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REFLECTIONS
...digest version...
by Kathleen Pilchowski
digimon aren't mine, but the story is. enjoy.

+Touch+

Take a look at my body
Look at my hands
There's so much here that I don't understand
Your face-saving promises
Whispered like prayers
I don't need them

Because I've been treated so wrong,
I've been treated so long
As if I'm becoming untouchable

Well, contempt loves the silence
It thrives in the dark
The fine-winding tendrils that strangle the heart
They say that promises sweeten the blow
But I don't need them
No I don't need them

Natalie Merchant, "My Skin"

The Digital World, a mirror to our own, is also a mirror of the contentment of its denizens. Sometimes it is bizarre: a starry sky shaken with transparent thunderheads. Sometimes it is wonderful, green-purple auroras sheeting around a triumphant sun. On this day, we find the weather mild and uncertain, misty and grey.

"Hey, Kari, want to go to the dance with me?" Davis, for the 5th time.

Kari sighed. Gatomon snorted. "I thought we had agreed that we would all go together as a group, Davis."

With a put-upon shrug and a wounded expression, Davis wordlessly expressed his scorn at that concept. And then, to make sure that everyone got the point, he blurted "But it's a *dance*!"

Yolei winked at him. "This way you'll get to dance with two beautiful ladies, not just one!"

Davis looked at Yolei warily. Her cuteness was definitely overshadowed by her rapaciousness, in his mind. "Um, yeah. Thanks. But it won't count as a date if I go with both of you."

"And me!" TK called cheerfully from his position in the large tree from which he was scouting the area.

A groan erupted from Davis. He was trying to maneuver TK out of the equation (as he thought, cleverly), by leaving him out of the discussion. How dare he assert himself like that! It didn't help when he followed up by calling down "Hey Kari, do you think I should wear my blue blazer, or the green one?"

Kari's eyes sparkled in amusement. "The blue, definitely."

Davis was flabbergasted. "You know his clothes? What are you, his mother?"

Kari just shrugged. "Nah, just his girl." Her eyes gleamed.

It began to rain.

++

"I see, it's a fait accompli" Ken offered, unhelpfully.

It has been a truly awful afternoon in the digital world. Kari had never really comprehended the seriousness of Davis' affections. Her "understanding" with TK was so ingrained in her psyche that she had assumed that Davis had known about it, and had been goofing with her the whole time, perhaps in an attempt to make Yolei jealous. It was natural for Kari to be a little bit short-sighted. Her nature was Light, and as she stood in the center of that light, she sometimes failed to notice the light that reflected back at her. But after her off-hand comment in response to Davis' question, he had fallen into a black funk that even she noticed.

Of course, she had felt terribly guilty, and had been astonishingly sympathetic. It didn't bear thinking about. And so Davis returned to the real world early, to grieve and to plot. And naturally, his mind turned to Ken Ichijuoji, long-time friend and erstwhile Digital Kaiser. Ever since Ken had begun his loose association with the Digidestined, Davis had formed a surprising bond with the slim genius, and it seemed natural to turn to him in a time of crisis.

"The hell? What's that fat thing?" Davis was curled up in a fetal position on Ken's floor. Ken was sitting at his computer, but his chair was turned towards Davis and he was staring at him intently. It had taken Davis forever to relate his tale of woe, considering that he was moaning with some frequency. Ken had listened to the tale in silence so far.

"It's French. It means 'accomplished fact.'"

Davis rolled over onto his back, stretching listlessly. "Oh. Does that mean that I was the only one not to notice this relationship between her and TK?"

Ken narrowed his eyes. "I didn't notice. And I tend to be observant."

Davis continued to stare at Ken's ceiling. "I want to think that she was just playing with me, so that I could hate her or whatever. But she's not like that! She thought =I= was just playing with =her=. I can't believe this happened, with TK there and everything! Yolei and Cody were good enough to clear out, but I feel as if I've been totally humiliated."

The sunlight flooded Ken's bedroom with light, and Davis' prone form was suffused with the rose warmth of sunset. Never had he looked more beautiful, or more lost. Ken leaned forward to catch Davis' eye. "I'm not sure I can do anything about your heartbreak. But I do know a thing or two about eliminating shame."

Davis looked up at Ken worriedly. "I don't want to hurt Kari, Ken."

Ken shook his head and bit his lip slightly. What a legacy he had as the Digital Kaiser! "That's not what I meant. I just think you need to restore your confidence, that's all. And maybe that will help you deal with your pain."

Davis rocked into an upright position. "So what's your idea?"

"You mentioned a dance?"

++

If we were to take a tour inside Ken's head right now, we would notice a little unholy satisfaction. Even though the evil had been washed from his soul, a part of him was enjoying Davis' little foray into misery. He was enjoying it for the perfectly correct, virtuous reason that he thought Davis deserved better, and for a more complicated reason that he was not really willing to define, even for himself.

++

Odaiba Elementary had a dance every year, called "Kiss and Tell," by administrators who liked the way the English phrase sounded, and who found it sweet and innocent in a way that American parents would only boggle at. Only the older students were permitted to attend, and exclusive dating and fancy dress were strongly discouraged. "Kiss and Tell 2001: Friendly Greetings To You" was the official theme. Yolei had been on the committee that decided the theme, and it was decided that the schoolchildren would be permitted to bring guests from other schools, as a way of expanding horizons and increasing juvenile civility. Each child would be allowed to bring one guest, so long as that person had been cleared with the school beforehand.

Naturally, when Davis submitted Ken's name, he didn't even need to be vetted. His name was instantly recognized by the teacher's liaison who was coordinating the whole affair, and soon the whole school was abuzz with the fact that the famous Ken Ichijuoji was condescending to attend the humble event. Yolei was one of the first to find out, naturally, and so she called up Davis immediately to thank...er, congratulate him for such a good idea.

"I'm glad that you are still coming," she said with all sincerity. "Yeah, I thought that you might try to avoid the whole thing after, well, you know."

Davis smiled into the receiver. "It's not a big deal, really." Ken's advice had been to put on a brave face to everyone, to show the world that Davis Motomiya was not to be stopped by such insignificant things as one girl's rejection. He reasoned that such action would have the effect of minimizing his pain, and Ken had worked hard to make sure that Davis' time was filled with fun activities. He encouraged him to let Kari alone, that she would seek him out in friendship soon enough. Davis thought it might be working.

Yolei brightened. "Yeah? So this means you are going to come with all of us, right? Because it wouldn't be the same.."

Davis' smile widened into a grin (a shame Yolei couldn't see his face right then). "Of course."

Yolei started whooping. "Watch out Ken-chan, here I come!"

Right according to schedule. Now Davis had a legitimate reason to go to the dance that had nothing to do with Kari: to show Ken around the school, and to socialize with his friends. This was Ken's plan: the only way to diffuse the humiliation was to rise above it, and he didn't mind being a tool in the advancement of Davis' fortune (at least, not for this once). Ken had reasoned that Davis' standing in school would be accelerated by bringing a famous friend, and since attention wouldn't be so focused on him, Davis would be able to act with more flexibility if his heart started to demand some embarrassing toll from him.

Unknown to Ken was the Plan within a Plan. Davis had a long heart to hear with Veemon, and he had decided that he wasn't going to let go of Kari so easily. Oh no, ho ho HO. On the night of the dance, Davis looked himself over approvingly in the mirror, and vowed to himself, "Kari will be so impressed by me, she'll have to dump that TK!"

In the mirror, a tiny reflection of the sky neglected to catch his notice. If it had, he might have realized that that night was going to be quite bizarre.

+clean+

I'm a slow-dying flower
Frost-killing hour
The sweet turning sour and untouchable

Natalie Merchant, "My Skin"

Remaking yourself and losing yourself are the same thing.

Life is surprisingly bereft of real choice. Most people live their life according to the script written into their genes, buffered by the randomness of a complex environment. All choices are moral ones, and they are never easy. And most of the time, when an individual truly wishes to make a choice, there really is no possibility of making one.

And sometimes, when the choice one wishes to make is closed to him, it becomes a game. A game of cloaking oneself in the dignity of indifference.

At least, that's the way it felt to Ken. But what does he know? He's only 11.

++

Golden hair, check. Brushed, check. Adorable smile....um wait, that looks goofy. Adjust, adjust...ok, check! Blue blazer, check check check!

TK was evaluating himself in the mirror, getting down with his bad self on the eve of the "Kiss and Tell" dance. Patamon was relaxing on TK's bed, wearing a pair of sunglasses and humming some human music that he thought would create an inspirational mood (although "Don't Let the Dogs Out" would not have been TK's first choice).

All was well in the House of Style.

++

Cody was on the Internet, writing a scathing review of "Miss Congeniality." *Worst Movie...Ever*, he typed furiously.

++

Yolei was now on Hour 14 of PreDanceathon2001. She had forced herself to get up at 4am to start her oblations. She was going to pattern her "look" after a snapshot of Mimi that she had discovered in the British girl's magazine, Sugar. And so, in the Spirit of Mimi, she had arranged her day exactly as she imagined that any self-respecting princess of style might.

Altogether, her fascination with Mimi sometimes bordered on obsession. But she didn't care. If she could be like Mimi, life would be perfect!

"And tonight, Ken will be mine!" Yolei licked her crimson-colored, peach-tasting lips in anticipation.

++

Kari was doing some last minute grocery shopping for her family, having naively taken to heart the school's admonition to "keep it simple!" Her only concession to the extravagance of the day were some pink glass dragonfly barrettes, and a short daisy-print dress. Without at all intending it, she looked perfect.

But then again, she always looked perfect.

++

Davis was still checking himself out in the mirror when the doorbell rang. Jun answered the door, and he heard her murmur something admiringly. And then: "He's in his room. Just a sec."

Davis was wearing a grey oxford shirt, brushed cotton that shone like anything. His pants were black and trim, and he was wearing nice black dressy shoes. To top it all off, he was wearing a silk tie, a slightly darker shade of grey, and it looked quite jaunty. "Not too shabby," he thought to himself, even as he moved to meet Ken at the door. Ken had helped him pick out the outfit, actually. It was a lot more understated then he was used to, but somehow he managed to look quite...grr! There was Ken, sitting in the living room, looking. Wow. Different, in an incredibly good way.

Ken always had seemed to be a boy who preferred his uniforms. Soccer, school, crazed emperor....anything but individual style. Usually, when he was wearing street clothes, they tended to be non-descript, revealing nothing about the wearer, giving him an anonymous air of distinction.

But now...! Ken was also wearing black pants, but they were baggy and practically iridescent. His shirt was also shiny, a deep red, the color of blood. He noticed that Davis had stopped in his procession across the floor and was staring at him, Ken smiled and uncrossed his legs, and his pants made a soft rustling sound. "You look good, Davis. That outfit...suits you."

Jun was standing next to her parents, who had entered the room to greet Ken. "He's right, son, you look terrific!" gushed his mother. Jun evaluated her brother critically. "You'll pass," she allowed.

Davis' father was all business. "I want you home by 10:30pm, latest! And you two, make sure you walk the girls home before you come home yourselves."

"Yeah, we'll make sure that TK makes it home safe," Davis said airily. Ken rolled his eyes, and then announced gravely that Yolei and Kari would be looked out for. "You are the perfect gentleman, Ken. I don't know how you ended up friends with this airhead" declaimed Jun.

Davis gave a blood-curdling cry and pretended to attack Jun with ninja stars. "Oh, that's easy," Ken replied. "he keeps me in line." The entire Motomiya family laughed.

+I see into you+

I've been treated so wrong,
I've been treated so long
As if I'm becoming untouchable
I'm a slow-dying flower
In the frost-killing hour
Sweet turning sour and untouchable

Oh, I need the darkness
The sweetness
The sadness
The weakness
Ooh I need this
I need a lullaby, a kiss goodnight
Angel, sweet love of my life
Oh, I need this

Natalie Merchant, "My Skin"

"Cody! Cody! Come on out!"

Yolei was knocking briskly on the door to the Hida apartment, and was surprised when it was Cody's mother who answered. Her cheeks red, she bowed. "Oh, hello, Mrs. Hida. Sorry to bother you. I just wanted to stop by and see Cody before I left."

With a smile, Yolei was admitted into the apartment. She took off her slippers, and then was escorted to Cody's room, where he appeared to be do doing homework. Yolei winked at Mrs. Hida, and then struck a glamourous pose. "Do you think that Ken will approve?"

Cody turned to look at Yolei. She looked pretty, but she didn't really look like herself. He rummaged quickly through his desk, and pulled out a little keychain, one that his father had given him a long time ago. It was a bronze disk, engraved with a picture of a dragon and the word "Excelsior!" emblazoned across it: a typical present from his doting papa when he was alive. He tossed it at her. "For luck," he said simply.

She recognized the present, and smiled beatifically. "Thanks Cody. You rock."

++

"Do you need help bringing the groceries in?" Tai called down from the balcony, from where he noticed his sister struggling with 4 full bags from the market.

Kari looked up and smiled at her brother. "Sure."

Tai hurried down the stairs to meet her about halfway, and took all of the bags from her, despite her protests to keep some. "Hey, isn't it about time for you to leave for the dance?" he asked.

"Mm.hhmm."

Tai looked at her with a sidelong glance. "So why aren't you more excited about it?"

Kari looked down at her feet, and said nothing.

"That's not acceptable! What's wrong?"

Kari stopped walking, and to Tai's surprise, a tear rolled down her cheek. "Did you know that Davis liked me? I mean, =really= liked me?"

"Well, yeah. You mean you didn't?"

At this moment, Miko bounded down the stairwell, mewing loudly. Kari felt like she'd been slapped. Although her brother hadn't meant it at such, it was a rebuke all the same. "I must be very stupid," she thought to herself. After a beat, she looked at her brother pleadingly.

