green digimon in his arms, and his friend at his back.


"Listen, Daisuke." Ken muttered softly, letting him think over each word before he said it. "Fainting is pretty abnormal for me, I agree. Honestly I've just never felt as relaxed as I do here..." Ken's words were getting wispier, like he was slipping into a sleep he couldn't shake off. "Like I really, really never want to go home again... ah..." Ken winced and rubbed his temples. He was at the front of his mind aware of the dangers of strong influences upon him, forces that felt like his own feelings but came from outside. It made them infinitely harder to discern, but Ken could tell now when he wasn't feeling like himself. Losing control of such a sharp mind had nearly ruined him all those years ago...


"I don't feel right... Daisuke..."


And he was out.



Deep under the onsen, in a secret room programmed far more recently than the old-style onsen above it, a variety of cameras looking in on guest rooms projected onto thousands of screens. Three digimon worked diligently to observe each one of them, checking in on their much-appreciated human guests. One couple in particular had drawn the full attention of the devious three-- the pair fully responsible for their current enterprise. Ken Ichijoji and Daisuke Motomiya, the chosen children, wandering into their humble little onsen. If not for those two, there would never have been a merging of the words at all, and their blessed haven catering to humans and their partners would be kaput.


Just the way they would have preferred it.


They were truly the lucky ones, then, that Ken was limp and vulnerable in the face of their sedating auras. Ironic, that the technology was based on the old black spires, to broadcast a mind-altering signal across denizens of the digital world. This time, though, it was programmed for humans. And woefully short range... three digimon hardly had the expertise to design something as sophisticated as the old system. But who knew... maybe they could get Ken's help with it? Weak-willed boy that he was.


It wasn't a trivial challenge, though. Of their other human visitors, their usual tactic had just been to frighten them from the digital world for good. Drag them close to drowning with a bit of a snare in the hot springs, attack them in their sleep, any variety of things that their partners couldn't protect them from. And why not? Well, their old black spire tech was damn good at doing one thing: suppressing digivolution.


One thing was certain: the sooner they got these busy-body humans out of the digital world for good, the better.

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Leave it to the child of kindness to exhibit his crest at any given chance. Even under the bizarre circumstances, he was still thinking of others. Daisuke sighed, knowing there was no use in fighting the decision, and padded over to the bed and made himself comfortable under the covers. Ken's body heat radiated across the cotton sheets, causing an instant sense of drowsiness. They laid back to back, Veemon at Daisuke's feet and Wormmon cradled within Ken's arms. Quietly, he listened to his friend's confessions. And honestly, he couldn't help but sympathize.


If it was one thing the two shared, it was keeping certain personal issues inside. Daisuke didn't want to worry anybody just as much as Ken did. And honestly, things in the real world weren't going as great for Daisuke as he wish they could. If he had gone to school, he'd be on the cusp of graduating. Instead, he was a twenty year old kid living at home, riding on some essential "trust-fund" money gained by television and magazine interviews in hopes of fulfilling his dream of owning a ramen cart. He had tried his hand at working for others--his first job was at a small ramen shop in Odaiba. He loved it, but unfortunately the restaurant went belly up a few months after he arrived. After that, he worked for an old man who owned his own noodle cart. Daisuke worked with him for almost a year--they had even talked about Daisuke eventually purchasing the cart from him--but after a heated disagreement on a new recipe, Daisuke left behind the old man, unable to overcome his own pride and hotheadedness. Only making it apparent that Daisuke had to find his own way--he had to work for himself.


Daisuke wasn't without determination or dedication, and certainly no shortage of pride. But being jobless made him feel like he failed. It was different failing a math test or something, but he was failing his dream. He was ashamed. So it was easier to play it off as everything  being okay. It was true that he was working on new recipes, and he was even attempting to build a business model with what little he understood about what a business model even was.


And well, truthfully, he was giving considerable thought to moving out of country. One of his friends was on the verge of convincing him...


So no, he didn't want leave the Digital World. He wanted to stay there, next to his best friend, where grown-up things didn't matter and no judgement was ever passed. It was easier this way. Most importantly, he felt happy. Really happy...


Daisuke shot up from bed when he heard Wormmon make a concerned noise. "What's wrong?" He poked Ken's arm. No response. "Ken?" He shook the boy's arm with no reaction. He pushed Ken down onto his back, the taller boy's body was limp and heavy. "Ken, please!" His voice peaked with a sense of hysteria. What was going on? He hadn't seen Ken like this since... Since... "No." He shook his head. Leaning down, he watched for Ken's breathing. Luckily, it just looked like he had passed out again. "Wormmon. Veemon. Watch him for me. I'm going to go try to get help. Something's not right."

"But Dai, what if you need help?" Veemon asked, already energized and ready to fight if need be. The little dragon seemed to just have a constant supply of caffeine in his system.


"I'm just going to go to the front desk, I should be fine. I'll text Ken if I need you!" Without waiting for a further answer, Daisuke left the room and attempted to navigate his way to the reception desk. He swore they must have constructed it this way on purpose. It took him nearly ten minutes to find the desk, a feat that was accomplished by his terrible sense of direction and the surprising lack of navigational signs. The same Monzaemon from before was at the table (or at least Daisuke thought so).


"How may I help you, sir?" The bear digimon asked. He was far too big for the table, and even sitting down he towered two feet above Daisuke.


"My friend," Daisuke paused, suddenly not feeling so great himself. Why were the lights so bright up here? Did the air feel thinner? "My uh, my friend he's..." Looking up, he noticed that Monzaemon now had three heads and the world was kinda on a slant, and then all there was was black.




Monzaemon stood up from his seat and peered down on the collapsed red-head. Picking up the reception desk phone with one paw, he dialed a number with the other. After a few rings, somebody picked up on the other end. "Looks like the sedative in the ice finally kicked in, sir... Mhmm. Yes. It should be easier to get what we need now." Hanging up the phone, the Monzaemon waddled his way around the desk and picked up the unconscious goggle-head into his arms. The intent wasn't to harm the boy--not yet anyway--but he was currently an obstacle to what they really wanted.


A pair of Gizamon arrived shortly after. "Get him out of here. Make sure the blue devil is with him too." Nodding, one of the Gizamon took Daisuke away from Monzaemon while the other went to collect Veemon, eventually leaving the resort compounds with Ken and Wormmon behind.

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"Kennn... wake up, Ken..." A sad, uneasy whine wibbled Ken's name for almost an hour. Wormmon sat on a table with each one of his feet chaining him in place. An antsy, hugry-looking Etemon gave him a big lick up his back.


"I eat bugs like you for breakfast, kid." The ape-esque digimon cracked his knuckles and nodded over at the child of kindness, who still sat slumped in a chair, propped up only by a cloth tying his forehead to the chair back. An old pair of glasses had been sat upon his face-- familiar purple shades, with golden rims. "Y'all gots to yell louder or I'm going to get impatient." Etemon smacked his lips and smacked Wormmon across the back of his head.


"Oh please Ken... Ken...!"


Etemon had gotten out a fork when the chosen child stirred, staring through a clearing fog into the dim room. Well... not so dim, but artificially darkened. The weight of glasses on his nose had delayed alerting him. He saw Wormmon struggling in place, and moved immediately to help.


