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Loki

X Sporalysis Redux

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We saddled Paildramon's arms, our shoulders pressed close to his chest and our backs supported by his inner arms. The baby digimon immediately stopped fussing as we took to the sky, even they recognized that a fall from this height was certainly not in their best interest.

 

I was relieved to be out of there. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it in the slightest. So rarely now we get to flex our muscles, feel the literal heat of battle, and feel that closeness to our digimon and human partners. Outside of battle it was a dull sort of reassurance--a humming white noise of comfort that you almost forgot existed. With this... Oh, with this, it is was a rock concert so loud that it made you sick to your stomach and had your ears ringing for days. It was awesome.

 

Under other circumstances. Preferably ones that weren't brought on by the one you trusted the most.

 

"Hmm." I didn't know what to say to Ken. I didn't really want to talk to him at the moment, to be honest. The best thing he did was not leave me behind. And even then, what was it all for--to prove a point? What if Paildramon didn't come through? We'd never even tried something like that before. Did he know about that too? Because those were the kinds of people that would not stop hitting if you told them 'ouch'. A lot more than my eye would have seen better days, that's for sure.

 

I set my gaze on the treetops below us. Various hues of green blurred under us as we continued on in silence. I didn't know where we were going, but I just hoped it was back home. It was probably hours past when I had hoped to open the cart. Funny how I wanted to play hooky, but wasn't intending it to be because of some bullshit 'gotcha' quest into hell. I rested my eyes, and set my head against Paildramon's chest.

 

But I guess at least we did some good among it all.

 

--

 

Paildramon deposited us on the plush ground of the Village of Beginnings. A couple of Elecmon heralded our arrival with concerned coos and gentle claws. We handed them the abused digimon to be taken care of, hoping that they could learn to forgive the horrors they'd been through and continue their lives as happy and healthy creatures. Our partners broke their bond and returned to their In-Training forms, an exhausted sigh escaping from both their mouthes at precisely the same time, as if they hadn't seperated at all.

 

Well, if today was fucked already, we might as well take a rest.

 

Knelling down, I gently pet Chibimon's head. Purring, he nuzzled back into my hand. "Thanks so much for protecting me, back there. I love you, buddy."

 

With another large yawn, Chibimon fell back onto the squishy ground, Minnomon coming up to cuddle alongside him. "Anything for you, Daisuke."

 

I looked up at Ken, my lips growing tight as my nose twitched. "You guys rest here. You deserve it. Ken and I will be right back. Right, Ken?" I didn't have to wait for an answer, because they were already both sound asleep. And I certainly wasn't going to wait for an answer from Ken. I marched over to the man I called my boyfriend on occasion and grabbed the inside of his arm. I began hastily ushering him away from the village. The amount I was going to ream this kid, I didn't need any of the babies waking up from it. With each step, the soft ground pushed up against our legs, and irritatingly put a bounce into each of our steps. Totally ineffectual in portraying an air of 'I'm so pissed off at you I could explode'.

 

Finally, I got us to a part that I felt was far enough away, somewhere along the line of woods where the grass just started to peak through quilted floor tiles. Without much thought, I shoved Ken against a tree trunk and started my angry barrage. "What the fuck where you thinking, Ichijouji!? Did you know that was there!? We could have died! And all you're happy about is that 'maybe I get it now.' What the fuck." I glared daggers into him, and how so badly I wished they weren't metaphorical. "You put us all in danger. Fuck, ok, if you don't give a shit about me, fine. But Wormmon, Ken. You could have killed him." And I was going to go there. "Again."

 

I saw his throat flick, and his lips part to say something, but I wasn't going to let him. Not yet. I rammed my forearm into his chest and held him against the tree. With bared teeth, I hissed into his face, "We're partners. This shit isn't a game. If we die here, we die for real. And I don't appreciate feeling so fucking expendable.

 

"Yeah, I see it now. I see there's shit people here in the Digital World. And I'm looking at one right now."

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Looking at Minnomon in the Village of Beginnings was never an easy sight for me. It had grown more numb over the years, since plucking him out of his basket as Leafmon, since begging his forgiveness to start again. It reminded me of better thoughts now, of Leafmon reaffirming my crest, of our reunion. But there was never not going to be a sore place in my heart from the day my rage and negligence killed Wormmon.

 

I could tell Daisuke was holding his tongue until our partners drifted off. It was pretty obvious, actually-- tight lips, red cheeks, a bloodshot look in his eyes. It had been a long time since I'd been on the receiving end of a look like that. My chest undulated, beating with anxiety for Daisuke's response, and just a touch of arousal at seeing him so passionate. No... maybe he didn't like that he got it, maybe he wished he hadn't, but he saw through my eyes for once and was appropriately enraged.

 

I was not quite steeled for the venom he could spit, though.

 

"I didn't know-- Didn't mean to let it out of hand--" I tried interrupting Daisuke with answers, until one thing he said shut me down.

 

Again.

 

What?

 

I coughed as he rammed the air out of my chest, strands of my hair deviating from their perfect alignment. Little spears drifted into my sight between my sharpened eyes, and Daisuke's rage. Was that a joke? Daisuke looked downright feral, his tongue lashing as I stared down into him. Did he think I wasn't seriousHe was the one who wasn't taking a damn thing seriously until his pretty little worldview got a slap across the face. Oh, not everything was sunny beaches anymore? Better blame Ken, scion of all things miserable to ever happen to the digital world.

 

"Eat shit, Motomiya." I spat back at him, heaving him away from me with strength I never knew I possessed. My hands curled into fists, and all at once my eyes burned up with tears. I wasn't sure if I ought to punch him or sob on him, and I couldn't make the choice.

 

"Why is this about you, still? You think I threw you to the lions just to show you a party trick? Digimon are spending their entire lives being tortured and I'm trying to stop this. But no, Ichijouji is still the most evil man in the Digital World! I never meant for you to get hurt, but you're acting like you've never risked it all to save this world yourself." I flinched, and then hauled my palm across his face. The reddening smack of flesh on flesh left my right hand reeling, and, well, did more damage to Daisuke than I meant. Right across his injured cheek, leaving him reeling down into the pillowy ground with an unceremonious bounce.

 

My heart raced. I should apologize. My throat closed up and tears came, rolling down my cheeks and burning at a thousand degrees. He deserved it. No. Not that much. But he did deserve something. My mind reeled. My heart felt like it would come tearing out of my chest like a boulder from a trap. How could Daisuke say that? He deserved it.

 

Maybe.

 

"If you think he's in such incapable hands, just... take him." I trembled. I looked at Minnomon, too sweetly asleep against chibimon to disturb. I ran. At some blistering speed, I let my legs carry me far beyond wherever Daisuke could catch, and to a portal back to our real, already ruined world. Fuck Daisuke.

 

He'd know where to find me when he needed to. I wasn't going home today.

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Regret.

 

What the fuck did I do?

 

I swear I went cross eyed, a burning fire spreading across my injured cheek as I fell to the ground. I yelped like a bitch--from surprise and pain and disarray. On my ass, on the ground, below Ken because that's what I deserved.

 

How could I have said that?

 

"Ken..." I called out as my senses came back around, the world finally starting to settle back into non-spinning order. I whimpered, tears welling into sobs, like a pathetic child who had been punished for pulling on the neighbor girl's hair. "Ken!" My voice squeaked prepubescently, not too unlike the sound of a dog toy being squashed underfoot. How I so often regretted my thoughtless words and my quick revenge. Too many times I tried to get Ken to feel what I felt by being a careless fucker. "Ken!" I shouted again, but he was gone. Gone somewhere. Somewhere away from me, because right now, I was damaging to him. Vengeful to him.

 

He didn't deserve that. No matter what type of shit he put me through today, he didn't deserve that type of response. He didn't deserve that man.

 

I fell back on the plush ground and let gravity take the water from my eyes. Down my bruised cheek and cupping into the shell of my ear, I couldn't stop the tears. I sighed against my own angst.

 

I wondered if I had been selfish. It's not like Ken ended up being wrong. Digimon were being mistreated, it's just nobody ever talked about it. I never saw it. How was I supposed to know, or even expect it to be that bad? But surely there could have been a better way. I mean, thanks for the vote of confidence, babe, but that was really terrifying shit back there. Maybe I was projecting self preservation or whatever, but Chibimon and Minnomon seriously could have been injured or even killed. And there's a difference between saving the world and just proving a point. There was. And even he has to see that.

 

Sitting up, I ran my sleeve against my good eye, sniffing deep and shaking my foggy head. I couldn't stay here all day, but I couldn't go home. Forget about going to work--it would be too hard for me to not focus on the demons swimming in my head. The best I could do was collect our digimon and at least get back to the real world. But what would I do from there?

 

I needed help. Assurance. I breathed out as I stood up, feeling the tasks of the day resisting against every muscle in my body. What were at the end of my legs weren't feet, they were bricks. Not my hands but sandbags. I dragged what remained of my body to our sleeping partners and gently picked them up into my arms. They were so exhausted, I didn't even wake them with the disturbance. They fought well today, and it did feel good to be connected to them like that again. Without frequent jogress, I swear parts of me were lost to my aging self. Being a part of something like that made me more complete than I could ever hope to achieve on my own.

 

It took a good half hour to reach the nearest TV. The trek was lonely and depressing. For a day that started off so well, I had a hard time believing I was returning without my other half... If he even still was at this point. When I arrived back to my home world, the first thing I did was fish my cellphone from my pocket and dial the one person I wanted to talk to most.

 

Ring. Ring. Ring.

 

"Moshi moshi. Yagami speaking."

 

"It's Motomiya."

 

"Daisuke!" There was a fumble before he continued. "Holy shit! It's been forever!"

 

"Yeah, sorry. Work and all."

 

"No, no, I get it. I'm just happy to hear from you. You caught me at a good time too. I just got out of work."

 

It was well into the afternoon, wasn't it? I let out an audible sigh. "Can I ask you something, Taichi-san?"

 

"'Sup?"

 

"You free for drinks tonight? ... Or honestly, right now." I laughed slightly. With or without him, I was probably going to end up in the deep corner of a bar somewhere soon.

 

There was a hum over the line. "I was gonna have dinner with my girlfriend..." He paused, "But I can cancel."

 

"Y-you... Don't have..."

 

"Shut up, Motomiya."