"Why am I the Guardian of Light? That makes no sense. If light is what's in me, how could I be so blind?"

Tai struggled with this one. Obviously his sister needed some kind of wisdom, some answer to make everything all right. But he couldn't see beyond the obvious, which was that Davis is young, he'll get over it, it's not worth crying about. It was an honest mistake. But he saw clearly that this touched on a deeper concern that she must have been wondering about for a long time.

"Kari, don't hate me for saying this, but you are still just a young girl. No one expects you to be perfect. You may be light but you aren't the sun."

Surprisingly, that seemed to help. Kari took the opportunity to snatch one of the bags back, and began bounding up the steps, laughing. Tai followed her, a bit perplexed at the change. At the landing, Kari turned to him, a brave look on her face. "I never saw it before. You're right. I *am* too proud."

Tai shook his head. "Hey, that's not what I meant. You are so helpful around the house, good to mom and dad, and me. Your classmates admire you, and they should! You are kind and considerate. Those are things to be proud of. I just think you take too much upon yourself."

Kari set down the bag that she had grabbed, and picked up Miko, who began to purr like a lion. "It's not so considerate. I just like to be nice. I never thought about my...obligations to others. I assumed that I couldn't do something wrong if my intentions were good. But that's not enough. Now I see it. Thanks Tai."

Ok, this was beyond confusing. Tai followed Kari into the apartment, and changed the subject to soccer and things that he felt that he knew something about.

Kari went into her room, and as she shut the door behind her, she leaned against it, and sighed.

"How can I make it up to him?"

++

TK was still grooving, having convinced Patamon to switch his "humDJ"-efforts into something more hip. Yolei was supposed to stop by and pick him up in a few minutes, and they were going to walk together to the school, where they would meet everyone else. They had made a pact to be the snazziest dressed people at the dance. Kari was to be the judge. If they won, TK would get a kiss from Kari (well, he'd get that anyway, but Kari promised to make it even more spectacular then usual), and Yolei would get to kiss Ken (well, this is the way it worked out in all of her mental scenarios, anyway).

TK was confident that Yolei would hold up her end of the bargain, ever if it killed her. He was a little less sure that he'd win the male honours. After all, Davis was bringing Ken, and there was a wild card if ever there was one. And then there was Davis himself.

Davis Motomiya. He still felt guilty over what had happened a few weeks ago in the digital world. At first he was angry that Davis could have hurt Kari by *being* hurt by her. He was so stubborn! Wasn't it obvious, the way that Kari had felt about him? HIM, Takeru Takaishi. But then, after the anger subsided, he found it replaced by an odd sense of relief. All those months that Davis had pursued Kari, she had never taken him aside and given him the talking-to that he needed. It was almost as if...she liked it! When she finally, accidentally, made everything clear to Davis, TK breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Davis, not his choice for an easy rival.

Glancing out the window, TK noticed that clouds were gathering, but that didn't surprise him. After all, the news reports all had confirmed that a storm was expected, but it would be quite late that night. By then he would be sleeping, dreams of Kari brightening his darkness.

Scanning the sky further, he found the first star of the evening, a bright pulsing light, low in the western sky. Ah, that would be Venus. Not really a star, then. But then, Kari wasn't really a star either, and she certainly counted as the first light of his life.

He made a wish.

++

Ken felt kind of strange, not himself.

He and Davis were walking towards the school together, and they were sharing a moment of silence. It was a comfortable silence. Most of the time, whenever he was with other people, silence meant worship. With Davis, it just meant that there wasn't anything to say. Davis was so different from anyone who he had ever known. So complicated! He laughed whenever Davis labeled himself simple. The sea is simple, too.

Ken looked down at the clothes he was wearing, and felt his cheeks go red. This went way beyond the scope of his original plan! He was supposed to be helping Davis out, not reinventing himself.

Ken looked at Davis out of the corner of his eye, the object of his "charity." When Davis had come to him a few weeks ago with his tale of heartache, Ken had been so filled with exuberance that it scared him. That was a feeling he associated with his life as the Kaiser. Such happiness must mean that someone, somewhere, was suffering on his behalf. With characteristic ruthlessness, he dampened his own visceral response, and decided to do whatever it was that Davis needed of him.

Surely, a startling fashion departure was not necessary to achieve that goal. So, why?

The street that the two were walking down was in a shopping district, and since it was a weekend, there were many people carrying parcels and looking generally blissed out. Since he was covertly analyzing Davis, Ken noticed that he looked similarly blissed out. He had long ago figured out that Davis was viewing this plan as a way to woo Kari, not as a way to forget her. Ken approved of hope, in general, but this hope sickened him.

And then, as Ken silently weighed the import of that last thought, Davis surprised him. "Hey, Ken? I'm glad you are the one who's helping me out. I can't think of anyone else I'd trust my feelings to, and you haven't failed me, not once. I know this evening will be dull for you. It's not you bag, even I know that. Yolei will be all over you the second we see her, and the rest of the 5th and 6th graders will follow. Are you ok with all of this? We don't have to go."

This was a tremendous concession from Davis! Ken glanced away, feeling a warmth extending from his chest into his face. It made all of his blushing before seem pale. "I can hardly disappoint my fans, can I?" he managed, and then, in a smoother tome, he continued. "Yolei doesn't bother me, and in fact I think I can expect her to protect me from the ravages of your peers. Don't worry about it."

Davis broke into a wide grin. "That's wonderful. I think that tonight will be great for the both of us! You may not have noticed, but my soccer skills will make sure that I'm the king of the dance floor! The you and me together, we'll be an unstoppable force! I can't wait!"

Ken surprised himself by winking back. *Who is this person that I'm becoming?*

+plenty of good in that bad+

Do you remember the way that you touched me before?
All the trembling sweetness I loved and adored
Your face-saving promises
Whispered liked prayers
I don't need them

Natalie Merchant, "My Skin"

Willow trees lined the river, birch lined the path, and the oak forest in-between was sprinkled with flowering trees in bloom. White dogwood, austere magnolia, and the ever-favoured cherry tree, each according to its nature. Although the dogwood trees were still barely budding, the soft petals from the cherry were falling softly on the path in the park. Davis had chosen this route to get to school, because it was longer and he needed some time to steel his nerves.

Looking over at his companion, he noticed that Ken was smiling very slightly, ever-so briefly, as he kicked through a pile of fallen pink. He wondered what was brewing in Ken's refined mind. Naturally, he didn't allow himself to wonder for long.

"What are you thinking about?"

Ken looked up at the sky, squinting at some star in the western horizon as if he intended to summon it. "Let's see. Walls, Veils. Things that separate." Rather abruptly, he turned to Davis and stopped walking, giving him a disapproving look. "That's not nice."

Davis stuck out his tongue at him. Long ago he had figured out that Ken tended to wax melancholic if left brooding for too long. And so, if the silence between them had stretched just a little too far, he liked to break it with that question. *What are you thinking about?* Half the time, the answer was philosophical babble that Davis never understood. The other half of the time, when he did understand it, it always seemed a little sad. So he knew he was right to call Ken on it.

Besides, it was funny! Ken Ichijuoji, wonderfully scary, formidable to a fault, never failed to be floored by it. It was the one trick that always worked. Seeing Ken standing there, arms crossed, a-blazoned with righteous ire, it was as if the Kaiser had been reborn. Although, this was a nice Kaiser who would help him out with his homework and buy him snacks if the occasion required it.

So Davis did the only appropriate thing. He walked over to where Ken was fuming, slung his arm around his shoulder casually, and said, "Hey I think about things too, you know. Manchester United, why United States soccer teams suck." Ken gave him a suspicious look, and then had the grace to look a little embarrassed. Davis continued, "It's okay of you're a geek. I'll be cool enough for the both of us. Thank goodness it's so easy for me."

Ken looked at the young boy clumsily trying to appease him, and moved so that his face was inches from Davis. "Is that so?" he challenged, but his anger had dissipated and he began to laugh. "You *think?* Is that what you said?"

Davis lifted his chin, and from deep in his throat came a small note of displeasure. "Damn skippy!" He disengaged his arm from Ken's shoulder, and proceeded to walk along haughtily. Ken paused, and then quickened his pace to stride even with Davis. They walked silently like this for a few minutes. When they were just about ready to emerge from the park, 300 yards from the schoolgrounds, Ken grabbed Davis by the shoulder, not roughly but forcefully.

"Look at me. You know what I was saying before, about walls? Things that separate people? Well, listen to this. I think you are planning on trying to win Kari back tonight. In fact, I *know* it. I can tell. It bothers me that you didn't tell me about this. An important plan, it's your *dream,* and you didn't tell me. I was thinking....why didn't you tell me about it?"

Davis was taken aback. He hadn't really been angry at Ken, he knew that Ken didn't think he was stupid. He had just been trying to be funny, pretending. However, his fake anger must have touched something deep in the violet-eyed boy. The hand that was gripping his arm was warm, and the eyes that accused him were passionate. And what was it he was saying? About Kari? Davis felt a queasy stabbing in his stomach. Why did he feel so guilty, so exposed?

"I...I don't know."

This was bad! Ken looked like he wanted to smack him! Why hadn't he said anything about this new plan of his, anyway? He used to be very forthcoming to Ken when it came to every single minute detail of his feeling for the girl. And even after he had found out that she really didn't return his feelings, he had poured out every woe to Ken. But in the past few weeks, he had started to feel ashamed of his feelings for Kari. It seemed..dirty...like he was betraying something by even having them. Davis started to splutter, it was his turn to babble. But oddly, even as he became more incoherent, Ken seemed to cool down. If Davis had been more calm himself, he would have had to marvel at Ken's ability to live at the extremes.

As Davis wound down, apologizing clumsily, Ken gave him a look that was unreadable. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. It was ridiculous of me to expect you to tell me that. It's just, I noticed it, and was surprised. That is all."

Why did Davis feel so horrible? He felt like he should say something. *Of course, you have the right to know! You're mine...my friend!* His heart sputtered.

"uh...that's alright. I guess."

Ken turned towards the school resolutely. "Well then, let's win you your dream, why don't we?"

That remark should have made Davis dizzy with triumph. If Ken declared that something was to be done, it usually happened. So why was he miserable?

"Sure. That's...something. Great. Yeah."

In this spirit of comradeship, the two boys set forth.

+fling+

Don't spread the discontent
Don't spread the lies
Don't make the same mistakes
With your own life
You never will let love survive

Natalie Merchant, "Break Your Heart"

Spend money on something, and it becomes significant.

If a date is undertaken, the price of chips and a soda will buy you a pleasant memory. However, a $300 extravaganza at the Whitney will buy something unforgettable: an "experience." Never mind that sometimes the more homely option is more appealing to most people...sit down with a bottle of Dom Perignon, and suddenly the birds chirp louder, the sky is bluer, and conversation is enriched.

In Yolei's world, the birds were stereophonic.

Her dress was a miracle in cream. Very simple, with a round neck and no sleeves. The folds of silk brushed just past her knees. She wore shimmery taupe pantyhose, and white platform sandals. Embroidered at the hem of her dress was a white-on-white replication of the frieze that decorates the Parthenon. The dress was not cheap, nor were the pearl earrings, or the numerous pins and bows she had used to twist her hair up into an elegant style.

Although she had no designs on TK, it was extremely gratifying for her to watch as his mouth dropped open slightly when he opened the door of his apartment. She made as if to wipe away drool from his chin, but he wasn't *that* moved. Close, though. TK's response was far more satisfying then Cody's, although she had been so touched by the gift of the charm that she risked disturbing the clean lines of her dress to attach the little keychain to a gold link belt that just so happened to coordinate well with the "grand picture."

"Are you ready?" she asked coyly.

"Mein Gott, it *is* a woman!" TK said, wriggling his eyebrows in a suggestive manner.

Yolei was surprised by this for a second, and then laughed. "Let's go!"

++

At the front entrance of the school, students were beginning to gather, some stopping to wait for friends but most continuing on to the gymnasium. The decorations committee was heavily populated with young girls, and so the color scheme was pink and white (you'd better believe that Yolei chose her dress to match this overarching principle). The bleachers had all been pushed back into the wall storage, and there was a disco ball hanging from the center score board. Streamers and balloons were artfully arranged to suggest the idea of "ballroom," which for the most part worked, considering that few of the children had ever seen a real ballroom outside of "The Sound of Music."

The student body president, a sharkish 6th grade boy wearing the school uniform, was at the door greeting new arrivals and making pleasant conversation with the parents who were chaperoning. The first of the Digidestined to arrive was Kari. She had come by herself, because "why not?" was HER overarching principle. If an idea seemed sensible to her, she soon seized it as her own. She often wished that she were more spontaneous, but when she truly thought out the consequences of spontaneity, it became obvious to her that security was far more precious then any surprise.

She sat down on a wooden bench, far enough from the door that the "door people" wouldn't bother her with inane chitchat, but close enough so that she could watch everyone as they arrived, giving warm greetings to all, and collecting a squadron of her own gang of friends, who vowed to wait with her until TK showed up. Without intending it, Kari had become the center of a new, de facto receiving line that was much friendlier then the student-council approved version, which was passing out buttons that proclaimed "Children of the World, Unite!" That had NOT been Yolei's idea.

The first of her friends to arrive were none other then TK and Yolei. As soon as TK was sighted, an excited buzz arose among the gathered girls. He had been voted "most popular" and "cutest smile" for the past 2 years in a row, and there were not a few girls assembled there who would have given anything to be the recipient of his most brilliant grin, which he was now directing at Light's Keeper. Yolei had no such pre-assembled cheering section, but several scattered groups of boys who hadn't yet decided to begin the festivities started to whistle loudly.