"Let go of my frien-- ahg!" Ken pulled away from the chair, and the chair pulled back, smacking the back of his head against it as he floundered standing up. Etemon laughed uproarously as Ken tried to figure out the tie around his head, and slip out of it in order to challenge him with a little more dignity. The glasses were askew, but remained.


"What was that, stupid genius? Can't even stand up right? And they want your help with anything... pfffh." Etemon shook his head, then spanked Wormmon. "Tell him what we want, little buddy."


"K-ken... he says they need you to program something..."


"Which iiiis?" Etemon clicked his tongue.


"A... a sedative for the humans!" Wormmon wibbled.


Ken looked at Etemon like he had two heads. "And why in my wildest nightmare would I help you control anyone." Ken pushed a hand to his forehead in frustration, and with an awful headache from whatever had been knocking them out at the onsen. It was the first time he'd really noticed the glasses, and finally he pulled them off to have a look.




They were his.


Ken threw them at the floor, terrified like he'd been holding a spider. Unfortunately for him there was no satisfying shatter, just a tink-tink of metal scooting along the dirty ground. His eyes, now shaken, fell on a smirking Etemon.


"Don't you remember when you thought the humans ought to rule over all Digimon? Oh, you do, I know it. Now, you and I both know how wrong that is. Humans don't deserve any reign over Digimon. And it would be better for all of us if your lot never came back here."


"No... Humans and Digimon were meant to live as partners... we can be friends!" Ken gasped, finding it hard to stare at Etemon when those glasses were looking back up at him from the floor.


"And you know what happens to Digimon when humans think they can partner with them in any way they like. Like toys for their amusement, and disposal. You may think you're so special now, but how many of the hundreds of thousands of sick little children you let in here have the beautiful notion of partnership? Not many." His furry hand clamped down around Wormmon's neck and squeezed, making the bug whine in pain.


"Digimon try to hurt other digimon enough. We don't need human help."


"Wormmon! ...digivolve!" Ken gasped, and the bug shivered with power. He warmed up, flexed against his restraints and... fizzled. Wormmon let out a fatigued cough.


"Sorry, Ken, I can't..."


The child of kindness felt weak in the knees. Why was he even surprised? No one went without precautions when holding captive the child of kindness and his digimon. And one of those precautions was separating him from his only source of strength... Daisuke.


"What did you do with my friend?" Ken remembered falling asleep with that goggle-headed bastard right at his back. There was no way they could have gotten Daisuke and Veemon very far... Ken hoped.


"Far enough. We haven't suppressed that stupid egg digivolution yet..." Etemon muttered. "Well, can't digivolve with broken legs, anyway."


Ken glared him down, but he had no way of telling if he was telling the truth. This was the sort of thing that only had one outcome: Etemon could threaten all manner of things done with Daisuke, Ken could risk it and refuse... but he would never live with himself if he did that. Working to subdue all the humans in the Digital world... well, it wasn't hurting anyone, right? If Etemon had anything right, it would do the opposite. He slumped forward onto his knees, and clutched his head. He couldn't do anything under this pressure, this surveilance. He needed time. He needed Daisuke, he needed him safe. Sweat was beading up over his face. Water dripped down at the peripherals of their chamber, steamy condensate from being in the vents below the hot spring.


"Fine. Unchain Wormmon, and give me a space to work."

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It was cold.


No, wait, it was warm.


It was a temperate ebbing. 


Daisuke sighed slowly, the weight of the sedative slowly escaping his lungs like a balloon. His eyes rolled open, groggily wandering around his surroundings as his brain attempted to make sense of what they were registering. Black dots bubbled across his vision, pulsating pings of pain to head. Shutting his eyes tight, he sucked in air through his teeth with a sharp hiss. He started to remember what happened... He was at the resort... He was trying to get help... He... Had collapsed? Daisuke lifted his head a little and rubbed the back of it gently. It was tender--he has obviously smacked his head pretty hard on the floor.


Rolling to his side, Daisuke let out long groan. It felt like his head and stomach were swimming loosely in his body--attached to nothing but a thin string. He grabbed a fist full of something--it was cool and papery--grass it looked like. So he was outside now. A warm breeze washed over him again, upsetting his equilibrium.


"V-Veemon..." He mumbled. Finally, he managed to get up onto his hands and knees, his woozy head bobbling as he looked around. "Veemon..." Cold air hit his face. "Veemon!" He shouted, though he was unsure if he was really yelling. It sounded muffled, as if hearing himself underwater. "Come on... Come on, Veemon." His voice peaked into a whimper.


Trying and barely succeeding, Daisuke got onto his feet. Stumbling a few steps back, he finally saw the totality of his surroundings. He was standing a few yards away from the edge of a cliff, the warm breeze flowing up from the sea outstretched before him. To his rear was a small plain of snowy fields, explaining the odd temperature changes. It was very clear, though, that he was on a small island. "Shit," he mumbled. The Digital World's geography rarely made sense, so he wasn't surprised by the climate. In fact, he kind of knew where he was. However, it was at least a good days walk from where Ken and Daisuke had been--and that was if he even could get off the island.


"Ken!" Whirling around, nearly losing his balance as he did, he ran to the edge of the cliff and looked down. He was about thirty feet above the ocean, with no visible shoreline. A garden of craggy rocks poked above the rolling waves. Daisuke looked toward the plains and saw nothing interrupting the horizon... "Ken... Ken! Wormmon! Veemon!" Losing his strength for a moment, he crashed to his knees. It had been almost ten years since he first stepped foot in the Digital World, and never once had he been isolated. He'd never seen it so empty... Where was his partner? Where was his friend? Why were they seperated? Clearly, this was intentional. But why?


Then, there was a voice. "D-Dai... suke..." It was quiet, but it was definitely Veemon. 


"Veemon!" Daisuke chased the voice, until he finally found the crumpled body of his friend buried under a couple of inches of snow. "Dammit. Dammit dammit." He quickly brushed off his shivering friend and pulled the little dragon close. Unfortunately for the both of them, Daisuke was only dressed the onsen robe. Barely enough to keep the two from the nipping chill of the island. "Are you okay, buddy?"


"Could... Be better..." He said weakly, burying his face into Daisuke's naked belly. Daisuke wrapped the robe around the both of them and picked up his partner. "I tried to protect them... But I couldn't. I'm sorry, Dai. I'm sorry."


Daisuke shook his head. "Shh, it's okay. It's okay. I know you did your best. We're at least together, right?" Veemon nodded. "We'll figure out what's up. We'll find Ken and Wormmon, and get the hell outta here. All right?"

"I don't think I can fight, Dai." Daisuke could hear the sadness in Veemon's voice. Without being able to protect his friends, Veemon didn't feel like much of a digimon at all.


"It's okay. We'll figure something out..."


Honestly, Daisuke had no idea what to do. Both of them were too wiped to do anything. Daisuke didn't even have his D3 or D-Terminal on him--their enemies seemed to have been clever enough to swipe those as well. They were stranded at least a half a mile from the main shore. They were, for all intensive purposes, stranded in the Digital World with no communication outside.