 

We met at his place and left Chibimon and Minnomon in the trusty hands of Agumon for the night. He asked about my face, but I told him I'd tell him later... Maybe when I was more inebriated. He laughed, bringing the topic to which bar I wanted to go to, but I would have been content with one somewhere in the depths of a sewer if it meant I would get drunk enough. We ended up somewhere in the outskirts of Tokyo--we had to hop a couple of trains to get there, but he insisted it was worth the effort. I wasn't about to argue with my senior, especially one that seemed to be so happy to be around a fuck-up like me. With my hand wrapped around a large beer glass, I grinned quietly as Taichi took the time to catch me up with his life.

 

I'd always admired Taichi. He was strong, talented, and loyal. He fought for what he wanted, and he fought to protect others. Even as he grew older, even as he gathered more concern for consequences and responsibility, he just continued to be the person I wanted to emulate. He never lied to himself or others--he was always Taichi. Fucked as I was though that I would never be a sixteenth of a man he was.

 

With glass in hand, Taichi pointed his pinky at me and asked, "So... What the hell happened to you?"

 

I grimaced as I ran my finger down the condensation of my glass. "Got into a fight. In the Digital World."

 

"Oh," Taichi said. It was maybe a good thing we had gone out of our way to go to this bar. It was actually relatively quiet--especially on a Friday night. It was good to not have to shout  over everybody. "What were you getting into to cause something like that?"

 

I didn't know how much I should say. The last thing I wanted to happen tonight was to get scolded by Taichi too. "It's kinda lame. Ended up flying away from the fight too fast and got whapped with a tree branch. At least it looks cool, right?"

 

Taichi laughed. "Yeah... Yeah, real cool, Daisuke." He swigged more of his drink, and I could tell his was already starting to get buzzed. "So how's Ken doing? You moved in awhile ago, right? How's living with the rocket? Hopefully you keep your mess to your own room."

 

I really didn't want to talk about Ken, or the fake life we had fabricated for all our friends. Shaking my head, I unceremoniously dropped the subject. "The Digital World isn't the same anymore, is it?" I looked down into the amber liquid in my glass and watched the carbonated bubbles pop along its surface.

 

"What do you mean?" Thank goodness he let it slide.

 

"People... We've changed it. All of us."

 

Taichi hummed. "Well, yeah. Of course. It hasn't been easy for both of our worlds to get acclimated with each other. Hell, thirteen years later and we still don't have it figured out." His tone changed--it seemed downtrodden but learned. "I've been here since the beginning. I basically carved my own job out of nothing, and now I have the whole world asking for my advice. 'What should we do about trade' or 'how do we regulate travel'? When the Digital World is everywhere and just as easy for anybody to get to... It becomes who with the farthest reach and deepest pockets gets to call the rules. And I'm there to try to stop them all from greedy influences."

 

"Mmm." I nodded. It was good to hear what Taichi did again. Every year at New Year's he'd spill the same spiel, getting all the other original chosen excited about his accomplishments, and about our own for having gotten the world to the way it was. He was truly the ally both worlds needed, and if he had a say on things, then things could maybe change for the good. "But what about... What about bad ones? Like criminals. Ones that want to hurt digimon?"

 

Taichi had gone on to order his second beer as he continued. "It's rare. Digimon are really good at protecting themselves against humans--even ones that are well bonded. There's been a couple of cases of maltreatment, and honestly they're hard to deal with."

 

"Why?"

 

"Just like anything, it's hard to get people to agree on regulations and laws. Everybody wants a piece of the Digital World, so laws about abuse usually fall behind in voting compared to other bills. It's disgusting, I know. But you know, 'they can take care of themselves'. It's not like a normal dog or cat that's helpless to protect itself, and not sentient enough to do it." He shook his head. It was obviously a subject that upset him greatly too. I was starting to feel just as hopeless as him and Ken. "I keep trying, but nobody takes it seriously. Statistics do say it's getting worse."

 

I felt incredibly guilty. "Why isn't it on the news? Why aren't people being told?"

 

"Simple: bad business. People still view the Digital World as a vacation solitude, not an actual place. You pull that rug from under them, and companies lose revenue fast. It's just a big game." Ken had been right... Of course he had been right. I slumped in my seat, defeated more now than I had been before. "What's wrong, Daisuke?"

 

"Nothing, nothing."

 

"Daisuke..."

 

I leaned forward in my seat and pulled my wallet from my pocket. It was then that I realized I didn't have any money to spare the table, but not enough courage to remain talking to my idol. "I'm sorry, Taichi-san. It's been a long day. I know you did a lot to meet me tonight, but I just... I have to go."

 

Sitting up straight, Taichi nodded in understanding. Always good at reading the air, just as good at keeping it to himself. "O-of course. Anytime. Are you sure you have to go?"

 

"Yeah... Yeah." I reached for his hand and he accepted, his arm pulling me in for a tight hug. "Thank you."

 

"Don't be a stranger, squirt."

 

The sun had just gone down, and with it the warmth of the afternoon. With bare arms and legs, a slight chill shook through my body as I left the bar. I needed to be partially sober for this, so I could not fuck up again. So I could better say what I was feeling and maybe make things right. Like being led by a string, I hopped the next bus toward Minato. I nearly missed my stop after having dozed asleep, my body snapping awake and shooting out the bus as I made my way toward that place. The place we often went when we felt lost. Where we knew we'd find each other if the end of the world would ever come. Near the Rainbow Bridge, where Diablomon took his revenge, and where Imperialdramon sliced him in two.

 

Ken was there. Ken was probably going to be there all night if he had to. In our teenage years, he'd sometimes runaway here in the middle of a panic attack. He'd call me and say he was going to do it. He was going to leave it all behind. His body haunched over in pain as his mind filled with the horrors of the past. I held him. I held him until dew kissed each blade of grass, and until his swaying body lost its momentum in my chest. So many times I wanted to tell him I loved him. I wonder if it ever would have made a difference. I wonder if it would make a difference now.

 

"Ken..." I said softly. "Ken, I'm sorry. I didn't... I didn't mean to..." I came up beside him, afraid that if I moved any faster I would scare him away like a skittish deer. "I was an asshole. I didn't mean it. I was just afraid..." Carefully, I took a seat in the grass next to him. The bridge's reflection in the bay created millions of dancing rainbow butterflies. "I was afraid to die. Afraid to be left alone. Mad that you would so easily throw this all away. But... But I know you're right. I had to see it. As fucked up a thing it was to do, the reality was even more so." I pulled my knees up to my chest. "I'm not gonna say 'thank you', but... Just promise me you will be more honest with me? And that you won't leave me behind? That is, if you even still want me around..."

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The night was tepid. Damp. Sitting outside felt like being back in the stillness of the womb. I kept my knees to my chest, breeding heat within myself and letting it slowly radiate into the quiet night.

 

Daisuke's words played like a broken record in my head, gnawing into my thoughts like acid worked the calcium out of bone. The longer they repeated, the more it seemed like I couldn't have remembered them properly. The venom behind the words, the way that again echoed in increasing volume. I grappled with my arms until my fingers were white and blood rushed up to meet my nails. Somehow in a soft cotton polo, I felt even weaker than I was. My shoulders longed for the heavy fabric of my Digital World coat, my arms for the snug fit of the belts around them there. I felt like it had been a while since I really considered how my manner of dress made me feel from day to day.

 

It was hours before Daisuke came for me. I remained surprised that he came for me at all, that he didn't let dawn break and send me shuffling home to grab my school work so that I might salvage the rest of this week. To be fair, before I saw Daisuke running through the small park towards me, I wasn't sure that I would have gone home even for that. There was a thick pain still resting at the front of my chest, and as it throbbed I considered not talking to Daisuke and making another run for it. But where would I even go this time? Straight to hell?

 

"I know what fear is like, Motomiya." I spoke softly, sighed between words and phrases. Daisuke was so close, and I wanted to both hug him and entangle our bodies here forever in this grass... and also to hit him one more time, get up, and leave.

 

"If this is what I get for my honesty, I'm not so sure I will be in the future. But I never left you behind." I closed my eyes, dropped my head into the nest made between my knees and my folded arms. I wanted to forgive Daisuke... it just didn't feel right. It was like a comforting hand on my shoulder, but my shoulder was stinging and mad from a wound beneath.

 

"I wish you knew what it felt like. To live with things you'd done... done while almost in a dream. I can't look back and ever see myself in the Kaiser. I wish you knew what it was like, to live in here." I tapped my head, rolled it to the side to look at Daisuke. I'd never felt such a chasm between myself and someone so close.

 

---

 

"Wrecked?" My voice was hoarse. One entire area, blown just about to smithereens by a massive digimon that had evolved inside. The reports coming in up the network were varied-- it had been an Agumon, no, a V-mon. It had digivolved once, twice, maybe three times? Most people inside had some minor injury to speak of, and I was beginning to suspect it was all to their heads.

 

The most potent of the rumors, though, was exactly the identity of the kid who was signed up to fight when this all happened to my arena. One Motomiya Daisuke... and hadn't everybody heard that name before.

 

"Can we move some of the specimens to a deeper security lab?" Calmly, I assessed the damages. The worst was the babies we'd lost-- I'd made all sorts of little edits to their code, and was waiting to see if I could change their species entirely, or just make them more vicious, more powerful. They were a controlled experiment... not data I was keen on losing.

 

Of course, I bet I knew where I could find them again. Only one place took care of babies in the Digital World... and I could pay them a little visit.

 

Soon.

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We were sitting next to each other, but we were miles away. If I were to reach out and touch Ken, he'd be gone. He'd shrink away from me into nothing, curling into a puff of smoke and float away in the breeze.

 

We'd never been so damaged. And of course, it was my fault.

 

I turned my head away from Ken and pressed the side of my face against my thighs. I pressed so hard that my teeth dug into the inside of my cheeks, triggering me to begin anxiously gnawing on it. The goggles around my neck pushed up into my throat, what was left of my fingernails digging into the hollow points of my knees caps. 

 

The crest had told me--it told me what Ken was. Maybe his crest is even the reason why we have our connection at all. I... I like to think it's more than that, but there'd been a fair share of nights, including this one, that I doubted there was much more to us. I loved Ken, on a level that I'm not sure I could ever feel with any other human being or animal or digimon... But I was the weak link in our relationship, no matter what kind of relationship it was. All I did was listen to a piece of metal with a symbol on it--and luckily it turned out to have been right. But... But what did that make me?

