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Meet Me at Atatakai Onsen

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Daisuke had moved to help Tatum to her feet when he noticed Ken's expression. It was a mix of confusion, disgust, and though he wasn't sure he even knew what it was supposed  to look like, he guessed the final emotion was contempt. Daisuke narrowed his eyes and mouthed a very clear "fuck you" to his friend as he turned his attention to Tatum.

 

It was always more difficult for them to talk with their mouthes instead of their fingers. Many of their conversations ended up being a mix of beginner English and Japanese--flip flopping between languages in the same sentence. It was always easier to communicate over messenger because at least they had translation tools at their disposal. It wasn't perfect, but it made communication plausible. They were both interested in learning each other's language, it was just never a huge priority when so many of their common interests involved pictures and translated content (like manga and American comic books). Being confronted with a situation where they had to think fast to understand each other--Daisuke and Tatum crumbled at being efficient.

 

"Ah..." Daisuke started, he bit his lip in concentration, waiting for his brain to catch up to where Ken's sentence ended. He was better with reading than listening--he obviously had more exposure to the former. "Yes. I am happy you is good." Shaking his head he breathed out and turned his back from Tatum, trying to hide a blush. Really, the embarrassment was coming from exposing his English skills to Ken, feeling his snide words from the other day resurfacing to hurt his pride some more.

 

"I'm fine." Tatum said, placing a hand on Daisuke's arm, causing him to face her again. They caught eyes and Daisuke felt his heart sink, her green eyes always able to say more than any words could. The regret, the pain, the disappointment--it was all there. She had been thrown into the same position as them, only she was a casualty. She had no reason to feel how her eyes made her look--full of remorse. "I didn't..." Looking past her friend, she addressed Ken with a stern voice. She recognized that he had been bordering confrontational in his instigation, a tone she was never afraid counter. "I didn't bring Betamon, because I knew exactly where you two were. I just wanted to catch up to Davis so I could knock some damn sense into him." She pat Daisuke's arm as she continued talking, "Bringing Betamon could have put him at risk from the sounds of what you all were saying earlier. Am I right? So why risk his safety when I shouldn't have taken more than fifteen minutes." Her body seemed to gravitative more and more toward Daisuke's body with each word, until finally she wrapped her arms around the red-head and let out a relieved sigh. "I'm just glad to see you both are all right, but..." Letting her arms drop she turned away from both of them, "I know what you're thinking, and I know you're right. If I had Betamon, I might have been able to do something instead of letting them getting away."

 

"Veemon..." Daisuke said, his voice trailing on the tail end of sadness. They had been so close... If only they had been a few minutes earlier...

 

The heightened awareness Tatum had for Daisuke's emotions pushed her on to apologize in the best way she could think. "I want to help." Tatum said, confidence filling her chest as she took both of Daisuke's hands. It felt so nice being here with him... It had been too long. If only it was met under better circumstances. "I... I don't know what's going on, but I guess I'm apart of this now. People could be hurt because I wasn't strong enough to stop them. Let me help." She was better than this. She was stronger than this. Most importantly, she was going to do her duty as a chosen and protect people.

Looking back at Ken, Daisuke caught a glint of... A glint of something he'd never seen on the boy's face. It was clear Ken has put all the pieces together a long time ago, and he was nowhere near as good at masking any of the new feelings he may have been having from his best friend. But it was clear that in order to do this, they had to do it on their own--and that included cleaning up the additional mess Tatum unfortunately had caused.

 

"You can't. It's too dangerous." He spoke in Japanese, quickly in hopes that Tatum wouldn't be able to follow. But she could.

 

"I can't? Who are you to say I can't?!"

 

"You can't, because what if we make one slip up? What if one of us just... Goes too far and then--boom--the show ends and everybody's gone!?"

 

"Davis, I..."

 

"This is ours." Daisuke waved an arm out toward Ken. "We got into this mess, and we'll  get out of it. Bringing in anybody else just jeopardizes more lives. Thanks for your concern, but it doesn't help. It really doesn't."

 

"Davis! Stop!" Tatum was pulling at the end of her braid when she shouted at Daisuke. "I can't understand you!"

 

He was doing it to protect her. He cared too much about her to carry any more potential guilt. He cared too much about her to see her get hurt. He cared too much about her to see her fight a battle that wasn't hers. "Go. Home."

 

Like a whip, a crack of light streaked across his vision and a stinging pain throbbed on his cheek. "You asshole." Tatum spat, the back of her hand already changing into a colorful display of reds. "I'll do what I want; especially if it means I can help people. I don't need your approval." Fuming, she strode off to the gate and turned back to the pair. "I'm not saying it again. So let's go."

 

Arms folded, she stared down the goggle head. She wasn't going back to New York--if she went back, she knew Daisuke would leave without her, and she needed their signal to jump to Tokyo--unless she felt like taking a last minute 24 hour plane trip. They'd have to go together and figure out how to handle the impossible.

 

Sitting on his heels, Daisuke nursed the side of his face sheepishly as he aimlessly drew circular patterns in the dirt. He was left with a sense of uncertainty. They did need the help, but what were three chosen children without their partners going to do against a horde of monsters in a major city? At least Daisuke was used to working through hell with Ken--Tatum had a chance to just complicate matters. One wrong move and they could have been on the scent, and the next minute Veemon and Wormmon could be dust. And that didn't even include the human lives involved now.

 

But he had no say. Their personalities clashing again--he would be doing the exact same thing she was doing now. She had just as much of a right to help at this point, and she wasn't somebody that needed to be protected. So for now, the party of two had turned into a party of three, and Daisuke couldn't seem to shake the unsettling feeling of Ken's eyes on him.

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...Ken felt paler than usual.

 

It wasn't impossible that help from this girl might have actually been helpful, but he did doubt it. She was another pair of eyes and hands, he supposed, but what they needed right now was strength and intelligence. And, though he didn't like to admit it, he didn't think she had much mental capacity to add to the team. He'd worked with minds like Koushiro's in the past, a particularly good strategist who could see things Ken missed because he was trying to take in too broad a field. This girl was more of... a second Daisuke.

 

Except she was also an ex-lover of Daisuke's, and Ken didn't really want her around. The feeling was potent all of a sudden, like a petulant child being denied a candy bar in the checkout lane of the grocery store. He couldn't very well describe his sudden dislike for Tatum-- he hardly knew her, after all, and judgement hadn't been a negative quality of his in many years-- but he knew that the root of the feeling felt somehow... immature. Most visceral was the desire to let her know that Daisuke and he were something of an item now, though, as he thought about it, he supposed they were nothing official. Frankly, Tatum's physical relationship with Daisuke was much longer and probably better understood by the gogglehead than what he had with Ken. He was new and exciting... but she was familiar, reliable. If not for the distance, Ken thought, they would have been a couple.

 

Did that still hold? Surely, Daisuke knew he was moving to America. And Ken hadn't gotten the chance to tell him that he'd been thinking of pulling up roots to follow-- would that have changed last night? Did Daisuke want to have it all with Ken... but only while it lasted?

 

He had missed most of Daisuke and Tatum's broken argument at that point, not much of Japanese or English catching his ears. All of a sudden he was examining the clods of dirt by his feet and trudging towards the gate. They had a job to do, no point in wallowing...

 

As if Ken had ever been good at shaking off emotions like that.

 

"Let's go." Ken supposed the American knew at least that much Japanese. The dark D-3 was barely supported by Ken's grip, which was too tightly grasping for reassurance that Daisuke wasn't trying to run away to hold on to much else.

 

The real world was, fairly predictably, in shambles. It wasn't Diaboromon all over again, but it was quite a scene with various Vegimon and Gazimon chasing civilians and harassing news crews who were hot on any new digital action after the day before. They weren't too far off from one, as it seemed their gate let out into a local traffic reporter's teleprompter. Ken narrowed his eyes and listened as the attractive young woman clutched her microphone and reported against the chaos around her:

 

'Is this what the chosen children were trying to warn us about? Did our hubris make us overlook the idea that digimon could come into our world, too? Surely if we'd listened to what they'd had to say and kept the gates closed, this never could have happened...'

 

So their message had caught on. Ken wasn't so sure that was a good thing, anymore. If they even caught up to Etemon now, would he be satisfied? Would he release Wormmon and Veemon? Ken was sure that there wasn't a chance in hell of him releasing his only hostages. Perhaps they could at least negotiate Veemon's freedom first. Then he still had some collateral, and Ken didn't mind it being his partner, and he knew that Wormmon wouldn't mind either. Wormmon had always... held up well against abuse.

 

Ken felt his breakfast rise in his stomach, tea roiling in his esophagus.

 

"Can't see Etemon anywhere." Ken's words were hollow, lifeless. He longed to be dead, perhaps in a gutter somewhere, or an active sewer. The sort of place people like him belonged in.

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Things were pretty fucked.

 

Like, they could have been worse. The destruction was more on the lines of reckless mischief--broken windows, bent signs, burning cars. Luckily, most of the digimon that had transferred didn't have the capability to knock over a building with a misplaced tail wag, but that didn't make the chaos any less palpable.

 

It had been worse. Daisuke and Ken had dealt with situations in the real world and the digital world that were arguably more terrible than this. However, having had the choice to ultimately prevent the chain of actions that perpetuated the current affairs... Felt pretty shitty. And of course, that was only compounded by the fact that they were partnerless and, at the moment, largely friendless.

 

Speaking of friends--it would only be a matter of time before one of the other chosen discovered them. Playing the role of hero was often a hard act to drop, especially when the population expected you to. With the delicate nature of the situation, Taichi was almost guaranteed to be one of the first at the scene. Knowing his continued alliance with Koushiro, they had probably already determined that Daisuke and Ken had been at the epicenter of the gate's malicious breach. So basically--they had giant, juicy targets on their heads, ready to be chewed up by Greymon's sharp teeth.

 

And they weren't necessarily the easiest pair of people to blend into a crowd.

 

Daisuke reached to snap his phantom goggles at his forehead--remembering that he had taken Taichi's advice and left them on Ken's coffee table that morning. He frowned slightly as he turned to his friend, his fingers having found their way to ball his hair up, feeling a little off kilter without his symbol of leadership. But they needed a plan, even if it was a badly rushed one, because they had essentially three clocks ticking away on them: Etemon's course of destruction, their window of opportunity to retrieve their partners, and the arrival of the chosen.

 

... Make that four clocks.

 

Ken's shoulders were low, his hair falling before his face, his features plastered with that look of complete defeat. Daisuke stepped forward and placed his hands on the boy's shoulders, tilting his head to look into his eyes. He was obviously bothered by something--deeper than what was happening around them--and Daisuke had to restart the child of kindness before the three of them began to do anything. "Ichijouji," his voice was soft and warm, close to inaudible, dangerously close to being doused in affection, "Everything will be okay. All right? We're so close. When we're together, nothing can get in our way... And Etemon is going to regret ever messing with us." Unconsciously, he brushed the hair back from Ken's face. He wanted Ken to see how sincere he was being--that he really did, and always would, believe that they could get through any situation... Because they had.

 

Tatum looked on with an eyebrow slightly askew.

 

Squeezing Ken's shoulders, feebly hoping that his speech and contact of reassurance would work as it had in the past, Daisuke stepped away and peered down both sides of the chaotic streets. "All right, so..." What to do? The biggest issue was the chosen children--they would recognize Daisuke and Ken easily, and Taichi had the power to put them six feet under if he got his hands on them... Or at least throw them behind a row of iron bars. And with their current state of affairs, losing freedom was the absolute worst thing that could happen. Knowing that time was more important, he employed Ken to translate his plan to Tatum. She was going to be their buffer--none of the chosen children really knew who she was (besides maybe Mimi and Hikari), so she could easily find a way to cause a distraction. Pop open a fire hydrant, fake an injury--do something grand to get their attention as they filtered in. He admitted to its low rate of success, but her role as a shield was paramount for them to even have a chance to reach their partners.

There wasn't much to start off with, besides the trail of destruction that the digimon had left behind them. It looked like they had split down two opposite ends of the street, and they just had to guess which way Etemon went and which way the chosen children would come from. "We'll go south," Daisuke said. It was the direction that was less destroyed--Etemon was probably playing it low. It would bring them closer to the ocean faster, and may provide some better shelter... Plus, it was in the direction that was further away from the domiciles of the other chosen. "Tatum, can you go north?" He pointed down the street.

 

With pursed lips, Tatum barely gave a response. She had never actually been to Tokyo before. Being separated from the group could really end up just being a disaster. "Davis, I don't know my way around. I have to go with one of you." The idea of being split apart disappointed her. Asking to even change the plan made her feel overwhelmed. Of course, the first time she would have the chance to truly fight alongside Daisuke, and she was going to miss out on it. But the energy between Daisuke and Ken was nearly visible in the haze of chaos, and it made her a little...

 

Well, she still had no idea where she was.

 

"I'll go with Ken." She looked in Ken's direction. "It'll be easier to talk."

 

"Aa..." Daisuke held a finger to his chin. "But..."

 

"I can help more this way," Tatum said.

 

Daisuke looked at both of them before finally nodding slowly. It meant he'd be more exposed... That he'd have to cause the distractions. But he was more fiery one--even without a partner he could hold off the rest of the chosen... Just like he had done the night before. He wasn't sure he'd be able to succeed, but, it gave Ken more of a chance to be the negotiator. It just might mean he'd find himself with more than a few bruises...

 

"Okay." With a thumbs up, the group split, Daisuke going north, while Ken and Tatum went south. Daisuke just hoped that Ken could keep his strength when they were separated. He needed him more than ever at this moment.

 

 

 

It only took a few blocks before he recognized that familiar roar, instantly glad that he had been the one to go the direction he had gone. The giant head poked out from the street corner before the rest of the reptile appeared. Orange, blue, scaly, and menacing--with another massive bellow the dinosaur-like digimon shook the very pavement below it. Atop the digimon's shoulders was his partner, the man that had left Daisuke in a stooper barely twelve hours prior. Climbing onto Greymon's boney head, Taichi looked around--the commotion around him failing to rouse him. He was hunting for something... No, for someone.

Daisuke zipped up the hoodie he was wearing and took a deep breath. As the match-up stood, he didn't stand a chance, but he knew Taichi would have to be careful. And thankfully, he knew the area a bit better, and could probably get Taichi away from Greymon and run the boy in circles. Hopefully, anyway. 

 

With a deep sniff, Greymon let out another grumbling roar, which melted into a deep growl of words, "There, Taichi."