"We'll figure something out..."





The pair had been walking for about an hour when they finally hit a cliff that was low enough to safely get to the sea below. Fortunately, it was on the non-artic side of the island. Unfortunately, it was on the opposite side of the island that faced the mainland. Daisuke sat Veemon down on the ground and placed his hands on his hips. The cliff was only about ten feet above the water, and there was a small beach inside the alcove. "I guess this is where we'll stop for tonight. We can't do much else until we can get enough energy to make the swim."


"I'm hungry, Dai."


Daisuke sat down next to his friend and placed a hand on top of his head. Lightly rubbing the 'v' shape on the monster's forehead, he said, "I know. I am too. But there's nothing we can do about that until we get back. Let's just get as much rest as we can so we can make it tomorrow, all right?" His friend nodded and curled up onto Daisuke's lap. Within a few minutes, Veemon was already sawing digi-logs.


To think, today's visit was to be a nice relaxing trip with Ken. Turned out they had accidentally stumbled upon something that was clearly out to get them. Daisuke shook his head. He knew it was strange. He knew it was going to be a bad idea. It just didn't feel right. He should have hesitated longer--made some sort of excuse. Then all of this would be avoided.


But what if Ken still went? What if he ended up being in the same shoes as Daisuke was right now? Stranded and alone. Ken could take care of himself, of course. He was clever. But there was a solid possibility that Daisuke wasn't sure if Ken would even want to try to get back. There was still a bit of self-loathing in the boy, and if he were to be plucked like this from somebody inside the Digital World... Daisuke wasn't sure Ken could climb out of the hole of guilt again.


And Daisuke felt pretty guilty too. He knew why he really didn't want to come in the first place. Just the day before he had submitted paperwork for a passport. Some of his savings were set aside for a plane ticket to America. He hadn't told a soul about his plans, except for Veemon and his other friend. Even though the Digital World could bring Daisuke and Ken together in an instant, the motions and plans of being an ocean away was terrifying. Telling his best friend about it was even more so.


Now here they were, an ocean away for real, and his heart ached just as much as he feared it would.

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Ken's palms were sweaty for all kinds of reasons. It was steamy and stagnant down here, for one. The room he'd been brought to, full of big screens and control panels, reminded him of his old laboratory where he controlled the digital world from, back when he was its Emperor. That might not be his only cause for sweat, but it was what left an icy feeling down his back in his hot dungeon.


Ken assumed his heartless role as best as he could remember. He felt like he was shaking under his skin, but contained within an iron facade that wouldn't show his weakness. If he wanted control of the work here, he had to be convincingly working for Etemon. That ugly puppet monkey didn't need to know he was holding in tears. Besides... wasn't it time that he save Daisuke by his own strength?


As if that were even possible. Why the hell had he even gone into detective work? When the chips were down, he was always relying on Daisuke to be there with him.


He sighed, and sat down at his desk.


The controls all felt familiar under his fingertips. Though he'd tried, he could never really bury the memory of the things he'd done. Sick, twisted experiments on caring creatures... most of them. There would always be bad digimon, it seemed, same as there were bad humans. Ken only wished he had the program to change their hearts. At the very least, he couldn't blame Etemon for wanting to be rid of rotten humans from the digital world. Was it better, to rid the world of humans indiscriminately than to pick and choose who had the heart to see the digital world?


For some time, they had just been chosen. But Daisuke and the others had made sure that every human had the opportunity to live and learn from the Digital World. Neither option was any good, and Ken hated himself with every keystroke.


What were his resources? A terminal, for entering code in a language he'd learned long ago and never forgotten. Some synthesis tools for fabricating his alterations to the world, like how he'd generated his old black rings. Thick wires led across the ground and out of the room, presumably for updating whatever broadcasting tower they'd installed to weaken the local humans here. Screens that looked out into the Digital World, tracking everything from guest humans to digimon lackeys ready to receive orders. Ken idly searched one screen while writing something at the terminal. It seemed it took coordinates or IDs for entities within the digital world. Etemon was already chilled out by the door, listening to some tunes on a walkman with headphones over his ears.


So Ken searched for Daisuke, and gulped down as he found him.


He couldn't hear, but saw the worried exchanges between Veemon and Daisuke. They were by the shore... but where? Some far off island, about as far as Etemon could get him away while Ken was out. Had it been hours, days? Ken knew now that he'd been drugged, and he couldn't tell the flow of time down here. Getting back to Daisuke would be a challenge...


So what if he sent someone to bring him here?


Ken typed away, steadily buffing the code of the control tower, drawing its radius out while weakening the structure itself. If he could get someone close enough to knock it down, it would be easy. They had to find it, sure, but Etemon would never notice that the actual structure was weaker as long as it did as he'd asked. Besides, if he could do this code, he'd never have kidnapped Ken.


He wrote in some exceptions to the tower's control powers, setting his and Daisuke's IDs as immune while other human-tagged entities would suffer. Temporarily, he hoped. Simultaneously he sent out a command to one of the digimon lackeys: bring Daisuke and Veemon in. They were dangerous, it read. Here, under the tower's influence, they would be docile. Honestly, Ken knew just about any bullshit would baffle these simple-minded mons into obedience. Frankly, it was tragic. Maybe he could apologize when this was over, though he knew they wouldn't appreciate him then either...


Hopefully it was worth it. With any luck, dragging Daisuke into custody would mean he'd know how to get down here... so he'd know the way back out. Ken would suck down the guilt of manipulating others like he always did, at least until his hero got here.

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The sun bled up the horizon, casting neon oranges and grapefruit pinks across the eastern sky. Purple twilight blanketed Daisuke and his partner as both of them and the Digital World were beginning to wake up. For awhile, Daisuke laid on the ground, absorbing the pixellated morning sky, admiring how an artificial nature could act so beautifully natural.


There had been times where he had actually enjoyed mornings like these. There was a short time, just after they started high school, when Daisuke and Ken would meet early in the morning at the shores of the Digital World. In complete silence, the two would just sit and watch the sunrise over the ocean at Coela Beach, legs laid out as a 'v' in front of them, their school bags to their sides. Warm slices of orange danced across the low waves, and the air was always cool and salty. It was a time to reflect before the day--completely in silence. Maybe more importantly, it was a time to be together when they couldn't be normally.


But Daisuke had a terrible affair with his snooze button. After three lonely sunsets, Ken put it an end to the meetings. The two had a mild conflict about it--Daisuke got defensive, and Ken got passive, and they just forgot about it. Watching the sunrise now--feeling its gentle warmth and deep beauty--Daisuke felt a tinge of guilt for not upholding a series of events that could have become a tradition.


"Veemon, it's time to go," Daisuke pat the small digimon on the head and received a groggy grumble in response. "We have a long way to go." The rest was understood, and two began their careful decent down the cliff face to the small beach.




The water was cold and dark. Daisuke had discarded his robe on the island for less resistance while swimming. The temperature chilled him to his bones, and even though his arms burned from swimming for nearly thirty minutes, it didn't bring him any resolve. It also didn't help that Veemon wasn't the best swimmer, and Daisuke often had to tread water as he waited for his partner to catch up.


