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Unconventional

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It was just another day, Daisuke had to keep telling himself. Twenty four hours and it would be over, and tomorrow would be here.

 

It was just another day.

 

The melody on his cellphone was chirping midi bytes at him. Three minutes. Five minutes. Ten minutes. He closed his eyes. Just another day.

 

“Daisuke,” his mother called from the other side of his door. “Are you awake?” He didn’t answer. “Daisuke, you need to get up. You’ll be late.”

 

Daisuke knew. He wasn’t stupid. Or at least, not about what day it was, or how late it was, or what it meant if he didn’t make it to school today. It was like a swollen levee. Days, months, years of apathy--hours spent outside with a soccer ball or late nights at the movies. He hated school. Didn’t see the point. Hated the idea of “cram school”, of losing the most precious days of his life to sitting at a desk.

 

And now today was the day, and he was going to fail. He was going to fail and he didn’t know how he was going to answer to anybody. Mom, dad, Jun… Ken. The levee was going to overflow and burst and the future was about to be drowned and buried under the mud of his bad decisions.

 

What else was new.

 

“Daisuke!” His mother was banging on his door now.

 

“I know, I know!” Daisuke shouted back, raising and turning his body to sit at the edge of his bed. “Fucking shut up.” He said in a whispering groan, his palms digging into his eyes and dislodging the sleep from them. “Fuck.”

 

He got up and started dressing. It was an automatic thing. His uniform laid crumpled and wrinkled on the floor, but he pulled it on without concern. It was a standard uniform--black with gold buttons. Like most of the other “rebellious” kids, he wore the jacket open so the white collared shirt beneath was exposed. Tugging at the bottoms of the jacket hem, he adjusted the fit in the mirror and gave himself a tired nod. He didn’t bother to tame his hair, and spent only a few seconds brushing his teeth.

 

There was just no fucking point.

 

Daisuke dropped his D3 and D-Terminal into his two available pants pockets, the weight of them being a reassurance to what once mattered. What still matters. Taichi had talked to him about how he and a few of the other chosen were looking at careers paths in Digital World relations. He wanted that, he thought. Really, he just wanted to run away and live there. Maybe sell ramen at some Digitamamon restaurants. He smirked slightly.

 

With Chibimon shoved into his bookbag and nothing else, he left the apartment while somehow avoiding his mother. If he didn’t want to be any later, he’d have to avoid that screaming match at all costs. School wasn’t far away, maybe only a ten minute walk at a brisk pace. He’d make it in time for the bell. Make it in time for the first of many tests.

 

The walking sign was red. He tapped his toes on the pavement while he bit his lip. Chibimon adjusted his weight in his backpack, causing Daisuke to lose balance for a second. After regaining his footing, his orientation had shifted north toward Tokyo proper. Biting hard on his lip, he shook his head and huffed out a curse as he headed toward the Rainbow Bridge.

 

Tamachi was on the other side. So was Ken. He could kill a few hours and then surprise him to dinner. He’d like that right? They didn’t get to see each other much anymore. Ken had finished his exams a few days ago, so he didn’t have cram school anymore. They were free. They could see each other again. Best buddies and shit, destroyed by fucking school. Fucking school.

 

They were free, now.

 

He chanted that in his head until he started to believe it, until he felt like there was no question that things would be fine. Totally fine.

 

Yeah.

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While many people looked at Daisuke as a screwball, lazy, maybe even a delinquent, Ken had never had anything but the utmost faith in him.   Faith that, despite everyone's criticism, their low expectations, Daisuke would prevail.  He always had, in every manner that was important, and this would be no exception.  Even so, Ken knew Daisuke a little too well, and expected that he would be exceptionally wary of the day that laid out before him.  The date was circled in red on Ken's Calendar, a reminder that after today, he could contact his best friend without guilt that he may be pulling him away from important last-minute preparations.  Even well -prepared as Ken had been for his own, even he had felt a bit on edge when he sat for his exams.  This was, after all, the foundation of his future.  Of all of their futures.  Ken had spent the better part of the year devoting several hours every night to diligent studies of all of the subjects that were typically looked at as the most important; math, science, history, geography, the works.  He sharpened his skills in Spanish, English, and even picked up German for good measure.   His mind was a well-oiled machine.  He'd even finished his test with time to spare.   Now, all he could do was wait for the results.  It had taken all of his will-power not to run off to Odaiba the minute he was finished, and make up for lost time.  After all, Daisuke still had his own Exams to face, and Ken would be damned before he got in the way of those crucial last days of preparation. 

Maybe he was fooling himself to think that Daisuke was putting in that much effort, but then, if he hadn't been until now, the last minute rush was his only option.

Always an early riser, even without classes to attend, Ken was washed and dressed before the first bell of the day would have sounded.  Khaki pants, pressed black shirt, light jacket, hair tidy.  Minomon dozed in the loft of his bed, and Ken smiled.   He had a short list of errands, and he planned to get that done early. Maybe he could make it out to Odaiba to meet up with Daisuke right after exams.  Wouldn't he be surprised...?

Out of habit, Ken pocketed his D-3 and as he reached to put his D-terminal into his bag, he paused.  He flipped it open, and sent a quick message to Daisuke.

<Good Luck on your exams! Don't be nervous, I'm sure you'll do fine.>

A tiny chime, and the message was sent.  That done, Ken tucked the device away, and scooped Minomon from the bed.

"Mmm... morning already?" the sleepy little larva murmured.  Ken chuckled softly.

"Yes.  I'm going out to run some errands.  You can stay home if you're still sleepy."

But Minomon would never, and Ken knew that.  He was suddenly vibrant and awake, a mood that easily rubbed off on Ken.  Settling them for the journey out around town, Ken stopped through the kitchen to leave a note for his parents, then tucked his list into his pocket, before he slipped out the door. 