 

Daisuke felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. "Ah! Motomiya! I've been looking for you..." Taichi shouted, his partner motioning forward toward the younger child of courage. Greymon knelt down, allowing Taichi to hop down to the ground. The young man was wearing more casual clothes--the chaos probably hitting the streets before he had a chance to really prepare for the day. As opposites, they looked as equals. Young, fit, confident, leaders... Taichi smirked.

"You've been busy."

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Daisuke's pep talk didn't perk Ken up like the goggle-less gogglehead hoped. How could it, when it didn't even begin to address what had Ken in the dumps to begin with? This hellish fiasco that he'd been the arbiter of, mounting evidence that even when he was conscious of being controlled, there was nothing he could do but mold to another's whims. His own will had been a fleeting, imaginary thing. Even the dream that Daisuke might remain by his side forever was just a fragile lie.

 

He might've liked a moment to walk and talk with Daisuke, to get his reassurances straight-- but that wasn't practical. Only Dai and Ken knew the area, only Ken could speak English. It would have been madness to ignore the logical pairings here. At least Tatum seemed pretty worked up she couldn't go with Dai too. No reason for only one of them to be depressed...

 

Ken headed off, away from Daisuke. He kept close to Tatum, aware the chaos would only serve to make everything less navigable for her. His brain was rotting away cranking through ideas for where Etemon had run off to and keeping away the thoughts of what he'd do once he found him. With all the news crews around, he would've thought that media hog would have stopped at the first camera to terrorize the world with his message. He'd always been a showboating digimon, so why had he kept going...

 

Unless he needed a larger stage?

 

Of course. They weren't that far from the Nippon Budokan, it was in this direction, and what venue was more massive or famous? Musical artists worked many years of their careers to garner enough fame to perform there. That microphone-spinning ape would love to steal that spotlight, and it was even set up for a musical concert this week, unlike its usual martial arts hall stage.

 

"You like the Beatles?" Ken asked the girl, not honestly sure what her musical preferences would be. Regardless, most people knew of the Beatles, especially most Westerners. Ken gestured ahead. "In 1966 they performed at the Nippon Budokan... and ever since it's been dual-purposed as a massive musical venue. Etemon probably wants a stage, before he calls his audience." Ken felt a little more relaxed when he was forced to think on his feet. Some of the bad thoughts were pushed out because there wasn't the time to think of them, only the time to act. The feelings lingered with him like a bitter flavor on his tongue.

 

"You're, um, quite close with Motomiya, aren't you?" Ken should've just bit his tongue, but they had time to kill on the road to the Budokan, and small talk was better than wallowing. Maybe.

 

"I feel like the only reason he didn't speak of you more was because he thought we'd never meet. But you must be excited about his moving to the US? I'm going to help him with his English... if I can." Ken let out a breathy laugh. Thinking of Daisuke dulled the ache in his heart, when he imagined him making up words that sounded english-y, or getting frustrated and tackling Ken to stop him from forcing knowledge down his throat. When he was in middle school he used to hate the idea of tutoring anyone at anything-- people just wanted to take advantage of his intelligence, even use it as an excuse to try and arrange him with their daughters over tutoring sessions. With Daisuke he felt like he was genuinely benefiting, and they were both enjoying the company.

 

At least, he thought so. Daisuke wasn't the sort who'd just use him to learn English and run away with the girl of his dreams. They had too much history for that. Though... it was never too late for a person to change.

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Tatum couldn't help but feel a little slighted. How could Ken know so little about her when she felt like they were old friends who had been reunited? Part of it was because he was one of the first chosen, another part was that he was a famous prodigy--so it would make sense that she would know about him in some capacity. But it didn't alleviate the fact that Daisuke talked about him. A lot. 

 

She, for instance, knew that he liked his tea plain, that he tended to work on clockwork schedules, and that he had a particular interest in entomology. She also knew that he had a habit of avoiding conflict by feigning friendliness, a trait that Tatum did not share. And it was clear they were both rather appalled by their lack of tactile knowledge of each other. As she began to speak, she stopped, catching the sharp words from leaving her mouth. It wasn't Ken's fault Daisuke didn't talk about her... So why not talk about her? She knew how close of friends Daisuke and Ken were--she witnessed it first hand today. Was Daisuke... Ashamed of her?

 

Nodding, Tatum responded, "He definitely needs help with his English, that's for sure!" She chuckled. "Then again, I could do better with my end of the bargain too." She crossed her arms as they continued to walk. They had taken some back roads, so it was significantly quieter than the main strip--though the urgency of their situation was still present. "But yeah, we're close. I'm sure you know we were kind of a thing for awhile." A thing? Come on. "We were dating." She scratched her upper arm nervously, feeling awkward for having to explain something that should have been established. "Obviously, it didn't work out. But we're still friends. For sure, I'm happy he's finally decided to make the move. We had talked about it a long time ago. He seemed so... Unhappy for awhile." She frowned. Restoring an optimistic person's joy was difficult--a feat she felt like she never was able to achieve. "So I think this will be good for him! My couch already has his name on it."

 

There was still a tension, though. Not necessarily the tension often felt when trying to talk to learn about somebody for the first time--struggling to ask the right questions, clamoring to find the next subject to avoid the deathly silence of a stale conversation. She couldn't put her finger on it, but even through it all, she felt like she was trying to defend herself. Even though Ken's words were soft and gentle, they seemed to bite. Maybe it was his accent?

 

Either way, she would have to have a stern discussion with Daisuke.

 

 

 

 

"So tell me, Motomiya," Taichi walked toward Daisuke, until they were only inches apart. Daisuke could see the disappointment across his role model's face--his eyes slit with resentment. "Why you allowed this to happen?"

 

"We didn't--"

 

Taichi slapped his hands on either side of Daisuke's face and drew the younger man even closer. "Don't play this game with me. We know you let them in."

 

Daisuke put his hands up and tried to pry Taichi's grip away. "So what?" 

 

The dismissive nature of Daisuke's responses grated on Taichi, fueling the anger that had been burning since the day before. "So what!? Are you fucking kidding me!? There are people getting hurt right now. You're putting us all in danger! Can you even understand that!? What the hell is wrong with you?

Finally, Daisuke was able to escape Taichi, as he side stepped toward the street opposite of the one Taichi had emerged from. "This is what's happening to them, Kamiya! This is why we need to disconnect the worlds! If people like you can't even prevent this from happening, neither side is safe, is it?" He readied his body to sprint, figuring he'd run the man through the streets. But his plans were cut short when Taichi grabbed the hood of his sweater and dragged him to the ground.

 

"Your ignorance is really trying me," Taichi swiftly flung Daisuke on his belly, mounting his back as he attempted to pull Daisuke's arms back to zip tie his hands together. Daisuke, of course, struggled, making it difficult for Taichi to even reach for the restraints. "Your lack of understanding is causing a serious danger to society. It stops now!"

 

Daisuke flailed, finally bucking Taichi off balance long enough to scuttle across the ground and launch into a sprint down the street--Taichi's footsteps sounding off behind him.

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Ken blushed, noticing how awkward it made Tatum to talk about the relationship she had with Daisuke. He supposed he might have the same response if asked to describe his own (at least since last night) but Tatum didn't have the particular taboo surrounding her relationship. Sure, it was long distance, sure, he was Japanese and she was American. But they weren't both men. Ken was sure the idea that Daisuke might be in some way, even a little, homosexual, would blow her mind. Ken was sure Tatum had been Daisuke's first, too... so had he been hers?

 

Ken was overthinking things. Just because Daisuke liked one man didn't make him some sort of queen all of a sudden, didn't invalidate the moments Daisuke and Tatum had shared. If judged on experience and preferences, Daisuke was much more straight than gay. He was heterosexual with a particular, personal inclination towards Ken.

 

It was Ken who, since having had it brought to his attention, was realizing that Daisuke was beautiful, and he wanted him deeply. That every part of him was something Ken would kiss and touch and love every moment of. And he wasn't sure it was despite Daisuke's masculine body.

 

"Ahh, I did know that..." Ken was lying a little bit, he'd really just inferred that Daisuke and Tatum had been anything official. But nobody liked a guy who didn't even tell their best friend everything. "Daisuke never tells me much about his girlfriends. But I think that's because he knows I'm not very... um, social, myself." Ken shrugged. The Budokan was on the horizon now, and a few news trucks posted outside meant Ken had very likely deduced Etemon's whereabouts correctly.

 

"He didn't tell me he was moving, you know. Not until this all happened. He'd been angry at me for giving up our partners to Etemon, and we went out for drinks. And when he finally tells me he's leaving, I think I managed to make him even angrier." Ken sighed. Should they message Daisuke to meet them here? Since they hadn't run into the other chosen at all, it was safe to bet that Dai had, and if he changed course he could lead them here. Though... would that be bad? Aggression before he freed Wormmon and Veemon would be awful, but Etemon was about to be occupied with his grand show. If he hammed it up long enough, Ken could work at least one of their partners free, and then the others would come with their digimon to clean up the mess.

 

It was... worth a shot.

 

He took out his phone and tapped away their location to Daisuke, and spoke to Tatum while he wrote. "How did you manage it? The long distance..."

 

He hit send, and looked up at Tatum. "I mean, besides the part where it didn't work out."

 

With his phone in his pocket, he led her up to the massive stadium. Doors hung open at odd intervals, one even off its hinges. The news vans were abandoned, so everyone was inside. Ken took the fast path into the mezzanine level just to get an easy peek at what was happening inside:

 

Two big spotlights highlighted Etemon and his adoring crowd of microphones. The news reporters themselves had been bound and gagged and sat in the front rows, the cameras currently being figured out by some Vegimon with clumsy vines. From here, Etemon could be heard berating his incompetent side kicks, and seen posing for when the cameras finally did kick on. A few Gazimon stood by an aisleway, towards where performers or athletes came and went during events. The back rooms... they were intentionally hard to find for civilians, but a great place to hide a few hostages. He motioned for Tatum to back out with him, so they could talk where it wouldn't echo down to unfriendly ears.

 

"Daisuke knows where we are, so he'll undoubtedly come with someone else on his tail. Our partners are being held probably in the area with private space for performers, and we need to find it before Daisuke gets here with force. We need to make sure Etemon stays on the air though, for as long as possible. Can you do that? Occupy him, keep the cameras rolling, do anything to keep him in there... so I have time to find Veemon and Wormmon in the back?"

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Tatum adjusted the shawl around her shoulders, trying to find a way to answer Ken. "I'm not surprised... About him not saying anything, I mean." She rubbed her hands together against the chilly air. "He's been really nervous about it. You know how he is, and you know he's got a memory of a goldfish sometimes."

 

And it was true. He had been nervous. If it was up to Daisuke, he probably wouldn't have told any of the chosen he was moving until he was asking one of them for a ride to the airport. "It important move." He said, elbow on his desk, head bowed and leaning toward his webcam. "Everybody..."

 

"They will understand."

 

"I do not know..." It was Ken. Would Ken understand? It still would have been difficult to tell the others, but every time he had thought of telling Ken, he felt a deep sense of regret. Regret for something he hadn't even done yet. Most of the time it felt like the boy was the only obligation he had to the country at all. The reality was that it was true. And although Ken lacked much of a social life, which never really seemed to bother him, if Daisuke left, he'd truly be cut off from a lot of social interaction. Their relationship was so old and strong that leaving him behind would be like leaving a brother... Or a spouse.

 

And as backwards as it sounded, it was the thought of them being inseparable that made him want to run away even more.

 

Tatum peeped to get Daisuke's attention. "Hey. They love you, man. They will understand."

 

So it made sense to Tatum that Daisuke probably was wound up when he finally told Ken. Smiling, she touched Ken's arm. "I'm sure he's not mad at you, wacko. That's just one hell of a piece of news to drop?" She could only imagine how he had felt when he had heard. When she told her friends she was moving to the city, they were all tears. Of course, the distance was much less extravagant, but even a few extra miles could sometimes mean the difference of months between visits.

 

"It was hard, you know. Obviously." Ken's jump to discussing their relationship again kind of made her unsettled. She was more than just her previous relationship with the goggle head. "The timezones, schedules, lack of uh... Contact." She blushed deeply at the last part. Talking about their physical relationship was probably the last thing Ken wanted to hear, and it was certainly the last thing she wanted to talk about. "It's been easier as friends, for sure. A lot less expectations. Now we just kinda shoot the shit whenever we can, and that's all right, you know? But with him moving in with me," she fiddled with the end of her braid, "Who knows, right?"

 

They made it to the Budokan. Tatum had never heard of it before, but it was not so different from the stadiums found in the States. She agreed to Ken's plan, though unsure of how she could keep the digimon preoccupied without getting caught... But maybe that's just what she had to do. "Leave it to me," she smiled.

 

It was time for her to prove what she was capable of.

 

 

 

 

Not that he wasn't strong, it's just that Daisuke had always been quicker. His height and body size just let him shoot like an arrow down the soccer field, and did him well when he took track for a year during high school. Even though he didn't train as much as he did when he was younger, he still clearly had the leg up on Taichi who had fallen several feet behind him. Greymon had tried to follow, but his girth was proving to be problematic and instead turned his attention to handling rampant digimon. His human partner and friends could handle the rest.

 

Weaving between blocks, accidentally knocking down pedestrians, and narrowly escaping getting clipped by cars, Daisuke led Taichi further and further away from the direction his friends had gone. He still didn't necessarily have a plan. He was already getting tired, and no matter how fast he made his turns, Taichi always seemed to know where he was going. With one last attempt, Daisuke took a turn down a small one way street, only to be greeted with a giant blue bug in his way.

 

Of course.

 

Daisuke slowed to a stop and shook his head dejectedly. Of course. Of course he'd have help from the air. Koushiro was able to track Taichi the entire time, and get two steps ahead of Daisuke. Birdramon was probably out patrolling for the other part of his team right now.

 

"There's no point, Motomiya," Taichi said between heavy breaths, finally having caught up to the suspended action. "Just come with me, and we'll... We'll work something out."

 

The phone in Daisuke's pocket buzzed. Ignoring his elders, he removed it and checked the message he had received. It was from Ken, and it looked like their initial choice of directions had miraculously been correct. But now he wished he was there to help--Ken was the one in real danger now. And unfortunately, Daisuke had no idea how he was going to be able to find his way to him at this point.

 

"Daisuke!" Taichi put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Now I just have one question," Taichi said, as he took Daisuke's free hand and moved it behind his back. Koushiro looked on from the shoulder of Kabuterimon in silence, his phone at the ready, tracking the other chosen's activities as they attempted to clean up Etemon's mess. "Why?" He took Daisuke's other hand arm and pulled it behind him.

 

"Don't..."

 

"Why?"