They had just rounded the edge of the island and pulled onto a rock for a quick rest. The sky was a soft blue now, with wisps of orange along the horizon. The mainland was clearly insight now, though it was still good ways out. Daisuke estimated they may be making good time, but it was clear they were both better suited for activities on land than in the sea.


"I'm sorry, Daisuke." Veemon said, a heavy tone of disappointment hinted on his words.


Daisuke shook his wet head. He replaced his goggles over his eyes--always happy when he could practically use his gifted accessory (which also never seemed to leave his person). "It's not you, Veemon." He sighed and readied himself to enter the cold water again. "It wasn't you who--"


Before he could finish his sentence, a pillar shot out of the water before them. Daisuke wailed back, falling off the rock and into the water, narrowly missing contact with the surrounding rocks. Swimming back to the surface, Daisuke saw that it wasn't a pillar, a very angry looking Seadramon. His mouth was ajar, allowing a low quaking growl to echo off the edges of the surrounding rocks and cliff. "Found you!" The digimon exclaimed, serpentining its way through the water toward the two.


"Swim!" Daisuke shouted. Arm over arm, Daisuke tried to make distance between himself and the enemy, but naturally was no match for the aquatic digimon's pure speed and strength. Veemon wasn't in his element, and didn't have the means of digivolving. With little effort, the Seadramon wrapped its tail around Veemon, then Daisuke.


Lifting his prizes several feet in the air, he turned the captives from side to side. "Enemies detained. Returning to base."


"Who are you talking to, jerk?" Daisuke spat as the Seadramon whipped the two of them behind him, starting his journey back to where ever this "base" might have been.


"You'll see soon enough, scum." With a tight squeeze of his tail, the Seadramon knocked the boy unconcious.




"Ken." Daisuke took a handful of sand and let it filter through is fingertips. "How do you feel?" He tilted and emptied his hand. "I mean, about us." A faded moon hung in the air in front of a gradient of cool and warm tones. "I mean..." What was he trying to say? Nervously, he grabbed another handful of wet sand, his fingers digging deep into the soil, grains lodging themselves under his fingernails. A wave lapped at his bare toes, sending a chill up his spine.


"What if I left?" Why? Where? "Because it's easy." Easy how? Leaving everything behind can't be easier. "Because it's easier than to be courageous." But that's who you are. That's what you do. "But not all the time. Not this time...


"Because you... Wouldn't understand. You can't understand. I don't want you to understand."


Daisuke turned to his friend. The boy's dark hair was covering his face, casting a dark shadow across his features, regardless of the bright hues playing across the shoreline. He was motionless, even as a wave drew up the length of his leg, getting his pants all wet. "Sometimes, you're my greatest weakness." Daisuke said, his words getting sucked back away into the ocean depths.




It was warm. Dank. Humid. Daisuke breathed in deep, the air heavy with moisture, making him feel like he just inhaled a glass of water. Carefully, he looked around his surroundings. It was dark, only an orange flickering glow of a torch was the source of light in the room. The entrance to the room was barred, and the room was constructed with stone masonry. The floor below him was sweating from the humidity, bringing even more discomfort to his already uncomfortable situation.


"Where... Am I?"

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Ken ran a hand back through his sleek hair, and the strands stuck. His bangs lingered, clinging back into his hair, leaving his forehead to try in vain to vent. Where would sweat evaporate to, when the air was totally water?


He'd been working through the night. Even with the monitors, he couldn't feel the change of day down here. He'd been exhausted since his capture, and the last thing on his mind was whether or not he'd missed his Monday classes and meetings. He could have missed a whole week by this point, the thought had barely occured to him. He was captive and Daisuke was missing, and he'd use all the power and time at his disposal to bring them back together.


His ring finger tapped repeatedly at the backspace key. Tired coding was sloppy coding, but Ken didn't need very much cognitive function to still be considered above average at what he did. Bags sunk in under his eyes the longer he stared at the camera tracking, in rotation, a few Seadramon. Even through the night the screens were bright in his dark cavern here, but it was just after daybreak that he finally saw what he'd been waiting for.


They found him. Daisuke was coming back.


Ken put an elbow on the desk and rested his mouth against his elevated hand. He felt sick-- with joy that his plan had so far succeeded, with guilt at the way Seadramon was handing Daisuke and Veemon. It was worth it. It was worth it. That was his mantra. It didn't make him feel better.


Hours later when Daisuke had finally been recovered to the facility, he got a page from the Golemon who'd received him. Rather, Etemon had gotten the message, but digitally, and since Etemon had tried to stay awake and watch over Ken until the boy passed out, he was now the snoozing one in the room. Underestimating Ken's resolve had never gone well for anyone.


He's awake. Ken had a camera tasked on Daisuke's cell now. Groggy and damp, Ken watched him stir, and shot up from his desk like the room was on fire.


The door wasn't even locked. Not to Ken, not anymore. Maybe Etemon should have thought of a better holding place for a genius than the control room of his facility? Subconsciously, Ken's fingers straightened out his mixed-up hair, smoothing the stress out of his locks. He didn't need Daisuke worrying about him, knowing that Ken was turning into a total wreck trying to get him back.


He was incident upon the Golemon at the door. He strengthened his face, pointed to the cell with Daisuke and put on his old Emperor's voice: "Let him out of there, I need him with me." Except now, his adult tone boomed deeper, resonant with the chamber. The soft way Ken usually spoke, it was hard to notice his voice ever changed. Not now.


"Who's a human ordering me around? Etemon said he's dangerous. Scram."


"Well your noble leader has had me crippling all the humans in the nearest five kilometers all night. Look at him, like a confused lamb in there." Ken sharpened his eyes, but nothing could hide the glossy tears building behind them. His voice trembled.


Golemon clearly had no knowledge of what a lamb was, but seemed to get the picture. The kid did look pretty doped up. Whatever-- they brought in this kid 'cause he knew how to fix their problems, right? Questioning the genius was above his pay grade.


Ken hustled into the chamber and crouched down by his goggle-headed companion. He found it hard to stop his attempt to support Daisuke from turning into a hug, so he didn't resist. His hands gripped tight to the back of Daisuke's damp inn robe (how nice of his captors to keep him decent) and he pressed the side of his face against Daisuke's cheek.


Ahh. A breath to relax.


He wasn't entirely without ulterior motive. Ken's brain never switched off, just ran in the background. "Act weak," Ken insisted in a whisper, lips at Daisuke's ear. "They think you're under their control here, that you're tired and docile. Play along, for now."


He got the chosen child to his feet, and escorted him back to the control room he'd been stationed in. Etemon was so asleep he'd fallen off his chair and was curled up, sucking his thumb on the floor. The first thing Ken offered his friend, now that they were (mostly) alone, was his clothing.


"They brought my clothes back down here." Ken illustrated, as Daisuke had probably already noticed his friend back in his slacks and half-open shirt (way too warm down here for his sweater). "But they couldn't tell mine from yours." Hence the pile of neatly-folded flame-emblazoned coat in the corner. "I thought you might be ready to cast off the faux-inn facade."