 

I thought I understood. In the desert, I had seen Ken and the Kaiser sharing the same body, but not the same mind. Like a murder of crows, the Kaiser had swarmed away from his body, leaving him crippled and drained like a rotting husk of a dead animal. Ken was too kind, and through it, his will was bent and warped into a deformity of a child. Just like some data, his kindness had become corrupted, and that wasn't who he was. Ichijouji Ken had disappeared in the depths of his unconscious mind. And it wasn't his fault. Maybe... I should have done more to express that. I regretted not comforting him more. I regretted not offering him more. I'm sure he wouldn't have accepted it, after all I had been his enemy just moments before, but I should have tried.

 

I looked up to him; I always had. Ichijouji Ken was my idol, the boy I wanted to be. When the Kaiser was around, I had despised what he had done. When I thought they were the same person, I was disgusted in myself having had such a bad sense of judgement. But by a miracle, I saw him. I saw who Ken was. I knew who he was. When we jogressed, I felt who he was. In a brief glimpse, between the silence of our heartbeats, I was him.

 

But I get it. I'm not actually Ken. I would never know how it felt to be a genius. I didn't know how it felt to have lost a sibling. I'd never know how it felt to have overbearing parents. But where he had a hole, I was the peg. We were like the teeth of a zipper. Like rivers meeting at the delta--we eventually became the sea.

 

"You're right." I finally muttered. "I don't know what it's like to be in there. At least not all the time." I looked up and out at the bay, daring to not look at Ken. "For a long time, I never had any fear. I think I felt that way because I didn't care about failing. Back then, either it wasn't an option or it was just an expectation. Add on the lack of sense for mortality, and I was fuckin' stupid kid." I ground my teeth slightly, "Being the leader meant I had a purpose... I had a reason to care. I wasn't afraid to fight BelialVademon, because I believed in you all. I believed in our power as a team.

 

"But I started to become afraid... When I started thinking what would happen when we were all done being a team... I was afraid of what would happen if you stopped and saw me. Like... Really saw me." I stopped. Breathing out, I tried to collect myself. What could I say to fix saying such a heartless thing? "What if you saw how much I needed you? All of you." Pressing my forehead to my knees, I shook my head. "Your nightmares are mine. Your history is mine. I've felt your pain, because you feel it so vividly. Ken, you've tortured yourself for years, and I've been here the whole time to burden it with you. And I'm so, so sorry I made you feel it again.

 

"I was being selfish and nasty, because I was afraid. You... Didn't leave me. I know... I had..." I sighed through a sob in my throat. "I'm sorry. Tell me... What I need to do to make this right."

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"Daisuke..."

 

Ah, to be a team. How often could I forget that my load was lighter because Daisuke had been carrying the other half of it? Was I petty enough to think he was insurmountable, that taking in my pain couldn't put any burden on him? I suppose I did, from time to time. I was jealous of his outward fire, his optimism and his easy confidence. Jealous that no matter how much everyone projected some brilliant genius on to me, I never felt as good as Daisuke looked all the time. Of course he'd been struggling with me, of course... it wasn't his guilt, but his love of me that dragged him into the dark. I was being selfish.

 

Even now, he was always looking out for me.

 

"Just... it's late. Let's go home." My nose was starting to chill and I hadn't brought a jacket. My pants had started soaking in at the rear from the dewy evening grass.

 

"When this started, all I wanted to feel like was that I could be useful without you there. I felt like you'd been my crutch for so long, and you were... infallible. Probably even better off without me. Who needs someone so soft, so depressed all the time. I wanted a thicker skin. And now that I've actually found something worth bettering myself for, I realize I never should have excluded you. It weakens us both... but maybe I did need a reality check that you were just as human as I am." I smiled gently, and as I stood I reached down for Daisuke's hand. "Just don't abandon me either, okay?"

 

How could I have forgotten so much about Daisuke? We really had been working too much. I laced my fingers in with his and let the trains take us back home just a couple hours before daybreak.

 

 

It was back to our daily lives for all of 24 hours before alarm bells were ringing. Quite literally, Elecmon had appeared on the computer monitor on the desk in our bedroom, and was smashing on cymbals to get our attention. It was just a scratch past 4:30am, I was naked, and Daisuke, though in boxers, had screamed and pulled the blankets up to his chest.

 

"Wh...?"

 

"Quickly! Th-the primary village! They're taking the babies!" Elecmon pounded at the other side of the screen. "I need someone to come now!"

 

Panic purged the room of all the drowsiness. Wormmon and V-mon had been curled up at the foot of the bed, and they were already on their feet and at the computer. I neglected modesty long enough to bound across the room to the desk, seizing my D-3. Daisuke had his ass in the air, digging for his through the shorts he'd discarded at the bedside.

 

"Let's go Motomiya!"

 

"Hurry, Ken!" Wormmon wriggled up to the monitor and waved his forelegs.

 

I held my D-3 to the screen and let a radiant light envelope the four of us, yielding way to a hell on digital earth. Legions of strong, even armor-clad, digimon were terrorizing the hatched babies with flaming attacks, spiked clubs and metal tails. Patches of blanketed earth were burning, and surrounding terrain was being trampled into the digital dust by big, rough Stegomon and DarkTyrannomon. It wasn't the wild digimon that were thieving the babies though-- that was exclusively a band of big, dumb apes like those running the fighting pits the other day.

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You have to childish to believe Digimon are real.

 

Well, I suppose they're real in the sense that they're a concept widely accepted by millions of people. However, that makes them not much different than Santa Claus--because even during the month of December he's in everybody's local mall, taking pictures with all the small children upon his knee. If it can be touched and if it can talk, then one just assumes it has a conscious... That it is a thing that can have feeling and a will.

 

We did something. When we created computers, we created a new sort of Big Bang. From nothing came everything, and now we have these creatures that are not creatures living with us. Begging us to be their companions. Tempting us with unconditional love... As if they understand it all.

 

Now, I mean not to be cruel. They are fascinating without a doubt. Their AI is impeccable. Even to this day, we haven't been able to match the type of construct to build a seamlessly intelligent being such as the Digimon. But they are just that: they are data. They are constructed. They are fascinating, but they are not to be treated like a human. They are less than lab mice--because at least lab mice stay dead.

 

I've been interested in studying them ever since my own digiegg appeared. Yukimi Botamon and I have had an eventful relationship together. Even now he stands at my side as Candmon, withstanding the tweaks in code I had applied to him. If Digimon are anything, they sure are tenacious. But it didn't take long to grow bored. I wanted more... Vaccine, Virus, Data... I wanted to try them all, especially if nobody else was going to.

 

So it was just easy to find my way in with the wrong crowd, so to speak. I learned early that if you could cheat your way through, and were smart enough to not get caught, you could make your way into high places. Not that I particularly care for the politics of it--I could truly care less. However, it has made my job easier.

 

Until Motomiya.

 

I grew up with the stories of the chosen children. Their faces were always on the news, on magazines, and on promotions. At one time I had felt bad for them, then it just grew tiresome. They were the world's poster children. They were sugary sweet, and I had grown annoying cavities from them. They seemed almost regal, so to even have had encounter one of the lowly ones seemed on par with winning the lottery. But to have Motomiya in the mix. My... What a treat.

 

In the Digital World, money meant little, but he had stolen some of my investments. My time was very valuable, and I was going to return what was mine.

 

--

 

I pressed my thumb to Ken's palm, the gentle drumming of his pulse bringing a weak smile to my face. At least he still wanted me around. For now. And it was clear to me the reason Ken didn't tell me about going into the Digital World. He saw it before I did... Before most of us did. But he didn't give up. He'd always been too smart for his own damn good. Of course he would try to find a way to break the already broken system--to make two wrongs into a right. I saw it. I got it. But my heart ached to think that he may not have returned home at all one of those times, and I would have never known why.

 

No. If Ken wanted to do something about a group of scum that were harming Digimon because they could... Even Taichi said there was little that could be done about them at the moment. People enjoyed money more than they enjoyed kindness. And I wasn't going to let Ken's kindness get snuffed out by a bunch of assholes. Never.

 

"Never, Ichijouji. Never ever." I planted a quick kiss on his cool lips before he swayed his body away from me. I tasted the salt of dry tears, and hated that they were there because of me. "I'll always be here."

 

The next day was quiet. My attempt at sleeping on the couch was blocked, as Ken insisted I didn't. So, I tried to sleep, but couldn't get my mind to shut up. There was so much to take in, and I just didn't know how to process it. And now, even though we were "good", I still felt awkward... Unworthy. Stupid. Weak. Ken had gone on without me. Ken had stood by and gambled with our lives. I did little to make any of it better. We felt... Different.

 

I watched him sleep until the sun peaked through the blinds. I finally fell asleep before his alarm went off. He touched my hand before he left, and I felt my heart break out for him. Like a zombie, I continued through the day. On the cart was a note from Ojiisan. "Consistency is the key to good business." Don't worry, just add that to the other things to fuck up at. With no surprise, sales weren't great, so V-mon and I went home. Ojiisan was probably right.

 

I came home smelling like broth, and took a shower without even announcing my presence. I watched Ken from the doorway of the bedroom as he tapped away at schoolwork on his computer. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and kissed up his neck. It took little coaxing to get him to bed, to have him whimpering my name with his hands tangled in my hair. I just wanted it to feel normal. I wanted to feel like I was doing something right. I took his pleasure in my mouth, and I swallowed it all when it finished. I held him so close, my nose buried into his neck, as he drifted off to sleep. He smelled like pine and beautiful memories.

 

I would never let him go.

 

The request was loud--echoing through the bedroom as we shot out of bed. The Village of Beginnings had always been a special place for Ken, and for many years we worked together to patrol the area after the gates opened. There were a few dozen of us for "on-call" duty to come help when an emergency happened. It appeared we were on the rotation this time. After what we had been through, I was happy we were.

 

"W-wait!" I cried out, reaching for my goggles, but missed them as the portal took me before I could grasp onto them. We landed with as much grace as fish on land, and I got up to pat down the dirt from my clothing. "Damn." But before I could even get my bearings, the rest of my group was off toward the commotion. "Get it together, Motomiya..." 