 

"Don't, Taichi..." Daisuke heard the whimper in his own voice--disgusted in his own weakness in the face of the older children. He always thought he could do more--bring a whole fleet of digimon--he could take 'em! But his lack of foresight in the face of his well organized superiors blemished his title of leader. Oh, what he would give for Koushiro's crest right now.

 

Taichi removed the disposible restraints from his pocket and looped them around Daisuke's wrists. With two quick zips, Daisuke's arms were securely tied behind his back, phone still clutched in his hand. Taking the device from Daisuke, Taichi read the last message on the screen. "He's at Budokan? Who's he?" Shoving the phone in Daisuke's face, he asked again, "Who's he?"

 

"Just let me go. Kamiya, please..." 

 

"Sora's saying there's something going on at the Budokan," Koushiro said, descending down from his digimon and joining the two on the ground. "Should we meet them?"

 

"No! No. Guys, don't. Don't!" Daisuke moved back, feeling like an animal trapped in a cage. What could he do? They were so close to getting their partners back, but bringing the whole crew of chosen children not only put Veemon and Wormmon in danger, but also Ken and Tatum. "Please!"

 

Taichi grabbed the plastic between Daisuke's wrists and dragged him close. "You never answered my question: why? Why are you doing this?"

"B... Because..." Was telling them going to help at this point? Would they listen to him if he said he had to go in alone? It had been so long since they had all worked together like this--he didn't know how much he could trust them to follow orders when they had all grown into their own methods. And he didn't know how much he trusted Taichi anymore. Whatever Daisuke said might just come off as being lies that Ken might have fed him. "I can't tell you..."

 

"Huh?" It came out more as a laugh than a question.

 

"I need you to trust me." A strange request when he was struggling to trust the others himself.

 

"It doesn't work like that. Koushiro, go meet up with Sora. I'm bringing Daisuke back to the embassy."

"They need me! He needs me." Daisuke started to make a run for it again, but a strong arm wrapped around the front of his chest, throwing him off balance and into Taichi's chest.

 

"Why?"

 

"Because they'll die!"

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If Ken had any idea what was happening to Daisuke, he might not be darting ninja-like through dark halls in the Budokan. He might not be risking their partner's lives on an assumption that help would come to bring down Etemon. But more than that: he might have decided to save Daisuke, instead of their partners.

 

Daisuke getting arrested wasn't part of the plan, but it was an uncomfortable reality they were both going to have to confront. They hadn't done anything outright illegal-- if anything, Tatum was the one who'd be guilty of letting the hostile digimon through, but "duress" was the name of that game. Actually, the whole explanation for everything they'd done since that agonizing trip to the hot spring. It didn't make a difference when it came to ending up in cuffs (or zip ties, as Taichi liked it) before any sort of trial could trickle down the legal system. Getting incarcerated before they finished this plan would mean total doom for their partners, and it might put a serious damper on Daisuke getting out and living his American dream.

 

Losing Wormmon, and ruining Daisuke's future. It was a cocktail for a miserable future.

 

Saving Wormmon was exactly what he was sure to do now, though. Ken would save what he could control and work from there-- he'd found a back door with a broken lock, and the sparse halls meant for moving behind-the-scenes were almost totally unlit. Emergency lights were embedded along where the floor met the wall, giving the area an eerie yellow-green glow. Halls weren't marked, so Ken followed the path most intuitively towards the inside of the Budokan. At some point, there were Digimon guarding a way into the stadium. The two roads had to meet.

 

And there had to be more digimon.

 

Ken pressed himself against the wall, so slender he was as good as flush with it. A Gazimon grumbled as it patrolled down the hall, peeking from a hall that made a T with the one Ken was in. He didn't spend very long checking before turning tail and grumbling right back (was he afraid of the dark or something?) and Ken stalked him quietly since the Gazimon was making his own distraction.

 

The first Gazimon met up with the next patrol at the end of his route. The two lingered with a sigh, one putting his paw on the other's shoulder. "This isn't what I signed up for, man. Dark, boring. Gotta watch those two, so beat up they ain't gonna move anywhere. Etemon's got those humans scared stupid, so why can't we go out and teach some humans a lesson... geez." Gazimon reached back and scratched behind his ear.

 

"Hey... I'll take your patrol. Nobody's gonna come... go enjoy yourself." The other Gazimon pat the first on the back, which seemed to make the edgy one relax. They headed off along the path out, leaving Ken free to skulk past in the too-spooky dark. Ken could hardly blame them, he'd had some rough brushes with darkness in his life, too.

 

Back in high school, Ken and Daisuke had taken a trip to an amusement park one weekend. Ken had never been to one before, which wasn't all that surprising with how shut in he'd been since childhood. Daisuke had gone loads of times (mostly with his stupid sister) and had a very good idea of exactly how to take in the park to get maximum rideage on the most thrilling rides. Ken's first roller coaster included him wrapping both arms around Daisuke's nearest arm and wailing through clenched teeth. By the end of the day he was the one wrapping his hand in Daisuke's to drag him back into the line.

 

It was that night, with Ken sleeping over at Daisuke's place, that didn't mesh with all the fun he'd had that day. Lying down, he felt like he was floating on a rugged sea from the post-park vertigo. His fingers started to dig into the futon and sheets, and any time he closed his eyes he saw the sea stretch out before him-- black, misty. Dark. He remember reaching out to Daisuke as he got up to shut the lights off.

 

"Dude, we're never going to fall asleep with the lights on..." Daisuke had protested and flipped the switch. Nearly inaudible, a whimper came from Ken's futon. Daisuke flipped the switch again to find Ken already had tears in his eyes and white knuckles where he'd been holding onto the bed for dear life.

 

"But... we could try." He left the switch alone. They fell asleep hand in hand, so that Ken wouldn't have to keep clutching the unsympathetic bed. So Ken wouldn't have to dream of the Dark Sea alone.

 

 

Today, Ken was focused. It was actually simple, making it the rest of the way there after the Gazimon ditched. He had at least until that one made his patrol back, since it probably terminated at the captives. Ken ran, fleet of foot, ever the impeccable athlete. Long corridor, with a bend. Longer still. Two lights at the end, coming from a fork.

 

To the right, a room with Wormmon and Demiveemon, bound to each other, tied up in a mesh laundry-like bag. Held back by common polyester... they really had lost a lot of strength. Etemon had no food, or care, for the allies of his enemy. To the left was the guarded exit into the Budokan, where Etemon stood showboating for the cameras, now rolling.

 

"Now see here!" Etemon exaggerated his movements, moving comically as he spread his 'good word'. "We Digimon are sick of this world. Why do only humans get to come muck up our world, huh? Why no chosen Digimon? One or two of us do get through and you knock their socks clear over the moon! That's shit. And who said you guys get to be in the real world huh? What's not real about our world!?"

 

Etemon's rant was echoing down the hallway as Ken made his way closer. Timing was on his side so far, and Etemon was so obvious it was easy to turn down the right fork. Wormmon was too exhausted to even acknowledge him as he came in the room-- he lifted his head some, and stared. Demiveemon wiggled a little arm, just briefly, towards Ken. The pale boy could feel his heart begin to leak. How could he have thought even for a second of leaving these two? Not just in Etemon's hands a bit longer, but ever, from the moment they first left the onsen. The world outside this stadium was burning, and Ken couldn't care even a little about it-- Wormmon was here, Wormmon was hungry and needed him. Daisuke and Ken had done so much in the name of getting these two back.

 

They never should have trusted Etemon's words for even a second.

 

"Maybe you all would like to be pets, huh? We'll show you what it's like. We won't stop." Etemon raved, Ken clawed with nail and teeth at the bag holding his friends. They tumbled into his lap, and rolled off like plush dolls, or more accurately, cold sacks of water. They were so chilled. "We'll destroy any one o'youse partners that tries to get in my way. That's right, not just kill: destroy. Y'all think your precious partners will regenerate? Not any more." Ken hugged Wormmon and Demiveemon to his chest, begging any warmth at all to fill the pair. If only Daisuke were here too...

 

Etemon grabbed a Vegimon who was acting as a stage hand and dragged him out into the floodlights and camera. From his side he unhooked a taser-like device that passed digi-language between the tines (like the text across the destiny stones, or Tailmon's tail ring). Digital code. He rammed it into Vegimon's side, producing what seemed, at first, to just be a shock. The green creature's eyes went buggy, his tentacles started to flail. A flash of something started to overcome his appearance shortly after-- red, like a Red Vegimon, with the club-tentacles too. Then he changed shape more dramatically; he was Palmon. Finally, he started to lose appearance altogether... dissolving like sugar into water, but data into air. The broadcast was damaged by a wave of brief static.

 

"Code can only rewrite itself as long as it reads that code, dig?"

 

At this point, it was Tatum that was painted with horror. Etemon was motioning to shut off the camera-- his threat to the world was made. Ken was back there, with two very tired, very vulnerable Digimon to escort. Daisuke hadn't come back, reinforcements hadn't arrived. A moment of pause stilled all of Etemon's lackies as they observed a power that honestly, none of them had thought real, and definitely never thought it would be turned back on them.

 

And that moment's opening was all Tatum was ever going to get.

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"What?"

 

Daisuke's sight was starting to become blurry. His lungs expelled too much air between breaths that he was starting to hyperventilate. He couldn't. He couldn't stop now. Ken. Tatum. Veemon. Wormmon. They needed him. How could he fuck up so badly so early? "They'll die. They'll die..." Each time he said it, the more real it felt that he could lose all of them in one swoop. Would they be able to survive if he came to their rescue? Who knew. At least he could have said he tried. But would that have been worse? Watching them die before him?

 

The thought was hitting him harder than a baseball bat to the back of the head. Harder than getting rammed with a car bumper. Harder than the tightest of Greymon's grasps.

 

Why did they split up? Why did they think they could do this on their own at all? Why couldn't life just go back to normal!?

 

"Oh fuck..." Daisuke breathed out, his legs giving out into his panic attack.

 

Taichi's grip grew tighter. "What the hell are you on about, Motomiya?" The aggression in his voice was still present, but it somehow had a softer edge now. He still cared for the boy even if he was pissed off with the hell he had created. Through it all, he gave Daisuke the benefit of the doubt--even against his grander judgement.

 

"Taichi," The wise voice of Koushiro broke through the tension between the goggle heads. "Let's calm down." He walked over and placed a hand on both of their shoulders. "Motomiya?"

 

There was a silence between them all. A sort of emotional stand-off. Who was going to crack first? Which heated veil of anger was going to vaporize? There had been a time when Taichi was always the first to break--knowing that situations were always eventually best settled with calm words, even if they were proceeded by bruised fists. Daisuke was often too stubborn to change emotional or physical gears.

 

 "We didn't have a choice," Daisuke started, now facing the two older men, head hanging. "I swear... If we told you sooner, they'd be dead... Forever."

 

"Who's 'they'?" Taichi's voice was gentle now. Daisuke was no longer throwing sarcastic barbs or childish insults. He was being genuine. The least he could do was to tone down his own frustration.

 

"Veemon and Wormmon... Taichi, please. Let me go. They need me."

 

Shaking his head, Taichi said, "Dammit, Dai..." He hadn't called him that since they were kids. "Why didn't you just tell us at the beginning?"

 

"You gotta understand. I understand. I know..." Daisuke's chest heaved with a sob. How could he explain it so that he was still able to get what he needed? "Just let me explain it later. I promise. But you need to let me go."

 

Koushiro was buried in his devices again--juggling between phone, digivice, and tablet. A noise escaped him that neither of the other two had ever heard come from him before... Followed by words so rarely uttered by the boy genius. "Aaaggghhh... Shit. Guys?" He placed the tablet in front of all of them, the news casting of Etemon flashing across its surface. They all watched the digimon changed forms on the screen, until it became nothing at all--vanishing into static--leaving behind the collective gasps between themselves and those on the stream.

 

Daisuke's eyes grew wide. So it hadn't been a bluff after all. The only thing he could think of to do was scream.

 

 

 

Tatum was glad she had left Betamon behind now.

 

She had never seen anything like it before. Of course, she had seen some horrors before--she was an original chosen after all. But the energy in the stadium turned into a thick blanket of fear--even the misguided digimon that were helping Etemon were clearly distraught. With a spin of his microphone, it was obvious that Etemon was about to close up his speech, leaving Tatum with little time to think of how to keep him on the air. Honestly, she didn't know how long she had to keep him distracted, or if she even had to... But it was better to be safe than sorry, she supposed.

 

Being an only child, and especially one that had such low at-home interaction, just made it so hard for her feel like she was valued in a friendship. So she took the position. The one everybody went to to do their dirty work. To be the heel. She would be the one to tell her friend's boyfriends that they didn't want to be together anymore. She'd be the one to allow them to cheat off her tests. She'd be the one to risk her life for the sake of her ex-boyfriend and his digimon.

 

Or maybe that was happening right now...

 

"Encore!" She shouted. Her voice echoing in the stadium both startled and made her cringe. 

 

"Eh?" Etemon looked around confused, trying to find the source of his applause.

 

"Encore, encore!" Tatum walked down the stairs and into a view of a light. "What a great performance from such a..." She tried to find the words. What would keep him on stage? What would keep him talking? "From such a resourceful digimon."

 

Etemon chuckled, "Why thank you lil' lady. Too bad I understand sarcasm, and ya know... I don't really appreciate it." With a snap of his finger, he waved a Vegimon her way. "Keep it rollin' boys. We'll show the world what happens when a fleshbag apposes us, too."

 

She had little time to think before she was wrapped in tentacles, floating five feet above the front stage, finding herself a spectacle for thousands across the world.

 

 

 

"We'll stand back. I'll be monitoring you through your D-3, and we'll come in if there's any issues." Koushiro said. The three had moved to be outside of the Budokan. Kabuterimon and Greymon stood looming over the group, prepared to fight any threats they may run into.

 

It was lucky that the shaggy headed boy had decided to step up and be the rational leader for this endeavor. In most situations, he was set as the intel guy. The one that made all the plans. But the ringleader had always been Taichi--designating who would do what, bring together everybody to regroup, get everybody on the right track... However, this situation required surgical precision, and Koushiro was much better than both the hot-headed leaders when it came to this.

 

Daisuke ran a hand through his hair and sighed. Taichi had released him shortly after the confession, giving him a solid warning that he wasn't off the hook just yet. With another threat between clentched teeth, he insisted there was going to be a serious talk later at the embassy. It's just that there was no reason for him to think Daisuke to be lying at this point--especially after what they had seen on the Koushiro's tablet. The rest of the chosen were told to stand back and handle the rampant digimon until called on. Things had fallen into place the way Daisuke had hoped, or at least the best he could hope for besides the inevitable threat of finding himself in jail at the end of the night. Ken would probably end up in the same predicament as well. Maybe they could at least share a cell? Hah!