Ken laughed softly, and wavered where he stood. Just the relief from seeing Daisuke again was enough to soothe him to sleep. "I don't know what I would have done if I couldn't bring you back here..." Ken mumbled through his exhaustion. It was all he could do to catch Daisuke up with what he'd done so far here-- he felt like resuming the work right now would gnaw at his soul. Finishing it wasn't what was going to get them out of here, either, though.


"I don't suppose you were awake to see how we got down here...?"

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Daisuke was midway through wiping the sweat from his face with a part of his newly acquired robe when Ken slunk into his cell. He tried to croak out an expression of surprise, but Ken had already rushed into him and wrapped him in his arms. "K-Ken..." He finally managed to mutter, returning the embrace. "You're okay..." Their cheeks pressed against each other's, Daisuke's stubble scruffling Ken's smooth skin. Ken's commanding and calm voice tickled his ear, causing him to unconsciously graze his top teeth across his bottom lip. Even in this oven made of stone, the two of them drenched in their own (unflattering) fragrance, Daisuke couldn't have been more happy to be latched to his best friend.


Being alone in the Digital World was one of the most unsettling feelings in his life.


It wasn't hard to "pretend" to be weak. He was dehydrated, tired, sore, and most definitely hungry. The hollow pit in his belly, the dark rings under Ken's eyes, and the extensive growth of hair across his chin, made Daisuke think he'd been unconscious for much longer than he originally thought. A day? Two days? Maybe even three? Between being stranded on the island and his time in the cell, it could have been any amount of time. "Thanks... For the awesome vacation idea, idiot." 


The pair shuffled their way into the control room where Daisuke's clothes were. Quickly, he put on his shorts, undershirt, and boots, and ran a hand through his damp hair. He figured the next time he came into the Digital World, his other pieces of clothing would regenerate. It was more important to escape this resort from hell.


Daisuke gave a quick look over. The room had several monitors, keyboards, and blinking lights. It all looked very technical. It appears that Ken had been held up in the room since they were separated, though Daisuke had no idea for what purpose. He figured he'd be told later, but they had to make their way out of here, away form the sleeping Etemon sprawled out across the floor. Stealthily, the pair moved outside of the room and into the hallway.


"I..." Daisuke looked left and right down the hallway. "I was out. I barely even realized I was back here." He felt useless. "But... Veemon and Wormmon. We need to find them. Then we can get out of here." He put his arm around Ken's waist and waited for his friend to put his over his shoulders. "Let's try the right. You always go right in video games." 


They didn't get far.


"Not so fast, mates." A voice boomed down the hall. "You won't be goin' anywhere. Wh--ellll at last not until you have my permission." Daisuke turned around, slightly losing his balance in the process, and falling back into the hallway's wall. "I may be a monkey, but I ain't stupid." Etemon pointed at his prisoners, then quickly tossed his microphone in the air and caught it.


"Could have fooled me," Daisuke spat. He straightened himself, trying not to show just how much the lack of food and water was affecting his stature. "Just give us back our friends, and we'll be on our way. Promise."


Etemon let out a belly laugh, the bellow echoing down the corridor. "You would like that, wouldn't ya kid? Too bad that ain't in the cards, I'm afraid." The Digimon walked a few steps toward them and put his hands on his hips. "You see, y'all are not in the position to make threats."

Daisuke laughed, "It won't be much of a threat if you don't back down." Adrenaline started to pump through his veins. Who the hell was this guy to threaten them?


"Hah hah! Ya see, I was tickled pink when y'all got here. Whodda thought the great chosen children would pick our little old onsen! We didn't plan this," Etemon paused for a moment, taking a few more steps toward the pair. "But we certainly turned it into our advantage. Ya see, we don't want your kind here. Nah. Ever since you and your little friends played your little game all those years ago, things have certainly been a big pile of digi garabage."


Daisuke grabbed Ken's arm with one hand, silently cueing his friend to make a run for it. "That's nice, but I kinda have to disagree..." He took a step back, the muscles in his legs ready to spring to a sprint.


"Y'all proved one thing--you're dangerous. Dangerous together, for sure. And stupid. Definitely stupid."


Strong arms clamped around Daisuke's waist and lifted him off the floor. With a yelp, he kicked and shouted, "What the hell!?" He whirled his head around to see he and Ken had been captured by two massive Golemon.


"We needed to see how far you'd go. We couldn't have you mucking around our plans. Turns out, y'all are a buncha crafty sneaks. So here's the deal. That ain't happening again." Etemon traversed the rest of the hallway and got up into Daisuke's face. Even for digital breath, his sure was stinky. "You have two choices: never come back to the Digital World, or help us keep your kind away."


Daisuke narrowed his eyes, "What's the third option?"


Etemon growled out a chuckle, "Wasn't sure you were gonna ask, little man! It's my favorite--you're little mons get erased!"


Daisuke's heart sunk. "Y-you... You can't. You wouldn't. You don't even have--"


Etemon laughed again, louder, to the point of losing his composer. "For good comes with sacrifices. And these little buggers are going to wish they could become digieggs again when we're done with them." 


Daisuke's breathing intensified. Had they been had? Naturally, they couldn't do much without their partners. They had no forms of communication to ask for help. He was mad. Cornered. Upset. Scared. His emotions began to consume him--he wasn't going to be told what to do. He wasn't going to let his friends fall into the hands of a sect of crazy digimon. Squiriming, kicking, punching, screaming. "You shut up! Shut up! I'm going to... I'm going to..." The Golemon's grip was just too tight. "You're going to wish you were never born!"


"I somehow doubt that."

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"We'll help you."


It was almost indiscernable below Daisuke's wailing. It came from the taller, paler boy, with all the weight of resignation and exhaustion. It was defeated, almost totally.




"I'll help you." Ken insisted, his voice a hiss. He knew Daisuke wouldn't accept it right away, but they were in the same position with the same choice to make. Ken's brain just worked faster. He'd been staring at the options all night, even, knowing that helping the enemy was the only way to buy into an opening for escape. They couldn't fight them now, and if they wanted their partners back, they couldn't fight them ever.


The safety of Wormmon, Daisuke and Veemon was tantamount. Sure, it was the good of a few over that of the many, but humans had lived in separation from the Digital World before. They'd get over it. Ken would tear himself to pieces making any other choice.


It was the longest escort of his life, and Ken was infinitely thankful that his Golemon was walking in front of Daisuke's. For a while he could still hear Dai kicking and screaming, his infinite willpower a wonder to Ken. He fondly remembered those times that just because Daisuke had believed it possible, it really had been-- just, this wasn't one of those times. Ken mopped quiet tears from his cheeks; again always so different from Daisuke, whose face was wetted only by passionate rivers. Nothing was ever quiet about Daisuke.


By the time they were at the exit, D-terminals and D-3s in hand, a sort of quiet had gripped them. Honestly, Ken didn't begin to know how to apologize to Daisuke for making this kind of choice for him. For giving up so quickly. For accepting he was weak and not believing in Dai's strength. He let air flow out of his mouth, wondering if words would form at all.


"We can't tell them." Ken looked at his D-terminal. Takeru, Hikari, even Tai, none of them could know why Ken and Daisuke were about to do what they were about to do. Charging in guns blazing was not what would save their partners. Ken wanted Daisuke to understand that.