 

It was a shit show. I hadn't seen anything like it in almost a decade. What was worse was that it was in such an innocent place. And... I spotted him. Rat-face. Together with, what I assumed was, his Gazimon and his sidekick Nikolai (and his friend, bondage Agumon)... They seemed to be partially involved with the attack that was happening before our eyes.

 

Was this... Was this our fault?

 

"Those... Those are the same guys as before, Ken." I breathed out as I finally trotted up next to him. We were dangerously in-sync at the moment, and I could already feel my D-3 vibrating at my waist. "Do you think..."

 

"'eeeyyy, if it ain't dem two again." Rat-face said. He was wearing the same outfit as the other day, though it had definitely seen better days. I guess he had us to thank for that too. "Pesky pests, stealin' what ain't theirs."

 

"They're Digimon," I spat. XV-mon appeared in a blue light as he darted to take a Dark Tyrannomon by the neck. "Injured Digimon. Sick Digimon. Baby Digimon."

 

Rat-face shrugged. "I don't much care what dey are. As long as dey pay the bills."

 

I looked at Ken. I felt the rage in his blood--the disgust filling him up like magma pushing against the mantle. I'd... Never felt this kind of emotion from him. I was afraid that if I touched him, he would have burned my skin. Sometimes when we jogressed with too much passion, the jogress would grow unstable. That was at least one thing we knew. "Ken, focus." I spoke in an even tone, coaxing his racing heartbeat to even with mine. "We'll get them back. We'll make them pay. Together."

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I could catch fire. I could almost smell the cinders of the hairs at the base of my neck, becoming the kindling for my own spontaneous combustion. As if it were not enough that these were babies, helpless infant digimon with no partners in sight, it had to be familiar faces coming in and robbing the place. But why? There wasn't even proof a lot of these babies would evolve to something powerful-- babies had very versatile evolutionary lines. They were practically the stem cells of the digital world; for very obvious ethical reasons, no one had done the research to know exactly how a digiegg became an eventual digimon... unless of course, you knew the digimon on a more personal level. I'd found my egg, once.

 

So these babies were far from the partners of these men-- and frankly, there was no way they would be able to pick them out if they were. Were they... looking for a particular one? They'd kept so many of them caged up, maybe they were caging all of them until they knew what they would become. But why go through all that effort? Digimon could take a substantial chunk of a human life to age up without a proper connection.

 

Or, at least, that was what the current knowledge on baby digimon suggested.

 

There was no way these goons were taking those babies for their own purposes. The fact that they were taking them at all was reason enough to blow them sky high, but there was, I suspected, something more insidious at work.

 

"Daisuke." I reached, grabbed onto his shoulder. He looked different, goggle-less. They'd always tied his look together, part of the reason I'd adopted them. But there was maybe something else about wearing, or not wearing, the goggles on the team...

 

I steadied myself with him. Stingmon had long since been out striking at the digimon trying to bag up or carry away babies, but the damage was totally uncontrolled and spreading. I could feel the beat frequency between us, that barely-off dissonance in the frequency of our hearts. My hand clamped on his shoulder, I started squeezing to the feel of his pulse, begging of my body to calm down, to focus. Resolve came sharply to me, with the ease of sliding a new lens into an optometrist's tool. The battle slowed, and I watched it fall out before me like a chess master watches over a game. Or twelve simultaneous games.

 

I hadn't felt this good in years.

 

"Now, Daisuke!"

 

My digivice flared, blue and green swelling to life from its dark monochrome. Stingmon and XV-mon abandoned their current fights in a blinding blaze, and their battle-clad body dove out from that light with a devastating swing. Dark Tyrannomon was knocked to the side, forced to let go of a metal cage loaded up with babies that he'd been carrying away. Gazimon and Agumon were blasted back, crumpling into trees some distance from the nursery-turned battleground. Uncaptured babies and their Elecmon in charge started desperately evacuating the carnage.

 

"We have to get them out of this area... and we have to detain them." I urged Daisuke, though as Paildramon rained fire down on rat-face and friend, I could tell he had the same train of thought as I did. Possibly, we had it for different reasons. Daisuke would help me stop these men, take them down, bring them to justice. I would stop them, period... if I didn't want what information they had. They had to be alive at the end of this fight. Justice for these idiots was a side effect; I could leave it to Daisuke to open up their eyes. This was not the world's most interactive video game. Frustrating was too gentle of a word for me, to describe how so many people could fall into the same trap as I did-- I, a sick child. The dark spore had never even touched these goons.

 

"Don't be afraid to hurt them, Paildramon, but don't go too far!" I dropped my hand from Daisuke's shoulder. If we never touched them, we didn't have the strength to bring them with us. We'd never asked Wormmon or V-mon to fight a human enemy before, though. The targets were small, fragile. The game of loss was permanent. We'd never asked Paildramon to think of humans as mortals before. We aged, and in that aging ignored what it would mean when that aging stopped. We were arming an immortal weapon that did not understand the concept of human death.

 

"Be careful."

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It was good to have friends in high places. And when I say that, I mean ones that are a story tall and equipped with a pair of organic blasters. Even after all these years, he's still just so cool to watch.

 

Paildramon was doing a good job of scaring off the weaker of the gang by just being there, but still had to take to head butting and choke slamming some of the bigger, darker baddies. There weren't too many humans that came to steal away the baby digis, but many of them dissolved with the flash of green and blue of Paildramon's entrance. The only two I could spot now were Rat-face and Big-dude. I'm pretty sure I had enough adrenaline in my muscles to take them both down, and still bench press 150 pounds after.

 

We did have to be careful. The goal was for Paildramon to take out the surrounding digimon and allow us the window to detain our unwelcomed guests. And even though I'm still pretty sure I could take them both out without any help... There was a good chance we were going to need their assistance. We'd never had to turn them on the real world's form of flesh and blood, and so easily could they land a stray bullet into the soft tissue of a vital organ, and then it would be all over. Digimon lived a long time--maybe even forever. That's a type of regret we couldn't place on them. And it certainly wouldn't make us any better of people if something like that were to happen.

 

With a grand swing of his tail, Paildramon took down a Gazimon that was gnawing on its thigh, causing the little jackal to tumble into the side of an oversized alphabet block. With Gazimon out of the picture, I took the opportunity to spring to action. The warmth of Ken's hand on me snapped away like a blast of cold winter air. However, we were steadily in sync now--at least for the time being. Inside me was the power of kindness and courage and friendship, and I used them all as links on a brass knuckle and cracked my fist against a boney jaw. I could already feel the bruises surfacing across my bones, but I let my other fist connect against the opposite cheek of Rat-face's scrawny face. He crumpled like a house of cards, his body bouncing to the ground, his mind struggling against his limbs to flee from me.

 

I scrambled toward my target, Paildramon's weight flowing in the same direction next to me as he did to his. Both our arms reached out, our body's an extension of each other, our power shared from the same pool of energy, my hand grasping at tattered fabric, my muscles lifting up the weight of the little man with a pittance of effort. Paildramon unleashed an energy blast into the chest of a Dark Tyranoman; I connected again with bloody flesh. I lost my footing as Rat-face fell before me, my body landing onto his, my mind working to pin him down before he could strike against me. With fists balled with cloth, I raised his chest under me, and slammed him down again into the ground beneth us. Even though the ground had give, I still knocked the air out of his lungs, his body squirming below me to get free between labored coughing.

 

"Call it off!" I shouted. I leaned down, my heart beating so fast, I could feel the pulse throbbing against my neck. My throat was hot and tight, this feeling threatening to bubble tears to my eyes and untether my rage. "Leave them alone! Leave us alone!" I slammed him again against the ground, pushing my weight into him as he continued to struggle. I raised my fist to strike his bleeding face again, his eye swelling like mine, his crooked teeth begging to be broken against my knuckles. I was too late. His fist connected first, my sight going temporarliy in a flash of white and yellow. I could hear the crack rattle in my head, my equilibrium being thrown off just long enough for him to buck me off of him. I brought my hand to my nose which was graciously welcomed with a stream of warm crimson liquid flowing into it.

 

The Rat-bastard had broken my fucking nose.

 

"Stop!" I bellowed. I scrambled to my feet and followed after the fleeing man. My face was on fire, my body was on fire, my heart was on fire. We couldn't let him get away. We needed to show these thugs we weren't going to stand for what they were doing to our friends. To the Digital World. That just because people like Taichi can't succeed with regulations, that they can go ahead and treat these creatures with disrespect and cruelty. I saw that now. I knew Ken was right. We had the power, together, to make things better.

 

Just like the old days.

 

It was only a couple of seconds, but Paildramon came soaring through just meters before me and picked up Rat-bastard mid-flight, the two of them slicing through an adjacent plush building block. There was a moment of muffled commotion until Paildramon returned with Rat-bastard restrained within his strong arms. I swear, if Paildramon could smile, he would be. It seemed like he had done a good job of defeating the rest of our enemies while following our specific orders. "I got him, Dai-chan."

 

I smiled, my nose cradled between my fingers, the taste of blood on my lips and a feeling of pride so strong that it almost made me nauseous. "Yeah, you did, buddy."

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Daisuke took after the rat-faced bastard, and Paildramon had all of the digimon on lockdown. It wasn't a matter of whether or not Daisuke could catch and detain the rat-face to me. In the back of my mind I knew, I would need to take down the big guy if Daisuke couldn't manage the rat-face. At the front of my mind, I knew I wanted to make the big guy bleed.

 

Our sizes were mismatched. I wasn't looking up to him quite as far as Daisuke would have, but he had a few more inches than I did. He was white, burly, and I wasn't sure we'd even be able to communicate if we did manage to slow him down. The rat-face was a safe bet for information. This man just needed to be stopped.

 

I walked towards Big Guy. The world immediately surrounding us was a little picture of children's hell. Between swirls of fire and piles of rubble, someone calm in the chaos was nearly invisible. Important things moved past-- flying debris, groundcover exploding into dust, whole trees lobbed as projectiles. Frankly, I couldn't describe how I dodged these things myself. Like a keenness came over my whole body, a sense that extended outside my vision. Like the very hairs on my head let me know how and where to move, my mind was fired with some elevated sense of focus. I knew Daisuke by the beating of my heart and let it comfort the rage between my steps. I was just a breath away from Big Guy when he finally noticed I'd closed in.