 

Rubbing his sore wrists, Daisuke nodded. "Thanks, guys. Once they're out of harms way, we can... Figure something out." For now, he had to get in and out safely with Ken, Tatum, and their digimon. Everything else could wait.

 

Taichi warily nodded. "Yeah... Just... Bring them back safe, Motomiya."

 

"I can't pin-point where Ichijouji is, but I can surmise that going through an entrance on the western side will be your best option." Koushiro looked up from his tablet to confirm with Daisuke.

 

"Okay..."

 

With a stroke of luck, one of the western doors had been knocked down and made for an easy break-in. Inside, however, were dark hallways, making it hard to even think of where to begin. "Ken?" He gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness before he continued. "Ken!" His voice was a whispered shout, hoping to only garner the attention of his friend. It wasn't until the third turn down various hallways until he saw the light coming from the open door, a long humanoid shadow stretching across the opposite hall. Jogging down the hall he skid to a stop in front of the door to see Ken kneeling with their partners in his arms.

"Ken! Holy shit!" Daisuke rushed to his friend's side and took the weak Demiveemon in his arms. "They're okay... Oh man... They're okay!" He couldn't help his tears of joy as he pressed the little creature to his cheek.

 

"Dai..." Demiveemon cheeped. He was drained, but it was obvious the two monsters were happy to be in the care of their partners. "What... Took you so long...?"

 

Daisuke laughed through a hiccup. "I... I'm sorry, buddy. It won't happen again." Looking to his side, he wrapped one arm around Ken's shoulder and brought the chosen close to him. Planting a long kiss on his cheek, Daisuke nuzzled his nose against the smooth skin. "Thank you. Thank you, so much. I knew you could do it."

 

Standing up, a Demiveemon held closely to his chest, he tried to bring Ken up to speed. "Etemon. He wasn't fucking around. We're lucky these guys are still alive." He ran a thumb along the lines on his partner's forehead. "I... We're in serious shit with Taichi, but luckily he let me come in here. They're on standby--so let's get get the fuck out of here and figure out how to show Etemon what it means to pick fights with the chosen children."

 

And then he noticed.

 

"Where's Tatum?" Daisuke shuffled across the room, but she was nowhere to be seen.

 

Echoing down the hall was a wailing, human scream, pleading helplessly for him to rescue her.

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Daisuke had come. Ken felt a sob rise in his throat the second his hero burst through the door. He wanted to launch onto Daisuke and kiss him everywhere, but alas, the weak digimon in his arms probably wouldn't have appreciated it. He savored instead their moment of intimacy and the warm caress of Daisuke's lips across his cheek. The goggle-head sounded like he'd run some kind of marathon to get here, with his voice chipping and a little gravelly on the bass tones. Ken put his hand to Daisuke's cheek and offered his cool fingers as a bit of momentary relief.

 

So, Etemon wasn't bluffing. Any hope Ken had of the other chosen bursting in and kicking that puppeteer monkey back to digital bytes was suspended; no one ought to be risking their partners against a maniac wielding that sort of weapon. Ken's plan of having Daisuke lure the others into fighting mode here wasn't going to work, which meant they weren't going to be getting Tatum out of the pickle that Ken had pushed her into.

 

Well... shit.

 

Ken pushed Wormmon into Daisuke's arms and kissed the goggle boy right on the corner of his mouth. If the digimon were perplexed, Ken didn't let himself hear them. His focus fell to Daisuke.

 

"Take them out of here, run, get back to wherever the others are and get them some food. I've got Tatum." Ken hoped that was clear enough. If Daisuke didn't get as far from Etemon as possible, Wormmon and Veemon were still at risk. Ken launched himself out of the room like a diver off the block, trusting Daisuke to respect his game plan. They'd made it so far that way.

 

The two Red Vegimon that had been guarding the nearby entrance to the Budokan main floor were now approaching the stage. Vegimon nearby to Etemon had entangled Tatum in powerful tentacles and were waving her about on the stage just to make a show. Vines wrapped around her midsection, keeping her arms to her sides, and snaked up along her legs. With her breasts popping out above the tangled mass, she looked like a toothpaste tube being squeezed to exhaustion. She felt like one, too.

 

The Red Vegimon were best equipped for flogging, so the Vegimon holding her lowered her down some and wrapped their tendrils over just her arms so they wouldn't get smacked themselves. A mistake. Ken vaulted onto the stage, his lithe body imitating a cheetah as his hands made contact with the stage, then his legs followed up into his chest and through to standing on the stage itself. He didn't give up his momentum for even a moment; he vaulted the Red Vegimon as well, and tackled one of the Vegimon holding Tatum's arms as the Red Vegimon swept his big spiked club-hand at his feet. He tumbled with him until he'd rolled all the way off the other side of the platform. Tatum was tugged along with them, the first Vegimon hesitant to let go and the second one all too eager to not get caught in that wreck. 

 

She tumbled just off the edge of the stage and finally, the Vegimon Ken had taken down with him panicked and let her go. Shouts echoed from nearby, Etemon furious that all that had just happened on camera, and the hyperventilating plant monster tried wrapping up Ken to appease his dangerous master. It was an immature effort, however; Ken was too close to the horrified plant, and not so kind that he couldn't kick his attacker in the face like a lettuce soccer ball.

 

At that point, Vegimon's best strategy was to get as far from Etemon as possible, so he ran. Ken took Tatum gently by the arms, helping her to standing while Etemon raved at the Gazimon holding the cameras to stop filming and get them.

 

"Daisuke is outside with everyone. You were exactly what we needed." Ken smiled, with a blush. Daisuke had great tastes in partners. "Let's run."

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"I'm hungry!" Chibimon protested, his head buried deep inside of Ken's backpack. Soon, all that was left to see was his kicking little legs and wagging little tail, until finally his entire body dropped inside of the bag. With a hefty bout of commotion, the bag fell sideways, a small protest peeping from the open zipper, followed by the sound of crinkling plastic.

 

"Hey!" Daisuke grabbed the backpack and set it on his lap. The sun had cooked the dark colored bag to a near uncomfortable temperature, making him adjust his sitting position on the sandy beach. "How about you ask before you go and steal all the food?" He pulled the zipper open and pulled Chibimon up by the tail. A candy bar hung from his mouth, a mess of melted chocolate painting an abstract piece of artwork across his white face. "Oh man... Are you in for it...!"

 

"Aaaaahhhh," Chibimon squealed, the sugar already going to his tiny head. Wiggling free, he plopped down onto the ground and made a run for the ocean, shoving the last bit of chocolate into his mouth.

 

Sprinting from his spot on the beach, Daisuke followed the little blue dragon... At least until he tripped over a Wormmon that was munching contently on some carrot sticks. "Oh shi--" Daisuke tried to keep his balance, his entire body flung before his legs as they tried to catch up to him, but failed as he face planted into a mound of wet sand. Groaning, he lifted his head, feeling a sharp sting across his forehead. Gingerly, he ran a finger across the sore spot, retracting it to find a crimson smear covering his index and middle fingers. "Oh..." Lifting himself, he saw the bits of broken glass poking from the sand.

 

"Dai!" Chibimon came running back, Wormmon and Ken finding themselves at his side almost as quickly. "Dai, you're face." His big red eyes glistened with worry as he climbed up onto Daisuke's swim trunks and up onto his bare shoulder.

 

"Don't touch it, Chibimon." It hurt like hell, and the blood was starting to drip into his eye.

 

Ken reached up and removed the goggles from Daisuke's forehead, the final shard from the broken lens falling to the ground as he did. With a frown, he put a hand to Daisuke's forehead, quietly leaving to get his backpack and returning.

 

"Oh no..." Daisuke whined, not caring so much about the pain from his cut but the current state of his goggles. Taking them between his hands as Ken nursed his forehead with the t-shirt he had stored in his backpack, he whined again. "Not my goggles..."

 

"It's okay, Dai," Chibimon said, scratching the back of Daisuke's neck.

 

"But..."

 

Ken looked into his freshly cleared eyes, pressing his hand firmly against the cut. They both knew how much the object was to Daisuke. It had already had its elastic replaced once when it had been snapped away during a fight with a Pagumon. "We'll get them fixed, Motomiya... I'm more worried about this."

 

Daisuke wanted to fight him, yell at him and Chibimon because they didn't understand. They were broken! How would he be able to function without them! He was nothing without them--and why didn't they care more that with broken goggles he was a broken person? "Who cares..."

 

"I do..." Ken said, with a gentle and concerned smile. "We can't replace your face, stupid."

 

 

 

With Ken's lips lingering on his, Daisuke touched the small scar at his hairline as Ken left the room. The warmth of his friend's kindness flooding across his body, drawing their partners closer to himself. The past few days had been a trial for his self-confidence. He was trying his best to make the right decisions, to protect his friends. And so far, he had only put them all deeper into danger. So far, he had only succeeded in jeopardizing their very futures.

 

He wanted to help. He was stronger than this. He wanted to be there for Ken and Tatum.

 

"Dai... We... We're scared. And hungry..." 

 

Daisuke sucked in air through his teeth and nodded. He had a job. He had to protect Chibimon and Wormmon. Ken had done so much so far--he had been so brave and strong. Together, they were proving they could do anything if they worked together. They always had. Getting to his feet, he left the room, trusting in Ken to do what he said he was going to do.

 

Lately, Ken had been the one giving him his strength... Or maybe he always had. Either way, today was proving that he didn't need to always be the leader. That he didn't need his goggles to be able to save the day. At the end of the hallway, in the open air of Tokyo, they'd all be together again. Then, they'd figure out how to end this. Then...

 

Well. They'd figure out what would happen then.

 

 

 

They weren't going fast enough. "Come on!" Tatum grabbed Ken's hand and rushed through the corridor--knowing that if they took the stairs they had no chance. She wasn't the most athletic--her idea of exercise being an occasional hardcore concert if she was feeling up for a particularly shitty evening. She could hear them chasing after them, though. The Gazimon taking to all fours in an attempt to catch up to them. Pulling Ken down a different dark hallway, she pressed on to what she hoped was the way out.

 

Lucky for her, her great sense of direction came in handy again. "There!" But Ken had taken the lead now, dragging her along to the exit, shoving his shoulder into the release bar and leading her into the autumn air. Hopping on one foot, she fist pumped the air and wrapped an arm around her companion, placing an excited kiss on his cheek. "You're the fucking man, Ken!" Chuckling, she ran toward the front of the building, knowing that they weren't entirely out of harms way until they found Daisuke.

 

And it wasn't hard to find them. Greymon's horns poked over the edge of the stadium, and Birdramon had found her way back to flap idly a few stories above them. "I know those two. That means Tai and Sora are here, doesn't it?" Tatum said between heaving breaths. "That's a good thing, right?"

 

Turning around, Daisuke saw Ken and Tatum heading their way. Excitedly, he went to run to close the gap, but Taichi placed a hand on his shoulder. "Nope."

 

"Kamiya..."

 

He watched as they made their way to a slow jog, both of them ready to leap onto him as he wanted to do to them. But unfortunately for all of them, he had been restrained again, and they weren't too far behind.

 

"Davis?" Tatum said, coming to a stop. She looked worriedly at Ken, grabbing the boy's hand again, feeling another sense of flight winding up in her legs.

 

"Hikari and Miyako took Chibimon and Wormmon to patch them up. Sora, Takeru, and others are working to clean up the rest of your guy's mess." Taichi said with a stern voice. He folded his arms and looked at Ken. "Koushiro and I will be taking you all back so we can figure out what the hell to do about everything else. We can't risk having you guys running around doing whatever you want... Especially when you just let one of the greatest threats we've ever seen to digimon just walk right into the real world." With a scowl he spat, "We can't even touch him like this."

 

Tatum moved to reach for Daisuke. Really, she just wanted to say she was sorry. Although she was oddly happy that they weren't being screwed around with false threats, it was still her fault for brining the threat to their doorstep. But Koushiro had already taken her gently by the wrists, taking one of Taichi's restraints and wrapping it around them. She watched as Taichi roughly took Ken and did the same, a sort of animosity present across his actions.

 

Daisuke stood forward with a sneer, "Careful, Kamiya..."

 

Taichi threw his hands out when he was done with Ken, "Or what, Motomiya? Shut up until I say you can speak again. That goes for all of you." He walked past Daisuke and climbed onto his digimon. "Let's go."

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Ken let out a long, slow breath. Stress floated out of him tied to carbon dioxide blimps, exhaustion starting to nip at his fingers. He fought it, shaking out his wrists and looking through the crowd of familiar faces for Daisuke. Their major priorities of all the last few days were now accomplished goals; that didn't mean that everyone was safe and it was time to lay down. Etemon wasn't bluffing, and now he was threatening more than just Ken's immediate company.

 

And unlike what Taichi might have thought of him, Ken's compassion did not stop at his best friend and their digimon. Or more accurately to Taichi's opinion, stopped right at his own skin. It was for the best that Ken took his rough handling and angry stares to be from the long chase they'd given the man, and the few plants Ken had left to force the blame onto him. It was cool. It made sense. Ken didn't need to know that he'd never had any faith in him, never thought even for a moment he'd changed.

 

Because one or two thoughts back in his mind, Ken was still hung up on whether Daisuke was running off to America for this girl.

 

Early high school was like that. Hikari was out of the picture, and Tatum wasn't in it yet. Ken and Daisuke met up after school sometimes to play soccer, any time they didn't have practice for their own teams they needed to be at. To be sure, seeing Ichijoji around usually drew a crowd, even if he was just kicking a ball around with his friend. Sometimes they drew in a few extra bodies to play a real-ish game (sometimes Ken would take them 1 v 3 when he was feeling really egotistic) but always a group of young women from the high school would gather up at the field borders while the young men played. Ken's child prodigy fame never really petered out in the neighborhoods that knew him.

 

It was post-game hell for Ken. He'd run to Daisuke, give him a hi-five for amazing play, even a hug when they were feeling particularly well matched. Ken loved to watch Daisuke improve, picking up Ken's favorite strategies and finding his own little ways to weaken them. The results never mattered-- usually just doing close to as well as Ken was the reward. If they hadn't gotten past Ken's unusually pro skills, they never would have made their friendship last. That wasn't what ruined the evening; it was the way Daisuke's arms always let him go, how the boy smiled and turned away from him to go address his adoring crowd. And you know? Being the best friend of the boy genius really worked on the ladies.

 

There were days that Daisuke struck out and after a little chit-chat all the girls scattered. He'd run back over to Ken after that, and Ken would offer him to come over for dinner and he'd help him with his homework and play some games afterwards. Sometimes Daisuke even slept over.