Yolei twirled before Kari. "Do I win?" Kari laughed. "It might be premature to say this, but I think it's a lock. What a fabulous dress!" Yolei looked around. "So where's my prize?"

The prize being, of course, Ken.

Several of the girls gathered there knew all about Yolei's crush on Ken Ichijuoji, and shared it. As Kari was assuring her that neither Davis nor Ken had arrived, several voices rose from the gathered crowd. "You go!" "Ken's mine" "Don't you dare hog him, Yolei!" One brave boy, from beyond the main circle, pointed out that he didn't think Ken was "all that." He was shouted down, mainly by the boys around him, who started calling him jealous. Ken's fanclub crossed gender lines.

Not long after, a hush consumed the crowd. "Ken must have been spotted," said TK dryly.

And without any warning, Yolei single-handedly coordinated a miracle.

With a few well-placed comments, exactly 3 whispered consultations with particular rivals that left them shaking, and a general announcement, Yolei routed the crowd. "I don't think I need to remind the great students of Odaiba Elementary of the spirit of Friendship that is the guiding principle, not just of tonight, but of our whole lives" she declaimed loudly to all. "I don't think I need to remind *you* of exactly what pictures I'll give Ken if anyone treats him poorly," she whispered to the local president of Ken's fanclub. To the boy who made the skeptical comment, she merely asked him to be nice. To anyone that lingered with an autograph book in hand, she reminded them that she knew their names and all evil trespassers would surely be chronicled in Ken's upcoming Memoirs. Yolei did this seamlessly, in a matter of minutes. Long before Ken was in earshot, the crowd was dispersed.

All in all, a virtuoso performance.

++

It was a very good thing that Yolei accomplished all of this before setting eyes on Ken. When he finally did come into range, she melted. "Ken and Yolei Ichijuoji," she whispered to herself, as she fingered Cody's gift. Excelsior! An exhortation to greatness. For Ken, Yolei would be anything, do anything. For him she would be excellent, beyond compare.

TK overheard. "I'm going to etch that on your tombstone" he teased.

Kari overheard THAT. "Be nice." And then, as she turned and looked towards Davis and Ken, "oh my."

TK evaluated Ken critically. "I lose, don't I?"

"Yes," Kari breathed, but her eyes were on Davis.

+hollow master+

When our days shall know their number
When in death we sweetly slumber
When the King commands the spirit to be free
Nevermore with anguish laden
We shall reach that lovely Eden
When they ring the golden bells for you and me
When they ring the golden bells for you and me

"When they Ring the Golden Bells," traditional

...2 days earlier...

After all this time, they still felt like strangers. Worse, they treated him gingerly, and Ken saw in their eyes the same fear of rejection that had been with Wormmon for too long. His papa, his mama. The *unremarkable* Ichijuojis, known only for their progeny. The genesis of Sam might have been some fluke, but when Ken began to display a shadow of Sam's remarkable, multifactorial gifts, the same probing public that admired their children had turned its questing eyes to them.

And they liked it, the attention. It was a heady drug. And so, from a very early age, the one sure trait that Ken shared with his parents was a need to be noticed, to be remarked upon, to be praised.

When Ken had shed his identity as the Digital Kaiser, he had gained some insight into the dysfunction that plagued his family. He saw how deeply his parents loved him, and how desperately they felt that they had failed both of their children. He saw that they blamed themselves, not only for Sam's death (a guilt he shared), but for Ken's descent into a dissociative fugue which caused him to run away and lose his sense of self.

If only they knew. Ken wanted to find someway to lessen that burden, to tell them about the digital world. *Mea culpa,* his heart cried. *It's MY fault. I'm the one who chose the path of evil. I'm the one who ran away.*

So, two days before Davis' school dance, he decided to take some of the first steps of responsibility. Ken knew that the digital world was not his secret to share, but he felt quite strongly that he should try to find a way to verbalize some of the things he had felt, and did, when he had run away.

He found his papa, sitting in front of the television, watching a baseball game and drinking a beer. Ken found baseball interesting, even though he didn't participate in the sport very much himself. But now, the crack of the bat hitting the ball reminded him too much of the sound of his whip as it hit the bodies of Digimon. He just had to endure it. Ken poured himself a lemonade and joined his father on the couch.

"Hey Ken, what's up?"

"Nothing much."

Ken's father nodded skeptically, and then turned back to the game. With a player on 3rd, and one on 1st, the current batter had his work cut out for him. "The pitcher's going to try a fast ball here, just you watch." Leaning forward, beer in hand, his dad had an intent look in his eyes. "But look at the way that batter is shifting his grip. He's figured it out too. His name is Yota Devonara. He's brilliant." Father smiled sadly at his at son. "Just like you."

"Papa?"

"Do you know, you remind me of my sister, your aunt? I know that you were too young to remember her." Dad sighed. "She was quiet, just like you. But she sure knew alot, and she was good at anything. And funny, sarcastic but kind."

In fact, Ken did have a hazy recollection of his aunt. She died of cancer, and he remembered crying at the funeral. Too much death in his family. "Oh." *Is that how you see me?*

With a broad gesture of his hand, Ken's dad waved towards the TV. "Look in his eyes, son. Something I realized, when you were away. You had that same look sometimes. Like you knew the world was watching, and hated it." A beat. "I think we pushed you into that spotlight, and I'm sorry about that. But lately, it seems that you've given up your hope as well as your ambition. I like that even less." Looking down at his hands, his dad's voice became quiet. "I can't help but feel that we did that to you, too. I wish you could tell us, what we could do. You seem to walk in and out of our lives, but you never stay. Your mother and I, we've noticed. I wish we were smart like you. Then we'd know what to do."

Ken started to cry. This apology was so inappropriate, he didn't know what to do. "It's...it's not your fault! It's mine!" He tried very hard to hold onto his iron self-discipline, holding his back straight and his head high. But the tears continued to flow, and he turned involuntarily towards his dear, dear papa. "No." He whispered. "Maybe I'm not as smart as you think. Maybe I'm just stupid enough to have taken for granted everything that you *have* done for me. I was so selfish. I thought you loved Sam, not me." His voice broke during that last sentence.

Ichijuoji Sr. was not very comfortable with emotional scenes, but he loved his son. Tears were in his eyes, as well. "Don't you believe that. Don't you *ever* believe that. You are the most valuable thing your mother or I could possibly imagine. The most important thing in either of our lives," he said hoarsely.

And then he hugged his son.

+processional+

Well is it dark enough?
Can you see me?
Do you want me?
Can you reach me?
Or I'm leaving
Better shut your mouth, and hold your breath
Kiss me now, you'll catch your death
Oh, I mean it
Oh, I mean it

Natalie Merchant, "My Skin"

...present day, Odaiba Elementary...

Admiration is not love. Ken knew that quite well. When he saw the throngs ready to greet him, he groaned inwardly. He still was feeling shaky over what he had said to Davis. *Now there's someone who could...* Ken squelched that thought. The walk had gone so well, until he had decided to get on his moral high horse and express some of the sour hurt that was rolling in his stomach. Some of that hurt came from his still-touchy relationship with his parents, some of it was the familiar guilt he had cultivated regarding Sam. But there was a new vein of sadness that had everything to do with Davis Motomiya, and he couldn't help but feel that he had made everything worse.

Davis walked beside him, looking appropriately pole-axed. *Must I betray everyone that I care for to my own insecure jealousy?* Ken wondered.

Davis had looked up at the crowd, and then made a noise of surprise. "Look at that." Shockingly, everyone who had seemed to be looking their way, expectantly or predatorily, now turned to file into the school. "Someone must have pushed their conscience button. Maybe there's a chance that tonight will turn out to be normal, after all."

"Small chance of that," Ken said caustically. *Yeah, I've got the family sarcasm. But am I REALLY kind?*

Davis ignored this. "Our friends are over there," he said, collecting himself.

"Don't you mean your friends?"

Davis firmly grabbed Ken's hand, and began to drag him forward. "They are YOUR friends, too. It's past time that you saw that." With that, they marched towards the school.

Ken was having a hard time holding his composure. It was nothing new for Davis to man-handle him, but the feeling of his hand tugging on his own felt very nice.

"Show me." Ken commanded, hollowly.

Davis smiled back at him. And then he tapped his forehead. "I changed my mind. Tonight, the plan isn't for me to win Kari. Here's the new plan: you are going to become one of team, in your heart, and in theirs. I want them to know you better." A pause. "I want to know you better, too. You surprise me."

"And you, me."

Davis dragged Ken all the way to his friends.

+things they like+

These are days you'll remember.
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this.
And as you feel it
You'll know it's true that you are blessed and lucky.
It's true that you are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you.

Natalie Merchant, "These Are Days"

It's such an English thing, a very *American* thing, that caused Takeru Takaishi to go by the name "TK." To make it work, his name needed to be Romanized first, because there is not really a good Japanese equivalent to the use of initials as a familiar name. This was something that had arisen rather organically, from a smarty-pants father who knew lots of English, and a mother who had adored that in a man.

TK hardly remembered the days when his parents had lived together as a married couple. But his continued use of the appellation contained all of his subconscious hope that his parents would reconcile someday. They both liked his name. They both loved him. Why couldn't they love each other, as well?

Some might call his hope a delusion, but TK knew better. Hope is the foundation of truth.

++

The sun was kissing the horizon when the group of Digidestined met (Cody in absentita, of course). Davis had pulled Ken across the school yard, and when he dropped Ken's hand a flash of disappointment stood in his eyes. Only TK had noticed this, and *his* eyebrows rose so high with surprise that Ken blushed. Everyone else missed this little by-play, but TK gave Ken a small, reassuring smile. *Your secret's safe with me,* it seemed to say.

Yolei was having some difficulty. Her heart seemed to have lodged itself in her throat, and she just kept staring and staring at Ken. Her expressions flashed like quicksilver, shading from deep personal embarrassment to unspeakable joy, and then to a very forced calm, in a matter of seconds. Ken returned her look with surprise. *Yolei really is radiant,* he thought. *I cannot be the cause of this kind of happiness in anyone, can I?*

Davis scowled at Yolei, and then beamed at Kari. "I hope you all weren't waiting long."

Kari looked at the whole tableau assembled before her and was content. Her initial confusion at seeing Davis looking so...sexy!...had retreated to a more comfortable level of appreciation. "Not really. TK and Yolei arrived just minutes ago, and I wasn't waiting for more then 10 minutes. That's not too bad."

"I hope no windows were broken on the way," TK commented.

Davis was about to open his mouth to retort with a witty rejoinder that mutilated TK's name, but then he glanced quickly at Ken, who was already looking uncomfortable and left out. "No windows, but Ken absolutely *destroyed* 4 Catholic nuns. They all renounced their vows as soon as they saw him."

Kari laughed. "I believe it! Ken, that's a really different look for you. I hope this doesn't mean that you are making a go for international fame. We'll never get to see you outside of the digital world!"

Ken looked down at his outfit, and then shrugged. "It's not that special."

"Oh, but it is," Yolei managed, breathing deeply and talking softly.

TK grabbed Yolei's hand, and then he grabbed Kari's. "It's time to go in. Yolei, keep breathing, I promise the world will start making sense again in a few minutes. Just hang on!"

Davis was taken aback at this initiative, and then shook his head. *It's all about Ken. I won't be selfish.* He ground his teeth. "That's right....TK. We should make our grand entrance."

Ken had started moving as soon as TK had said "let's go," so he was the first to greet the parents and students assigned to the door. He was polite and distant, but adding enough humour that no-one was offended by his reticence. Davis bypassed the receiving line altogether, an unconscious act that might have seemed rude in others, but was actually a bit charming in him, considering the way he grinned so broadly at all of the people he was neglecting to say hello to.

Now was the time for the "grand entrance."

TK was quite a sight, making the entrance with two women on his arms. Davis was hardly less so, with his remarkable new look. Ken, however, was the true star, and everyone knew it. His eyes burned with a little of that anger that his father had finally noticed, but he was also touched with the absurdity of the situation. Here he was, to support Davis, and Davis had turned around and made the night about him. Another night celebrating the great Ken Ichijuoji! Ken could have laughed, and he could have cried.

He could have kissed Davis, when Davis turned to him and shook his head sadly. "Please don't mind them. They are just dazzled by my perfection. It'll pass."

++

As soon as they found their seats in the corner where the tables had been set up, TK and Kari retired to the dance floor to take advantage of a sweet, slow song that was playing overhead. This left Davis and Ken alone with Yolei, who was still having problems forming complete sentences. Davis decided that he would get drinks for the three of them, and this left Ken and Yolei together. Both of them were looking at the other in wide-eyed wonder, Ken with bemusement, Yolei with pure adoration.

"...."

"...."

Obviously, nothing fruitful was going to be discussed so long as Yolei remained in her keyed-up state. Ken wasn't sure what he could say to such bald-faced emotion. *If only Davis looked at me this way. Would I be this speechless then?* He turned his head to peek at Davis, who appeared to be choosing their soft drinks with the air of a wine connoisseur. *Probably!* Ken shook his head slightly. That line of thinking was dangerous. He needed to concentrate on the apparition sitting right next to him.

"Um, Yolei?"

Yolei continued to stare, and then nodded. He could see that this was an Olympic effort for her.

"Davis told me that you helped organize this dance. I think everything looks nice. You did a good job." Ken spoke carefully, conversationally.

"It's nothing," she said in a small voice.

For some reason, Yolei's reticence was drawing out Ken. He found that he wanted to talk to her, he wanted her to see him as a person, not as a celebrity. He very deliberately looked around, and pointed at the spray of balloons that hid all of the sports education posters. "This is the work of a master. You must really enjoy making dull things beautiful."