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Daisuke cricked his neck, the four bags of convenience store food weighing down his shoulders as he walked down the sidewalk. He had made it across the bridge in decent time, and when he had last checked his D-Terminal, he should have already been in his seat for the first test and taking it. There was a wave of guilt in his gut for not being there. He felt like, even though he wasn't prepared, that he should have at least tried, right? But what was worse? Poor marks or no marks at all? He settled on the reasoning that poor marks were much more disappointing and shameful. It would at least be his excuse to those that would care.

Sighing heavily, he sat down on bench in the nearby park and placed the food bags down next to him. He swung the bookbag around onto his lap and unzipped it, allowing Chibimon to crawl out and immediately transfer into the bags of snacks. The park was lush and green, canopied all around by trees. A fountain could be heard although it wasn't within eyesight. He still felt paranoid about having Chibimon out in the open--it was a feeling he was never quite able to break after all these years. He'd still find himself telling Chibimon to freeze and play as a toy, even though thousands upon thousands of people had their own digimon now. Chibimon was just... Different. He was unique and rare, and really, he didn't want people to notice him: Motomiya Daisuke, leader of the chosen.

He scoffed.

Chibimon resurfaced with a chocolate bar in his mouth, the brown treat smeared across his cheeks as always. "Slow down, will ya." Daisuke playfully scolded.

"But it's so good, Daisuke!" The little dragon protested, shoving another bar into its chubby little cheeks.

Daisuke chuckled and pat a hand on his head. If there was ever a universal constant, it would be Chibimon. And usually that was enough to satisfy him. Usually.

Daisuke shifted on the bench and pulled his D-Terminal from his pocket. One new message. His mouth twitched. It was from Ken. Selecting the message, he opened it.

Good Luck on your exams! Don't be nervous, I'm sure you'll do fine.

He slapped the lid shut, eyes wide and staring off at the pathway before him. It took him several minutes to open it again, where he proceeded to read and reread the message until the words didn't seem like words anymore. He felt things... Anger at himself for not going to school today. Confusion as to why Ken would have any faith at all that he could pass such a thing. Sadness because he knew he couldn't do it. Anxiety because he knew this wasn't going to end well. He was letting everybody down, and he could have prevented it. It was so fucking easy, but he selfishly took the easy road. He wondered how many times since their adventures he had done his best to avoid complex situations. Where he tried his best to blend into shadows so he didn't have to worry about holding people's lives in his hands anymore.

It was disturbingly a lot.

thx man i'll do my best. we should hang sometime soon.

Daisuke put the D-Terminal back into his pocket and reclined against the bench. It took him several minutes to realize that he shouldn't have sent the text at that time. The time that he was also supposed to be sitting in class and testing.

"Shit."

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The sound of his D-terminal chiming as he stood at the register caught Ken quite off guard.  As the sweet young girl behind the counter run up his purchases, Ken's fished into his bag for the bit of technology.  Who would be messaging him now?  Most of the others had classes now, if not exams specifically.  No, it could wait a moment, he was being rude to the cashier.  Tucking the device into his pocket, he bowed his head to the cashier, a silent apology as he accepted the slim paper bag, folded and taped at the top.

"Thank you, and have a nice day!"  she called cheerfully after him, and Ken stepped out into the mid morning sun.  Stepping out of the way of the sliding glass doors, Ken leaned against the cement wall, shifting the bag off his shoulder, and tucking away his purchase. He'd already been to three shops, including the convenience store to pick up a quick lunch -- a few rice balls, some bottled water, and a couple of protein bars.  After re-arranging the contents of his bag, he reached into his pocket and withdrew the D-terminal again, flipping open the screen.   Eyes drifting over the notification, his brows knit together, and his jaw tightened.

That couldn't be right, could it?

"Who is it, Ken-chan?"  Minomon chirped in his ear, peering at the screen from his perch on Ken's shoulder.

"Motomiya..." he mumbled

Minomon tilted his head, antennae twitching.  "You look confused." 

Ken did not glance up at his digimon partner. "It's just that, he should be in his exams right now."

He opened the message, and read it over.  Was the system lagging?  Had he sent that message earlier, but Ken was only just now receiving it? He knew that sometimes emails and text messages lagged, but the D-terminals tended to be better than that.    No, that had to be it.  It had to be lag.  A dropped signal, a delayed delivery, something.  It was the only reasonable explanation.  

Closing the device, Ken tucked it back into his bag, then slung the strap back over his shoulder.  It would be better if he didn't reply now, the last thing Daisuke needed was for his device to go off mid-test.  In truth, Ken hadn't been expecting a reply at all.  His mouth set in a hard line, Ken dropped off into silent thoughts as he made his way down the street towards his next destination.  

"Ken-chan, I'm hungry," Minomon squeaked in his ear.    As if on cue, Ken felt his own stomach rumble.  A quick glance at his wristwatch revealed that it was a bit early for lunch... but now seemed as good a time as any.  

"Alright, we'll stop in the park to eat.  It's a good short-cut anyway." Ken replied with a soft smile, absently rubbing his digimon's head.  

His feet carried him almost on autopilot.  He couldn't get his mind off the ill-timed message.  Even if it was lag, it couldn't possible have been hours long lag.  That seemed unreasonable for a piece of technology that Koushirou had crafted.  Maybe there was something he wasn't aware of.  Had others been having troubles with their D-Terminals? He was just mulling over the idea of sending a message to his senior chosen about that very subject.  That is, until he rounded the corner, looking for somewhere to settle down for lunch... and noticed a very familiar figure taking up residence on a park bench.  From a distance, he might not have noticed him, had he been alone...

But it was the little blue and white chocolate-covered digimon that gave him away.   

"...Motomiya?"

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Daisuke heard his name. And it wasn't from a voice he was expecting. Not with the venom he was prepared to ingest.

"Ah..." Daisuke's mouth was dropped open mid chew, chopsticks halfway to his face from the bento in his hand. "Oh..." He placed his chopsticks down into his meal and placed it next to him. Chibimon crawled over and stuck his paws in it and started to devour the rest of the contents. "Shit, Ichijouji."