 

He dropped the chains from his hands, at the end of each a cart and cage carrying several kidnapped digimon babies. He seemed to be the last one left capable of completing whatever task they'd set out to do here, and somewhat determined to get it done. He didn't relent when I landed a fast jab squarely into his nose, or when I took my knee into his groin. Frankly, even though he hobbled and blood started to pour down over his lips, he wasn't slowed down in grabbing me by the throat.

 

"Disgusting children..." Big Guy said... I think. My Russian was a hint rusty. And I struggled for air when my feet left the ground.

 

I swung up my legs and encircled his arm, forcing enough motion that he staggered off balance and fell towards me, grip loosening. I rolled away and over the top of him, knees digging into his sides. I punched squarely at the back of his head, and again into his ear before he rolled over somewhat effortlessly, and crushed me beneath him.

 

"Aargh!" The air rushed out of me. My heart raced as Daisuke's nose shattered some forty feet away. My mind entered a brief freefall, and the brute rolled off of me thinking I'd gone black for good. My next breath sucked in fast and woke me up, like electricity running down lines from my brain to my limbs. I shot up, grabbed for Big Guy's head and rammed it into the ground. Fuck, still plush. He reached behind and grabbed me by the arm, and rolled us both over until I was pinned beneath him.

 

Arms under fists. Legs under knees. I'd been in this position before, but only under Daisuke. This was like being pinned under a snarling bulldog. He drolled as he attempted to think of how to hit me and hold me down all at the same time. The bastard should have choked me when he had the chance, because the longer I stayed pinned the more time I had to think. Panic whirred through me until his grip slightly slackened on my right arm. It cracked out in a strike as if on it's own-- certainly before I had conscious thought of what I was doing. Pure survival. My hand connected with his throat and pounded into that soft flesh.

 

Then, at last, he collapsed.

 

Onto me, again. My eyes rolled, and I shoved up against the pile of meat but... well, I supposed Daisuke would be by to help lift him off when that rat-face was detained. My squirming got me far enough out from under him that at least I could breathe.

 

Paildramon was who finally came to pick up our baggage. He had rat-face already, and just piled the big guy up on top of him. I had Daisuke message Taichi to make sure once we got these guys through a portal, we could get them properly detained. The message back was... not pleasing.

 

Daisuke-kun, I think we can get them detained under cruelty laws, but we don't have the laws on the books to make this a long arrest. Not if these guys are internationals, too... maybe we can buy you a couple days of these guys in federal custody, at least. We'll be ready at the other end. We'll try to guard the Digimon Nursery more closely in the future...

 

I stopped reading. These imbeciles, these maniacs, would be free in a few days' time. I told myself, at least we could question them. We would gain something. We would do some good before releasing these sociopaths back into the wild with a taste for our, and our digimons' blood.

 

I wanted to put them down longer than that.

 

-

 

We were allowed to question them the following day. Daisuke spent a few hours in the hospital when we got back, so there wasn't much day left to do anything besides. We were both quite bandaged up, but at least for me, it was just wrapping around my knuckles. Daisuke's stitches left him looking downright mean, especially with his usual dopey smile erased by the hell of our last 24 hours. I... couldn't say I felt entirely the same, though. My lips were perked enough at the corners for the both of us.

 

Taichi had the two criminals held at a facility not too far from my school, a big precinct in Tokyo. The deposition was in a small room, not unlike the windlowless grey enclosures seen in police TV shows. Taichi was around to ask his questions, but there were four of us in total in attendance. A closed circuit TV fed the deposition room proceedings out to the group of us, and right now, Taichi was the one in the room. The other stood there, arms folded in his lab-coat sleeves, watching the screen intently.

 

"You work here, I assume?" I stepped over to the young man-- about our age, probably. Maybe a hint older. He had long hair that was dyed blue at the ends, and under the professional-looking lab coat were just jeans and a t-shirt. His thick-rimmed glasses capped off that 'eccentric' sort of look.

 

"Oh, oh yeah. Name's Chiba Minato. And I'm glad to meet you at last, Ichijouji." He waved at me.

 

I did not wave back. I'd grown too accustomed to my fame being unfavorable, but that wasn't the only reason this Chiba kid could have wanted to meet me. I played neutral.

 

"I'm a government scientist, if you were wondering. I do a lot of behavioral psychology, biology... but you know, I just love digimon. When I heard this was going on, I knew I wanted to watch." The man had a smug grin and interest stamped across his eyes. I nodded along... and sidestepped behind Daisuke, slowly. He was always the better of us, dealing with strangers...

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It took me longer than I cared to admit for my wits to come back to me. Dumb-foundly, I stared at Paildramon, forgetting exactly what I may have been doing moments prior--especially questioning what I had done to make my face hurt so bad. I swung my head, my brain sloshing like jello inside my skull, my eyes landing on my other half buried beneath a man that was not me. "Paildramon, help me out." With even steps, I walked toward Ken and Big Guy, Rat-Bastard still enclosed in Paildramon's arms. With an effortless move of Paildramon's arm, Ken was freed with a heavy gasp. I tried to smile but everything hurt--I think my lip was split too among it all. For fuck's sake.

 

"They got us real good, but we did it." I revealed my face to Ken, and his reaction was very similar to how I felt. I picked him up and we made our way to the closest portal.

 

It was twenty four hours of hell and medication that made me feel less like a person and more like a cloud of cotton candy. I giggled at things that weren't even funny. Ken pat an affectionate "shut up" on my leg more than a few times to calm me down. It wasn't until we got back home, my nose bandaged and throbbing, the tastes of blood draining down my throat and mixing with the taste of sweet tofu, that I sobered up. In bed, I watched the breeze from the open window tug at the curtains. It was easy, under the influence of the drugs, to forget that any of this had happened. That for years I had done just as much of an injustice to the Digital World as these fuckers had done. The answer we got from Taichi was underwhelming--there was so little we could do about this. We could keep taking these guys down, detain them for a few days, then they'd be right back out breaking those innocent creatures.

 

It pissed me the fuck off.

 

There had to be more that we could do. Now that Ken and I were on the same page, we didn't have to endanger each other. Stupid bastard should have thought of that before. Though, I guess I can't blame him. I can be pretty stubborn.

 

I rolled to my side and gently placed my hand on Ken's bare chest. I looked up at him--his eyes were closed and his brow was furrowed. He twitched as I got closer to him. "Together, Ichijouji."

 

--

 

There's a reason why I hate relying on others. So rarely do they ever follow through.

 

I'm not much of a fighter, no. I never have been. Being a Korean-Japanese, I had my fair share of bullying growing up. My solution was to bury my nose into my books. I studied hard so I could best those that thought they could bring me down. Now I'm the youngest behavioral psychologist to ever have entered the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. So, as they say, who's laughing now?

 

I suppose it never granted me much friends either. Highlighters and test scores were largely what I pursued for the majority of my life. So hearing the familiar tease coming from the spikey haired buffoon was only a mild annoyance and wholly predictable. 

 

"Chiba... Minato..." He almost whispered. "I've been to you." He chuckled. "I mean, to the station. I've been there. Not to you. The station. Yeah." He paused and looked at his counterpart--the one and only Ichijouji Ken. He attempted a smile, but his broken nose rendered his lips into a sneer. At least Nikolai and Christopher were good for something.  "Any relation?" He laughed now to an a quiet room, Ichijouji shifting his weight between legs as he shook his head slightly. Ichijouji was taller than I had imagined. "To the station. Are you related to the station?"

 

Was this kid for real?

 

I fell into the sweet spot of this particular timeline. You can map all of the chosen onto a chart of when and how they became involved in Digimon and the Digital World. I spent more time than I care to admit working on this, but it did lead me to conclude that I could have been a part of Ichijouji's team. I'm a year younger than Yagami, but I grew up in the school district as a lot of the other chosen. So it was just fate that brought me to being an ordinary child--all because I was visiting family in Seoul on August 1st, 1999. Funny how things work out. And to think, I missed out, and in my space was this mess of a human being, Motomiya. Tough skin is developed, not inherited. However, that doesn't mean I can't be annoyed by the occasional scratch at my hide.

 

And I say all this as if I'm panged with jealousy or remorse. No, that's not entirely it. Or perhaps it is, only because it meant I was without one or two extra years of study. I've read the articles their counterpart Takaishi Takeru printed--about the Digimon Kaiser. I had already been particularly akin to Ichijouji's prowess, even as a young boy. When I learned of his "stint" as the Kaiser...

 

"Motomiya Daisuke, I presume." I offered a shallow bow, and a decent sum of my patience. "Yagami-san has told me that these gentlemen were apprehended thanks to you."

 

"Yeh." His teeth shone more, his eyes flattening out and his eyebrows raising. I couldn't understand at all what emotion he was attempting to express.

 

"Well, as a fellow digital enthusiast, I thank you for your assistance in this matter. Both of you."

 

Honestly, I wasn't expecting Ichijouji to be involved with this at all. That was a drastic miscalculation on my part--something that was so plainly evident at this point. A large digital monster that digivolved more than once? Motomiya Daisuke was involved? Paildramon was the only answer to this scenario, and no jogress, no matter how many times I have attempted, have been successful without both human partners being involved. I just figured with Ichijouji's intelligence and trajectory for success, he would have ditched Motomiya back at the end of the golden era. Clearly another miscalculation in the area of human psychology.

 

"I am unsure of what you will be able to achieve from all of this." I added, turning my attention back to the television. Luckily, Christopher had yet to break, and if he knew what was good for him, he would continue.

 

Motomiya grumbled and moved to lean against the wall to face me. "I'd love to see them rot in prison."

 

"International..."

 

"I know, I know. Bullshit. It's not right, what they were doing to these Digimon... First the fighting and now the kidnapping? Luckily, I ain't the one that's gonna go in there and give them a piece of my mind. It would probably end up a lot more bloody."

 

"Lucky for them," I muttered. It was difficult to not roll my eyes. All I wanted was my assets to be returned to me, especially without my involvement being uncovered. I was so close to getting a stable rookie evolution out of one of those creatures, I'd hate to have to start from scratch.

 

"Yeah, well, they won't enjoy dealing with Ken either." Motomiya said, his voice steady and sober. The pair made eye contact, and I felt... Out of place. There was clearly a level of connection between them. A dangerous connection. I figured Motomiya would be easy to sidestep, Ichijouji much less so. I never would have figured the two of them.

 

Hmm. Very interesting indeed.