 

And there were other days that Daisuke really hit it off. He'd wave back over his shoulder to Ken and lace his fingers with the girl who agreed to go down to the convenience store with him and drink some canned coffee in the park. Those nights, Ken went home alone. No matter what age, Ken could see it: the young spike-haired goggle-head walking off the field; the goatee'd goggle-neck stepping up onto that plane, waving back at him, kissing Tatum in the porthole window of the plane as the engines fired off.

 

He hardly noticed that Greymon had carried them all the way back to the Digital World Embassy. It was new building, made with a lot of glass and screens that kept the news all over the digital world as constant as humanity could provide it. Newly discovered digimon, locations, things that had changed, and now reporters were desperate to get the Etemon footage blasted over all the screens. A whole wall had that disgusting monkey's face all over it, and small TVs recapped the horrific digital jamming of the Vegimon. External chaos pulled Ken's mind out of his internal mire for a brief moment, and when he was set down on the ground he looked across the carnage like a child in a candy store with all the attention and none of the wonder.

 

"Are Hikari and Miyako here?" Ken asked, appealing to Taichi for the first time since the other day when he'd escaped him in an alley. He wanted to see Wormmon, make sure he was getting not just the nourishment but the affection he needed. And he wanted to apologize to Hikari more than anything, now that the monkey was out of the bag. Daisuke was his best friend, but that didn't mean Ken wanted him to be his only friend. Ken had been through too much with Hikari to value her any less.

 

"Please, let me apologize for what we've been doing... We never had any ill will."

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It had been nearly ten years, and some of the other chosen still struggled with the authenticity of Ken's motives. Taichi didn't take pride in being a part of that group--he made an honest effort to see past the malicious chain of distrust--a chain whose first link often started with Takeru.

 

Sure, the child of hope had forced his way with a straight face while they dealt with the world threatening crisis. There was even a point when he valued the dark-haired boy's inclusion to the team... Even if it was only because it made Daisuke stronger. But Takeru was the kind of person to remember all the times that he had been wronged, so much so that simple logic and shared history did little to overcome his emotional distress. "Why," he would say, "Why would you ever believe that people can change? I mean, on the most fundamental level? You can't ever snuff out that kind of darkness. The things he did, guys..." He would fold his arms and shake his head, "Unforgivable."

 

And Taichi and Yamato would often rebuttal with various excuses, sometimes to the point of demonizing Takeru for not just "getting over it." Yamato would roll his eyes, as always, and say something like, "Give the kid a break. It wasn't even his fault. It was that stupid spore." All the while with Taichi nodding in agreement. There had been several meetings where Takeru stormed away, often failing to communicate with either of them for weeks.

 

Now, here they were. Ken being at the epicenter of another great threat, standing in the center of the hurricane that was sweeping across the entire world. And he couldn't help but find himself on the side of Takeru's paranoia. Of course he knew that Etemon was the threat, but what he didn't know was how involved he was with it. For all he knew, the child of kindness could be the secret ringleader, puppeteering all of them into doing what he wished. The quiet ones were always the ones to watch out for the most...

 

So, Taichi couldn't help a snort as Ken asked him to see his sister--the one person in the world he valued more than anything--to have her in contact with the man he trusted the least at this very moment. "I don't think so."

 

Koushiro looked on with a raised eyebrow, "Why not?"

 

"Because..."

 

With narrowed eyes, Koushiro took the position to lead the operation again. "Come on, Ken. I'll take you to them." Gently, he wrapped his hand in Ken's arm, the boy having still been in restraints, and guided him toward the elevator.

 

Taichi went to protest, to let his voice echo through the cavernous lobby, to command the situation that was ultimately his to control... But the computer geek had grown up, and so had Tai. Out of all the chosen, they worked the most closely together in their daily lives, and there was a certain type of deep understanding they shared. Even if he did tell Koushiro to stop, he wouldn't listen. It was a simple request their old friend shouldn't be denied, and Koushiro would see through that Ken got what he desired. "Don't be long. I'll bring these two to the holding cell until you're done so we can all talk." Taichi said. Koushiro nodded as the elevator door closed, the numbers illuminating until finally resting on the fifth number, a heavy sigh escaping from Taichi as he took his two captives to their room.

 

 

 

Removing their restraints, Taichi left Daisuke and Tatum in the holding cell until they were all ready to talk. Nervously, Daisuke tapped his feet on the cement ground while his head bobbed to either side. It wasn't a secret that Daisuke suffered from mild claustrophobia, his spirit always needing to be in some sort of environment that would allow him to expel his energy in any way he saw fit. But his jittering was coming from the uncertainty of the future. What was going to happen to him? To Tatum? To Ken? How far would Etemon go to get his desires? How many more were going to get hurt--going to die--before all of this was over? Could they have prevented this if they had just taken the sacrifice? Surely harming the few to save the whole would be the right thing to do.

 

Daisuke swayed his head between his knees. The very thought of losing Veemon made him nausues--pissed off at himself that he could even ever think of such a terrible thing.

 

Tatum placed a hand on Daisuke's, squeezing tightly as she spoke, "Davis?"

 

Daisuke flinched, recoiling deeper into himself. And now they had such little influence stuck inside of an iron cage, being watched by the hawk eyes of Taichi and the rest of the Embassy. Their futures were fucked. Their friendships with the other chosen probably shot to somewhere deep in the center of the sun. And at this point, they had done so much... So much...

 

"Dai." Tatum's shoulder was pressed against his, her nose almost grazing his cheek as she tried to pull him from himself.

 

"Tatum..." He looked at her, pausing to see that she was one of the few certainties left in the world when it was all over. That she had risked everything to help them when she was worried about them. All because he didn't answer his stupid phone. If he had only... "Sorry. So sorry."

 

Shaking her head, Tatum smiled softly. "It's all right."

 

"Did we... Do the right thing?" Her warmth was comforting to him, his body leaning into hers as she took him into her arms.

 

"I don't know..." They were silent for a few moments, her hand rubbing circles on his back. She had always been good at deamplifying his emotions--calming his soul to levels that were easy to deal with. "I think we all did what was best for Veemon and Wormmon. But this will all... You two..." She tried to find the words. Biting honesty was her cup of tea, but she knew now wasn't the best time to take a sip. "The thing you two did... Will be heard across the world."

 

Nodding, Daisuke placed his hand on the bench behind Tatum and let her wrap one arm around his shoulder and the other across his chest. "I know. It's stupid but... We weren't even thinking. Nothing mattered but them."

 

"I would have done the same for Betamon." She rested her head on his shoulder. "None of these guys will admit they'd do the same thing if they had to." Daisuke smiled. "They're just happy they didn't have to."

 

"I guess..."

 

"It's uh," she tried to find the word in Japanese but couldn't, "Selfish... But it's nice to see you again."

"Yeah."

 

"You're supposed to say: It's good to see you again too."

 

With a half-hearted laugh, Daisuke said, "It's good to see you again, Te."

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Ken breathed out all the anxious air in his lungs. It was Koushiro, but his hand on his arm still felt comforting to him as he was led away from Taichi. There was an old friendship there, a bond they'd forged long ago as men of intellect. He remembered long conversations they'd thrown at each other, casually one-upping the other's ideas. Perhaps it didn't sound like the basis for a great friendship, but of all the chosen children only Koushiro could keep up to speed in thinking. He even bested him, sometimes. Ken knew nothing but respect for that.

 

And being out of Taichi's presence was relieving too. The angry man was never a close friend to Ken, and he was the respected leader of a group that Ken had never been led by. In his experience, Taichi was mostly useless, or at best an extra pair of hands. Daisuke had been the one who really unified the team in his time-- hell, Taichi had even passed on the goggles, and the digital world had passed Daisuke his crest. Ken didn't doubt he'd earned all the trust the older chosen had for him, but Ken had never seen the proof. All those years ago when the chosen were desperate to find the 8th child, Ken was lost as Tailmon in the darkness. While Taichi rescued his precious little sister and took her on adventure, Ken steeped his digivice in the Dark Ocean. When Taichi saved the world, he poisoned Ken with a dark spore.

 

Ken wasn't bitter, but he didn't have a very high regard for the original chosen champion, that was all.

 

"Thank you, Izumi-sempai." Ken said as they approached the room with the girls and his partner. "I know nothing will be easy to explain, but to be treated so fairly by you now leaves me optimistic that we can make amends." Ken smiled softly, and the red-haired boy gave him a knowing nod.

 

"I wouldn't be too optimistic about the whole group, but I think I'm starting to see what happened here. I'm not sure if I approve of how you two handled it, but I'm willing to listen. You've got a smart head on your shoulders, Ichijoji... we all just want to make sure it's still a good one."

 

With a cold pat on the shoulder, Ken's stomach turned and Koushiro turned and left. He knew he'd brought all the blame upon himself, knew he'd promised Daisuke he'd stomach it. It still left a thick tar churning inside himself to hear someone like Koushiro say that, though. Ken didn't deserve their trust at the moment, but he never really thought he'd lose it. Maybe he should've noticed how easy a sell it really was to make himself a scapegoat.

 

Ken entered the room, hands still zip-tied like a criminal. It was a nice nursery with a large window-- clearly a care area for human children when their parents who worked here couldn't drop them someplace else. The carpet was overly plush and daisy yellow, and all the big-people furniture was still overplush and marshmallow-esque. Miyako was nursing Chibimon with a pouch of fruit puree and petting him back to strength. Not far away, Hikari was being consumed by the chair stuffing and stroking Wormmon's back as he munched a bowl of granola that was resting between her knees. The sun blazed brightly through the window, making the room and the two girls glimmer so peacefully and beautifully that the trash can on fire just outside the window was hardly in the picture. Ken entered reverently, as if his presence would defile the atmosphere.

 

He wasn't wholly wrong.

 

"What are you doing here, Ichijoji?" Miyako was the first (and last) to spit words at him. Hikari hunched her shoulders, but her fingers curling over Wormmon's thorax made it clear she'd never dream of keeping Ken and his partner apart. Enough news had filtered back to them that she knew the pair of digimon had been hostages, and if Tailmon had been in the same position, she'd never let her out of her sight again. Instead, Tailmon was getting another fruit pouch out for the hungry Chibimon, and Poromon was hopping around on the floor hoping to see a grin in Wormmon's eyes. Ken showing up worked much better.

 

"I really am sorry to intrude... and I'm sorry for all the things I said the other day, too." Ken frowned and stepped closer to Hikari. She recoiled slightly, but let Ken reach out to rest his hand on Wormmon. Ken restrained, and Wormmon exhausted, the pair acknowledged each other with as much stoic affection as they could manage.

 

"You have to understand, this was Etemon's will... and letting anyone know would have risked these guy's lives." Ken rubbed Wormmon between the antennae. "I didn't mean what I--"

 

"Put in a sock in it Ichijoji, don't you think you've said enough to her?" Miyako interrupted with a huff. "Listen, you want to make it about them, but it isn't. You kept telling everyone they wouldn't trust you when you were the one who didn't trust us enough to let us help. You want to know why no one trusts you? Because you don't treat us like we should!"

 

"Miyako!" Hikari squeaked, but she didn't say her partner was wrong. She kept staring down at Wormmon, letting Ken's partner nuzzle his hand as much as he could. He'd been too exhausted for words for a while now.

 

"I... see." Ken felt his hands go chill, his sweat ice over like he'd walked out into the fall air with no coat. He wished he had more to say, but all he could think was that Miyako was right. Ken had focused incessantly on Daisuke from the moment they'd set out to the onsen. It was their holiday. It was their partners in danger. It was their reputations that they'd risk together to save the problem that only involved them. It was classic Ken solving his own problems by himself, but he'd just absorbed Daisuke into his concept of self.

 

"You always used to do this. I could never count on whether you were a member of the group, or acting in your own self-interest. You drag Daisuke in because he'll follow you like a dog, not a partner. I just thought after the things we three had done together, you would have at least let us help you! At least Hikari! She--"

 

"Don't call him a dog." Ken interrupted Miyako. Maybe she was right, maybe he'd done all the wrong things by his friends. Maybe he was always making these mistakes, a socially awkward burden on the group. Maybe Miyako and Hikari had walked him through the Dark Ocean once before, but it was Daisuke who'd sat with him for hours keeping him company as a spell of anxiety passed. As Ken relived his guilt, or just stared out into that static, foggy sea in his mind. Daisuke had been with him every day, and he had never done wrong by him.

 

"I came here to apologize for how I treated you. I came here to tell you I made mistakes; but if you refer to Daisuke as my dog one more time, you'll have a reason to think I don't treat you as a friend. He means everything to me, and I did this all for him. For the rest, I'm sorry."

 

Ken gave Wormmon's head one final squeeze and walked to the exit. Koushiro was waiting nearby to escort him to where Daisuke and Tatum had been taken, off to the official questioning.

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Daisuke's relationship with Tatum was different from the one he had with Ken. Their moments together were often quiet and relaxing--he never had the concern of getting ambushed by a herd of Floramon or swindled by a Digitamamon. One of his favorite memories was one of the first times they hung out in the Digital World. Tatum had invited him to a quiet mountain overlooking a candy colored rainforest--easel clamped under her armpit, a bag of supplies slung across her shoulder, and a brush sticking out of her mouth. She refused any sort of help as she, Daisuke, Veemon, and Betamon made their way up to a clearing; there was a scraggly old tree with no leaves that claimed over the corner of the rock face. Setting the easel down, Tatum rummaged through the bag and setup the canvas, and started sorting through her acrylics.

 

It was about a half hour before Daisuke bothered Tatum. He had been climbing the sickly little tree with Veemon and Betamon, running circles around the trunk until they were all rosy in the cheeks. As he came up behind her, he couldn't help but express his awe. "Wow!" He jogged up to the canvas and stuck his face to it, nearly touching his nose to the wet paint. "This... This amazing!"

 

Tatum stood back, pressing the butt of her brush to her lips. "It's all right."

 

"You're lying!" He moved his head to look out toward the rain forest below and back to the painting. It was hard to tell the difference... At least to him.

 

"Do you want to try?"

 

"What? No. I'll make it bad."

 

"Come on."

 

"No, really. I can't draw a line."

 

"Have you tried?" She tucked a piece of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. "Here." She pushed the paint brush into his hand and moved behind him, drawing his hand up to the canvas. "Just... Paint."

 

The pink paint trailed behind his brush stroke, creating a shimmer across the treetops. Tatum helped him create more highlights, her hand gently wrapping in his, a blush forming across both their cheeks as they shared the first intimate touch of flirting in their young friendship. Finally, she let go and let him do a few strokes himself until eventually his confidence got to be too much.