It wasn't too far off to say that his stomach had become a solid rock. Like the bottom of it would fall through is body and smash onto the ground below him. How had he been so stupid? Though, he supposed, it's not like he told Ken where he would be... But they always had a strange connection that tended to lead them together. He shouldn't have expected anything less in this case. Especially when his emotions were all wound up and practically projected off of him in radio signals. SOS, Motomiya in dire need. Send help.

"I was just uh... You know... My exams were actually rescheduled, and I figured I'd come here and enjoy some lunch. Right, buddy?" Daisuke placed a hand on the distracted digimon's head, who simply answered with an automatic approval. "They start tomorrow, and I wanted to get the edge off." He offered a weak smile, knowing full well lying to Ken was losing battle. It all went back to their connection. How he cursed it in situations like this.

And his actions were betraying him too. Clumsily, he began packing up his trash and leftovers into the plastic bags and grabbed their handles as he stood. Head bowed, Daisuke made to leave, to eject from this situation because he wasn't ready to have this conversation. He was never going to be ready to have this conversation. Hi, yes, you're super smart and talented and going to get accepted to Tokyo University probably, and you call your best friend a fucking deadbeat dumbass that can't even pass entrance exams?

What the hell were they even friends for?

"But uh, I'm done now, so I guess I'll go. I mean, nice seeing you and stuff. We should still hang, yeah? Yeah." He collected Chibimon into his arms after shoving all the bags into his backpack. "Ichijouji," he said with a form of politeness he hadn't used in years. A slight head bow and he started to walk off. He had been quick enough that maybe he could get out without a fight.

He could feel it, though. That wasn't what Ken had in mind at all.

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Ken was still as stone from the moment Daisuke opened his mouth.  Had he gotten the date wrong?  Was today not Exam Day?  No, even if he'd gotten it wrong (which was unlikely), this still meant that Daisuke was skipping class.  Again.  The first time Ken had caught him doing that, he'd laid into Daisuke with an intensity and heavy-handedness that could have rivaled any Mother in the greater Tokyo metro area, maybe all of Japan.    They'd never talked about it again, though Ken had convinced himself he'd had some kind of impact.  Certainly, Daisuke wouldn't have been skipping out on school on exam day, or even the week leading up to it.  At least, not without a good reason.  

And then, Daisuke started talking.  In the brief moment before that, Ken had believed whatever Daisuke had been doing, he must have had a reason.  He always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.  His best friend was not without his flaws, but Ken had always pulled strength from the unwavering nature of their friendship.  To all eyes, they were opposites in every way, but as the saying went, Opposites Attract.  In their case, almost literally.  

But there he was.  Lying.   Ken felt something twist in his chest.  Everything about Daisuke's posture, his tone, it was like watching a video with the wrong audio overlaid on it.  Ken clenched his jaw, and then his fist at his side, every false word ringing a hollow bell in his ears.  Trying to reconcile what he was seeing with what he was feeling kept his feet rooted to the ground as the anger slowly crept up his spine.   He kept waiting for ...something he couldn't be sure of.

But when Daisuke turned to leave, Ken's feet peeled up from the ground, and he pursued.  Minomon clung to his shoulder for dear life. Ken was on Daisuke in a matter of seconds, hand hooked on his elbow, grasping firmly.  

"Don't lie to me, Motomiya," Ken commanded, keeping his voice low and even, so as not to cause a scene.  Layered beneath the smoldering anger, was the slightest, almost indiscernible hint of hurt.  "And don't you dare walk away from me like that." 

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Ken was fire. Ken's touch was fire, even through the fabric of Daisuke's school uniform, and under the cool shade of the trees. The fire spread up until it burned Daisuke's chest and cheeks and ears. He looked at Ken with the only thing he could muster at this time: anger.

"I wasn't fucking lying," he spat, pulling his arm away forcefully. He rolled his shoulder to adjust his backpack. "You really think I'd skip exams?" 

How often had Ken gone out of his way to help him study? The boy had his own shit to worry about, yet he still managed to find time when he could to help Daisuke. It had been like that for the past six years. Granted, he had been neglected a bit recently, but it wasn't like Ken was his personal tutor (as much as his parents wished he were). Ken was his best friend.

So why was he lying?

"This is stupid." Daisuke shook his head. Softly he added, "I shouldn't have come here." He tried to pass Ken, but was held back again. "What do you want, Ichijouji?" His chest puffed up and he looked directly into Ken's unwavering stare. He fucking hated it when Ken looked at him like that... Like he was a child. It reminded him of the time before they were friends--the first time they entered the soccer field together. "Get outta my way." 

He tried to move again, but Ken had planted his feet like the roots of a tree. Ken had sprouted to be a few centimeters taller than him, and he happened to use that against him a lot. Daisuke caught his eyes again, refusing to be the one that bends; not wanting to break. But he always did, because it was Ken. And for some stupid reason, Ken cared about him, and even though he may be disappointed, Daisuke could maybe get him to understand. Maybe.

Hot air deflated from his nose as he tried to wiggle Ken's grip off him. "I just..." With a sour face, he admitted, "What's the point, anyway? I'm not getting into a good school. Who fucking cares." Eyes downcast, he held his arms stiffly to the sides of his body and sighed. Like a child, he thought. Always like a child. "I don't even want any of that."

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"Well, I didn't, until I saw you sitting there," Ken hissed. 

And it was true.  Never in his wildest imagination did he think Daisuke would ever skip his exams completely.  Show up late, sure.  Maybe skip a single class.  But to ditch out entirely, and come all the way out to Tamachi? It was the lies that stung like needles.

And now that he was here, if Daisuke was going to try to leave, the only place he was going was back to Odaiba to sit for the remainder of his tests, if Ken had anything to say about it.  But, Ken had a feeling, that wasn't going to happen either. 