"Yes. That's true."

Two sentences! Without prompting! Ken was on a roll.

++

Kari was in heaven. An angel in heaven, that's not so unusual. The feeling of TK's arms around her body, his warm breath on her neck, his spicy scent: routine.

However, as she peeked at Davis, who was giving her a sad little look from where he was holding some sodas, she pulled TK towards her closely. *Ok, perhaps my happiness isn't so common, after all. My god, I want Davis to have a slice of this for himself. He deserves it, and so much! I'll just have to find a way to help him find it.*

++

Several of the students had attempted to approach the table where Ken was discovering that he was enjoying Yolei's company, much to his surprise. However, a shadowy group of girls led by Ken's fanclub president barred all intrusion. Yolei's threat had been extremely effective.

++

Cody was in the kitchen at his apartment, watching him mother prepare dinner. She was so beautiful, so elegant! It was so unfair that his mother had to be lonely. She missed his dad so much, he could see it everyday. He wished that he could find a charm to give *her* that would make everything better. For now, he had to content himself with trying to grow up to be the kind of man that his father was. For now, that was enough.

++

Davis set down the drinks that he was juggling, a little bit of sugary carbonation spilling out onto the table as it sloshed over the edges of the cups. He was relieved to find that Ken and Yolei were talking, however hesitantly. Relieved, and a bit...curious? What could they have found to talk about?

As it turned out, Yolei was regaling Ken with tales of Davis' exploits, both in and out of the digital world. Without even thinking about it, the conversation had naturally turned to a common connection. Yolei had loosed up somewhat. Talking about Davis took her mind off the fact that she was in a waking dream. As soon as Davis realized exactly WHAT Yolei was giggling about, he drew in a startled breath.

"Hey, Hey! No fair! I am NOT bossy! And that other thing you said, I'm not that either."

Ken gave him a look of amusement, and then shared a confidential smile with Yolei. "Arrogant? No, you must be mistaken. Davis is always so humble with *me.*"

Davis opened his mouth, but nothing came out. This was unbelievable!

Ken grabbed his soda, and began to drink it. "Thanks for the refreshments. You're a lifesaver."

"Your welcome," Davis mumbled, very ungraciously.

"My hero," Ken continued, insistently, but with a chuckle.

"Mine too" Yolei rejoined, with a little of her usual zest. Davis looked at the two of them, so comfortable with each other. He missed the point, which was that his very presence had made that comfort possible. Instead, all he noticed was a rising sense of disgust within his gut. Davis had set out to facilitate Ken's entrance into the lives of the other Digidestined. He had failed to calculate what this might cost him. His exclusive relationship with Ken was fading! That's not right!

Davis growled in frustration.

At this point, Kari and TK returned from the dance floor. Kari overheard Davis' rumbling.

"What's wrong?"

To the surprise of practically everyone, Davis grabbed Kari and started towards the hallway.

"We need to talk," he rasped shortly.

+measure of the man+

These are days you'll remember.
When May is rushing over you with desire
To be part of the miracles you see in every hour.
You'll know it's true that you are blessed and lucky.
It's true that you are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you.

Natalie Merchant, "These Are Days"

Kari was shocked, astounded, at this new Davis who was drawing her into the hall. He looked so good, so mature in this new grey outfit. *I'll bet Ken had something to do with this,* she speculated, as her eyes traveled up and down his lean figure. And then she focused on his face. She could only see it in profile, because he was walking slightly in front of her, and she noted an air of determination in the drawn lips and furious eyes. *And I'll bet that I have something to do with that,* she thought with some consternation.

Davis was pulling her deep into the school, and she soon divined their destination. The computer lab! He can't intend....no, this is impossible! Does he really plan on taking me into the digital world?

Turns out, he did.

++

After Davis' little scene, the others were left looking at each other with no small amount of perplexion. TK remembered the look he had seen in Ken's eyes earlier, and he had just now noticed a reflection of that look, in Davis'! How interesting.

TK looked down at Yolei, who was completely confused by the whole situation. Poor girl, she has absolutely *no* idea what is going on here. TK had a rush of admiration for Yolei. Despite the affection that Ken seemed to have for Davis (of all people!), here she was, soldiering on, with some level of success, in her attempts to befriend Ken. TK looked critically at the boy in question.

On first glance, he wasn't all that much to behold. But in a thousand gestures, in the tone of his voice, in his boundless intelligence, the richness of his nature unfolded, like a mystery that everyone could appreciate. It must be the secret to his fame, TK decided. He is so open and guarded, at the same time. Extreme, living at the very end of his nerves, resonating with a vibrant lust for life, tempered with deep skepticism at the inherent goodness of man.

TK decided that he liked Ken, and wanted to be his friend.

TK dropped himself into Davis' seat. "This might take a while." He grabbed the drink that Davis had procured for himself, and began to sip. No use wasting it.

Yolei looked at Ken shyly. "Would you mind very terribly if I asked you to dance?"

Ken wanted to be extremely careful here. Yolei, the Digidestined of Love and Sincerity, would be hurt by any wrong move, but he had to be faithful to the feelings he was starting to admit were plaguing him. Damn that Davis! But she was pretty, and she looked so lonely and brave. He got up, and bowed to her in a very courtly manner.

"Ms. Inoue, would you do me the honor?"

The dream exploded.

++

Kari shaded her eyes against the blinding sun in the barren desert. Why had Davis chosen this place, the location of the fall of the Digital Kaiser's flying fortress, the place where Ken had started on the path of redemption? She wished TK were there, to help her, and then she crossed out that thought. *No. It is VERY good that it's just me. I wanted to help Davis. This might be my chance.*

Davis was a few paces away from her. He had let go of her once he realized that she was going to follow him without questions. Now he was standing in the light of that blazing sun, looking lost. She wanted to put her arms around him, but that would be wrong. No use encouraging what was not to be.

Instead, Kari waited. Davis needed time to collect his thoughts. She knew that he was capable of startling insight, when given the opportunity.

++

Davis ran his fingers through his hair, frustrated. Nothing was going as he had planned. Ken had his mind all in a tangle, his intensity, his smiles, the way it felt to touch him, however incidentally. His damned kindness! He could have overcome his reactions to all of it, were it not for that blasted kindness that confused everything. And here was Kari, looking at him with a very strange expression, and he realized that it wasn't even her that he really wanted to vent at, after all. But she was there, so...

"Why TK? What does he have that I don't, after all? I mean, besides seniority?" Not what he meant to say.

"Me." She replied, firmly. Despite her desire to reach out to Davis, Kari refused to betray her feelings for TK.

Davis lifted his chin, and without even realizing it, adopted one of Ken's more imperial poses. "Whatever. That's a very cute thing to say, but does it mean anything?"

Kari was not equipped to deal with Davis in this mood. He seemed to be on fire, but it almost seemed like he was following a script. She proceeded cautiously. "Is this *really* the reason you dragged me here? These are questions you could have asked anywhere, anytime. Why now?" Kari very deliberately looked around, her daisy-print dress flapping in the breeze. "Why HERE?"

Davis decompressed right in front of her eyes. One second, he was standing there, full of anger, and the next he was slouched, hands clutching his knees, tears rolling down his eyes. "I don't know. I'm so confused." He scrubbed at his eyes for a second, and then abandoned the task as futile. His eyes were bottomless wells. "Help me," he whispered.

"I intend to."

++

TK watched as Ken led Yolei to the dance floor. At first he wondered what game Ken was playing, and then he noticed to look of bewildered compassion in Ken's eyes. *I have to trust him.,* TK decided. *He's not what he once was. This will all turn out fine.*

TK barely noticed that he was clutching his cup tightly. His hand was shaking slightly.

++

Yolei was in a state of near-shock, but she still had the presence of mind to nod towards the DJ, no matter that it was a somewhat weak nod. On cue, the DJ faded out the song he was playing, and very soon, her favourite romantic song struck up. Well, not her *ultimate* favourite, but this one had the advantage of being over 6 minutes long, practically twice the length of your average ballad. When she was plotting this moment out in the privacy of her own mind, she very quickly realized that a longer song would grant her more time with physical contact with the divine Ken Ichijuoji.

Now that he was in her arms, she realized that 6 minutes was very inadequate. She wondered why she hadn't settled on Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding." Not exactly prime for slow dancing, but it tinkered on for a strong 12 minutes. Not even that would be enough!

He smelled so good. Unworldly. Her arms were around his waist, and the feeling of his warm torso through the soft red shirt was beyond wonderful. She rested her cheek on his shoulder. It felt so right. Why couldn't she stay like this forever?

++

Kari was a big believer in a positive attitude. But this required finesse. It required her to drop her normal pretenses, and to be real. It was very difficult for her to be this way, because she didn't like to be blunt. Sometimes, however, it was necessary.

She walked over to where Davis was shaking with silent sobs. She forced him to sit down, and then sat down right next to him, folding her legs under her elegantly. Then she took his hand in hers.

"It's not me that you fell in love with. It was an idea. Tell me what that idea was."

Davis slowed his sobs. This was a different way to think about things. Trust Kari to be so inventive!

"You're perfect. How could I not love that?" He replied darkly.

"Ahh. But you see, I'm not! I'm just as flawed as anyone. Can I tell you a secret?" Davis nodded. "I think I pretended not to notice the way you were behaving towards me, because I found it flattering. But when I did this, I think I hurt TK. We've liked each other...for a very long time now. We'd become very comfortable with each other. When you expressed an interest in me, that forced TK to work harder. I admit it. I think I played both of you." Kari sighed. "I didn't realize it until it really hit me how much you seemed to care." Kari paused, and then drew a picture in the sand. "Now, does that sound like something a perfect person would do? I think it wasn't very nice, personally."

Davis laughed through his tears. "No, it wasn't!"

Kari continued relentlessly. "But I've been doing some *good* thinking since then. And I don't think it was ever me that you really favoured, not really. I think you had someone else in mind."

Davis heart leapt queasily. Was he that transparent? Kari saw the fright in his eyes, and rushed to continue. "I don't know who it is. But I do think that you were using the way you acted towards me as a way to keep yourself from having to deal with these other feelings. They must be pretty complicated. Would you like to talk to me about it?"

Davis found out that he did.

+switching places+

These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break.
These days you might feel a shaft of light (light)
Make its way across your face.
And when you do you'll know how it was meant to be.
See the signs and know their meaning.
It's true, you'll know how it was meant to be.
Hear the signs and know they're speaking to you, to you.

Natalie Merchant, "These Are Days"

Only one thing bound them, the children chosen to protect the digital world. It wasn't their individual natures, no matter how excellent. Many people possessed the qualities that they did, sometimes to even greater capacity. Nor was it their accomplishments. There were many people, most older, who had done a lot more with their lives. The one thing that elevated them was the thing they became when they joined forces. Together, they had no equal.

Well, Cody could probably stand alone. But even he benefited from group synergy.

++

Yolei's chosen song ended, and she disengaged from Ken's embrace with *extreme* reluctance. After all, Ken was not the only person in the world who was allowed to be so vibrantly alive. In his arms, she felt some of that energy transfer over. She knew that she would remember that dance, always. She also knew that it was to be their last. Insight is a terrible thing, sometimes.

++

Ken looked over to the table where TK was sitting. No Davis. Just what was he doing with Kari? And just why did TK look so relaxed about the whole affair? After all, Kari was *his* girlfriend. Didn't he care? Ken experienced a completely artificial sense of outrage on Kari's behalf. Later, he would realize that it wasn't TK that he was outraged at.

Yolei had whispered something nonsensical to Ken, but he wasn't paying much attention. Later, he would remember what it was that she said, and his heart would bleed. He shouldn't have the right to hurt people that much, so casually. He really shouldn't.

++

Cody was lying on the floor in his bedroom. He wasn't happy. He had predicted disaster for Yolei from the get-go, although he had the grace not to tell her that. He thought about calling Izzy, because he seemed to have a certain affection for Yolei, and because Cody's current position as the keeper of Knowledge gave him some privileges. But he decided not to. She needed to work things out on her own. Besides, maybe he had been wrong about Ken. Maybe there would be some love lost there.

On instinct, he got up, and told his mother he had something very important to take care of. A matter of honor, he said. She knew better then to challenge him when he adopted his father's tone. She trusted him not to be foolish.

++

Davis was astounded, as he began describing things to Kari. Things that he had half-realized became crystal clear as he put them into words. Kari was looking at him with the most incredible amount of affection he had ever seen, and the words tumbled forth like a waterfall in the bleak desert. He loved Ken! Absolutely, without question, forever and ever! The Real Deal! And maybe Ken loved him too!

Sometimes, insight is fantastic.

++

TK tried to catch Yolei before she slipped away, but she saw him coming and avoided him deftly. She saw that TK had figured out her situation, and that made her feel embarrassed and ashamed. She retreated to the haven of girls everywhere: the bathroom. TK wasn't brave enough to follow her in there.

++

Ken saw TK get up, and cornered him. "Let's talk," he said levelly. TK watched the retreating form of Yolei, and sighed. Apparently she didn't want to talk right now. So TK looked at the boy who was evaluating him with the most aloof, challenging gaze he had ever seen, and tilted his head.

"Why not? It won't be boring, I'm sure."

Ken looked around distantly. "Not here though. Where can we be private?"

TK thought about that for a second. "How about the digital world? We customarily use the computers here, anyway."

Ken purred. "Excellent."

TK was getting a whip vibe from Ken, big time. He hoped that Ken remembered that he was supposed to be kind. Not a maniac. *I trust him,* TK realized. *He won't hurt me, not on purpose. And I won't let him do it on accident.*

"Let's go, then."