"I'll... give you a ring. I think I have some ideas." Something about using the D-terminals made him feel sick. Those were for team communication, and they were operating truly independent of the team. Here he was, scheming all on his own again...


At least this time, at least for now, he had Daisuke with him. His conscience at his side. He willed himself to say more, but like ever, withdrew. I hope that you can get through this without hating me.


Even after years of self-loathing, there was still nothing that made him rot more powerfully than nightmares of a reality without Daisuke in his life. As he raised his D-3 to exit this world, he couldn't even make eye contact with Daisuke. Did he loathe him already? Ken couldn't stand himself if he saw it.


His small Tokyo apartment was frigid-- fall was giving a winter preview, tonight. Peaceless sleep came easy, with woeful dreams more palatable than the phone calls he was to make through the morning: the Chosen Children had some hard truths the public needed to hear, and every talk show in Japan had been waiting eagerly to listen.

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"What?" Daisuke hissed. "No, we don't! No! Ken! What the hell!?" He tried to pry Golemon's hand away with both hands, his palms getting scrapped by the rough hide of his captor. It was clear that they were continuing on with Ken's request, bringing the two of them down the corridor and into a different computer room. With a haphazard toss, the two humans tumbled to the floor, their devices clanking to the floor and skidding next to them. Daisuke shot up and tried to get to the door before the huge digimon could close it behind them, but he had no luck. "Dammit. Fucking... Dammit!" Rushing to his D3 and D-Terminal he attempted to connect to his partner, only to be greeted with a Could Not Connect message.


Tears had already been streaming down his face, but a new wave buckled behind his eyelids. "We could have done something!" He shouted, forcing a raw palm into the corners of his eyes. "Who are we to give in like this! How..." He shook his head and breathed out a heavy sigh. Within his hands were his two devices, threatening to crack under his unchecked rage.


And just as ever, Ken was statuesque in his remorse. Giving out his orders without a blink of emotion. Did he have any idea what he had done?


Daisuke huffed. He couldn't bare to give Ken a sign of recognition, let alone a verbal confirmation to his plans. His face was ugly in pain, lips quivering under the weight of ten thousand emotions, and brows furrowed so deep his eyes were pinched closed. He scarcely even realized when he had entered back into the real world...




"Fifty-two..." The soccer ball returned to Daisuke's hands, only be to bounced against the wall again. "Fifty-three..." Again. "Fifty-four... Fifty-five..." He was fidgeting--his legs, his arms, his face. He couldn't concentrate--the emotions were boiling in him, making it hard for him to do anything but exert it through physical means.


"Sixty..." He dropped the soccer ball and got up from his bed. There was a distinct imprint left on the edge where he had been sitting, the covers strewn about in an in classic college kid fashion. For the first time in a long time, he said aloud something that wouldn't be heard. "I have to get outta here."


Daisuke slammed every door behind him as he left, even ignoring his parents, who were seated in the living room, as he stepped out of the apartment's front door. Outside, the air was bitingly cold--abnormal even for late autumn. It didn't matter. The longer he was inside, the higher chance he had of busting his fist through the drywall.


Daisuke jogged. He jogged without thinking, without destination, without motivation. Seconds turned into minutes, which compounded into an hour. Daisuke's lungs burned, his calves ached, his arms were rubber. It wasn't until he started coughing from the dryness in his throat did he slow to a stop. Resting his hands on his knees, he breathed puffs of heated air around him, the sweat on his skin sucking the heat from his body. His teeth began to chatter as he made his way to a park bench and slumped down onto it. Before him was Tokyo Bay, the Rainbow Bridge a good kilometer down the road. The prismatic lights illuminated both the bridge and the water below, bringing a hint of playfulness to the chilly fall night.


This was where they fought Diaboramon nine years ago. Imperidaldramon, Omegamon, Yamato, Taichi... Ken. It had only been a few months after the entire world changed. But together, with all of his friends, they were able to do the improbable and keep the stability of the worlds in check. Working out conflicts was what they were good at. When everybody was together, nothing was impossible. And now...?


Daisuke raised his legs up onto the bench and held his knees close to his chest. A breeze kicked up and made the hairs on his arms and legs stand on end--wishing that he had worn more than a t-shirt and shorts. Now he was to do what? Destroy that connection? Turn his back on his fellow chosen and his digimon partners? When had he ever given up on anybody? And now he had to lie to the masses, to tell them that the world was better off without their loving companions. Not even dogs could compare to the selflessness and unconditional love they provided to their humans.


Ken should have known that much.


"You fucking coward..." Daisuke said, again, to nobody. He had never been so livid. Ken wasn't the most courageous person. He played on the sidelines, often needing the push from his friend to find his way through conflicts. But there was something so egregious about what had transpired--there was just an unwritten rule between them. You never give up on anybody... And he betrayed that.


He hadn't realized that he was biting his lip so hard until the coppery taste of blood hit his tongue.


Daisuke rubbed a finger across his lip. But was he really mad at Ken? At least he said something. Daisuke wasn't getting anywhere with his childish tantrums. They still could have figured something out when they were there. They could have done it. Now they had to manipulate themselves, their friends, and the people of the world to believe in something so they didn't lose the two most important beings in their lives. Maybe. Who knew if Etemon and friends really even had that power. They were being played at all ends.


Daisuke groaned loudly into his knees. The groan turned into an aggravated scream. He heard the scuttle of quickening footsteps as another pedestrian moved away from the crazy guy on the bench. He sat for several more minutes, stuck as a bundled cocoon of emotions before he finally uncurled himself and stood up.


Across the bay he could see Imperialdramon, beaten and weak, sinking into the dark water of the bay. He felt the heavy stone of defeat, sadness, stress, and fear weigh down on his stomach. His complete loss of self belief. The inevitable terrible feeling of watching the world drowning along with the hope of humanity. But inside his heart was the butterfly--the butterfly of success, happiness, calm, and courage. When it flew, it raised the sword of justice and smote the darkness. Just as so many times before, the butterfly hatched from the kindness of its keeper. And they could do it again... Couldn't they?


Daisuke pulled out his cellphone and looked at Ken's profile picture in his contacts. He read the number over and over again--read the boy's name front and backward. He thought of all they had been through. All the laughs. All the special moments that no amount of code could ever erase. Daisuke didn't have to agree with Ken's plan, but he deserved some sort of respect. He hesitated, embarrassed about his personal emotional distress and how easy it was for him to forgive a man he was so sure he hated just moments ago. Finally, he pressed the call button and raised the phone to his ear, nervously waiting on each ring for his friend to pick up on the other line.


"Uh... Hey. Hi." Daisuke ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Er. What's... The plan?"


Today began the day of relying on nobody else but themselves.

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Ken's morning began slowly. As soon as he was conscious again, he was crying. His face was sloppy with trails from the tears he'd cried through the night, and the way his hair was stuck all over his face. His eyes were boldly red, and he was thirsty like he'd never been before. The pillow around his head was damp, and it took all of Ken's strength to just sit up.