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Minato was a weird one, that was without question. But how weird? I was in a parallel program, but essentially, he was my sempai; The immediate need to show deference was sticking out against all the red flags this kid was waving. Most people who went into the justice system looked and acted as straight laced as... well, as I did. I'd have thought the long years with Daisuke would have warmed me up to less traditional behavior, but it seemed more like I'd just gotten used to Daisuke's quirks. This man was... bold.

 

But, not wholly offensive.

 

He was dealing with Daisuke's intoxicated rambling very well (I was turning all sorts of red for him, but it was unfortunate to be named after a train station. Didn't his parent's know?) and he did have a healthy interest in digital issues. He was composed but not ignorant of the situation. Too often, all I met were people who didn't care, or people who ate, slept, and breathed digimon. Minato's curiosity was scientific, respectful.

 

"It isn't about whether they rot in prison." I finally rejoined the conversation, stepping softly away from the wall. I didn't point out that obviously, these men wouldn't spend a day in any serious shackles. Daisuke didn't need to be reminded, and worse, he might not shut up. I guess I would take it more personally if they'd done that to my face, too... though, in a way, it was my face. Regardless, I didn't not hate these foreign sons of bitches, even before they made Daisuke a little less fuckable.

 

"It's about what we can learn from them before they go right back to repeating their mistakes. Maybe a behavioral psychologist is only concerned with watching them make them..." I shrugged, but continued. "But there's more to this than this one occasion. There's something more wrong with what they've done than just the attack. It's... a deeper kind of psychotic, and these two, they strike me as dumb businessmen." I paused, stared at Minato for a long second.

 

"That's something I think any psychologist would find suspicious."

 

Attacking the digimon nursery and stealing the babies, that wasn't how fighters made a living. Why they'd ever had babies locked up at the pits was still beyond me, but it was only the hint that something was awry. Between Taichi and I, there would be more clues these two idiots would give up. They were too stupid to avoid it.

 

"Daisuke, please take care of yourself while I'm in there." I rested my hand on his shoulder, as I could see on the CCTV that Taichi was packing up his things. He'd probably help Daisuke a little better than I could once he was out here, anyway. Dealing with him loopy in public was making me uncomfortable and tense.

 

 

And so, it was my turn. Minato bid me away with a lopsided grin, still silent after my additions to the end of his conversation. Against my hip, I reached down into my satchel and came out with a can of coffee, and a small bottle of syrup. On my way down the small corridor into the interrogation room, I popped open the coffee, and topped off what was in the can with a healthy pour of the syrup bottle before hiding it away again. As I strode into the room, I feigned cracking the coffee open once more.

 

"Brought this for you, thirsty?" I set it down. "Christopher is it? Something tells me you're the more in charge, here."

 

He scratched his chin, greyish hairs poking out half a centimeter and rolling with the fat along his jaw. His top row of teeth seemed disproportionately large, and his front two even more so. He tended to keep his upper lip drawn back, eternally in a sneer.

 

"Sorry, no speak Japanese."

 

Really? I'd just watched him prattle on to Taichi for half an hour in that language, however labored it was. Come on, digimon everything was more famous in Japan. Of course he knew the language. But, if he wanted to play his game...

 

"That so? Well, that shouldn't be a problem." Rich Russian rolled off my tongue. It had been a sort of hobby language in junior highschool, after I'd gotten English under my belt. The alphabet had stolen all my focus at the time, so while my grades started to scrape below "exceptional" into "well above average", I got more than just a salting of Russian knowledge.

 

And I could tell I'd rattled the rat.

 

"Let me state again. I brought this for you. Why were you at the digimon nursery?"

 

"This is simple, we only were taking back what you took from us!"

 

"You don't think I'm not suspicious of why you had baby digimon in the first place?"

 

"They are easily indoctrinated..." Christopher took a swig of the coffee I had left out. "It's clearly good business."

 

"Most of your clientele, they're people with their partnered digimon, aren't they? The house takes a pretty cut, doesn't wager any collateral... especially not collateral they raised themselves."

 

We stared at each other for a few long seconds. Christopher was put off-- Taichi had a much more considerate way around his questions. Taichi wouldn't ever think of digimon as collateral. I was realistic though, and I knew what sort of language they used, how the fighters thought about digimon thrown into the pits. It made my stomach acids boil.

 

More than anything, it seemed Christopher was wary of my line of questions. I knew more already than he'd thought I would. The strategy here was a ballsy one-- I gathered most of my information quietly and alone, but now that I had it, Daisuke and I were ready to be one very loud wrecking ball. If we needed to learn more, though, it would be downright impossible. Once these two were let go, the whole underground would know to look out for us.

 

And as he took another swig of the coffee, he seemed to be sweating a little harder as well. Perhaps his stomach was a little upset? I pushed down a satisfied grin.

 

"Well sometimes we needed house digimon."

 

"Baby digimon evolve incredibly slowly compared to the human lifespan. And that's if they're raised naturally... I can't even fathom how slow it would be under abusive care."

 

"Hnm." Christopher snorted, shrugged, and looked down. Almost as if he had something to say he wasn't sharing.

 

"I suppose a group like you might know how those babies age. Had any of them reached in-training?" Christopher took another drink, and I could watch him get paler. A few more sips and he'd probably have drunk enough of that ipecac syrup I'd dumped in there to start vomiting. How much could I extract while he was swimming in it?

 

"Wouldn't know." He shook his head quickly. He answered too quickly.

 

"Because, you know, my partner was in a bit of a rush to leave, but that doesn't mean he didn't see what was going on in there." I tested my luck. Daisuke didn't remember much at all besides being really fucking pissed. Whether or not there were any digimon we failed to rescue... it was probably better that he not remember that.

 

"It wasn't my job, what the digimon were up to."

 

"Really? Then whose job was it? Not Nikolai's, no..." That brute was pretty far from the nurturing type. If he had a second job, it was being the personal meat tenderizer in a steak restaurant.

 

"You would not know him. But we have comrades."

 

Oh did they? "So you hired a nanny for your digimon as well?"

 

"No."

 

"How would you describe the person who looked after them?"

 

"None of your business. We just take our orders."

 

"From who?"

 

"Nobody!" The idiot took a big swig from the coffee can, and turned sideways. I slid back in my chair as orangish porridge-consistency sludge came draining out of my prisoner. I stood, quite promptly, and made for the door. That... was probably enough questions.

 

The room outside was buzzing after that show on the CCTV. Minato was staring at the screen, eyebrows knit, and mouth agape as I walked in. His gaze dropped almost immediately to me.

 

"Maybe he's lactose intolerant." I volunteered, before he could get a word in. His hanging jaw curled up into a little grin, and he seemed to accept it with a shrug.

 

"You're pretty impressive, Ichijouji. I hope you learned something for all that."

 

I hooked my hand onto Daisuke's elbow, and tugged him towards the door. Time to leave. Time to come up with any way to work our way up this invisible chain of command.

 

--

 

Oh, that sly motherfucker. Ichijouji had definitely learned more than he was letting on. After all... he clearly already knew more than I'd expected from him. How much more? No prior knowledge of a greater organization...? Or, just no proof?

 

I couldn't afford to run with the assumption that Ichijouji didn't know anything. My identity was the only conclusive thing I could hold onto-- he'd never met me before in his life, despite what a tragedy that had been for me. 

 

No, it was going to be better to nip this in the bud. Soon.

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Hard to believe that the twee of my sister's whistle would have brought us so far. Now I'm in charge of men twenty years my senior, telling them how to do their jobs as if I have any sort of clue. The only things that guides me is my love for digimon--it's the only thing that ever has. Even when I struggled with what was right or wrong--whether to fight with brute force or to approach things diplomatically, it always came down to my love for them. To befriend them. To protect them.

 

It saddened me that we had to deal with this case; but oddly elated that it allowed me to work with Daisuke and Ken. All of us original Japanese chosen remained in the area, but we're all grown up now. I hadn't seen either of them in... Damn, probably since New Year's a few months ago.

 

"You look like hell, kid." I tilted Daisuke's face from side to side, directing his motion with a firm hand on his chin. I still don't know how I felt about the scruff on his jaw, but I guess it suited him fine enough. It's not like he needed to wear a suit to work anyway. Non-traditional as always.

 

"Not as bad as you look," he smiled, his hand patting the side of my ribs. It looks like he was recovering from a black eye too, but the swelling had gone down. It must have happened before the broken nose.

 

"Excuse you," I laughed back at him, and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. Pointing at the CCTV, I nodded toward the device. "Ken's doing a pretty good job in there. He'll be working here in no time."

 

Daisuke folded his arms across his chest and nodded. "Yeah. He's super smart and shit."

 

"Understatement of the year, Motomiya." I moved away from Daisuke and pulled a chair out to sit and watch the interrogation. "The bastard didn't say much for me. And he's being careful. He's hiding something. But Ichijouji is getting under his skin." I pressed my finger to the screen, mostly because Koushirou wasn't around to watch me. He hated when I touched any screen with my 'greasy ape prints'. "Look, his body language is changing." I looked up at Minato for guidance.

 

"Yes." Minato answered. "Ichijouji-san is asking the right questions. Christopher was showing signs of energy before. His legs were always moving, and his fingers fidgeting. Now he's retracting into himself--just like a clam."

 

"We still might not get much, but at least it will be something," I said.

 

"At least it will be something..." Daisuke trailed.

 

The diplomatic landscape of the Digital World and the Real World had always been a train wreck. Fortuantely, I was too young to be thrown into it when the worlds first connected, but the second I chose my career track, I had men in ties and tight hair cuts showing up at my house. Even after four years, they had no idea what they were doing. To this day, that confuses me. 

 

I guess it's because we all have a sort of authority that we'll never be able to escape. Not just us Japanese chosen, but the original chosen all over the world. We were the first to make the connection with digimon. We were the first to see the Digital World. The most appealing aspect of it all was that we all saw it all with the eyes of children. The strangest, and most amazing part, is that a lot of people cared about that. Especially the old and powerful digimon that took up the role of representing the Digital World. However, we're entering the teenage years of development. The bonds are shaking, and power is shifting. Hackers are everywhere, and criminals are taking to the unaffiliated lands of the Digital World to complete their biddings. And that's only the illegal issues that are going on.