++

Cody arrived at the school in a timely fashion. The parents who still lingered at the door to welcome latecomers were surprised to see the serious nine year old. "Party animal" was not a term that sprang to mind when Cody's name came up in casual conversation.

He entered the school, and then walked to the gymnasium. He didn't see any of the other Digidestined anywhere. What in the world could they be doing? He asked after Yolei, and very soon he found out that she was camped out in the bathroom.

Cody was up to the challenge. He rushed in where TK feared to tread.

++

TK and Ken arrived in the computer lab, and TK looked at the regular Digiport with some surprise. It had been opened, and recently. Two guesses who had used it. No, one.

Ken noticed this, and came to the same conclusion that TK did. "What are they doing in there?" He couldn't keep a note of despair out of his voice.

And with that, TK knew everything he needed to know. He looked at Ken calmly. "I trust Kari. Do you trust Davis?"

++

Yolei was in the bathroom, washing her face. For the fifth time. He makeup had long since gone down the drain, but as she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she was marginally pleased to notice that her hair was still in place, her dress unmussed. Well, at least she could leave the school with her head held high. Several of her friends had come in to congratulate her on her dance with Ken. What a coup! Their words died as they looked at the girl sobbing over the sink. This was not a scene of happiness.

Most were cowards. They fled the pain.

A few remained, but they didn't know what to do. However, their faithfulness was rewarded with a marvelous site. The bathroom door opened, and Cody marched in, caring not a whit that he was trespassing in a girl's world. He walked up to Yolei, and since she was bent over, his head was on a level with hers.

"Let's go home."

++

Ken and TK huddled in the corner of the computer room, and waited for their loved ones to return. The minutes passed into hours, and soon they fell asleep, TK leaning on Ken's shoulder and snoring softly. When Davis and Kari stepped through the Digiport, they noticed the pair, and Davis beamed.

Maybe his plan had been a success. Maybe Ken had become friends with the others! This gave him confidence that Plan C would work, as well. He was on a roll! The world might think that Ken Ichijuoji was a genius, but his intelligence was a pale thing next to the cunning of Davis Motomiya!

Kari grinned at him encouragingly. "Go ahead, this is perfect."

Davis crept up next to the pair, and carefully placed his hands on either side of Ken's face. Sleeping, he looked so perfectly kind. Well, kindness had been the thing that started this whole mess in the first place. Davis woke up Ken with a kiss.

++

Ken was dreaming. He thought he was in a room, an immensely large room with no walls. In the center of the room was a mirror. Ken stepped up to the mirror, and saw himself reflected therein.

He looked himself over critically. This is what the world sees. And what the world sees is an important part of who I am. He noticed the casually parted hair, grown long to prove that despite his delicate features, he could still project a masculine aura, against all reason. He touched his hair, and his mirror-self did the same. Cutting the hair would make him ordinary. And despite the rebellion in his heart every time the world placed him on a pedestal, he despised the thought of being ordinary. A fate worse then death.

Suddenly, the image shifted, and he saw himself as he had styled himself for so long. The Digimon Kaiser. This was a truth he didn't like to face: the Kaiser was the spitting image of Sam. Did he really hate his brother that much? The face that looked at his was angry, so angry, and Ken felt the truth of that anger as it burned in his chest. *I made a whole world suffer for this pain.*

Darkness swirled in those eyes. Those eyes taunted him. *Not bad, little brother. I could have done it better, though. MY Chimeramon would never have lost. Think about that, while you live and I remain dead.*

This was not right. Ken rubbed his forehead. *I don't remember Sam being this way. Not really. What is this illusion?* The image shifted yet again, and the darkness expanded, filling the entire mirror.

Ken thought he would drown in that darkness. And then, a pulsing light appeared in the distance, weak, but growing stronger. He heard Davis' voice. "The dead don't speak, Ken. Only the living do."

Of course! Ken looked at the seemingly impenetrable darkness, and smiled. It was a cruel smile, cruel with the promise of kindness. "Sam *is* dead. And I don't want to be a reflection of something he never really was. Not anymore."

The darkness dissipated, and he saw a new picture of himself. This was a different look for him. He was shorter, happier. Instead of perfectly groomed hair, his hair was brown and unruly. Instead of the grey uniform that hid his nature from the world, he was surprised to see that he was wearing a leather jacket, painted with garish yellow flames. So outgoing. Was this a person he could hope to be someday?

And then, he remembered who it was that he was looking at. *Can this be? Is he really a part of me?*

It seemed too good to be true.

When he woke up, he discovered that there is no such thing as "too good to be true."

+Fever+

Under the dog star sail
Over the reefs of moonshine
Under the skies of fall
North, north west, the stones of Faroe

Under the Arctic fire
Over the seas of silence
Hauling on frozen ropes
For all my days remaining
But would north be true?

Sting, "Why Should I Cry For You?"

It was way past 10:30pm, and Davis didn't care.

The dance had been winding down when Davis and Kari had returned from the digital world. In the cool computer lab, a blue glow from the flickering screen was shed over the sleeping forms of Ken and TK. It was such a surprising sight. In a state of mirth, and with Kari's encouragement, Davis decided to wake Ken with a kiss.

For Ken, waking had been like emerging from a shipwreck, quickly kicking his way towards consciousness as he spied a radiant light above. Eyes closed, his awareness returned with the knowledge that something had just recently brushed his lips. Even as he was opening his eyes, memory of the sensation sharpened, and he realized that someone had kissed him.

Kari had knelt down next to TK, and had pulled him away from Ken, whispering, "let's go." Ken heard the voice, and opened his eyes, startled. Confused. *Who just kissed me?* He looked around, the room, and saw Davis grinning like a fool, kneeling right next to him, and Kari and TK in the process of standing up. *Davis, then.* Ken's eyes darkened for a moment, and he felt himself stiffen.

"What are you doing?" He heard himself whisper, a touch harshly. Maybe a little huskily.

"Rescuing you from a fate worse then death." Davis whispered back, and then glanced significantly at TK.

TK rolled his eyes, and Kari looked down at Davis where he huddled next to Ken, who was leaning against the wall, a mixture of confusion and embarrassment. She knew that the next few minutes would be critical. So long as she and TK were there, Davis would continue in his irreverent banter, and she saw quite clearly that Ken's sensitive nature would be offended, having felt that he'd been made fun of. Before TK could reply, she leaned down and tousled Davis' hair. "Be nice." Ken gave her a murderous look, which caused her to smile. She took advantage of the shifted focus to grab TK. "Ok, boys. TK and I are outta here."

You had to love the way that TK's eyes lit up, the way he grabbed her arm, the way they practically *ran* out of the room.

++

Davis watched them leave, speechless. He had been hoping for a few more minutes of Kari's presence. He was so sure that he'd find the right things to say while she was around! And that thing he had said about TK, a stroke of genius! His target fled, Davis had to confront reality, which was just now giving him the most level-eyed, imperturbable gaze that he'd ever seen.

Ken. Practically his own species, he was so divergent in the way he acted..and reacted...to stimuli. Ken's silence was a reaction Davis didn't know how to face. So Davis just looked back at him, but he must have been staring a bit, because Ken narrowed his eyes, slightly.

*What is Ken?* A tiger, a dragon? *Certainly he's a predator.* Davis remembered the days that Ken had haunted his dreams as the Digital Kaiser, after he had found out his true identity. How could someone so *perfect* be so evil? Even now, knowing that Ken had seen the whole Digital world as an elaborate computer game, didn't lessen Davis' sense that Ken was innately dangerous. But then, this was a different kind of danger.

++

For his part, Ken was completely speechless. He had no idea what was going on. At first, he thought that Davis had been mocking him, and that infuriated him. And then Kari dared to touch Davis in a familiar way, and he lurched into despair. But he remembered what TK had said, and when he saw that Kari wasn't going to stick around to flirt with one (or all!) of them, he saw the truth of TK's trust. There was nothing between her and Davis, Ken realized with startled clarity. They are just friends!

It was very interesting, to see the change that came over Davis as soon as his audience left. *So I'm not an audience to him?* Ken was intrigued by this supposition. Perhaps his dream had been more accurate then he had hoped.

++

Davis was at the breaking point. All this looking...ok, *staring*....was outside his comfort range. It had all been very well, to imagine his towering self-confidence towards an imaginary Ken. In his mind, Davis had envisioned a scene of seduction, Ken immediately submitting to the fire of Davis' passion. But that ignored the reality...Ken never submitted, not to anything, or anyone. If anyone was going to have to be shy and clumsy, maybe it would have to be Davis. He certainly was off to a good start.

He praised all that is holy, when Ken finally opened his mouth to speak. "What's going on here, Davis?"

++

Ken winced internally. He hadn't meant to be so blunt.

++

Glancing down at last, Davis was surprised at how relieved he felt to finally disengage from that penetrating stare. But then, why had he started to blush? And now, grin?! Oh, no, this was not good. He had lost control before one syllable had passed his flushed lips.

Davis began to panic.

++

Ken was *very* far from detached from this moment, and found that he was struggling to maintain any level of composure as he watched the play of emotions cast across Davis' face. And then, to make things worse, Davis slowly placed his hand over Ken's. He moved at a glacier's pace, clumsy and extremely hesitant, but there it was. This was nothing like the casualness that Davis usually displayed when touching him. This was purposeful.

Never had Ken felt so helplessly enthralled.

++

Davis had no idea what to do. Ken's eyes were so large, that despite the darkness he could see a flash of purple. Ken's body was completely still. Davis envied him that; he couldn't stop shaking, himself. No pulling away, but Davis wasn't at all sure that it wasn't because Ken was in shock. Well, he might as well press on here, no matter how ridiculous he felt. He might never get a chance to try this again, and he *really* wanted a proper taste of those pale lips.

++

Ken was numb. Bottomlessly numb, his hands had begun a slow freeze, and the blood seemed to be draining out of other parts of him, as well. His brain, to start. Thinking was difficult, his thoughts as sluggish as maple syrup. His heart was pounding so strongly that he felt it deep in his abdomen. *Why do I feel like I'm dying?*

Davis took Ken's icy hand and kissed it, looking for all the world as if he was going to ravish him! Never had Davis looked so focused. Ken was beside himself, and suddenly, a warm flash shattered the encroaching cold. Before Davis had a chance to take another breath, Ken pushed him backwards roughly and began kissing him, thoroughly. ++

Even as Davis reeled as his head clanged against the floor, he was composed enough to sigh internally. *He's going to kill me* he thought, oddly complacently. *The shock has worn off, and now it's the end.* But Ken's hands, which had seemed so cold, now flashed with fire as they found his body.

++

At first he grabbed Davis' hair, roughly. (Ken was thinking *that'll show her* at this exact moment. Proof that even the most sensible genius can get carried away). And then, leaving one hand to tend the hair (so silky! *Kari, eat your heart out!*), he used his other arm to position himself for the most invasive kiss he could imagine. Pressing his body over Davis', he took a deep breath, and then plunged in.

++

Davis only had the time to think, *It's true. He doesn't submit to ANYONE,* before the world exploded into a kind of confusing clarity.

+Passion and Charm+

What would be true?
Sometimes I see your face,
The stars seem to lose their place
Why must I think of you?
Why must I?
Why should I?
Why should I cry for you?
Why would you want me to?
And what would it mean to say,
That, "I loved you in my fashion"?

Sting, "Why Should I Cry For You?"

Do Davis and Ken deserve a little privacy now? Hmm.

Don't worry, I'm not that cruel.

++

The very best place for a first kiss is NOT on the floor of a classroom that is a little cold and a little dingy. Especially, not if it's a lifetime benchmark, First Kiss Ever. Improvisation is all very well, but even the most impassioned lovers will eventually begin to squirm, and think about other options.

With Ken, this was a long time coming. And Davis is still delirious at this point. No use in trying to get a POV out of him right yet.

So, let's take this opportunity to look at what we've got.

Davis Motomiya. There's a Greek concept, "brightface." This is the look that a god takes on when his divinity is revealed. It's a little hard to see him through Ken, but this is the first impression any well-read observer will have. He is smiling radiantly, even as he is being kissed. He can't stop.

On a less spiritual level, he is pink all over, every capillary on his skin dilated in a futile attempt to lower his core body temperature. His eyes are brown, but with flecks of gold, and sometimes they shine like amber. His hair is surprisingly soft, considering how unruly it is. His clothes are helplessly crumpled, tie loose. The grey shirt that Ken had helped pick out is in danger of being removed altogether, perhaps even torn off. The thing is, Ken's hands are busy elsewhere, so the shirt will have to stay put for a while, because Davis isn't thinking clearly enough to unbutton it.

As far as he *can* think, Davis is trying to give back a little of what he is getting. He is returning Ken's kiss as ardently as a novice possibly could. Well, Ken's a novice too, but he has that scary ability to be good at everything, even on the first time. Where Ken presses, he presses back. It's a pretty elementary action-reaction sequence. Newton would be proud.

Davis closes his eyes.

Ken Ichijuoji. Was he ever really average? He still thinks that his whole "genius thing" is a facade, but how likely can that be, when he is good at so many very different things? Booklearning and protracted studying didn't make him good at sports, or clever with ideas, or so insightful into human nature. His entire body sang with one irreducible fact: Ken is perfect. No more, no less. His perfection didn't protect him from bad choices. But it did make it so that is bad choices were remarkable, exquisitely horrible.

But let's not think on that too much. Unlike Davis, Ken is able to maintain a level of control that allows him to think, however sluggishly. And so, he is wondering why Davis is allowing this. And his logical mind can only find one satisfactory solution. Davis allows it, because he likes it.