 

With a laugh she took the brush from him, the trees turning more into puffs of cotton candy than the floral they were supposed to imitate. "See? Not too bad."

 

"No. Not bad." He smiled at her, and she smiled at him. Both felt a flutter of butterflies in their stomachs--each second with Tatum chipping away his infatuation with Hikari. Each moment making him less swayed by cheering girls at soccer games and pretty ladies on the bus. Soon he'd find out what love really did feel like. And along the way, she was nourishing a side of him he didn't even know he had. A creative side that would later really bloom into his cooking. He had her to thank for that.

 

He had Ken to thank for the encouragement.

 

His relationship with Ken was often fiery, which was bizarre for a duo that was half comprised of a seriously stoic young man stuck in a boy's body. On the opposite side of the Digital World, Daisuke and Ken always seemed to find themselves near bodies of water, exerting their energy jogging across sand dunes or racing each other against a river current. A game of soccer was never out of the question, nor was the occasional rough housing, even though Ken always somehow managed to pin the smaller boy into submission.

 

Sometimes they'd go camping, though it only happened in the summer when Ken was less busy with school. Their hair still wet from the late twilight swim they had taken, nestled together in the small tent with the battery powered lamp hanging from the cross beams as they shared reading Daisuke's comic book. Ken listened quietly with a small smile as Daisuke explained all the reasons why he liked Superman better than Batman, and how American comics just had a generally interesting take on the idea of morals and ethics and how they could really learn from it as people. He caught an exasperated look on Ken's face and shoved his bare shoulder into his friend's in response. Flinging the comic book up into Ken's face and messing up the pretty boy's wet locks, Daisuke pulled his sleeping bag up over himself and the sleeping Veemon. "Whatever! I get it. It's too deep for you!"

 

And it was always Ken's patience... His ability to listen and genuinely care about the things Daisuke did that made Daisuke eventually question himself. Where the moments with Tatum (or without her) were missing something. That even though he loved her, that he enjoyed his time with her, that she completed him in some sort of way...

 

"Davis?" Tatum brought him back to the present. The bright fluorescent lights of the room drilling a ping of pain into his skull. "You'll still come to America after all of this, right?"

 

Daisuke raised an eyebrow. "What?" She shifted against him. They both knew that they were in a certain type of shit--a shit that could really mess with either of their plans... That could make it even harder for them to even ever see each other again depending on Taichi's particular mood. But it was nice to think there was a hope. "Yes. Yeah."

 

"It's a lot to leave behind..."

 

"Yeah."

 

"Are you sure?"

 

"Yes, Te. Why?"

 

She looked up at him with a slight frown. "I just..."

 

The door to the room opened, startling them both to upright positions, as if they were being caught nude under the bedroom covers. Ken walked in, his head down, arms still restrained. Koushiro was behind him, standing in the doorway with one arm holding the other. He looked over at Daisuke and said, "Taichi and I will be back for you all in a few minutes. We have a couple of things to discuss before we request your audience." Always the wordsmith, Daisuke thought, as the computer wizard turned and left the room.

 

"Ken?" Tatum said softly.

 

It was no use. Daisuke knew Ken's moods. It took many years for him to finally read them properly--they were all so similar at times. They were all at their wit's end at this point, but Ken may be the closets to cracking now. And Daisuke couldn't help but feel like it was largely because of him.

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Ken stepped into the room, and knelt next to Daisuke. Tatum saying his name bounced off his ear and scattered away; he was listening to Daisuke's breathing. Heavy, but slow and rhythmic. He wasn't panicking, even as Ken worried his word was crumbling away to this one man, and this one woman who would take him away. He didn't want to have anything against Tatum, but he didn't want to listen to her right now either. He wanted a moment with Daisuke. Alone.

 

Ken heaved a breath. He put his head down on Daisuke's shoulder and rolled his forehead against him.

 

"Our partners are fine. The rest, less so." Ken mumbled, his language stressed and terse. "At this point I wish they'd lock us away and leave me alone." He rocked his head up to look towards Daisuke, then pulled himself back to show a little composure. Being too close was... probably strange, in front of Tatum. He rarely spent much social time anywhere, he was usually free to be as close to Daisuke as he liked. Seemed no matter what, he was stuck thinking of the girl. He acknowledged her with a flat stare.

 

"I'm tired..."

 

No rest for the wicked, as Koushiro came back to fetch them. The three slogged off to a conference room, guarded at the door by Garurumon. Everybody worth assembling was inside: Taichi, naturally, and Yamato. Koushiro, Sora, Miyako and Takeru. Jou was absent for tending to the injured during the mess outside, and Iori was still in school. Hikari was watching the injured Digimon, and had no stomach for judicial meetings anyway. Mimi was in America, but Tai had set up a laptop for her on Skype sitting alongside her friends. They took one end of the table, Ken, Daisuke, and Tatum had the other. Koushiro locked the door behind them, as if they'd try to cut and run at this point. Ken's face sagged with some mixture of exhaustion and sorrow, and his heart had picked up with some eagerness to see this behind him. Anxiety started to curl around his veins.

 

Takeru's death stare didn't help. Ah, if only Ken had known better than to offend his dearest beloved Hikari. For a child of Hope, he'd never had any in Ken.

 

"You three sit here today for aiding and abetting Etemon and his cronies, in their pursuit of chaos in the Real World. You put in danger all Digimon who would dare to fight against his cause, and all Digimon residing in the Real World right now. How the hell can you explain yourselves?" Taichi thrust his hand down on the table, his makeshift flesh gavel. Ken stared dark resentment into that hand. Honestly, was this the best use of all of their time? Some witch hunt to finally bring Ken to the asylum he deserves? The young man looked between Daisuke, and Tatum. Neither of them had to suffer for this, and if Ken hadn't gotten so wound up with doing everything he could to fix what happened at the onsen by himself, they wouldn't even be here. They might even be on the other side of the table, slapping the cuffs on each wrist.

 

Ken looked from face to face across the table. Takeru would melt him with his eyes if only given the power to. Miyako shared his vitriol after his stunt in the other room. Koushiro was nearly blank, clearly curious, but possibly the only face at the table that hadn't immediately decided Ken's judgement. Yamato and Taichi had furrowed brows. Mimi and Sora frowned.

 

And if Ken let Daisuke and Tatum walk away from this now, he'd get everyone what they wanted. Ken in chains, and everyone's favorite young leader and his pretty girlfriend safe victims of eternally mad Ken, Ex-Kaiser. If "Ex" was really what anyone put, when they honestly thought about Ken.

 

Daisuke would be right. Ken did crack. Like a hammer down on an egg.

 

"Go to hell, all of you." In another state of mind, Ken would have been reasonable. He would have thought that he could explain his plan from the start to the finish, and all the ways they were powerless to Etemon along the way.

 

"Sure, you already know it, it was my fault. I let Etemon through. Daisuke and Tatum tried to tell me to stop. I took Daisuke to the inn where Veemon and Wormmon were taken hostage. Surely you all think that wasn't a coincidence too? Let me have it! And let them go."

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The conference room's air was heavy. Sweat trailed along Daisuke's hairline under the artificial light, and the dozen of eyes that were boring into himself and his two teammates. He wasn't expecting a royal meeting of the original chosen to be judging them. Handling Taichi and Koushiro was at least manageable, but this...

 

It took a few seconds for Daisuke to register what Ken had said, his head snapping to the side. "Ken..." Tatum grabbed at Daisuke's hand, but he moved it aside as he leaned toward his friend. Ken had offered to take the blame. Whatever happened, he was willing to take it all and consume it like all the pain he had in the past. And although Daisuke inadvertently agreed to it through his frustration and anger... Damn, did it hurt to watch him doing it. And now that Daisuke better understood his feelings toward Ken, what use was he if he couldn't protect Ken from himself?

 

"What did you say?" Taichi spat, his body leaning into the table, as if he was going to leap across and wrap his hands around Ken's pale neck.

 

Changing his glance over to Taichi, Daisuke spoke softly, yet commanding. "Everybody, just calm down."

 

"We are calm." Yamato said. Yamato and Taichi had remained good friends through the years--a common theme across jogress partners it seemed. His words reeled Taichi in ever so slightly, his back finding itself pressed against his chair again. "All we want to know is why you did what you did."

 

"Did what?"

 

"Come on!" Taichi slammed his fist on the table again.

 

"'Come on' what? I'm serious. What do you think we did? Obviously you assholes all think Ken has some sort of hand in what transpired today." His eyes narrowed at Taichi, the words from the other night resounding in his memory. "So explain to me how we're supposed to answer you."

 

"You demonized me." Taichi's teeth were clearly clenched. Some of the other chosen nodded. "You demonized all of us! Explaining the things you guys did..."

 

"Then explain it to us."

 

Koushiro spoke up. "You shined light on a sensitive subject. Kamiya and I have been dealing with unrest in the Digital World between the Real World for quite some time now. We have been working with nations across the world to enlist regulations quietly, passing information as things became finalized. It has been difficult to get everybody on the same page, and it is a very hot issue." Taichi had since sat back in his seat, twiddling his fingers on his chair's armrest. "When you both went on television discussing this same issue without restraint--without consulting anybody..."

 

"You fucked up." Taichi grumbled.

 

"In so many words, yes."

 

"It was all over the news over here," Mimi spoke up. Tatum shifted in her seat, feeling out of place, but was able to silently agree with American chosen's observations.

 

"Now we have activist groups on both sides already making moves. If Motomiya Daisuke and Ichijouji Ken say the connection between the Digital World and Real World is bad, then clearly that gives them concrete evidence for their agendas."

 

Taichi snorted, "And then letting them in to destroy the city!"

 

Koushiro shook his head. "I am unsure of why you all did this. Clearly you had already done enough damage. This is truthfully the piece of the story that makes it difficult for me to see where your alliance lies. Regardless..."

 

"You put a lot of people in danger." Sora said.

 

Daisuke folded his hands on the table, bowing his head slightly. He thought how to explain everything, knowing at this point that it would probably not make a difference. But he wasn't going to let Ken be the brunt of this, not anymore. Even if that's what he wanted. "We... Ken and I... We were just going on a holiday. Ken fell ill, and then I passed out. We were split up for a day, two? Three? I dunno. Turns out the inn had one of those agenda things you were talking about, Izzy." He took a deep breath. "They needed us to talk about this, taking our partners and threatening to... Kill them. You understand, right? How would you all feel if you were threatened with something like that? You should know better than anybody, Takeru!"

 

Takeru was thrown into the conversation, one he tried to avoid being apart of, his discontent with being in the same room as Ken clearly palpable. "This is different."

 

"What!? No it's fucking not! And it's worse! You saw what he could do! We weren't wrong! Ken wasn't wrong... He saved them by saying we'd help them..." His heart simultaneously rose and fell as he said that.

 

Miyako growled, unable to keep silent anymore. "Why didn't you just ask us for help immediately?"

 

"Because! Because he was watching! If we didn't do what he wanted, they'd be toast! What if you all slipped and tipped off that you were helping!?"

 

"You don't trust us!? After everything we've all been through!?" Miyako was rising from her seat now.

 

"For fuck's sake! That's not what I said!"

 

"It's what you implied!"

 

"Implying isn't the same thing!"

 

"Just like how this is a different situation from when Angemon died." Takeru spat.

 

Daisuke's mind reeled. What the hell was going on? Why were they all so against them? What were they not understanding? "Should we have just let Veemon and Wormmon die?" The room was silent for a few moments. Each chosen looked at the other, the only thing Daisuke was able to hear was his own labored breathing. "Oh my god..."

 

Sora shook her head. "That's not what anybody is saying. We all could have just figured something different out. Something less destructive."

 

"But you didn't. And so here we are." Taichi said.

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Ken beat his hands down on the table. The logic in this room was dissolving around them, thickly peeling off the walls and pooling into some mire between them. The coulds, the shoulds. Clearly, the other chosen were not about to accept what Ken and Daisuke had done was right. They knew all they could know in determining the guilt of the pair, and now all that was left was to argue feelings. Ken was losing his shit sitting here, enduring it. No one would convince him what he'd done was wrong.

 

"You're all right. Naturally. The facts you have are not wrong. We did what we did. You know why. Wormmon, Veemon are both safe now, and you'll never convince me to do anything to jeopardize them." Ken hissed. His vitriol was directed right at Taichi, the ringleader to his court of fools. Resentment Ken didn't even know he harbored bubbled up, spilling over into tears.

 

"You want to pretend that this is our fault for not trusting you, go ahead. You behave as if you really believed I was your friend this whole time. Like this trial wasn't a long time coming. But I look into your eyes, Taichi, and all I see is regard for me like some sort of parasite on your beloved protege."

 

Ken's breathing was labored. His eyes were wide, and he stared down at the table they'd sat them at as his cheeks rained stains down into his tousled shirt. Quietly, he knew he had to do something, or Daisuke would end up going down with his ship. Maybe he was a drain on Daisuke's otherwise spotless reputation? Maybe he was stopping him from being the free spirit the rest of the team loved? Ken had never added to his friendship, just existed as a depressed burden on the courageous boy. No matter how much Daisuke meant the world to Ken, it was time he stopped holding him back. With no Ken, Daisuke would be free to go to America, to have a beautiful, creative wife, to have as many little chosen children as he deemed fit. Surely, all that had transpired the other night with Daisuke was just his friend's intimate way of saying farewell. He had to admit, it had felt better than the first attempt at saying goodbye.

 

"I love you, Daisuke." Ken whispered under his breath, words lingering just long enough in the air to waft into Daisuke's ear crisp and clear. Then Ken stood up.

 

"When this is done, lock me up, and let them go. You'll have your golden boy back, and I'll be out of the way." Ken turned his head to rub his cheeks against his shoulders. It didn't help the red in his eyes.

 

"Right now, let's get Etemon."

 

 

That was fair.

 

Daisuke could have tried to argue, but Taichi liked the sound of Ken's deal. Finally, they were cut from their bindings and the original chosen got things how they wanted them: all the planning in their court. At long last they had a strategic team ready and a moment to plan their counter strike, with Koushiro and Taichi calling movements so Ken didn't have to. In fact, Ken removed himself for a moment, trading with Hikari to stay in the nursery with Wormmon. Cold and lifeless as his injured partner, Ken stared off into the ceiling.

 

The team was fine without him, or it seemed so. Koushiro had plotted out ways to round up and remove Etemon's flunkies that had strayed too far from their boss. That would be safest: only one person had the digi-deleter device, and that was Etemon himself. For as much chaos as he'd caused, he had only a limited number of henchmen that had made it through from the digital world; he would need another human to get more through. Birdramon and Kabuterimon could run surveillance for that crazy monkey, and the rest of the team would pick off the miniature threats one-by-one. Etemon himself would have to get taken out at range... and might require a human or two to jump on him and hold him down. So far as they knew, a real person couldn't be decoded. Taichi and Yamato were willing to take the risk, ready to take up the old partnership that had been insufficient ever since the resurfacing of Diaboromon.