On the whole, Ken was a very soft-spoken young man.  He was reserved, and gentle, and many other things that might have gotten him teased as a child, had he not made a name for himself being excellent in both academics and sports.  Normally, he was more akin to a running river than flames.  But then, very few people ever saw Ken get Angry.  It was something he really tried to avoid, because when it came over him, it had the potential to consume him like a matchstick could start a bonfire.  It reminded him too much of his past; that somewhere, buried under all that 'Kindness', was the potential for great cruelty. If he let it inch in, it might be all too easy for it to turn him into something he didn't recognize. Like some sort of parasite.  He'd spent years trying to atone for his past, while also attempting to dis-own those feelings, only to find himself running away more often than not.   No one seemed to understand that the Kaiser had not been born entirely out of nothing, and he thought, he might prefer it that way. 

Ken inhaled, attempting to calm himself, then exhaled slowly.

"You think I don't know Running Away when I see it?" he asked, though it wasn't so much a question as a firm statement.

Ken knew Running Away like it was an old friend; one that made him sick to his stomach.  It was not something that was befitting of Daisuke.  So when the truth finally started to come from Daisuke like drips from a leaky faucet, he wanted to be understanding.  He wanted to be compassionate.   But his words were more kindling for the fire.

"How can you say that?  You think just throwing away your future entirely is a better alternative?  I know you're smarter than that."
 

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"Am I, though?" Daisuke threw his arms out, spittle flying from his mouth. The accusation in itself was an insult, like of course Daisuke was some level of stupid, just not that stupid. Was that supposed to make him feel better? "If this was a mistake, I can always take the test again next year. But at least I didn't waste my time." There was more he wanted to say, but he caught himself from blurting it out. Instead he focused intently on Ken's face, his brows furrowed. He felt a line of sweat trail down his cheek. "I'm not running away." He said it softly, as if coming to realization as he was speaking. "I'm living."

Without you.

Flinging his backpack back onto the bench, he tilted his head toward the tree branches above. "Just slow down and remember, Ken. Remember when we used to go to the Digital World in the summer to beat the heat? We'd swim in the rivers until the sun set, and we still wouldn't leave. Our skin got so pruney that it felt like it would nearly fall off." He looked back at Ken, a sadness overtaking his eyes. "I can't even remember the last time we went to the Digital World together. I can't remember the last time we just hung out. What's the point if you aren't going to enjoy life, Ken? Tell me."

Heavily, Daisuke sat down on the bench next to his stuff. It felt good to get it out, but he wasn't sure if it was the whole truth. Honestly, he had no idea what possessed him to skip exams this morning. He didn't know why he had to come to Tamachi today. He was on auto-pilot, and just now his brain was starting to make sense of all the pieces. He feared he wasn't going to like where they were going to lead him. Some pictures were just best left unfinished.

"Tell me that you're happy you tried so hard."

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Ken just stood there, facing Daisuke, arms slack at his sides.  He wanted to be angry.  He wanted to rail on Daisuke about wasted time, and bad choices, and recklessness.  But as he listened to his best friend, his partner, talking about times past, it was like a balm to his raw soul.  Months of being buried in books, more and more isolated from his friends across the bay had taken more of a toll on Ken than he wanted to admit.  But they were all busier now than they had been when they were younger.  They were on the cusp of becoming adults, fully functional members of society.  People were dating, devoting more time to one special person instead of dividing it among their many friends.  Bit by bit, without really noticing, everything around him had changed.  

Slowly, the tension in Ken's shoulders uncoiled.  Now that Daisuke was being honest with him, he just couldn't find it in himself to stay angry.  Instead, the anger gave way to a flood of other emotions it had simply been masking; disappointment, confusion, sorrow, loneliness...

His face fell into an expression that almost mirrored Daisuke's. 

"I miss those days.  I do," Ken replied softly.  "But...we're not kids anymore."

He averted his eyes, folding his arms and loosely grasping his elbows.  "We have to grow up someday."

But Ken certainly didn't sound happy about it. 

 

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Daisuke snorted. "Do we?" He couldn't look at Ken even if he wanted to--which he did. He wanted to so bad. He wanted to feel Ken's body against his own, and feel his pulsing aura engulf him until all other thoughts melted away. There had been times when they'd been that close; when Daisuke really thought he had lost himself in the ether between their bodies. Floating like ghosts, and feeling so damn good. Ken did that to him.

What was he thinking...

"It's bullshit. Just because we grow up doesn't mean we have to lose everything. I feel like..." He sighed again, his arms folding over his chest as he shook his head. "Taichi-senpai, Koushiro, Jou-san... They're almost through college. They talk all the time. They go out drinking every Friday." He wanted to say it. He wanted to ask why it couldn't be them too. "They worked hard, sure. But..."

The only thing I want to work hard for is for you.

Daisuke looked down at his hands. His nails were uneven and his cuticles torn. For hands that did nothing, they sure looked as worn as he felt. Closing his eyes, he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "You didn't answer my question, either. Are you happy? Because I'm not."

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Ken knew he hadn't answered the question.  He was the master of evasiveness.  He could dance circles around most people with his words alone, and it had served him quite well for most of his adolescence.  Ken tightened his hold on himself, knuckles paling.  On his shoulder, Minomon seemed to detect the shift in Ken's demeanor, and he nestled close into the crook of his neck.  He rocked from his heels, to the balls of his feet.   Something deep within him wanted to look at Daisuke, wanted to move over and sit on the bench beside him, but still he remained rooted to the same spot.

"...I don't know," he breathed.  "I know I'm tired. I know I'm glad that exams are over."

But that wasn't the answer Daisuke was looking for, and he knew it. 

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Daisuke smiled. He touched the back of his knuckles with one hand and let out a soft laugh. "Then we should celebrate, shouldn't we? You earned it, after all." He dared to look back up to Ken, the look of discomfort tangling his friend like a snare. It made him sad that he had contributed to putting Ken into that state, but they both needed it. "My treat."

Standing up, he gathered his things once again, and he let Chibimon climb to rest on the top of his head. Stepping near Ken, he cupped the man's elbow and let his thumb linger on the inside of it, rubbing small circles into the soft spot. "I'll be okay, Ken. And so will you." He waited for Ken to return his gaze before letting go, although he didn't want to. There was a butterfly or two fluttering confused somersaults in his stomach, and he wasn't quite sure why.