Looking at Ken, it is easy to see why Davis doesn't mind. Ken's hair is a shadow, very fine tendrils that brush against Davis' cheek whenever he draws back to get a little air. His eyes are tender as a violet, but not nearly as mild, although whenever he stops to look at Davis they are suffused with incredible gentleness. He moves like a leopard, unfolding his taut muscles forcefully. The silky red shirt that Ken had especially chosen to look stunning was still holding up under the workout, although the pants were perhaps a *little* too constricting.

Well, the pants would just have to stay on. Ken was firm on this point. If he moved to adjust them at all, everything would proceed too quickly towards something that even Ken wasn't ready for.

++

The timeless kiss ended at around 12:43 in the morning. That is when Ken got up for air and finally decided to lie back, frankly spent. He had never done anything like *that* before!

Ken turned his head so that he was facing Davis, and he grabbed his hand. Almost drowsily, he smiled, and he began to feel out the contours of Davis' fingers and wrist. In its own quiet way, this was just as exciting as when he had just been doing. And it gave Davis a chance to bring himself up to speed.

++

Davis was trying to remember what it was like to breathe slowly. He began coaching himself, counting out a few seconds for each indrawn breath, and then releasing it as slowly as he could. It was difficult, but Davis was up to the challenge!

Slowly, incrementally, Davis realized where he was, and what had just happened. He began shaking his head. *Never in a million years....this is unbelievable....what does he see in me?* Davis slowly turned his head towards Ken, his smile fading into something more comfortable, a calm and motionless state. Davis felt that Ken was rubbing his hand, exploring it, and Davis began to return the gesture tentatively.

++

Ken almost decided to try again for a second kiss, but his body's exhaustion overruled him. Without moving, he let loose a deep sign.

"I think I should take you home before you're grounded forever."

Davis smiled. "'Sokay. We'll have sleepovers if that happens."

Ken adopted a stern tone. "Not if they think that I'm a bad influence. Come on, get up."

Davis chose out one of his more stubborn looks, but he couldn't keep his lips from wanting to twitch into a smile. "You first."

Ken groaned. "That's not fair."

Davis squirmed a little, so that he could kick Ken gently. "It's your idea."

That was too much! "I guess you'll have to teach me how you manage it."

"Mmm?" Davis was still kicking Ken, but it was more as if he were bouncing his leg on Ken's.

"Not thinking at all."

Davis put down his leg, hard, pinning Ken's to the floor.

"I will, I will!"

And with that, he rocked himself into an upright position, so that he could look down on the boy who had so recently dominated him. His eyes crinkled with amusement, and affection, and even love. Ken was looking back at him, a resumption of his old calm, but there was a bit of a smile there, a genuine look of happiness. Davis touched Ken's cheek softly.

"I'll take care of you." he whispered.

+the forming shrine+

"We can now understand why it is a maxim both in ancient India and ancient Greece, not to look at one's reflection in water, and why the Greeks regarded it as an omen of death if a man dreamed of seeing himself so reflected. They feared that the water-spirits would drag the person's reflection or soul under water, leaving him soulless to perish. This was probably the origin of the classic story of Narcissus, who languished and died through seeing his reflection in the water."

Frazer, The Golden Bough. "The Soul as Shadow and Reflection"

Lie #3: The difference between the past and the future is that one has happened while the other has not.

Winterson, "Sexing the Cherry"

++

A silvery, shivering wind from the north blew the sky clean, and the pink night sky of Japan was improved by the fuzzy light of distant stars. Ken was trying to think of a lie that would convince Davis' parents about their lateness. It felt so odd to him, this accountability that they expected. Ever since Sam had died, and Ken "took up his mantle," the parental privilege had rarely been exercised on his behalf.

*I wonder what my parents would think...about this.* Ken looked at Davis. *I wonder....what would Sam think...of HIM?"

++

Davis wasn't even bothering to wonder what to say to his parents. He figured that they would yell for a bit, give him a stern punishment that would be forgotten in a few days, after which he would be free to resume his normal free-wheeling lifestyle. Besides, although he hadn't asked Ken to come up with a plan, he could feel that Ken was fomenting over something.

The night air was chill, but despite the intimacy that the two boys had shared, they were neither holding hands nor seeking any sort of physical comfort from the other. Out on the street, the empty world was watching, and a certain understanding was blooming between Davis and Ken. This shared secrecy was ever-so-slightly malignant, but understandable. What did it mean, that they had written their desire so forcefully on each other's body? In the privacy of the school, everything seemed possible. The streets had no walls, and although the world was probably careless, it was also quite cruel.

An important thing to know about Davis is that he's a primitive. He doesn't step on cracks, he prays for his ancestors, he believes that laughing will drive away "bad spirits." He believes in taboos. He has a practically tribal fear of allowing shame to be tattooed on his body. Fortunately, he can be pretty plastic in these beliefs when they inconvenience him, and as he remember the smell of Ken's hair (like a forest, like a wild stag), his more irrational beliefs slid away.

Some taboos deserve to be broken.

++

Ken often wondered what his brother would be like, if he were still alive. Sam would have been a high school student now, the same age as the older Digidestined. It never ceased to amaze him that there was no Digivice for Sam, although he was afraid that it was because Sam had been destined for very different things regarding the Digital World. Sam would have been Kaiser, and he would have been smart enough to know that the Digital World was real. Would he care?

And would Ken have been expected to fight him? Perhaps to kill him, and not through a careless wish?

These were dangerous thoughts.

++

Davis was leading Ken through the park that they had walked through earlier that night, an eternity ago. In the dark, it took a certain skill to navigate the long shadows, and Davis was pleased to sense this veil descend. It promised intimacy. It promised love.

Davis became conscious of the fact that he missed touching Ken. But he remembered what had happened earlier, when he had tried to rouse him from reverie. Davis wanted to know what Ken was thinking, but how could he use the familiar question without seeming like he was trying to make a joke?

There was a new thing that he could do now, however, that he couldn't before. He had privileges that he never would have dreamed possible, at least so far as Ken was concerned.

*I promised to take care of him. He looks so sad. What should I do?*

++

In the park there was a small river, and the path through it crossed over it. The bridge that crossed it zig-zaged in the middle, so as to confound any following spirits. I'm not so sure that this is a successful technique. Ken continued to be haunted by Sam. *What would he think of Davis?* This was a critical question. Ken had admired and feared his brother. His opinion would have mattered, even more then that of his parents. Ken looked at Davis, who brightened to see that Ken was noticing him.

Suddenly, Ken thought of an even better question. *What would Davis think of Sam?*

++

Davis stopped in the center of the bridge, and he tugged on Ken's hand, to stop him as well. Ken lurched a bit inelegantly, and Davis pulled him towards the edge of the bridge, so they could look over it, watching the water pass. It seemed like the right thing to do.

++

There was no way to tell that the water was moving, other then the gentle rushing noise it made as it passed. The sound was drenched with all the burning whispers of the past. Ken looked down at the water, but it was too dark out to reflect anything. It was so like his dream, a darkness that would swallow him whole.

But Davis wasn't done yet. "Please, Ken?" He was still holding Ken's hand, but this wasn't sexy, it was *essential.*

Ken looked up, away from the water, off into the distance. He knew that he needed to find a way to orient Davis to the perpetual pain his obsessive nature had produced, but he knew that it was an ugly thing. It was not right, how often he sunk into doubt, and fear. Ken shook his head.

"I'm not thinking right now, Davis. I'm emoting. It doesn't have anything to do with you." That didn't sound right, but Ken didn't know how to edit these words as they lit from his tongue. Because he knew that it sounded bad, Ken gripped Davis' hand tightly. He had to.

++

Davis knew that Ken had darkness in his past, and he was very curious about it. Although he hated to see Ken in pain, a part of him had to admit that this darkness was an integral piece of Ken's depth, something that needed to be there. It had been ordained by fate, that Ken would suffer through guilt and sadness. Davis lifted up a prayer. Fate never said that he had to do it alone, right?

There are stock responses to what Ken had just said. *It has everything to do with me.* *That's not fair* Even, *I understand.* Silence is also a routine response. Not...

"It's not worth anything if we don't do this all the way."

What a confusing thing to say! Davis looked down at the river, which he knew so well. He had used this bridge as a platform for diving on many a sunny summer's day.

He knew it was time for a dive, but this would be a metaphorical one.

Or...not.

He pushed Ken into the river. And then, after conscientiously removing his shoes, he followed him.

+kaiser+

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

Blake, Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The moon was swallowed by the silhouette of Davis, as Ken fell towards the water. Ken barely had time to think, to notice the charming way that Davis appeared to be grinning, congratulating himself for doing something clever, when time seemed to...dilate.

Frozen in his fall, Ken was overcome with the memory of things that had never been. The world faded, and his regrets supplied him with a vision of reality as it Could Have Been.

** **

[1. Pretender]

"Ken..."

Concentrating on the video game that flashed before him, Ken barely heard the sound of his mother calling him.

"Ken!"

With a small shake, Mrs. Ichijuoji grabbed her younger son's chin firmly, and turned it towards herself.

"Ken! Pay attention."

Ken hit pause on his game, and very deliberately growled at his mother. He didn't talk much, these days. His teachers were convinced that he was mildly autistic, considering his detachment and ability to go into cold rages. The fact that he rarely elected to speak did nothing to correct this fallacy.

Mrs. Ichijuoji ignored the growl for now. Usually Ken was very courteous with her, if hardly chatty. She had something very important to say to him, and it superceded any childish rudeness on his part.

"Are you listening?" She felt the tiniest nod through her fingers still clenching his jaw. "Good."

She pulled out a piece of paper written on official letterhead from Odaiba elementary, Ken's school. His parents had hoped to send him to the same school that Sam attended, but despite the fact that Ken's IQ was practically unchartable, he was so sullen and uncooperative that no one at the exclusive school wanted to deal with him. They were willing to make some leeway for the brother of the famous Sam Ichijuoji, but not THAT much leeway.

Odaiba elementary had been more accommodating, but the letter that Mrs. Ichijuoji waved in front of her son suggested that their patience, too, was waning.

"You principal has informed me that you have failed yet ANOTHER test. And that your participation in the Judo club is no longer welcome, considering your tendency to.." She looked down to quote, "'show no mercy' to your classmates."

Ken roused himself slightly. "It wouldn't be a problem if the instructors trained them better." He actually looked hurt, startling purple eyes softening for a moment, which surprised his frazzled mother. Apparently he had enjoyed Judo. She didn't know that until just then.

Mrs. Ichijuoji released him, tears gathering in her eyes. "That's not the point! Why don't you at least TRY to moderate yourself? Especially if you *like* Judo. You should be nice to other people, in any case. Be considerate of their inexperience..." She trailed off.

Ken shrugged. "It's not important." His tone revealed the lie, but his eyes resumed their cold, uncaring clarity.

Hesitantly, Mrs. Ichijuoji suggested, "You could let Sam help you."

The minute amount of emotion that Ken had allowed himself to show wiped itself from his face and voice. "If I can't be as good as *Sam* is on my own, I don't want to be any good at all. I'm not just another project for him to conquer, you know."

She knew. She knew very well.

++

Ken got up stiffly, correctly, and bowed to his mother. He walked through the hallways covered with pictures of Sam. A snapshot of Sam in that bubblegum commercial. Sam looking adorable as he held up his first Intramural Soccer Championship badge (he was 3). Sam fending off a crowd of smitten girls, with a shy smile that seemed to drive them even wilder. There were a few pictures of Ken as well, but he rarely liked to have his picture taken, and he always looked so angry in the pictures that he agreed to be in that they were hardly worth displaying. There was only one picture in which Ken was smiling. It was a picture of him blowing bubbles with Sam when he had been much younger, a photograph that his mother had sneakingly taken when she spied the two of them.

Ken went into his bedroom, a room he shared with Sam. Sam was in there, studying at his desk. Ken had learned a long time ago not to violate his older brother's sacred space. So he went over to his own bookshelf, and randomly began to pull all of the titles off of it, stacking them carefully on the floor.

Listening to a Walkman, Sam didn't hear his brother arrive. However, the flurry of activity caught the corner of his eyes. He pulled out his earplugs and turned in his chair to watch Ken in silence for a few moments. And then:

"I hope you plan on cleaning that up. You know I don't like any messes in this room." Sam had taken to calling it "this room," to distinguish from "our room." In Sam's eyes, it was HIS room, and Ken was an intruder, although a welcome one.

Ken stopped what he was doing, but he didn't turn to look at his brother. He sighed. "Of course."

Sam shrugged and turned back to what he was doing, solving multivariate differential equations.

++

On the next day, Ken reported to the Detention Hall after classes. His dropping grades might not have been enough to land him there, but one of his teachers had correctly interpreted Ken's loftily polite tone as arrogance, and had decided to give him a detention to "show him his place." When he arrived, there was another person there already. Oh yes...Davis Motomiya. He had a bad habit of playing soccer indoors.

Ken was displeased to note that Davis had taken the best spot near the window. He hardly wanted to sit next to the boy, but he *needed* to be near a window, where he could look out on the world and lose himself. He wanted to march up to him and say "Move," but his mother's lecture still rang in his mind.

Instead, he took a seat right in front of Davis, where he wouldn't have to look at him.

++

These two boys were the only ones scheduled for detention that day, and after a lecture on the importance of deference to elders, and obedience to the rules, the Detention Monitor left, telling them to be quiet for the next 2 hours. He went into his office across the hall, and shut his door.

Ken wanted nothing better then to lose himself in nothingness, to examine every minute detail of the sunlit trees just outside the window, an illusion of freedom that Ken craved. He actually liked detention, because it gave him the opportunity to think without distractions. Usually.