 

But, this was just one monkey. Ken didn't care.

 

Well, he did...

 

He just didn't know how to care without hurting anyone else, so he tried not to.

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The delegation had already begun. With each passing minute, Daisuke's body slipped further and further down his chair, his leg fidgeting rapidly and unconsciously. Truthfully, he had tuned out everybody else in the room. Taichi. Koushiro. Yamato. Tatum. The only thing he could hear was the buzzing of angry bees ramming into the side of his skull. The completely broken words of Ken rattling around in the pit of his stomach, making him want to vomit from distress.

 

"We can't risk bringing any of our partners close to him." Sora said, holding a finger to mouth in concentration.

 

"It is a possibility we can. We just need to know what his range is." Koushiro said, his face buried in his laptop, his fingers dancing across the keypads.

 

Yamato leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling. "We don't know that. How are we supposed to? Do we just have him kill another one of his lackies?"

 

"That's not at all nice..." Mimi said with a pout.

 

"What needs to happen is we need to draw him into the open. We need to bait him. Preferably in the Digital World. The technology he is wielding is, without a doubt, some of the most powerful we have seen. Other digimon have had the capability to rewrite data or corrupt it. Data manipulation is not unheard of when it comes to digital threats. However, this seems different. The readings are all off." Koushiro paused his typing, his lips twitching. "It is almost human in its construction."

 

"Hm?" Taichi moved to read over Koushiro's shoulder. He didn't really understand what his friend was seeing exactly, but through a certain form of osmosis, he was able to understand a bit better than the other Chosen."What do you mean?"

 

"I am not sure yet. I need more time. It just doesn't match the same syntax I have seen in the past."

 

"What can we do?" Sora asked. Miyako and Takeru leaned in, expressing their desire to help as well.

 

"We need to take care of our home first. Greymon, Garururmon, Birdramon, Kabuterimon... Everyone. They're doing their best out there right now to calm the streets while we figure out a game plan. I think Izzy is right. We need to draw them back into the Digital World." Taichi touched a finger to Koushiro's screen, rousing an expression of discontent from the computer's owner. "There's several ports we can easily dispatch all the smaller threats away into. Etemon will be more difficult." Taichi rested his hand on the back of Koushiro's chair. The sway of the seat didn't interrupt the computer genius as he focused on his screen.

 

"We can do that." Yamato said. Taichi and Yamato had always been the muscle of the group.

 

Daisuke pulled his body back up to properly sit in his seat, only to slump down again immediately. Tatum eyed him sideways, noting that he was clearly uncomfortable. She was too. There was a schism between all the children. Even though she wasn't a part of their original team, she wondered if the tension had always felt like this.

 

"So," Miyako said carefully, "Who... What? What is the bait?"

 

"Tatum." Takeru said flatly.

 

All eyes shot to Takeru, then slingshot to Tatum. Tatum's shoulders dropped, recognizing for the first time a word she understood. She didn't even know that anybody else knew who she even was. Wide eyed, she looked at Daisuke for assistance. "D-Davis?"

 

Daisuke's expression was a mixture of confusion, disbelief, and disgust. "Excuse me?"

 

"Davis?"

 

"We all saw it. She was the last one in contact with him. She got away. You all know how egotistical Etemon is. Short of throwing Ken at him--which we can't do for obvious reasons--she's the next best thing. He must be pretty livid right now that he got clobbered and embarrassed like that on live television."

 

"No. No." Daisuke slammed his fist on the table. "NO."

 

Taichi raised an eyebrow. "Well..."

 

"Davis!" Tatum shook his arm. "What are they saying?"

 

Koushiro pursed his lips. "Unfortunately, Takeru makes a good point. Etemon's sole purpose seems to be to entertain. After losing that opportunity, she may be the only way we can get them all back into the Digital World. From there, I can draw better conclusions of what we are dealing with. I will assist as much as I can."

 

"Fuck this..." Daisuke spat, kicking his chair away from the table and standing up. He tried to piece together an apology to Tatum, but it just came out in staggered, frustrated English. "I... I need some air..." 

 

A chorus of voices called for him to come back, but none of them mattered at this point. Tatum, Ken, and himself were all expendable as far as they were concerned. And needless to say: that was a bullshit.

 

 

 

 

Daisuke leaned on the door to the nursery. Ken was sitting in one of the seats, his entire focus pinned on a mobile hung in the corner of the room. In his lap was a sleeping Wormmon. At his feet, wrapped around one of his legs, was Chibimon. Both digimon, although beaten and hungry, seemed content. The same could not be said for Ken. "Ken..." Daisuke said, the sound of his own voice startling him in the peaceful quiet of the room. He moved into the room, stopping midway, crossing his arms as if overcome with a sudden chill. 

 

What was he doing? What were they doing? What was Ken doing? What was Ken doing?

 

"I..." Taking another step closer, he choked on his own words. "I... Stop running..." He rubbed the back of his neck, uneasy that Ken had still yet to look at him. "Please."

 

Who was he to talk? He just ran away from the meeting. He'd been running away for the past few days from his closest friends. Mentally, he'd been running away from his problems for few years. But seeing Ken running away again... The defeat on his face. It plucked a string that he thought had long been tuned. Scared, exhausted, irritated, disappointed, angry, heartbroken, confused. Overcome with his own emotions, Daisuke dropped to the floor, legs crossed, hands already nervously picking at rocks lodged in his shoes.

 

"They won't listen to us. Even though they don't have much on us--because we didn't fucking do anything--they can... Ken." Daisuke struggled to figure out what he wanted to say. He didn't know what he wanted. All he knew was that Ken was planting needles into his own skin. For what? For Daisuke? "You can't leave me..." Eyebrows upturned, he bit his lip. "If you're gone..."

 

Looking up, he gave a half-hearted grin. "We could run away together? Huh? At least we'd both be running." He bounced a pebble on the brightly colored carpet. With his palm, he cleaned the dirt off of the sole of his shoe as he continued. "Go to America. Open one of those... Uh... What are they called? Bed and breakfasts or whatever?" He breathed out, the sound turning more into a groan as it drew out. "Two Japanese dudes. One house. Good food, awesome rooms. Quant as hell."

 

Daisuke leaned his body back, bracing himself up with his arms. Stretching his legs out, he rolled his neck as he continued to talk his fantasies to the walls. "Somewhere in the mountains... Like the ones that we used to go to in the Digital World. I want it to smell like pine every day." Ken smelled like pine sometimes. "How do you feel about snow? Snow is all right, I guess. Do you think we'd have to get cars? Have you seen any of those American trucks in person?" He whistled, "Bigger than Lighdramon. I mean, not as fast, or as cool, but damn. Kinda cool, I guess." Downcasting his eyes, he smiled to himself. "I guess not...

 

"But maybe city living? Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I heard crime is pretty bad over there? Probably would be better for you there. Yeah. Forget the first idea. What use is a crime guy without any crime? Hm."

 

Daisuke stared at Ken for a few moments. He supposed there were few things he wanted in life. He wanted to be a great cook. He wanted to move away. And Ken seemed to fit pretty nicely into anything else. So Daisuke couldn't leave now. Ken couldn't be something to rot away in a jail cell for a few years. And Ken certainly wasn't something be to disrespected.

 

Resting his arms across his knees, he placed his chin on his arm. "But it's only possible if you're still free, stupid."

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Ken's eyes drifted along the stucco-finish ceiling and all its amorphous peaks. He could hear Daisuke, rambling on about a cute life for them in America, an escape to anywhere that land of many landscapes contained. He heard him but he didn't listen, didn't hear the ropes Daisuke was throwing to save Ken from drowning in himself. There were moments it felt more right to let the darkness buoy him, never knowing if he'd sink as he soaked in it.

 

He could've died a tree, if not for Daisuke.

 

The dark spore was a live thing, a consuming thing that had fed on him, and Ken was lucky to have come to his senses when he did. Far off in his memory he saw the other children that had been infected from his spore spouting flowers with thin, tendril-y red petals up from their heads. Dark flowers. And when those grown spores took all they needed, puny hosts like Ken or those other abused children became corpses to feed the Dark Tree that grew roots from their toes and bark from their bodies. The dark ocean Ken was afloat in now was only liquid nourishment for that growth within him all those years, with spiny roots Ken wasn't sure ever came all the way out. There had to be a reason, there had to be an explanation for how different he was from everyone, how prone to doubt and fear, how he chose to be alone when he just wanted to save the ones he loved. Daisuke was a radiant sun to his foggy moon, what if not the spore had robbed Ken of his own light? Or had he always been meant to be this way?

 

Dependent... depressed...

 

Why did Daisuke keep coming back to him? He was a wet blanket on his roaring fire, surely he could do nothing but exstinguish him, but here Daisuke was raring even fierier than he'd been in the room with all their friends. Daisuke pulled fuel out of absolutely nowhere when it came to trying to brighten his gloomy companion. Wouldn't it exhaust him in the end?

 

"Why...?" Ken asked, his voice breathy, empty. His head lulled to the side, finally looking down at his friend.

 

"How could I be anything but a burden on you? I've always taken from you... your time, your energy... this is your chance to be free. You wanted to run to America... to her... I'm this Japanese life that brings you down."

 

Ah, if Wormmon could hear him now he surely would have scolded Ken. All these years and Ken could still forget he meant more to Daisuke than the "crazy friend" the rest of the team saw him as? Yet, still. Ken wouldn't have been himself if not willing to sacrifice his greatest treasure for what he could perceive as the greatest kindness to him. Losing Daisuke in his life... there was nothing more that Ken could lose.

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Daisuke stared at Ken for a few moments. Unconsciously, his mouth had gone ajar in disbelief. The familiar heat in his belly roused again as he felt himself getting angry with his friend.

 

"What... What the hell?" He leaned forward over his knees. "What the hell are you on about? You don't bring me down, dumbass. Fuck, for a genius, you're seriously the stupidest shit I know." His eyes rolled to the ceiling as he tried to defuse his anger through a hot breath. "Ken... The only burden you've caused me is..." He interrupted himself with a grunt, his voice lowering, "Making me love you." His body swayed side to side, his muscles shivering with emotion. "It's been so difficult. Do you understand? Of course you don't, or else you wouldn't be so fucking hurtful right now."

 

The first time he met Ken, the boy was so confident. When they shook hands, there was a purpose and a pride behind it. Steady, strong, commanding. Daisuke had been simultaneously inspired and humbled by it. At that point, the only idol that rivaled Ichijouji was his mentor Taichi. If only he could be as cool as them... But once the Kaiser garments disintegrated into the digital atmosphere, Ken had struggled to get that part of him back. His movements and physical interactions were timid, unsure, and limp. Inherently, there was nothing wrong with that--all of Daisuke's initial impressions were side effects of the spores buried deep under his skin. That's just who Ken really was. However, every interaction that betrayed his true personality stuck in Daisuke's memory. The stern commands, the rough arm grabs--they were exciting. The other night was one of those times. He loved every side of Ken.

 

"So. So I may be confused. So I may want to get away from here. At this point, do you really blame me? What the fuck do we have here anymore after all of this besides each other? And..." He finally caught onto the words--the emotions. Raising an eyebrow, he couldn't help but laugh a little. "Wait. Are you jealous? Do you think I'm going to get together with Tatum again?" Slapping a hand to his forehead, he continued, another soft chuckle rolling out of his throat. "Well shit... I mean, if you're giving me your blessing! Peace out, Ichijouji."

 

Ken was glaring at him at this point, but Daisuke was glaring back. 

 

"She means a lot to me. I would die for her, just like I'd die for you. I will do anything for either of you. But Ken, you have to understand. Are you listening? Please hear me when I say: you are everything." Daisuke had found himself on a soap box again. He was speaking to a mostly empty room, to an audience that, at best, was 25% mentally checked in. "Ever since we first shook hands, and I looked you in the eyes. I was done for since that day. Hell, even when you tried to kill me, hurt me, belittle me..." He rolled his head back again in thought, "All those times you... Heh, all the times you held onto my arm when you're scared or uncomfortable. Or when you insisted on walking me to the train station when I left your house--no matter the weather. I guess I just kinda knew, but didn't think you'd ever, ever want anything with me. Why would you? I should be lucky you even call me a friend.

 

"And you think now, after dealing with these feelings I've had for you, that I'm going to just leave you?" His voice was steadily rising, his emotions tailing on the end of every sentence in the comings of hysteria. "Fuck you. At least if you had rejected me I maybe would have recovered. But you're just outright sitting here saying I don't give a shit. That I'm planning to move away to be with somebody else? You asshole."

 

Daisuke didn't need to defend his relationship with Tatum, but he didn't know what he was defending at this point. His own weakness for essentially running away from his own disappointment and  fears? Did he really have to anymore? Couldn't he just stay here, with Ken, and continue to live life like they always had? "Ken, did you ever think about us? Did you ever think this would have happened? For a second? Because I thought about it for years. Every day. Each time I came up with different ways for you to reject me. On the phone, on the bus, in your apartment, at my work... You'd stop talking to me, you'd outright tell me to fuck off, or you'd just... Say nothing.

 

"I was so afraid of you... For things you didn't even do." Daisuke sighed, resting his forehead in his knees. "I... I was running away, too. And it's hard to stop."

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Jarring.

 

Maybe Ken hadn't been there 100%, even 25% when Daisuke started giving him the usual 'I don't hate you' spiel. (Unfortunate, perhaps, that Ken dipped into self-loathing enough that he'd had to hear these reassurances from Daisuke before). He sure was getting there by the time he'd warmed up, though. Ken's brows furrowed when the hot platitudes took a 180 and accusations fell on Ken: he was jealous. Their relationship was, sexually, brand new, and here Ken was already feeling like a lesser partner than a girl Daisuke had entertained for years. Here he was unable to believe that Daisuke would want him like that the way he'd wanted him as a friend for the best part of a decade.

 

And maybe it wasn't all self-loathing. Maybe Ken was pushing away just a bit to prove that Daisuke would pull back. As if Daisuke hadn't been the one high-wiring over a shark tank to confess his feelings, and all Ken had to do was say OK. Because Ken was still a little awestruck that it could happen in the first place, even if Daisuke had been dreaming of it for years. He was kind but he was no empath, he couldn't put himself in the mindset of having this be the plan for so long. He couldn't understand that Daisuke hadn't confessed just before leaving the country so that he could give his farewell kiss to Ken and go back to his woman, it was because having an escape car waiting for him outside was the only thing giving Daisuke the confidence to face the rejection he'd been so sure of.