He felt like he'd been imprisoned. The digital world was his freedom, and now he was to imprison the world just like him. Normally, when he felt like filth, he'd go back to that beautiful world and sit there for hours. He'd visit the digimon nursery, where he'd found himself all those years ago, where he'd finally come to grips with the horrors he'd committed. Where he'd resolved to do good for the world, atone for his crimes.


Was he going back on all that?


A few dry heaves into the toilet, Ken managed to force down a bowl of plain rice. The nausea hardly subsided, but Ken forced it behind a workaholic frenzy, swallowing it back with all his other emotions. He knew what had to be done.


By evening he'd queued up meetings with a news reporter for the daily paper, and two popular daytime talk shows Tokyo, Now! and Japan HOT. A little low-brow, but the best place to get a message out fast. They were the sorts to can their scheduled spotlight of Maru the cat for the chosen children, at the very least. He was especially at a loss to book big while it was still just him. Daisuke was the star of the show, after all.


After a dinner as lackluster as his breakfast, he took a seat outside to get some air. The Tokyo U quad was lively tonight, not usually Ken's crowd. As he warmed a bench, a girl he'd seen in some of his classes came by, and paused. Naturally, she recognized him. As Ken didn't feel much like himself anyway, he scooted on the bench, and let her sit down. In the back of his mind, she was maybe Yolei, or Hikari. Someone quiet and smart, who'd understand him. A good friend.


"Ichijoji-san." The girl smiled, even brightening up more when she noticed Ken was glum. "I just wanted to tell you, I have a lot to thank you for. My life's been so much better, with digimon in it." Her attempt to cheer Ken up was more like twisting the knife in his chest. She opened her mouth to say more, but Ken started shaking his head. He touched her shoulder from an arm's length away, quietly demanding to be heard.


"It's all wrong, I'm sorry."


"...Huh?" The young woman was confused, and rightly so. Ken hadn't decided how he would tell anyone yet, so she would just have to be his dry run.


"The unity of the worlds. The Digimon... they're so frustrated with us humans there, we have to stop visiting the digital world." Ken looked her in the eyes, and saw disgust. Understandable. He sounded like a madman, even to himself.


"But my Poromon and I love each other! She'd be heartbroken if we never got to see each other again!"


"No, no, she'll be fine! The worlds lived apart once before--"


"Oh, and you'd go back to being its sole gatekeeper, huh?"


"It isn't that, we'd all stop--"


"Regret letting the secret out after all this time? What's your problem?"


"Listen, it's hurting the digi--"




Ken was left with a glowing red cheek, and the sinking feeling that he was about to become a lot less popular. The cold air didn't ease the burn any, but it did carry with it the jingling ringtone of his phone.




His fingers curled around the plastic like he was pressing his ear to Daisuke's chest. He couldn't even greet him, he just listened and let his breath alert Daisuke that he'd picked up. He had to hear the affection in his voice first, that affirmation that Daisuke didn't hate him.


Uh... Hey. Hi.


Ken could hug him right then, if only he was there.


"Well, I hope you didn't get sick of the media..." Ken let out a breathy laugh. No, the one sick of the attention was Ken. "Because you should meet me on the set of Tokyo, Now! at 7am tomorrow..."


Ken let out a long sigh, more air than he'd realized he'd been holding. "Daisuke, do you want to... get a drink or something? ...You're where?"


Off the phone, Ken made his way through town with a spare coat, and made it to the bay. It seemed like regardless of whether or not Daisuke had wanted a drink tonight, a bar was going to be the closest, warmest place for Daisuke to relax inside with Ken. The genius of the pair ordered two drinks and sat them aside in a small booth-- if Daisuke wasn't drinking, Ken would just have two.


"Listen, I... I'm so sorry for making a decision just like that... I'd never just leave our partners behind."

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Daisuke took his drink between both hands. Looked like Ken had ordered something on the harder side. He thought for a moment on whether he wanted to nurse it or throw it back. He decided with the latter, slamming his empty glass onto the table. The emptiness of his stomach would probably protest later, but he was thirsty from running so much.


"Yeah, well..." Daisuke reclined in his seat, pushing his finger against the side of his empty glass and making it spin in place. "Don't think for a second I ain't pissed at you, Ichijouji." Placing a finger on the rim of the glass, he knocked it over, sounding off a faint clank as it hit the wooden table. "We could have beaten them. Found one of their weaknesses or something. I mean, how many times have we been in a situation like this?" In reality, it was none. Daisuke knew that. But seeing the dark haired boy here now, all the feelings started boiling up again. He wanted to push his buttons--make him angry too. "Do you really think they have that kind of power, Ken? Like, it was an Etemon, for fuck's sake. Taichi said they beat the snot out of the guy years ago. Now we need to play this--this--game which is really going to affect people, man! It's going to really fuck things up!"


Daisuke shook his head and called the waiter for another drink. "What really gets me," he paused for a moment, "Is that you don't trust that we can fight together. That we need to just... Give into something so easily. That just because... Just because..." Stopping, he placed a hand on his forehead, trying hard to keep tears back in a public place. "Just because Veemon and Wormmon are gone... That we're not a threat together."


The waiter came back with a fresh drink which never hit the table. Daisuke sighed heavily as another round hit his stomach. His cheeks were turning red and his muscles began to feel like warm taffy.


"B-but... I mean... I dunno. What if they can? What if it's like Malomyotismon all over again? They could... Delete everybody..."

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Ken had a bourbon he was nursing the pain with. Being tall and skinny didn't make a hearty tolerance, so it wasn't long after every fiery sip that the young man felt an easiness wash over his body and mind. And god, did he need it now; each of Daisuke's words dug holes in him he could only cork with liquor. He couldn't look Daisuke in the eye when he was being reprimanded. Before he knew it, he was even shaking, quivering in his seat as Daisuke knocked his glass.


"What if they do have that power, Daisuke?" Ken's voice was soft, difficult to hear in the evening crowd. "Would you really have gambled their lives?"


No one took digital life more seriously than Ken. No one else understood that deleting was as good as death. Bad men used murder to end human life, and the same sort of digital monster could end their digital friends.


"We only need to buy some time. All our digital media... Etemon and his gang have access to it, so they'll know when we go out there and spread their message. Honestly... it can be us, but I don't think anyone's going to listen." Ken shook his head. There was a limit out there to what they could do, and before they reached it and Etemon decided they hadn't done enough, they had to get their partners back.


"If we burst in there, try to attack them... they'll do like they threatened, if they can. We have to convince Etemon to give our partners back. We have to make it seem like humans aren't going to go back to the digital world... even if they are." Ken looked at the table, a hint of a scheming glint in his eye. 


"I would never put my trust in Etemon's word over you." Ken looked up, finally meeting Daisuke's eyes. He paused only to finish his bourbon. "We saved the world together before my voice changed. That's why I thought together, we could do this."

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Daisuke held his chin in his hand, his whole body leaning into the table as he shifted forward in his seat. Leave it to Captain Cool to take the bite right out of tension. His head twitched to the side, the corners of his lips contorting with every thought. He tried not to accept his friend's vote of confidence, mostly because it so brashly disregarded his entire argument for... Well, arguing.