This time, he was annoyed by spitballs that kept flying into his hair from behind. After the 3rd slimy paper wad slid down his neck into his shirt, Ken turned to face his tormentor.

"Stop." Not even "stop that." Ken clipped the word coldly, and tried his most intimidating stare. Most people, adults and children, backed off from that unemotional malevolence, and those that didn't usually flared up in anger.

Not Davis, however. "You don't like it?" He grinned.

"No."

"Well, then, get me back. Here's some paper, you supply the spit. I don't want the next few hours to be boring."

Ken took the paper automatically, and then stared at it blankly. Spitwads?

Davis encouraged him. "Go ahead. Battles are no fun if the other side doesn't fight back."

++

After ten minutes of earnest competition, Ken found his groove. With military precision, he soon developed a technique that made it so he was producing twice as many balls as his adversary, and he worked up a lot of spit so that they were twice as slimy, as well. Efficiency! Davis was pummeled.

Laughing, Davis called for a truce. "You're not bad at this" he commented.

Ken looked down at his paper spotted shirt. "Umm. Not perfect. You never would have hit me, otherwise."

Davis winked at him. "You can't win at anything if you aren't willing to take a few hits."

What surprising logic! Ken had never thought about things this way before.

Davis stood up, and picked out a particular desk near the front of the classroom. He looked back at Ken and adopted a didactic tone. "This is Takeru's desk. He is my principle rival in love. What do you say we look through his stuff?"

Never had Ken been subjected to such friendliness before. "I have an idea," he said hesitantly. Most people didn't care to hear what the angry Ichijuoji boy had to say, so sure it would be bitterly correct and entirely unfriendly (which it usually was).

Davis brightened. "I was hoping you'd say that. Everyone says you're brilliant."

Ken looked across the classroom, towards Kari's desk. "Let's take something of hers, and sneak it into TK's bookbag at lunch tomorrow. And then, let's leave an anonymous note suggesting that he had stolen some of her homework. She'll look, to confirm the note. Make her suspicious of him."

Davis looked surprised. Ken was such an unfriendly boy, he had assumed that classroom politics were something he took no note of. "That's *wonderful*" he breathed. "Will you be my friend forever?" he asked impulsively.

Ken had never had a friend before. He was surprised, and then he blushed. "I guess," he said shortly.

Davis put his hands on his hips, and then crowed. "Woo-hoo! You can teach me some of that mean Judo you are so famous for!"

Ken leaned back in his chair.

"And you can teach me the nice variety."

** **

Ken gasped, and his fall continued. His brother...alive! Why did it seem like that would have been a bad thing? Ken went pale with guilt. Suddenly, another possible reality assaulted him, as he splashed into the cold water.

** **

[2. Victorious Conquest]

No detentions for a month. No failed exams. After Ken had decided to join Davis in his "life of crime," his sense of fun had blossomed, and with that, his anger lost a little of its edge. Ken actually raised his hand in class a few times, and he had stopped his annoying habit of interjecting sarcastic jabs whenever he did bother to contribute.

Mr. Ichijuoji was pleased. Everyone knew that Ken had some kind of mental challenges, but it was nice seeing him working them out without the interventions that he had been considering. Finally, a little maturity in his perplexing younger son! Sam was beautifully uncomplicated; he practically raised himself. Ken had required all sorts of specialized treatment because of his extremely poor coping skills. This "walking on eggshells" treatment had alienated, rather then bonding, father to son.

Now, the father had reason to hope that the tide would be shifting.

Ken's brighter attitude could not have come at a better time, because Sam had entered a critical juncture in his preparations for college (he was going to start quite a bit younger then usual). Sam had been attending cram school for months now, and it was nice to see that Ken was no longer complicating this situation.

Ken found it strange, that now that he wanted Sam to be around more, he was gone most of the time. Although Sam was pretty bossy and domineering, he was also quite insightful. Sam had used a little too much of this insight to point out ways in which Ken could be a "better person," but he also was the most equipped to make Ken seem like a *normal* person. Ken would laugh at his stories, and he would be enthralled by tales of the Perils of Fame. Around Sam, Ken could be a little boy, and Sam never expected anything from him but attention. And obedience.

In reality, Sam did most of the parenting of Ken, because he was willing to be blunt and autocratic in a way that their parents were too afraid to.

One night, while Ken was studying late, he was surprised to see his brother stumble in the room, looking for all the world as if he had been beaten up.

Ken stood up, and hurried over to Sam. "What happened?"

Sam's eyes flared for a moment, and then he relaxed. "I was...attacked by some over-zealous fans. They accidentally pushed me over, and I got bumped up in a few places." He was obviously lying, but his eyes communicated menace if Ken dared suggest this possibility to their parents.

Ken helped Sam sit down on his bed, and then hurried to get some warm water and clean washcloths. He handed these items over to Sam, who began cleaning up his dirty bruises and ugly scrapes. While Sam was doing this, Ken hovered around anxiously.

Sam smiled at him. "You've been nicer to mama and papa lately. I've noticed. And now, you're being so helpful! Are you finally growing up?"

Ken sat down on the edge of his own bed, hands on his knees. After looking at the floor for a few minutes, he said finally, "I have a friend now." Ken did not look up.

Despite the pain, Sam started laughing, not unkindly. "It's about time!"

Ken didn't like to be laughed at, but because Davis did it to him all the time, he was getting used to it. He smiled slightly, thinking that would be an appropriate response, but he still did not dare look at his brother.

Sam noticed the embarrassment. "Hmm. I'd almost be willing to wager it's a girl, but I think you'd pass out if one actually tried to make your acquaintance. You're too sensitive, you know!"

"It's not a girl. It's just a boy, one of my classmates." Ken was practically whispering, now. His brother was the only person in the world who could intimidate him, and that was because he was the only one who could make him talk about things he would rather not share.

Sam adopted a grave tone. "This calls for a celebration."

Ken looked up happily. A few times a year, Sam would be seized by a fit of exuberant kindness towards his brother, and would call for a "celebration." This usually meant a day that they would spend together, playing soccer, going to the movies, and playing video games. Sam would cancel all appointments, telling everyone, "Ken-chan is priority one!" Everyone thought it was such a nice thing for Sam to do for his unlikable younger brother, and enjoyed the fact that Ken seemed so excited by the whole prospect. Many people who knew Sam pitied Ken. It would be so hard to live in that gigantic shadow!

Sam pulled out his planner, and started crossing out things. "Saturday it is." Sam always assumed that Ken had nothing more important to do.

Ken was beside himself! "Can I bring Davis?"

Sam gave him a benign grin. "So that's the lucky fellow? Of course. I'd love to meet any friend of yours."

++

The next day in school, Ken pulled Davis aside. "Are you busy on Saturday?"

Davis thought about it for a moment, and then shook his head. "Not really. That's cartoon day, but other then that...."

Ken nodded decisively. "Then maybe you wouldn't mind spending the day with me and my brother. We're going to catch a movie, and then go to the arcade for a while."

Ken had asked this of Davis in the hallway, and a few of their classmates overheard. They turned to Davis and mouthed "lucky!" Everyone knew who Ken's brother was. Davis wasn't paying attention to them, but he knew how they felt. He, too, was aware that Ken was related to a celebrity, a true child prodigy. What a rare privilege! But Davis noted a trace of anxiety in Ken's voice. He knew a little of how important Sam's opinion was to him.

"Are you sure it's okay? He won't mind?"

Ken reassured him. "He expects it!"

What Sam Ichijuoji wants, he gets. It's very simple.

++

On the expected day, Sam and Ken got up early, and watched some cartoons themselves. Sam took the time to point out all the animation errors, as well as describing the techniques used for particularly fine sequences. Ken, in his pajamas, hugged a pillow to his arms and listened, brimful with happy goodness. The day would be perfect, he just knew it!

Because it was a weekend, neither boy wore a uniform. Instead, Sam dressed in a modest, classic outfit, and Ken wore simple shorts and a blue t-shirt. They were supposed to meet Davis for the first screening of their chosen movie, an action-adventure flick with science fiction undertones. Sam had picked the film the night before, and then Ken called Davis to let him know the times.

When they got to the theater, Ken spied Davis waiting in the lobby. He stepped forward quickly to meet him, so he didn't notice the way Sam stiffened when he saw who it was that Ken stopped to greet. What an unexpected development!

Sam had met the boy before, but under a different guise. Sam frowned slightly, and then moved to greet Davis pleasantly. Just because they were enemies in the Digital World didn't mean that they couldn't be cordial here. Sam knew that Davis wouldn't recognize him.

In any case, he didn't want Ken to know about his identity as the Digital Kaiser.

++

At the end of the day, Sam was pleased join Ken in escorting Davis home. It had been an educational way of surveilling his enemy, and besides, the brilliant manner in which Ken had seemed to enjoy the day was reward enough. Sam felt sad that he might have to destroy Ken's only friend, and soon. He vowed to find a way to make it up to him.

** **

Underwater, Ken briefly regained an awareness of his true circumstances. *Sam is dead! This is just a sick fantasy* He was seeing this alternate reality so vividly. To make it all the more surreal, Ken was experiencing this from Sam's point of view as well as his own. At the same time he was reeling at the idea of his brother as Kaiser, he was enjoying the sensation of getting to see what his brother would have been like if he had not died. It was extremely confusing.

But the darkness in him illuminated the truth. In the fabric of destiny, Sam had been the one intended all along to torment the Digital World.

Ken forgot himself, and attempted to take a breath. His lungs filled with water.

** ** [3. Rubicon]

The fortress that Sam had erected in this version of the Digital World was just as impressive as the one that Ken had made in another. More. It was larger, more menacing. Using the pretext of cram school, Sam was spending most of his afternoons there, and his success rate in conquering the Digital World had been quite satisfying.

In his hand he fingered the Digivice that he was using, and he looked up at the stone that he had hung on the wall of his control room, the only decoration. It was the nascent form of a Digidestined crest, and it held the symbol for Kindness. Sam had found it in the desert early in his exploration of that sector, and he was quick to appropriate it once he realized what it was.

Sam remembered the day that the Digivice had appeared, firing out of his computer with electric intensity. Sam had assumed it was his, because it came from his computer, but he had not been able to figure out the purpose it was intended for. Ken had looked at it curiously, and Sam warned him not to touch it. Carelessly, Sam had left it in his unlocked desk, and a few days later, Ken activated the device.

What Sam had seen on that day had scared him witless. His baby brother, who had always adored him and for whom he felt fiercely protective, had come out of the computer in much the same way the Digivice had, blazing with electricity. Ken had glowed with such happiness, but Sam was deathly afraid. In his anxiety, he yelled at Ken and ripped the device out of his hands. He forbid Ken to talk about what had happened, and encouraged him to forget about it. Ken had been confused, and hurt, but he complied shakily.

It was not the last time that Sam would hurt his brother, although he never intended to.

Sam knew that Ken had always been special. Sam had charm, fulminant charisma that made the world love him, and a natural level of intelligence that made learning things easy for him. Ken had never been like that. Ken's intelligence had been manifest practically from birth. It was a miraculous thing. In the way of older brothers, Sam had envied the attention that Ken received as a baby, but that envy shamed him, so he converted it into an overprotectiveness.

Sam had vowed to be the perfect guardian for Ken.

And so, it had been easy for him to figure out that the magical object that Ken had accidentally discharged was something meant for Ken. But it had looked so dangerous, the way Ken tumbled out of the computer, and Sam had not been reassured by Ken's joy in the experience. So Sam appropriated it for himself, at first intending to run experiments on it, to determine if it was safe.

But Something Else had traveled with the Digivice into our dimension. A darkness settled on Sam's heart, and he became obsessed with jealousy. Why was it that Ken would receive this blessing, on top of his wonderful natural gifts? It wasn't fair. So Sam decided to make the Digivice his own.

And now, Ken had befriended, as if by accident, one of the very children who opposed him! Sam was afraid. If Ken found out about this world, he would find out about Sam's deception. Worse, he would find out the horrible things that Sam had done there. Sam admitted freely to himself that his actions were inexcusable, but he wanted the universe to pay for having dared to place this burden on his brother's shoulders.

But if he killed this Davis person, would that be going too far? Sam was attacked with a moment of conscience. His brother would NEVER forgive him that betrayal. Was it worth it, to lose Ken's love, if it meant protecting him?

++

Davis had very much enjoyed his day hanging out with Ken and Sam. Sam had the same kind of formal courtesies that Ken practiced, but he did everything with flare, and a sense of humor that made Ken's deficiencies seem all the more apparent. Next to Sam, Ken was a disaster. But Davis liked Ken's imperfection more then he liked Sam's polish. There was something calculating in Sam's eyes, as if he were stripping Davis' soul down to its bare essentials. It reminded him of someone, but he couldn't think who.

Davis thought a lot about Ken recently. It had been a whim at first, to befriend the boy. School gossip said that he was a mental case. Some people claimed that he was dangerous, others that he was borderline retarded. But the reality of Ken had supplanted all of those incorrect notions. Ken had turned out to be lots of fun, open to trying new things, willing to take risks. He was scary, but in fascinating ways.

He wished that Ken had been one of the Digidestined. He could have been a great help in their fight against the Kaiser. He was strong, and smart, and Davis was confident that Ken's skill would have defeated the Kaiser a long time ago.

Davis wondered if it would be okay to let Ken know about the secret. And if the others would allow him to be brought to the digital world. It would be dangerous: Ken would have no Digimon companion to protect him, and his unfamiliarity with the "digital rules" could prove to be fatal.

Davis liked dangerous ideas, however. He decided to confide in Ken.