 

I'm doing my best. We're doing our best. With deregulation comes regulation, and even with this matter I have my arms bent behind my back. We can't keep Christopher here. We probably won't get much out of him to even gain a lead on anything. He'll go back to doing whatever he's doing because the only people that have the power care more about keeping the gates open to all so they can get paid through the services they've established there.

 

"Duuuude," Daisuke grumbled. "Gross."

 

"Shit," I muttered. Christopher must have buckled under the stress. The arm of his dirty white suit was covered in a small puddle of his own stomach contents. Not too long after, Ken came back into the room. I looked back at the CCTV and noticed one of the officers cleaning up after the man and cuffing him back up to leave. I frowned an nodded. "Sounds like it. We'll make sure we give him some milk with his dinner tonight, then." I smiled with a soft wink.

 

"You're pretty impressive, Ichijouji. I hope you learned something for all that." Minato said.

 

I noticed that Ken had taken Daisuke by the arm, and we both locked eyes. He grabbed my forearm with his free hand and gave me a half smile and a nod. "Thanks, Tai."

 

"Sure thing. Anything for you and the Digital World, right? Just... Don't be afraid to call on me."

 

Ken tugged on his arm as he looked at me a bit longer. There was a trouble there--he was always bad at hiding his emotions to anybody, but especially to me. I just... Understand him. "Of course. Sure."

 

"Sure."

 

And they were gone. I looked at Minato. With a bow, he dismissed himself with a haste. And suddenly, I felt a little sick myself.

 

--

 

"What did youuuu dooooo." I shoved a whole onigiri into my mouth and chewed. We stopped at a convenience store for a snack as we walked home. The drugs were making me hungry. Frowny face. "But I guess... More importantly... What now?" He explained to me, because I guess I didn't catch it. I feel like I might have half fallen asleep during the meeting. What it boiled down to was that we were dealing with a bigger threat. An anonymous threat. And we did something to disturb the balance or something. "Good," I said, with a mouth full of chocolate now. "I like it when things are..."

 

Fuck.

 

"Dammit. Shit. Ken, I need to get to work. I can't skip another day. I'll never be able to pay any bills." It was true. I'd missed almost four days at this point. I'd be lucky if I retained any customers at this point. "Do me a favor and come by for dinner. I could use the company." I slipped a square of chocolate between his lips with a sly smile. With a soft hand on his shoulder, I squeezed it lightly as a sign of affection. "And you deserve a break, too."

 

It was hard to leave him, especially to go and be a "responsible adult"--whatever that meant. It'd been a rough week for us. But it made me want him, to be around him all the time. I ached for him more than I have in a long time. I wanted to do something special for him. Even if he didn't show up tonight, I'd have something special for him. A nice kamaboko ramen. I'm sure I'd be hungry enough to finish it all myself if I had to. I just... Didn't want to have to.

 

I know Ken. He'll be frustrated with me that I just wanted to forget about things for now. That in a way, it was validating to know that we know so little, and that there's so little we can do. What else were we supposed to do from here? Comb every pixel of the Digital World in order to smoke out these assholes? What then? We can't kill them. We can't jail them. We can destroy what they have, but it sounds like they have enough numbers and resources to restore their system. I didn't want to give up. I wasn't about that. But tonight... With a nose that still hurt like a mother fucker... I just wanted a nice dinner with my stupid boyfriend.

 

Please.

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The landscape was blank paper.

Daisuke was at work, and my homework sat in a well-organized stack at the edge of my desk, polished and already forgotten. Daisuke had left for work one hour ago. I had finished my homework fifteen minutes ago. I couldn't rightly call it a new record, but the focus coming back to me would rival my childhood. My depth of care for the matters of the Digital World could not be sidetracked for anything, it seemed.

Daisuke would not slow me down; I recognized that his weak logical mind and emotional way about life were not going to help us forge a plan ahead. That wasn't his strength, wasn't why I involved him in this process. If it consoled him, I would let him have his time alone to breathe. At least, as long as I was still mired in planning.

The sprawling white paper was intimidating, though. Unlike my homework, the solution to this problem wasn't clear. How to find someone you didn't know? Someone who pulled the strings that pulled more strings? The whole underground world was designed to lose peons and never even stumble. There was no reason to believe I could startle the trunk of this organization while only blowing at the leaves.

But I know there is a leader. And that is more than I knew yesterday.

 

As the sun careened into the evening horizon, the only thought that had crossed my head was a grim one. Was there a way that the Kaiser personality could aid us here? Certainly, when I was an evil pit-fighting overlord, I made myself very obvious in the world. No one would be that stupid, understanding the real-world consequences for crimes now. Not... that there were many. But for someone this evil, they would find a way. would find a way.

Was this psychopath like the Kaiser had been? If I let myself back into the old mindset... would I be able to think of how he was hiding? My stomach roared against my shirt. Had it gotten late? Ah, Daisuke was expecting me for dinner. My plan was... insufficient. The rumblings of human needs were a little too pressing to work through, tonight, and I thought I could catch the closing of Daisuke's noodle stand if I hurried out now. A little past dinnertime I supposed, but better than leaving my love to feel neglected for too long. I needed him, after all.

 

"Hey." Casual. I was a little later than expected, due to high volume on the trains. Go figure... everyone wanted to get home for the night. Daisuke was already hunched over the counters, scrubbing them clean. Behind him, the hot water for steeping the noodles was still steaming.

"How was work? Hope I didn't miss our dinner date..."

-

"We only need one of them." I slapped my palm down on the empty table. "They can't jogress alone."

"So what you suggesting? Kidnap 'em?"

"So crass. No, that's much too much work. And a temporary solution. Where would we keep them? How would we prevent them from communicating? Organizational agony. And before any of you suggest it, I'd really rather not have a murder of one of our country's celebrities on our hands." I rapped my fingers, and the four lackeys lucky enough to be video chatting in with me tonight shifted uncomfortably behind their screens. What a bunch of idiots; that was probably a mistake, hiring idiots. That was how we'd gotten to this point, with Ichijouji sniffing so close to our scent that his face was metaphorically already up my ass.

"This is a simple problem." I continued. "They don't need to be physically removed from each other. We only need to meddle enough to make them want to be apart. Ruin their comradery. That will silence this problem easily."

"So... what do you want us to do, M?"

"Exactly what you've always done. Operate, execute the plan. We only need one person to be near them for this... someone intelligent, someone they already know. Me."

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I swigged down another bottle of water. It was leaving through my skin faster than I could put it in my stomach. Sweat dripped off the ends of my hair and onto my neck, pooling and coating the front and back of my happi. It was the one of two I had--Ken had them custom made for me with the Crest of Miracles on the back, replacing what would be my family crest if I had one. They were dark blue with gold trimmings, made with lightweight linen and not easily stained. Professional yet full of personality. Ken handed them to me in a plain box adorned with a soft smile and gentle eyes, his shoulders hanging slightly as he does when he loses a bit of confidence. He dismissed it as nothing. As if holding an interest in my livelihood at all was nothing. I wiped my forehead against the sleeve, my bangs sticking to my eyelids, and my breath coming out hot along with the steamy, stuffy cart. It was the most thoughtful present I received the whole year.

There wasn't much more to complain about, though. Somehow I had a fair share of customers over the dinner rush. Some new faces. Mostly regulars. Many "how are you doing" and "is your health ok?", all dismissed with a smile and a hot meal. Conversations tended to be cut off once noodles were ready to be slurped up. V-mon did most of the serving, and his joyful attitude never once wavered. Today felt better than any recent day. Maybe it was because I was still half high on pain killers, or maybe it was few days of rest away from the cart... I don't know. It felt new, yet familiar. Like I was watching a quiet movie of somebody else's life, but I knew all the lines. Except this is a movie that I always missed the ending to. Somehow I don't think it will be such a sleepy ending.

Ojiisan had made his mark tonight. His small body crushed by the weight of his own spine, but his little toothpick legs still able to walk briskly to their destinations. "I owned this business since before you were born, Motomiya." He slurped up a string of noodles and politely cleaned the broth from the corners of his lips before continuing. "If you need help with upkeep, I would be good of you to ask." I took his bowl when he was done and waited for him to leave before I loudly tossed it into the stack of dirty dishes. I knew he meant well. I love my job. It's what I dreamed of for so long. I get to talk to people all day, and share my passion with them. In turn, they leave with smiles and happy stomachs. So why did I just want to run away? Why did Ojiisan's face just make me so mad

I swear this place is changing me.

We weren't this. Not really. We always had been playing the parts of normal people, when the world had always been waiting for us to do greater things. Our lives were too intertwined with the Digital World to make us normal. So why was I pretending to be normal? I leaned on the counter, and looked past the two customers sitting at the stools, the few inches of fresh air from under the cart chilling the sweat on my skin. Maybe Ken and I belonged out in the wild. Maybe we always were meant to have our brows kissed by the sky and our wounds bleed in megabytes. 

"Hey. How was work? Hope I didn't miss our dinner date..."

I breathed in deep, my eyes darting up to Ken. I noticed an aching in my arm, as it had taken to scrubbing the counter in my idle state of mind. I forced a smile to surface, but I'd be lying if I said it was difficult. He looked just as wiped out as I did, but seeing him just made everything... Good. "A little, but you know you'll never go hungry around me." My other two customers had left during my space-out, so it was just the two of us. I turned to prepare a bowl of noodles for him and myself--beef broth, swollen noodles, fish cake, and a few pieces of shrimp. Ken tended toward a simple palette, and had an even smaller stomach. Gently, I placed both bowls before him and offered him his special porcelain chopsticks that always stayed on the cart. "Eat up, handsome."

I rounded the cart and joined him at a seat. V-mon had taken note that we were about finished, and turned off a row of lights, signifying that we were closed for the night. I pinned a pile of noodles between my chopsticks and pulled them from the broth. I wasn't hungry, to be honest. I'm surprised Ken was. I'm surprised he showed up. I put my chopsticks down. "It's been a busy night." I looked up at the red lanterns above our heads in an attempt to not look Ken directly in the eyes. I still felt like an asshole. I still felt like shit. I just felt ugly on the inside and out. "Ojiisan came by again to lecture me." The chopsticks rolled between my fingers. "Sorry about earlier today." My eyebrows knit. "I feel like I might have embarassed you. I just didn't... Realize it... Until now." My free hand tapped the wood of the counter nervously. I noticed the uncomfortable jitter running through my body. This was Ken. What was I nervous about?