At first, Daisuke didn't know why he had come here. Skipping school wasn't uncommon for him, but skipping exams was another thing. But he was still set on going when he dragged himself out of bed this morning. So why was it? He wanted to see Ken, sure. And seeing him earlier in the day made it easier in some respect... However, he could have skipped school anywhere. Even into the Digital World. Why did he come to Tamachi? It's not like Ken had the answers.

Though, he did feel the most at ease with him. Even with tempers flared, he realized he'd rather have that than nothing at all. 

He started to walk off, leaving Ken standing behind him. Ken would figure out shortly where they were going if he chose to follow. It was their favorite ramen joint, and tonkatsu was on the menu for this afternoon.

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Ken stewed silently in his thoughts; he wasn't sure he appreciated Daisuke's change in subject.  On one hand, it let him off the hook - it was astounding how heavy a simple question like 'are you happy' could be, and that was a long and dark road that Ken was not immediately ready to traverse.  But on the other, Daisuke was also avoiding a conversation that really, was far from over.  A spark of irritation flared in Ken's chest.    If Ken was the master of evasion, then Daisuke was his equal match in diversion.  Most people thought of Daisuke as an attention seeker, but they couldn't have been farther from the truth, in Ken's eyes; Daisuke always had a way of shifting the focus off himself, and onto those around him.  Or then again, maybe that was only with him.  One constant in their lives was that the people around them always seemed to make odd observations about one of them, that never quite made sense to the other.   It often felt as if the world knew one Daisuke Motmomiya, and Ken knew another.  

It took the sensation of being touched for Ken to finally pull his eyes up from the ground.  It was such a small gesture, but it was the most real human contact he'd had in months, and it sent little electric shivers dancing over his skin.  Daisuke's body beside him seemed to radiate a warmth that made the daylight seem so much colder in comparison.  It all made the gaping absence that had unfolded between them over the last few months feel so much longer, darker, and deeper by contrast.  One of the many knots inside of him unraveled, his arms relaxing, and he lifted a hand--

But he was too slow.  Daisuke was gone half a second later, slipping just out of Ken's fingertips.  His body turned instinctively after Daisuke, as if guided by some otherworldly magnet.  Ken frowned, shifted the strap of the bag on his shoulder, and stared at Daisuke's retreating back for a moment longer than was probably normal.

Were his shoulders always that broad...?

"Ken-chan? Are you okay?"

The sound of his Digimon Partner's voice in his ear broke him from his daze.  He shook his head to clear the fog.  "I'm just tired."  

"You could have slept in, you know."

Ken just smiled a little, and patted Minomon affectionately.  There was nothing for it now.  Ken couldn't go back to bed any more than Daisuke could un-skip his exams.  Even if Ken turned him back right then and there, pushed him on the train, hauled him by the collar back to school, it would not save his chances.  He'd be missing at least half his marks, and he wouldn't be getting in anywhere with that sort of result.   What was done, was done, and there would be plenty more words about it over lunch.  Ken had already fallen into step behind Daisuke, slowly closing the gap until they were walking side by side. 

They had beaten the start of the lunch rush, and were able to have their pick of seats.  Still feeling a bit unsettled in anticipation of re-opening their conversation, Ken kept his order simple; miso ramen, extra nori.  It wasn't his usual, but it seemed the safest bet when his stomach couldn't seem to decide if it was so empty it could digest a horse, or if it wanted to turn to stone.  Shortly after, Ken fished the rice-balls from the convenience store out of his bag and offered them to Minomon and Chibimon while they waited for their orders to be filled.  The tea arrived before their lunch, and Ken poured two cups of green tea from the pot. Even though he figured Daisuke wouldn't be inclined to partake, it was the polite thing to do,and he did so out of habit.   Pale fingers cradled the ceramic cup, lifting it to his lips. Ken softly blew the steam off the top, before taking a slow sip.   

When the cup touched the table again, he finally spoke.  

"...So, what are you going to tell your parents?" 
 

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Daisuke settled into his side of the booth, Chibimon sitting next to him and doing his part to ravage Daisuke's backpack for snacks. The little monster was always hungry, and seemed to think of little else. Daisuke was honestly fine with it; he was simple to understand. Humans could be so complex.

Slipping off his uniform jacket, he set it on top of his pillaged book bag and took at look at the menu. At that point, he realized he wasn't actually hungry. Everything looked so heavy and nauseating. He settled on an order of gyoza and rice. Any left overs could go to his trash can for a digimon. His finger ran down the edges of the menu, his eyes drifting above the top of it to look at Ken briefly. The man was still figuring out his order, his eyes darting across the pages, his teeth caught on the edge of his bottom lip like he was stuck mid-word. It was warm in the restaurant, and Ken was so pale that the flush that formed along his cheeks and neck was a brilliant pink against the white of his skin. And his eyes--his eyes were deep. Pools of muted cerulean encircled by navy. All these years, and Daisuke had never seen eyes like his.

He flushed when he heard a breathy sigh escape his mouth.

Closing the menu and placing it at the end of the table, Daisuke rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. He asked himself again what the hell he was doing. What was going on in his mind that made this a good decision? What the fuck was he going to do? What was he going to do?

Ken's question threw him off guard. Mostly because he hadn't even thought of it. He knew there would be repercussions for his actions, but the reality of it hadn't really caught up with him yet. He shrugged, his fingers moving from the bridge of his nose to the lip of his tea cup. He held it on the table with no intention of drinking it. "Nothing, probably. They'll find out eventually." He kept his gaze on the green liquid in his cup. "For all they know, I'm at school right now. That's good enough for me." Daisuke knew that was an answer that was going to frustrate Ken to no end, but he didn't know what else to tell him. That's exactly how it was going to go, unless Ken told on him. And Daisuke doubted that to be a possibility.