A quick chuckle escaped the corner of his mouth. "Of course we can do this. Your stupid ass just wants to do everything the hard way." Daisuke caught Ken's eyes, and he couldn't help but smile. So many times they had these same moments--a time where they couldn't pick themselves up through a time of difficultly. Always, with one well placed phrase, the other would reconstruct themselves and continue on.


"Not to say you're right, but you usually are." Another drink had arrived, but Daisuke voted to sip it away this time. "You know how it was back then. We may not just be dealing with what we're seeing now. There might be more to this metaphorical iceburg." It had happened before. Myotismon was always their greatest enemy--one who had played the strings on all of his minions to do his biddings--including Ken. What if Etemon was just some other sinister being's puppet? He didn't believe for an instant that baboon had the power to harm his friends, but something else might. Many shady bytes lived in the shadows of the digital landscape.


"So running with our tails between our legs was probably the only option." He said, still making it clear that he didn't have to like the plan. Ken could only win so many angles.


The table was silent. Daisuke took another sip of his drink, finally beginning to feel the alcohol taking reign on his brain. Honestly, he had been surprised when Ken began to take interest in drinking. Japan had a drinking age, but it wasn't very well regulated. Because of it, Daisuke had been drinking recreationally since he was sixteen, but straight-as-a-ruler Ken didn't have his first one until he was of legal age.


"Come on," Daisuke had said, edging his open can of beer closer and closer to Ken's face. They were in Ken's dorm room a few days after his twentieth birthday, belatedly celebrating as they couldn't be together on the day of. "Just have some, you pussy." Ken pushed the beverage away from his face, but failed to realize how much effort he put into his protest. With a swift tip of the can, the amber beverage spilled over Ken, Daisuke, and Ken's mattress. Their eyes locked--Ken staring daggers, while Daisuke's pled for forgiveness. After what felt like hours, the two marinating in a stinky brew of hops juice, Daisuke finally said, "Well, at least you got pissed."


And that split second... The one where Ken's eyes narrowed from the bottom up. Where the left side--it was always the left side--of his mouth lifted to show his perfect teeth. Where the first breath of his well-tempoed laugh escaped between slightly ajar lips. Every chuckle made Daisuke feel lighter, happier, and loved.


It was the first time Daisuke felt... Differently.


Daisuke bit on his thumb nail, not in an attempt to remove it, but in an attempt to find words. The young man across from him had been proposing they actively involve themselves in changing their entire lives. And not just theirs, but the entire world's--for the second time. He knew, logically, it was all they could do at this point. That being in a stand off, it was better to be the slow one to win the race. But in the end, would things be the same? Cautiously, he glanced at Ken, their eyes meeting with a solemn understanding of what was to come in the next few days.


Daisuke knew if they accidentally succeeded at what they were set out to do, nothing would ever be the same. And even if everything did go in their favor, who was to say it still wouldn't go sour?


"I guess I just might as well say it." Daisuke gulped down the last of his drink and adverted his eyes past Ken's. It wasn't going to be easy, and it may not have been the best time. But he was well enough inebriated to not have the proper checks to stop himself. "I've been meaning to tell you for awhile, but you know..." Did he? "I think I'm going to be moving? Yeah. I'm going to be moving. I think I'll have better success somewhere else." He began to see the concern in Ken's eyes. "I know," he waved his hand, trying to diffuse the bomb he was about to set. "I'm not like you. I don't have all the brains you do to succeed, but I have the passion... And uh, I've just been doing my research, and America might be where I go."

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Ken felt warm. Had the drink gotten to him already? Sure, he'd made a notch in his second, and it was pretty hard, but... it was really the sinking feeling in his chest that struck him as off. His throat felt thick, and not from alcoholic nausea. More like some invisible hand had encircled his throat with a hard and unyielding grip. Maybe it was Daisuke's hand.


"You're moving to America?"


Ken felt like the words hadn't really left his lips. He didn't register it the first time, just felt his tongue mashing against his teeth and his lips twitching in his mouth. He said it again. Moving started to sink in. That... that was fine, right? He and Daisuke had never lived that close together. They'd never gone to the same school. They took the train to meet up.


America. The train wasn't going to be enough. It wasn't going to be a couple bucks and a pain-in-the-ass hour to see Daisuke anymore. He wasn't going to come over every other week and be his one distraction to the burden of intellect. Knock the books off his bed, spill beer on his papers, whatever, Ken needed it. His hands crept across the table, taking Daisuke's by the wrists. Could he hold him here? No, and that was a stupid notion. Stupid, stupid... and yet Daisuke was saying he was stupid, so he needed to move.


"W...why do you think getting your start will be any easier in America?" If he was leaving, he had to have a reason. Daisuke knew Ken was too rational to let him leave without one.


"You'll be further from everyone you can rely on for help, I mean... it couldn't possibly be easier." Ken blushed. Did he really mean everyone, or was he talking about himself being further from Dai?


"It's not like America is really the land of opportunity... they just say that about the cowboys..." Grasping at straws, Ken felt like he was struggling to breathe. Inebriated, the instant solution to getting Daisuke to say he'd stay just wasn't coming to mind. His intellect was failing him, and it was enough to make him want to cry.


Or maybe that was just because Daisuke was leaving.

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A wave of guilt washed over Daisuke, like he just accidentally dropped a dozen eggs, or that he had just told his friend he planned to move three thousand miles away. Ken's grip on his wrists was disconcerting to him, the electricity of the touch sounding a siren inside of his head.


"I uh..." Daisuke tried to find the words. He felt so certain about it for the past few weeks, but when confronted about answers, he struggled to provide them. "Well, you know, there is an open market over there. There's not a lot of authentic Japanese cuisine. I have a friend that's told me some good places that would really welcome it." Looking Ken in the eye was proving to be too difficult. He tried to politely pull his hands back, but the other boy's grip was too tight. "So, I figured I have the savings, right? I've spent the past couple of years at a dead end. And now, after we get out of this mess, I'm sure my reputation around Japan is going to be crap..." Finally, he regained control of his arms. He brought them to his sides and used them as grounding poles as he grabbed the edge of his cushioned seat. His body began to sway. "Listen, I'm sorry I brought it up. I just figured, you know, might as well get all the shit out on the table."


As they had been so many times this evening, they were silent. Daisuke was bad with serious situations. He often didn't think far ahead about things, but his friends were arguably the most important thing in his life. There was little he could do at this point to not lose everything, anyway. With a sigh, Daisuke broke the invisible wall between them, "What we're going to do, it's going to change us. Have you thought about it? How life will truly be without them? If we go too far? If we end up failing to stop short of killing the connection?" Sadness caught his voice, causing the last few words to come out as a near croak. "We're all going to be stranded, Ken. So really, there's no reason not to move on."


Daisuke gnawed on his bottom lip. His defeatist talk was surprising him, but it was only because he wasn't used to coming at problems from this angle. The whole "believe in each other and beat the snot out of your enemy" tactic was usually the route he'd prefer to take. It's the one he knew. But he felt a weight of doubt that just two human beings could succeed in the face of such grand scheme. 


"We'll be fine..." He said, not too sure if he believed his own words. 

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