"Do you think... Do you think we are meant for this? Like..." I tried to collect those remnants of a thoughts my foggy mind had conjured. I guess it was another thing I would have to rely on Ken to decipher. "Like you and me. Do you think we're meant to be normal? Any of us, I guess? Where would we be without any of this." I heard Ken's words from the other day echo through me, as if he was thinking for me. "I feel so confused, Ken. I don't like it. I don't feel like myself. Do you?"

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Feel like myself? I could feel a lot of things. The heat of the miso broth sliding down my throat. The fullness in my narrow stomach. The radiant warmth of Daisuke along the shoulder closest to him. I could feel more abstract things too, I supposed. I knew a nagging in the back of my skull every time I felt stationary. I knew longing; to fight more, to study harder, to fix things. To feel myself inside of Daisuke again. To fix him, too, maybe by fixing everything around us. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted to know what happy felt like.

I'm not sure I know what it feels like to feel like myself.

"Could you be overthinking things?" It felt like a silly question. Daisuke, thinking too much? But... that wasn't true. He'd always been considerate. The problems now were just that much more dwarfing.

"We are. We live these lives. What makes us ourselves... is whether or not we're doing what we want to do." The fishcake was soft against my lips, a sort of indirect kiss from Daisuke as I let my mind wander to thoughts of him mixing and steaming the pink-crusted loaves himself. Wasn't this food cart supposed to be his passion? Making noodles was all he talked about when we were children. Had... he gotten this far to find out it wasn't right for him?

"Do you think this is what you want to do?" I slipped my hand over his knee, a furtive move hidden under the counter and shielded by our backs from the few couples wandering up and down the streets. "I... can't imagine a world distanced from the Digital World. For better or for worse, humanity is in deep with it now. We're connected to it, intimately. I think my goals have started to merge with it..." My career choices had always been motivated by the Digital World. By my guilt. But, I supposed, Daisuke was the one trying to be normal.

"Maybe you'll feel better after sleeping. I think I know a way to tire you out and get your mind off of your trouble..." My fingers tightened and slid up Daisuke's thigh. I suspect he caught my meaning.

-

"Candmon?" A shudder of light shivered in the corner of the unfurnished room. I let him stay here. He had been my first, after all, and even disappointing as he was, no other digimon had been more satisfying. Nothing really compared to the flawless elegance of Wormmon, or his glorious evolution into Stingmon. I had always supposed that if I could evolve this worthless Candmon, then maybe I would stand on par with the chosen children. On par with Ken. My heart raced at the thought.

Of course, once, I did. It started with a code splice. DigiDNA was not well understood, barely even a science when I started. But the fact was, everyone was made of code. Just, humans' code was impossible to edit. Programs you could rewrite. And there remains no reason why I should not be able to alter my Candmon into a Wormmon... the process has merely been more complex than anticipated.

It started with a code splice. Digimon who took enough damage would take in loose code; it was part of an instability that led to the release of their data if they were destroyed, or the absorbtion of the data necessary to evolve. I had noticed that most of the time, data was taken in like it was only energy-- processed by the digimon like humans process food, not spawning rice-scales but fueling our natural growth. Code was devoured if it was loose and short like a grain of rice. As Candmon battled in the pits, I was bombarding him with many, many long strips of reprogramming.

He morphed in pieces. His narrow, waxy arms became bulbous green legs. He rolled onto the ground as his stand became a pink-horned tail. His scream was muffled when his mouth grew pincers.

But it was unstable. I screamed at him. I longed for his full transformation, but my green-torsoed idol was burning up, melting back into wax. The Stegomon fighting him was relentless even on his disfigured body, and I thought for one moment, this would be the last time I had the chance to experiment with my Candmon.

His evolution was sudden and bright. What emerged was cloaked in blue, was wielding a golden staff. He was radiant, and powerful. The stegomon was blasted back against the barriers of the ring and keeled over, exhausted almost immediately. His data dissolved into a fine, shimmering mist, and rejoined the digital ether.

But he was small. He was ugly. He was no Stingmon. Wizardmon was a step forward, but he had been so close to becoming everything I wanted of him. He was a failure.

After that I had a Botamon again for a while; I simply haven't tried on Candmon since. The technique is better perfected on babies who have more versatile code, anyway.

"Candmon." I smiled. "I think it's time to stretch your legs. There's going to be a bit of an altercation with those bad boys of mine when they get away from the police. I think our heroes might need a helping hand this time."

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My thumbs pressed against cheekbones, the back of Ken's skull resting firmly in my fingers. Our chests were pressed together, rigid against the wall of our apartment; our safehouse. I forced him to take my tongue, to play with it against his own as the sink water continued to run. I didn't want tea tonight. I wanted him.

I thought I had it figured out. I really did. I had always wanted to be a chef, or at least since the first time I helped my mom make yakitori for Tanabata in first grade. I held onto it, clutched to it, anchored to it, even after I found the courage to lift V-mon's egg, and even after I fell on quaking knees before a sea of sparkling butterflies... I thought that maybe I could still be Normal.

Ken broke away from me just long enough to turn off the faucet. I was already shirtless and in the bedroom by the time he returned to me, his hands grasping me by the waist and pulling our needs to press against each other. Breathing out, I took his mouth hungrily, as if without the taste of his lips, I would wither away. And truthfully, I believed I would.

I had sex before Ken. A lot of sex. Some of them I even loved. One of them I thought would end in forever. But that all ended when I imagined him being the one below me, coming hard into her and wishing it was his voice that was muttering my name. I told her later when we broke up. She said she understood, even when she cried. But that certainly wasn't Normal.

One of Ken's legs was up on the bed, the other dangled off the bed with his toes grazing the floor. I was between his legs, one hand pressing up his shirt past his soft chest, the other working at his belt as I trailed my tongue up his abdomen. My broken nose made it so I had to be cautious, but I was willing to take any amount of pain to satisfy Ken.

I wondered for a long time when it happened. Maybe I had always been in love with Ken, just like I had always been in love with cooking. Even reading about him in the papers made my little preteen heart flutter. He was cool. He had always been cool. Then he was mysterious. Kind. Gentle. Broken. Interesting. Beautiful. There was one birthday that he showed up in the middle of a snowstorm. He walked the whole way because the trains were shut down. Arriving at my doorstep, pants soaked up to his knees, cheeks red, and snow clumped in his hair, he handed me my damp present and said nothing but "Sorry for being late." He was the only one that showed up that year.

Fumbling around the night stand, I grabbed the tube of lube and squeezed some into the palm of my hand. Rubbing my hands together, I warmed up the gel until it was comfortable enough to use on Ken. He was on the bed, naked and on all fours. I sat on my knees behind him with my shorts on, eyeing and sizing him up like a hunter may do to its prey. Fuck, he was beautiful. As we grew, I watched as his jaw became more defined, his eyes darker, and his lips more chiseled. I never understood how the man barely ever had to shave more than once a week. I guess that's part of what made him so attractive.

One. Two. Three digits in until he pressed back against my knuckles, a drawn out moan coming from him as he did. I moved my fingers slowly in and out of him, listening between the slick of the lube and the pitch of his voice in order to make the right timed movements. I ran my other hand between his legs, my fingers pressing against his taint and expanding across his balls, until they cupped gently in my palm and I massaged. My index and ring finger fell on either side of the base of his cock, and I stroked him softly as my other handed continued to stretch him out.

I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. Maybe I never did. My family always thought I was dumb--incapable of whatever standards they had for their only son. I thought if I stuck to something it would make them happy, and by extension make me happy. I should have known it would have been hard. A kid with no college education running a business. The circle of people I had to disappoint never dwindled. Mom, dad, Jun, Ojiisan, Taichi-san... Ken. 

That life I thought I had ended when we were summoned to the Digital World. It broke with the pair of goggles that the Kaiser shattered across the ground. I was no longer Motomiya Daisuke, soccer-playing-chef-in-training-extraordinare... I was Motomiya Daisuke the Chosen.

My teeth sunk into Ken's right buttcheek. My left hand grabbed the other as I lifted to my knees and unbuttoned my shorts. Eagerly, I squirted more lube into my hand and rubbed it along my dick and readied the tip at his entrance. I felt him tease against me, the both of us moaning against the sensation. I brought my knees in closer to him, and slowly pressed into him. Slowly. So slow until I was all the way in, until I could feel everything. Not just him, but his heart, and his feelings, and my love mixing with his, and our desires to fulfill and be fulfilled and...

I heard him command me, his body slamming against my pelvis so hard that I had to steady myself with my hands on his hips. I gasped slightly, if only for the pleasure that radiated through me. Obliging, I moved in and out of him, focusing on a rhythm that made us both moan in unison. I took his cock in my hand, my body folded over him as I pumped deeper into him, stroking him until his arms started to give out. 

The first night we made love, Ken looked into my eyes and ran his thumbs across my eyebrows. He said he wanted me. On his eyebrows was the silent concern, not for himself, but for me. He knew I didn't want to hurt him, but he knew he wanted to feel me. To be that close to me. Just as I did to him. He kissed my fingertips until they balled into a loose fist, and he told me he loved me, and that he always would. Because nobody else made him feel the way I made him feel. Ever.

I wonder if he loved me from the beginning too.

I let go of Ken before he could finish. My head shook and my chest heaved. I pulled back up straight and fucked him hard and fast until I came inside him, my voice echoing against the sparsely decorated bedroom, my heart full to the brim and spilling over like the white pearls from our love making.

I envied them. The Digiworld hermits. Foraging in the forests and making their own homes off the proverbial grid. Ken and I were better fit for the Digital World. It had shaped us before we were even truly conscious of what it was like to be individuals. Maybe it's where we were meant be. It was what we were meant to protect. It was clear nobody else could do it. Ken had been right, and I had doubted him. Why?

Leaning over the bed, I grabbed Ken's discarded belt and folded it into my hands. Ken was on his back now, his erect penis still waiting to be relieved. He looked feral and angry and hungry. My own need was confused on whether to finish going soft or to get ready for round two. With a timid hand, I placed the belt on his chest. The heat rose in my cheeks, and a fire burned through my throat. I dared not speak what I was intending him to do. I didn't know what he would do to me, all I knew was that I wanted to be his. I wanted him to know he was in charge, and that I trusted him--implicitly.

If we were going to get through this, he had to take back his whip.

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