"I want to go to the ocean." Daisuke said, his tongue sticking out of his mouth slightly as he grinned. "In the Digital World." He didn't want Ken to worry about what was to come. It wasn't his burden to bear. Daisuke would be fine, but he'd be better if he could spend some quality time with his best friend. "After we eat. I wanna go." He pushed aside his tea cup as their food was delivered to the table. Breaking his chopsticks, he unceremoniously started to dig into his rice. 

The thought made him feel better. It made the food easier to swallow, and he felt himself to be quite hungry indeed.

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Ken set his mouth in a tight line.  It wasn't quite a frown, but it was certainly no-nonsense.  He had already assumed Daisuke wasn't going to just tell his parents outright what he'd done, but he had to address it eventually when they found him out.  He could run for a while, but not forever, and if this was the path he'd chosen, the best that Ken could offer was to help him build a game plan.  It may not have been his burden, but he couldn't help but make it so. He had only been able to carry his own burdens after all, because Daisuke had insisted on sharing it.

"Yes, but when they find out, what are you going to tell them?  What's your reason?  Your plan?  If you're not going to school, what are you going to do instead?  It might help soften the blow."

That was a lie.  Ken knew Daisuke's parents well enough to know that they wouldn't be happy no matter what the outcome or reasoning.  They'd always been quick to criticize Daisuke.  Ken still remembered the first time he'd met them, and how enthusiastically his father had propositioned Ken to 'Tutor his Stupid Son'.   It still sat poorly with him, and the memory caused the corners of his mouth to turn downward ever so slightly.

When Daisuke brought up the ocean, and the digital world, Ken paused with noodle halfway to his mouth.  They slipped from his chopsticks, splashing back into the broth. 

"What?"  He couldn't deny the small pang of longing he felt at the thought, but his responsible side reeled him in, just a bit. He raised a single, slim eyebrow.  "Don't you think there are a few things you should think over before running off to the beach?"

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"Hmm, you're right." Daisuke popped a gyoza in his mouth, and continued talking as he chewed. "I didn't pack a bathing suit, so maybe the beach is a bad idea." He grinned a sly smile back at Ken. "Maybe we can go to the river and see how many fish Stingmon and XV-mon can catch."

"I always win!" Chibimon chirped. It appeared that he had finished all his snacks, and was watching Daisuke's plate intently for any scraps. "I'm good at catching fish!"

Daisuke laughed and pet his partner on the head. "Hell yeah, you are. I guess that settles it then." He shoved the last two dumplings into his mouth and started to raise his hand to call over the waitress when he caught the heavy look from Ken. "What?" He chewed and swallowed. "Shit, Ken, I'll just fucking tell them to truth. They'll probably care even less than I do." He leaned over and flicked his finger against Ken's forehead. "And I'm going to be a chef, numbskull. I don't need schooling for that." They both knew he was drastically over simplifying the future, but Daisuke was pretty sure he had a solid set of truths behind it that made his irrational choice today surprisingly rational. "Stop being pissed off that I found a loophole to the system. For a smart guy, you sure are dumb as hell."

The smile on his face wouldn't leave, and it didn't leave after he paid for their meals and made their way back to Ken's apartment to open a digital gate. He could feel that Ken was still tense, still pissed off at him, but the air between them was becoming less stifling. He walked backwards and faced Ken as they made their way down the sidewalk. "Let's make sure to pack some pans for your house. I wanna cook some of the fish we catch tonight for you."

He wanted to show Ken that everything would be ok. Because it was going to be... It had to be.

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Ken stared at Daisuke with eyes that could have born holes through concrete.  "That's not what I--"

But he couldn't get a word in edgewise.  He reached to gently rub the stinging spot on his forehead, all the while giving Daisuke a disapproving look.  "Point of fact, you do need some kind of education for that," he mumbled. But he knew Daisuke wasn't listening. 

Half his lunch went uneaten.  He was still hungry, but he just couldn't stomach any more of it.  Daisuke was as wild as hurricane, or a tsunami, his energy practically pulling Ken into the undertow. He followed Daisuke, fuming silently the entire time.  He crossed his arms, and Minomon settled himself in the makeshift cradle.  The more Daisuke talked, the harder it was for Ken to keep quiet.  He wanted to let go and enjoy himself, but his worry about Daisuke's future was clearly weighing more heavily on his mind. 

"Are you going to look for a job, then?"  he asked, out of nowhere.  He wasn't done with this conversation, however much Daisuke seemed adamant on avoiding it. "An apprenticeship might not be an unreasonable idea.  Though the pay wouldn't be much, if anything."

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They were within sight of Ken's apartment, but Daisuke stopped them short. He was trying so hard to have a good time, to not dwell on all of this shit, but Ken could just not get over it. "What do you want me to do, Ichijouji? Spend the rest of the day filling out applications? Should I be going to restaurant to restaurant begging me to take them under their wing?" He threw his arms out, exasperated. "Listen, great ideas. Yeah. Sure. I'll do that. But not right now." He turned his back to Ken and continued walking, albeit at a very slow pace. "Just lay off, dude."

He'd come this far today, and he was determined to have a good time despite of it all. Ken's bad mood wasn't going to sway him. They were fire and ice, and eventually they always met in the middle--like a warm lake or a steamy onsen. At this point, they still didn't accompany the same state of matter. Just a little more of a push...

"I'll just use you, huh? You eat my food and you be honest with me. Then maybe I can see about doing more with it." He looked over his shoulder, a smile returning to his face. Honestly, he loved the idea of being able to cook for Ken. It meant he could see him more. "Anyway, what the hell will  you be eating when you're in school? You have no idea how to cook. You're fucking helpless."

Sometimes it felt good to be so damned right.

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Ken was still for a long moment, just letting all of Daisuke's aggravation wash over him. It was the intensity with which he seemed to be avoiding the topic that had Ken most concerned, and that little outburst?  Just more proof to him that deep down somewhere, Daisuke really didn't have a clue what he was doing.  It really had been an impulse.  Not that it was terribly surprising; thinking things through had never been Daisuke's strong point.   When Daisuke started moving again, Ken did not immediately follow.  When he did, he fell into step behind him, staring at the back of his friend's head.  