 

They weren't always the boys they'd been when they first met. Ken was not always the bold, unshakable leader; he'd been shaken too hard. And Daisuke was not the confident champion of the chosen children either. Perhaps they'd always been attracted to how they thought the other was the person they wanted to be. Perhaps they knew exactly how to support each other, because they really weren't.

 

Ken leaned over his chair, and grabbed Daisuke's chin. His hair hung around them like a private veil, and Ken pressed his lips firmly onto Dai's.

 

It was not so clean or orderly for long. Wormmon was tucked into the seat of the chair as Ken slid out of it and set his knees atop the rug. Ken's fingers loosened on Daisuke's chin to slide up his cheek and hold him with fingertips dancing in his hair. His head tilted as well as Ken's to mangle their lips and tongues.

 

If Ken had really thought Daisuke had seduced him out of anything but love, he couldn't believe that now. He could feel the fire in his partner rise from gut to skin and know it was for him. He could taste the hunger on his tongue that he'd gotten to know last night. Somehow, unthinkably, he'd become as valuable to his beloved as this crazy-haired goggle-head had always been to him. He wanted to drink it in, this bliss.

 

His lips slipped away from Daisuke's mouth, his knees found themselves at either side of Daisuke's hips, askew around folded legs. He kissed at Daisuke's jaw, at the soft skin beneath and the prickles from his growing goatee. He kissed at Daisuke's throat until he couldn't hear sighs but little gasps and pleasant moans, and then kissed more until he'd left little red stars from kissing too hard. He kissed Daisuke's collar. He tugged his shirt off. He kissed his chest.

 

Ken pressed his hand against Daisuke's abdomen, his long fingers splayed, flat with his palm against the warm skin and soft dark red hairs that led up to Dai's navel. He pushed, ever so gently, coaxing Daisuke to spread out and lie down beneath him as Ken's teeth played against his chest. His eyes were still glossy from his anxiety-tensed fit, but the smolder behind those blue windows to the soul was warm and inviting. Besides, Wormmon and Chibimon were good and fast asleep.

 

Hard to believe Ken was still thinking with his brain, especially after all those irrational emotions had jumbled up his thoughts. Somehow, not stripping Daisuke seemed important, just in case, but it wouldn't stop him from taking the zipper to his shorts in his teeth and pulling. Carefully, his hand dipped into the flap in Daisuke's boxers and threaded out the long, stiffening member within. Ken smiled for the first time since leaving that dreadful meeting, and let cheerful lips wrap warmly around Daisuke's package. Mmmm.

 

Daisuke had watched all the porn, and Ken had only ever watched Daisuke. More importantly, he'd felt Daisuke, and the hesitation, the overaggression to compensate, the way his lips and tongue slipped and where it felt just right or wrong. Luckily for Daisuke, Ken was a scientist, one capable of applying new knowledge. Eagerly.

 

His tongue lapped up along the underside of Daisuke's cock, lips sucking firmly along with. He lavished attention to the root of the shaft, let his tongue press into his sack and slide all the way to the tip. His lips closed over the pink bulb and massaged it as his head bobbed up and down, his whole mouth warming the top half of Daisuke's cock while his hand tended to the bottom. Ken's cheeks flushed pink as he realized he could feel the blood pumping through Daisuke's body along his lower lip. That blood from all of Daisuke's excitement, that excitement that Ken had been responsible for. Long gone was the dark aura of Ken in his loneliness, left was the boy who'd bury himself in Daisuke's pleasure to share in even a fraction of it. If he could remove the hurt he'd caused by being such a narrow-sighted, depressing twat, he'd suck it all away.

 

Quite literally.

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Ken had said nothing, instead choosing to speak with actions instead of words. Their kiss was innocent at first, Daisuke bringing his hands up to brush away the dark hair from his partner's face. It took very little coaxing, only just a little whimper or a misplaced nibble on a bottom lip, and Ken had moved like heated oil over the floor and on top of Daisuke. Ken was everywhere, the warmth enveloping his body like a cocoon, finding it hopeless to move against the need his friend had for him.

 

"H-hey," Daisuke breathed. Ken had his lips at his throat, leaving prickles of goosebumps along his neck, an unconscious groan rolled after his words. "What's with you? There's cameras you..." There was a tongue in his mouth before he could even finish. He returned the heated favor, grabbing the sides of Ken's face and forcing him to kiss until they were both out of breath. "Damn..." He smiled before kissing Ken again, the overeager man now working to remove his shirt. At that point, Daisuke's head had gone into a fog. He remembered that he had always wanted to have sex in a wild place. The current title belonged to a bar's restroom--and that was less crazy as it was desperately disgusting.

 

But this... Hah. What better way to tell everybody else to suck a dick then to literally do it under their supervision?

 

The cool air of the room hit Daisuke's bare skin, which sent his body into a rattling shiver. Though, maybe it was better attributed to his needy arousal. Ken moved down his chest, to his stomach, to his crotch. Predatorily, Ken looked up at him as he pulled down the zipper of his shorts with his pretty white teeth. Grinning back, legs shaking as he tightened them around his partner, he said, "Y-you're insane, Ichijouji." With a sharp gasp, Daisuke curled up, his upper body hovering over Ken, his fingers digging deep into the rug beneath them. He was expecting the boy to back down, to not actually do what it looked like was going to do. But soon enough, Ken had found his way to what he wanted, and Daisuke hissed sharply as Ken took his cock into his mouth. With one hand darting to clasp over his mouth, one clutching onto Ken's shoulder, and his eyes pinched tight, Daisuke moaned loudly into his muffle.

 

Maybe it was because he hadn't had a blow job in a long time. Maybe it was because the last girl that gave him one nearly bit his dick off. Maybe because it was Ken... But holy shit. It was wonderfully clear in every action that Ken was a quick learner. With the way he was moving his tongue, utilizing his fingers, applying his lips... It was as if the boy had been practicing for the past decade--he was careful when needed, rough when it counted, and played every other part in perfect unison. There wasn't a moment that Daisuke wasn't fidgeting and crying quietly into his hand. He rolled his hips the best he could, but gave up in frustration, finally laying back on the floor, just as Ken had wanted him. Dark hair fell across his stomach, the strands tickling against the sensitive skin after every bob of Ken's head. Daisuke's back arched against the floor, both hands moving to cover his mouth, as he thrust himself into Ken as restrained as he could muster.

 

It was evident that they had been on different wavelengths the entire time. Daisuke invested a lot into emotions, where Ken invested in having few. It was hard for Daisuke to even imagine that Ken had not even once thought of them like this. In recent years, he was afraid that he was coming off to obvious--to Ken and to the rest of the chosen. There had been one time that Hikari had asked him, in her very polite and understanding tone, if something was going on between them. His juvenile excitement over Ken getting his own apartment had him bubbling, as he continued to ramble on about how they'd be able to eat whatever they wanted and stay up late and play video games whenever. It was going to be awesome! ... But, of course, his particular choice of words at times came off a little...

 

"Aaaaahhhh..." A moan escaped the cracks of his fingers. It was pointless to try anymore. For Ken's first time, he was certainly acing it. His breathing shortened into gasping moans, both hands now tangled in Ken's hair, his head thrown back against the floor. His skin was sizzling under the oncoming orgasm. "Ken! I'm...!" Biting hard onto his bottom lip, he moaned long and hard, the sound devolving into a growl, as he came into Ken's beautifully talented mouth. His hips continued to move without him, his throat releasing uncontrolled variations of sounds, his face contorted in a slideshow of passion and ecstasy... "Ffffffffffuuuuuuuuucck." His hands dropped from Ken's hair and laid at his sides. Every other emotion he may have had was gone. All he felt now wasn't even an emotion, but just warm. "I..." Daisuke tried to find words between his labored panting, but it was coming to him all jumbled. "Do what... Why? Fffuuck."

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Mmm... Ken was pleased like a cat, having Daisuke's fingers curl through his hair as he finished the boy off. It didn't have to be directly sexual to arouse Ken; even the slightest brush of skin to skin was sensual to a reserved boy like him. Ken's tongue slid up and slickly popped from Daisuke's cock, left out of his mouth just long enough to show Daisuke that Ken had been good, and swallowed. His cheeks were rosy and hot, but, submitting to his better judgement, Ken zipped up Daisuke's pants right there. He picked Daisuke's post-orgasmic body up from the floor half a ways, then pulled him against his body. His arms snaked around him in a loose hug, and his face meshed against Daisuke's cheek to cheek.

 

"You're right for a change, Motomiya. We should run away to America together. I... honestly was going to ask to come with you before you said anything." Ken touched Daisuke's cheek softly and smiled with a shrug. He didn't need to go into how he'd hesitated because of Tatum. Daisuke knew he'd been silly. How Tatum would take the news that Daisuke was off the market was anybody's guess, but it would work out no matter what. Because Ken would have Daisuke.

 

He leaned in to kiss Daisuke, when the door to the nursery opened suddenly. Hikari, the only one who hadn't taken off to save the town because she was officially on digimon care duty, had returned to the room after noticing Daisuke and Ken sort of... strangely splayed out on the security footage. Had they fought? Well... she could take a guess at what she'd been seeing, now. Her pale face lit up like a neon sign, despite it being no surprise that Daisuke and Ken could really be that way. It was more that she realized she'd caught them in the act, and Ken peeled away from the kiss about as quickly and about as red. His arms fell away from Daisuke like moving through syrup, so resistant to letting him go.

 

"Ken... you didn't really mean what you said out there, did you?" Hikari asked quietly, knowing Ken had last been seen in a fit of rage. He seemed to be more like himself now (Daisuke had obviously... calmed him down).

 

"You know, about being guilty of being a bad influence? You just wanted to let Motomiya off the hook..." Her eyes passed between the two. She'd always been the little angel among the chosen children, and of all the chosen to have had to have walked in on them, Hikari was by far the best.

 

Ken, naturally, shrugged his shoulders. "I said what I needed to."

 

Hikari bit her lip. Outside was a world of hell these two had created, but she was not short sighted. The consequences of letting everyone else solve the problem and then letting Ken get locked away for good, it wouldn't help anyone, it wouldn't accomplish a thing. It would separate the love these two had, it would take away the happiest aura Hikari had ever seen surrounding her dark-sea brother. Who would it please but Taichi?

 

"Go."

 

Hikari stepped aside from the door, and held it open. "Please, go. I'll make something up. Go."

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There was a giant, goofy, totally wasted grin plastered on Daisuke's face as Ken drew him up in a hug. He felt like he had been swimming for hours. Every inhale prickled his lungs. There was a stark contrast between the heat of their cheeks pressed against each other, and the damp coolness of the sweat trailing down their faces. Everything was felt with so much more intensity. He felt like his love for his chosen could not be contained within his own body. Daisuke returned the hug with passion, placing soft kisses along Ken's neck, trying to expel even an ounce of his emotions onto Ken. "You bastard... Of course you would." 

 

Ken had teased his lips against his, Daisuke catching his friend's bottom lip between his before they were gone--just tasting a bit of himself mixed with the now familiar taste of Ken. Daisuke whimpered as the support of Ken's wiry arms melted off of him, both because he had to keep his wary body upright, and because his bare upper body seemed so much colder without them around him. Daisuke leaned forward, his nose nuzzling against the corner Ken's mouth. Tilting his head, he let his lips brush against the other's as he said, "Don't be like..."

 

Then there was a voice.

 

And it wasn't Ken's.

 

Obviously, Ken had seen her before she had said anything. Without hesitation, Daisuke let out a quick "oh mother fuck" and scrambled for the pile of clothes Ken had effortlessly peeled off of him. Suddenly, getting caught was a lot less thrilling. Especially when it was Hikari that had caught them. Poking his head through his t-shirt, his toothy grin didn't hide the embarrassment painted on his face.

 

Daisuke listened as the two exchanged words, until Hikari essentially kicked them out. "Go... Go where?"

 

"Anywhere." She said. There was an urgency on her voice that he had only remembered hearing once before. "We can handle it."

 

Putting his sweater on, Daisuke shook his head as he stood up, wobbling slightly before offering a hand to Ken. "I..." Pulling Ken up to his feet, he unashamedly held his hand at the small of the boy's back, bringing them hip to hip as they faced Hikari. He stared at her for a moment, trying to analyze the validity of arguing with the child of light.

 

Truth was, even though he would have loved to just run away... Forget all of this... Go back to Ken's apartment and pack it up and leave on a plane tomorrow to New York. Spend the next few months just figuring something out. Ken could easily get accepted into another college. Daisuke could weasel his way into a green card somehow... It was all a dream. It was all irrational.

 

He had people to protect. They were going to throw Tatum into harms way. Taichi and Yamato were going to risk their lives, and potentially their digimon's as well. Everybody in Tokyo. Every digimon in the Digital World... Ken.

 

And that was irrational, too. He couldn't protect them all. It wasn't even necessarily his job to. However, running away really wasn't an option. It never was. That didn't mean he had to listen to his elders, though. His relationship with Taichi had been pulled so thin in the past couple of days that it shook Daisuke's confidence and courage to its core. Only hours before he would have been following Taichi's orders without a second thought. But now...

 

He and Ken had come this far. The others, now that they were involved, were at least too distracted to completely have their full attention on what the two jogress partners were doing. Unfortunately, they couldn't risk the safety of their digimon any further--no matter how much they protested. They had to do this, and they had to do it themselves.

 

"All right." Daisuke finally said. Turning around, he picked up Chibimon from the floor, the little blue blob still sound asleep. "Ken?" His partner picked up the sleeping Wormmon and followed his lead. The pair passed Hikari in the doorway, Daisuke placing a kiss on her cheek as they did. "Our little secret, all right?" He said, in reference both to letting them go without supervision and for catching them amidst their display of affection.

 

He knew she was good for it. She had always been one of his favorites.

 

 

 

Daisuke hiked Chibimon further up his chest, the little digimon's big head hanging over his shoulder as he continued to snooze. Stopping mid-step, Daisuke turned to Ken. They hadn't even made it out the door of the embassy yet, and they still didn't really have a plan. "Ken. You know we have to do something. Hikari just gave us the freedom to do it without Mr. Bigshot. So, let's not waste it." He continued toward the door, not wanting to risk being dragged back into a meeting or for Ken to be thumbed against the conference table by eleven chosen. "With that brain of yours and my incredible and amazing strength... We can take Etemon down on our own, right? So let's go fuck 'im up!" He swung the door open, the cool crisp air of the city sweeping past him as he smiled at his friend.

 

"Then, we'll get the hell out of here and start living."

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