In truth, it was easier for Ken to think about Daisuke's problems, than his own.  The question from before rolled around in his head, like a loose marble.

Are you happy?

Was he?

He ignored the comments on his own cooking skills, on Daisuke's intent to turn him into a guinea pig.  It was all fluff (though not entirely inaccurate), and Ken wasn't ready to shuffle the conversation off so casually. Finally, he exhaled heavily, planted his feet, and his hand came to rest on Daisuke's shoulder, holding him back for just a moment.

"Look, I didn't mean it like that," he began softly.  "You don't have to do anything today, I just... wanted you to talk to me.  I wanted to know what you were thinking."

He paused. "I'm not trying to give you a hard time. I just want to help."  

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"Ken," Daisuke said softly. Absently, he placed his hand on top of Ken's. "Please believe me. I'm fine. Stop worrying. When I need your help... I'll ask for it." He peeled Ken's hand off of him and held it in his. It was warm and soft, and Daisuke couldn't help but run his thumb across the knuckles. He offered a soft squeeze before releasing it. It occurred to him that Ken just needed reassurance. It was as if Ken was eating all the anxiety away from him, and now he was about to become unraveled. It was all his fault. "Listen. I don't have a plan. I'm sorry about about that. I'm... I probably did something really stupid." He scratched his chin and sighed. "Well, I did do something really stupid. But I'll figure it out. I always do, right?" Wanting to put some distance between Ken and himself, he made a few more steps toward the apartment. "I want something different, Ken. I don't know what... But I don't want this. This..."

Daisuke clenched his fists.

"Why do we need to have a plan? Even if we did, we don't always follow them, so what's the point? I know you care, Ken. I don't understand why you do, but you do, and I appreciate it. But I can't follow the same path everybody else does. I'm not like everybody else. We aren't like everybody else. Ever since we both first stepped foot into the Digital World we weren't. So why do I need to follow the charade?" He paused to breathe and collect his thoughts. He dug his hands into his pockets. "I might want to cook. I might want to play soccer. Maybe I'll end up working at McDonald's. Ken, none of that matters to me."

So what did matter?

Just say it.

"Dammit, Ken. I don't want to lose anymore time with you." And he wasn't sure if he meant today or the past or the future. He wasn't sure how that was supposed to sound or in what context. "So just..." He turned back, his eyes a desperate plea for his friend to meet him, to come together on the same plain and just enjoy the day. "Can we please go to the river and worry about this later. I just wanted to see you."

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They weren't like everyone else.  Boy, did Ken know that more than anyone.  Even within that Special group that was the Chosen Children, Ken wasn't like everyone else.  The Chosen had always been meant to be this beacon of light, this force for good... and Ken had fallen so far off the path, long before he ever found it.  All his young life he'd been driven to be the best, to succeed, to be as good as his brother had been, to be better.  It had all pushed him to some very dark places.   That darkness had fed off him, fed into him, made him do things without remorse, that he later came to regret with every fiber of his being.  But regret did not change who he was at his core.  

That same hand, holding his now, making him feel as if he mattered -- that hand had pulled him out of the darkness, out of his shell, pulled him into the fold, shown him that he was more than his flaws and his sins.  No one understood how much Daisuke meant to him -- and he thought, no one ever would.  It wasn't something that was easy to understand.  Daisuke was right, in a way; he had never been like everyone else.  And somehow, Ken was still trying to be exactly that -- to fulfill expectations, thrust upon him by others, and by himself.   

And when Daisuke released his hand, the absence was palpable.  His display of raw emotion touched something deep in the pit of Ken's stomach.  

I just wanted to see you.

Their eyes met.  Something in his chest clenched.

"...I wanted to see you, too."

The words were out before he even realized he had thought them.  It sounded weird to his ears, felt weird in his mouth, but it was the truth.  He remembered the red circled date on the calendar, his plan to commute over to Odaiba. He remembered daydreaming on his walk between shops about how he'd stand outside the gate, leaning against the brick pillar, waiting for Daisuke to emerge from the yard.  What a surprise it would have been, how they could commiserate over the hell that was exams, and be glad that it was behind them.  

One step at a time, he closed the space between them.  And then, he offered a rare, gentle, genuine smile as he slipped his hand through Daisuke's elbow.  

"Alright.  You win,"  he conceded. "For now."   And with that, he lead them toward the apartment. 

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Daisuke felt his stomach turn, but not in a nauseous way. In the "it's the morning of your birthday" kind of way, where you're excited to have all your friends over to overdose on sweets and juice and run around the house until you step on a stray Lego. Ken had him by the arm and was leading him to his apartment, and he couldn't think of anything cooler than that. 

They used to be more unabashed. The two of them would unapologetically sleep on each other's shoulders on trains or hold each other in hugs that lasted three heart beats too long. But they had been kids, and kids didn't understand what personal space was, or what it meant when somebody invaded it. They felt things, strong things, toward each other. Like a feeling that Daisuke probably should have had toward Jun--a sibling relationship. Ken was a friend, but he was like a brother too. When he was upset, Ken would hug him. When he was angry, Ken would talk to him. When he was lacking confidence, Ken reassured him. It was an unconditional love as much as it was unwavering.

He wondered what he had ever done to deserve it.

But they grew older, as all boys do, and Ken had started to clam up. He would adjust his shoulder if Daisuke's head fell onto his shoulder, and he would push away from hugs three heart beats too soon. He became more of a tutor to Daisuke at that point. Less about emotions and more about getting down to business. It was a shift, one that took a couple of years for Daisuke to notice and track, but a shift nonetheless. He didn't like it. He missed those moments, all those moments where whatever masks he had to wear outside could be taken off. He missed the moments of being understood by a person, sometimes even better than he understood himself.

Daisuke missed Ken, but he realized that he missed them more. They were partners, and together they completed a whole, and when Daisuke had realized that several months ago, he honestly didn't see the point to involving himself in things that didn't involve Ken. It was irrational and selfish and dangerous, but it was the most real thing he felt in a long time--probably since the day they first jogressed. It was clear as the feeling of Ken on his arm at that moment, and he knew that had been the reason why he had skipped out on exams. Because feeling Ken's fingers delicately pressing into his arm, their shoulders touching, the soft radiating heat of their bodies...

It was all he wanted.

They arrived at Ken's empty apartment and went into Ken's room. Even after six years, the room still looked the same. Ken had little desire for materialistic things, though he did have some of Daisuke's gifts over the years displayed on his desk. Daisuke grinned and touched a finger to the top of the ceramic Wormmon he had made for Ken years ago. "Thank you, Ken." He said, softly. He didn't feel like he had to explain as to why, and he wasn't sure if he would even have an answer to give. He was just thankful that he was here with him today, and hopefully everyday... Someday.

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If Ken was surprised or uncomfortable with how long they remained linked together, he made no indication of it.  It had been intended as a passing gesture, but he didn't mind that they lingered.  For a moment, it was like they were children again, his usual aversion to overt displays of affection blown away on a soft breeze.  Maybe it was the fact that they were so close to home and away from prying eyes, or maybe he could just tell how much Daisuke needed it right then.  Or maybe, it was because Ken had not realized how much he had missed having contact with another person. Whatever the reason, the silence they fell into was comfortable, if not unusual.  From his perch on Ken's outside shoulder, Minomon made happy little clicking noises, and began animatedly talking to Chibimon about fish, and how long it had been since they'd been to the river -- to the Digital World, in general.

Ken's fingers tightened their hold on Daisuke's arm, as if reflexively.  He wasn't about to talk about it, but the realization that he'd not been back to the digital world in almost a year was like a lead weight in his chest.  He'd been so caught up in studying, test preparation, forms and applications, and scholarships, that everything else fell to the wayside.  His only social engagements were study meetings. Hour after hour, day after day was nothing but textbooks and websites and papers.  When was the last time he'd truly enjoyed a meal, instead of hastily downing something just to return to his desk? 

And now that they were going back? How did he feel about that? He wasn't sure the feeling welling in his chest was excitement, or fear.  What if everything had changed? What if he had changed so much, that he no longer belonged there?  

Ken didn't release Daisuke until they were inside the apartment, and even then, he did so with some reluctance.  The Ichijouji home was remarkably quiet, and Ken knew that both his parents were still out.  He hadn't expected to be returning home so soon.  While Daisuke took in the time capsule that was Ken's room, Ken set about unpacking his bag so that he could re-pack it with more practical things.  He paused as he withdrew the taped paper package from the store he'd been in when Daisuke's email arrived.  Ken swallowed uneasily.  

Daisuke's voice pulled him out of his distracted preparations.  

"I-- didn't do anything," Ken replied hesitantly, not sure what he was being thanked for.  Though, it really wasn't important in the grand scheme of things, he supposed.   

Minomon crawled across Ken's back, to his other shoulders, looking down at the package that was still clutched in Ken's hand. 

"Ken-chan, are you going to give him his present?" 

"Eh?"  Ken's attention snapped to Minomon. His cheeks colored slightly, his expression shifting to one of discomfort.   "Ah... Well..."

Minomon seemed to detect that he had said something wrong, and immediately looked guilty.  Suddenly more stiff than before, Ken glanced back at Daisuke from the corner of his eyes, almost hoping that he'd not heard them.  Of course, that would have been too much to ask for, he supposed.   With a sigh, Ken resolved himself, and held the package out to Daisuke with both hands.

"Um... S-sorry it's not wrapped.  It was supposed to be to congratulate you on...."  he trailed off, biting nervously on the inside of his cheek.  He'd never felt so ridiculous.

Underneath the flap of dull brown paper and transparent tape was a bundle wrapped in blue and white stripped tissue paper.  The tissue itself gently encircled a plain box.  Nestled inside was a lacquered bento box, black in color, decorated with red and gold embellishments. Along side them, tied with a ribbon, were a single pair of black chopsticks,delicately carved at the ends with small golden rings.  

"I just thought... you could use your own set."


 

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Daisuke took the package, mouth slightly ajar with awe as he tilted the box in his hands. He shook it a little to test the contents, and looked up at Ken with a bashful look. "But..." He carefully tore the tissue off and slid open the top and pulled the bento box from it. Placing the gift box on the desk beside him, he popped open the bento and gave a toothy smile. "Holy shit, Ken." Picking up the chopsticks, and admired the weight, smoothness, and crafting of each piece, awe across his face.

Ken had a pair of expensive chopsticks he used on special occasions. Daisuke had always been jealous of them and expressed that by making fun of him. "How much did those cost you?" He would click his own cheap chopsticks together. "The entirety of the Emperor's fortune?" And Ken would scoff, his eyes closed as he tilted a bowl of rice to his mouth while Daisuke laughed at him.

And now he had his own pair, and he did nothing to deserve them.

"I can't... Accept these, Ken. I didn't do anything to deserve this kindness." Polite speech was not his strong suit, but he found himself accidentally slipping into it as he tried to humble is gift. He brought the chopstick closer to his eyes and squinted. "These are... These are so great!" He placed the chopsticks back into the box and placed it next to the wrapping on the desk. Unceremoniously, he swung back around and nearly leapt onto Ken, his arms wrapped tightly around the taller boy's neck. His nose buried into the crook of Ken's neck and he smiled into Ken's shirt. "Thank you so much."

His cheeks went hot as he felt Ken's heart bounding against his. He could hear it in his ears, and feel it beating in time with his, and temporarily he lost himself. His arms wrapped tighter, until their fronts were flush against each other, and he breathed in deep. A soft chuckle passed his lips, a chill running down his spine as their bodies shifted against each other. "You know me so well. But you expected too much out of me. So I guess that makes us both fools."

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