** **

Ken struggled weakly in the dark water. The moonlight was too weak, he had no idea which direction was up. Besides, the river's current, indolent though it was, tumbled him along the weedy bed, and he soon found himself tangled. He hoped that Davis would rescue him soon, before he lost consciousness.

** **

[4. The Sacking of Rome]

Davis and Ken snuck into the computer lab one evening. Davis felt horrible, deceiving his friends, but it struck him that only a few minutes peek would be harmless.

When Davis had told Ken about the Digital World, Ken's heart opened up in the most unexpected way. It was if he was being reminded of something that had once been very precious to him. Ken became very insistent about wanting to see this place, and although Davis explained all about the Kaiser, Ken was willing to try all the same.

Davis showed Ken the computer that he and his friends normally used. Ken examined it closely, and when he touched the screen, the Digiport opened. He had only a few seconds to wonder about this, when he was sucked in.

++

Davis had chosen a peaceful meadow in an area far from the Emperor's control. He looked at Ken curiously. How had he arrived first? And why was he wearing the uniform of his brother's school, a very elegant grey jumpsuit? Ken looked down at his clothes curiously. He had never worn the uniform of Sam's select school before. It felt good on him: appropriate.

"Ok Davis. What's next?"

++

The black digivice at Sam's waist began to beep, and he noticed with some surprise that one of the Digidestined children had entered the realm...HIS realm!...alone. This required immediate attention. He prepared to port himself to the location, intending to capture a hostage. Maybe he could do this without killing anyone, after all.

++

Davis introduced Ken to Veemon. Ken knelt down next to the blue digimon, delighted in this new form of life.

"How are you?" Ken inquired politely.

"Just great!" Veemon replied enthusiastically.

Ken looked at him critically. "Davis says that you can transform into a big animal who shoots flames. Is that true?" Veemon nodded, but before he could reply, the digivice in Davis hand began to flash a warning, and someone materialized right in front of them.

++

As soon as Sam apparated, he realized his horrible mistake. Here was Ken, in this damned Digital World. Sam felt ill, and an urge to destroy Davis immediately came to him. How DARE he endanger Ken that way! Davis didn't know who the Kaiser was, but he should have learned by now his ruthless nature. If Ken hadn't been his brother, but a different friend...there might have been horrible consequences. Sam would never order any hurt upon a child accidentally present in the Digital world, but in the heat of battle anything could happen. No *innocent* child should be exposed to this hell!

Sam trusted his disguise, and so it was a shock when Ken looked at him curiously, and then with growing horror. He knew.

++

Davis had wasted no time as soon as he saw the shadow of the Kaiser. With a defiant cry, he ordered Veemon to Armor Energize. He was preparing to order an attack, when Ken griped his arm, hard.

"No, don't"

Davis tried to shake him off, impatiently. He knew that Ken's cool exterior masked a gentle nature, but he didn't have the time to explain why it was necessary to attack. But Ken surprised him by shoving him, hard. Davis hit the ground with a thud. That was uncalled for!

"Ken, what the hell are you thinking! That's the Kai..ser.." Davis trailed off, astounded as Ken marched right up to the dangerous villain. Surprisingly, the Kaiser didn't move to block him in any way. Ken grabbed the visor off the Kaiser's face, and suddenly deep blue eyes were naked to the world. That face looked familiar...Davis was reminded of a movie he had seen recently, for some reason. And suddenly, he knew too.

++

Sam did nothing, said nothing. Ken just stared at him, his confidence and admiration dying before his eyes.

"Why, Sam, Why?" He whispered this, over and over.

This was more then he could bear. Sam fled, tears in his eyes.

++

Sam retreated to his fortress, distraught. Everything he had worked for, destroyed! Sam knew that Ken had a very fragile mental state, and perhaps this would be enough to send him into permanent personality disintegration.

++

Davis watched as the Kaiser left, releasing the breath he hadn't been aware that he'd been holding. Ken whirled to face him.

"You've been fighting my brother," Ken said with strained coolness. He paused, choked up a bit, and then continued.

"That was Sam, he is your 'evil Kaiser'" Ken continued more heatedly. He walked up to Davis to look at him directly in the eye. His expression was terrible. Whatever was going on here, betrayal was premminant.

"Were you lying to me about your purpose here?" Concentrated anger and rage colored this last statement. Ken was looking murder into Davis' eyes for a moment. But only for a moment.

Before Davis could say anything, Ken sat down unexpectedly. More accurately, he dropped, with a jarring landing on his behind.

"I know you weren't lying." He looked so lost.

++

Ken suddenly remembered everything. Wormmon, his first trip to the Digital World. The way that Sam had taken the Digivice, and had scared him into forgetting everything about his time there. This overwhelmed him, so he sat.

He sat silent like that for a long time. Davis sat down next to him, and they held hands. Ken was comforted, a little.

He began to think, hard.

++

Sam looked at the stone crest, which he had cherished for so long. Kindness....the weakest attribute on the Digital axis...or perhaps the strongest. It depended a lot upon how it was wielded.

Sam was not surprised when the Crest began to glow. It was responding to the presence of it's guardian in the digital world.

++

Ken looked at Davis emotionlessly.

"Take me to him."

++

Sam made several curt orders to his enslaved Digimon. Everyone... *everyone*...would be required to abandon the fortress within the next 5 minutes, upon pain of death. He sensed that Ken was coming to him, and he very much desired that there would be no accidental fighting.

++

Ken was shocked to see the fortress. It was so formidable, so ugly. Was this what Sam was like, deep down inside?

++

Davis was uncomfortable. No Digimon emerged to challenge them, but his experience had trained him to suspect a trap. Not knowing Sam, he was afraid of what the Kaiser would do.

He was right to be worried.

++

Ken and Davis walked through the main entrance, and were surprised to be met by a small Digimon that had not been ordered to leave. It was Wormmon, entrained with a dark ring.

Ken was startled. "If I'm right, this is *my* Digimon" he whispered to Davis.

If Ken was startled, Davis was shocked. "What?!"

Ken glanced at him darkly. "I've been here before."

At this moment, Sam appeared from a side corridor. He was looking impassively at his brother, his beloved, delicate brother. Sam was surprised to see the resolve reflected there. Ken knelt down next to the Wormmon, and placed his hand on its head.

He tilted his eyes up at Sam, and his customary rage was gone, burned out. Sam had been used to it for so long, it was as if a stranger was looking at him.

"Free him," he ordered simply.

Sam was very unused to his brother adopting this kind of attitude. *What have I done?* After a pause, Sam pointed a rod-like mechanism at the ring, and the ring dissipated, the data lost.

Ken picked up Wormmon, and then turned to Davis. "Leave us."

Davis refused to go. "I don't trust him."

"I do."

** **

Ken ceased to struggle with the water. As his consciousness began to fade, he felt strong arms encircle him.

It was a decisive moment.

+Not For You+

Though thy slumber may be deep,
Yet thy spirit shall not sleep;
There are shades which will not vanish,
There are thoughts which thou canst not banish.

Byron, "Manfred"

Davis dove blindly, giddily. Scissors Dive! He felt like he was getting away with something dangerous. He had caught Ken off guard...! A moment to go down in the annals. The *secret* annals, known only to him, recorded in a notebook hidden under his mattress, with the words "Davis: Triumph and Victory" scrawled across the front.

When Davis lifted his head from the water moments later, however, his silly feeling had been replaced with concern. Where was Ken.? He turned in a quick circle, thinking perhaps Ken was already to the shoreline. When this initial investigation proved fruitless, Davis began to worry. Maybe this incident would have to go down in the OTHER annals, a much larger notebook entitled "Why I Suck."

Davis took a deep breath, and then propelled himself underwater.

** **

[1. Reciprocity]

Ken's mind was strung out, taut. He was in between two worlds.

In the first world, he was tainted and brotherless.

In the second, he was innocent and his brother was still alive.

In both, he had Davis, although it was only in the first where he *really* had Davis in that special way that he had suppressingly lusted after for so long. And yet, the second world tantalized him with its possibilities, never mind that it was an illusion. Ken was extremely tempted to stay: to save his brother, to transform himself.

He felt himself settle into the idea of a boy who was confronting Sam, felt his consciousness merge with that of the Alternate Ken. That other self seemed so weak, so ineffectual, but he envied it all the same, because there was no blood on THAT Ken's hands.

++

Sam watched with amazement the flickering emotions that roiled across Ken's face. The one thing he could count on in his life was Ken's predictable fragility. It had always bothered him, why his brother was so odd and unsuccessful at life, considering how smart and funny he could be in private. But even though it upset him, Sam had grown comfortable with Ken's weakness, and a small part of was willing to admit that he *enjoyed* being the dominant force in Ken's life, able to tease out a part of him that no one else was allowed to see.

Ken's private face had always been one of innocence and worship, his public face one of anger and rebellion.

This face was nothing like either.

Where Sam expected to see a sense of betrayal, he thought he saw a flash of...understanding?

++

Ken looked over at this Alternate Davis, and drawing on his OWN experience as the Kaiser, dismissed him coldly. "You can go." Davis looked very confused, but before he could say anything, Ken placed a burning hand on Davis' arm, and drew him closer, so he could whisper sensually in his ears. "You *must* go" he said emphatically, squeezing Davis' arm ever so slightly, and then letting go with a teasing caress. After a moment, he placed Wormmon in Davis' arms. Yes, very Kaiser-like.

Oh, how he hated that stain! But it worked. Davis was perplexed, and in his moment of indecision, Ken whirled around in a stately manner and addressed his brother. "Take me to your control room."

Sam was as discomfited as Davis, but he hid it better. He turned and led the way out of the hallway, down a dark passageway lined with the fine wires of Sam's vast Datanet, intricate green tracings that pulsed with a vague light as information transferred through them. A few seconds after Ken and Sam walked in the adjoining room, a door slid shut behind them. Ken nodded with satisfaction. It had been difficult, letting go of Wormmon, still confused from the effects of the dark ring. It had been even worse, playing a teasingly sexual game with a Davis who was ripe to be taken advantage of in that way.

And yet, both deeds were necessary. Wormmon might hurt Sam. And Davis might have to see Ken deal with Sam, and it would not be pleasant. Whether this Davis was real or not was moot. Ken knew with all of his heart that he should not have to witness what would happen next.

He just wished he knew what that would be.

** **

Davis pushed his way through the water, moving as quickly as his muscles had allowed. At first he had panicked, and lost time by swimming straight down to the bottom of the river, without a clear plan. When he touched down in the shifting weeds, he realized that it was too dark to see with any clarity, and so he rose to the surface, in an attempt to reconstruct an idea of where Ken had initially landed. Frowning a little, he picked a place 4 meters to his left, and swam over.

** **

[2. Minus Self]

Ken looked around critically. "Is this where I mention how much I like what you've done to the place?" This merely redoubled Sam's confusion. Ken's eyes widened at the crest. Tilting his head to the side, he pretended to consider it with detachment, but he could feel his heart racing. *This will only work if I catch him off guard* Ken turned to shake his index finger at Sam and began to scold him. "After all of your fine talk about 'respecting property' and 'cultivating trust,' you have stolen at least two things of mine, on my count. My Digivice.." He pointed to Sam's waist. "...and my Crest." Ken stalked Sam like a lion would some defective prey: unhurriedly, with minor concern that the prey could escape.

Sam finally opened his mouth to speak, but Ken interrupted him.

"Now, now. I'm not done talking yet." He smiled slightly as he spied Sam's "throne." It was ornate, and Ken realized something that sickened him: there were many ways in which he "did" evil better then Sam. Design sense was one of them. Too over-the-top, and menace fades and only ridiculousness remains.

Ken sighed, sounding put out, and he walked over to the throne, where he sat down gracefully. *The upper hand, once taken, is difficult to lose* Ken recalled from the days when he would study on how to be the perfect tyrant. Ken watched as his brother was shaking, sputtering, and he allowed himself to frown. "Let us discuss....reparations."

This did it. Sam now thought that he had driven Ken verifiably insane.

++

Usually, Sam could find the perfect thing to say, but his guilt was so immense, his sense of wrongdoing so profound, that his eloquence failed him. "I'm sorry, Ken-chan. I'm so sorry!" he moaned. "I only did it because..." Ken held up a hand, and Sam became quiet. If Ken came out of this with any shred of his original personality intact, Sam would be surprised, but he wanted to preserve as much of Ken's sanity as he could.

"No excuses," Ken said quietly. Ken already knew what Sam's motives were, and he found them too familiar for his liking. *He came here to punish the universe on my behalf. I came as Kaiser, because I too wanted to punish the universe: for taking Sam away from me. Too alike, my brother and I. Whatever this vision of reality is, I can't let him fester with guilt*

"I'm not going to torment you with questions of 'why.'"

Sam looked helplessly downcast, and Ken wondered if this was the way that he had appeared to Davis and the others when Wormmon had helped Magnamon defeat Chimeramon. *No, my guilt was more picturesque. Sam's feeling this even more then I did* Ken rested his chin on his bent wrist. "You think I've gone crazy, don't you?" Sam began to shake, and he clenched his fists tightly at his side.

Ken looked at the Crest of Kindness, and his thoughts went, oddly enough, to Kari and Tai, to TK and Matt. They were close siblings, and so it seemed that fate blessed their connection by choosing them both out. *Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.* The Christian's Bible had been one of the many things Ken had studied in his attempt to understand the nature of conquest. *I came to bring not peace, but the sword* If Ken had never been chosen as Digidestined in either reality, tragedy might have been averted. It seemed...unfair.

And yet, that line of reasoning was unproductive and unjustly reductive. *Look at Davis. He has a sister. Neither she nor he are stained because of his being Chosen. And she's too busy enjoying her regular life to be tempted to jealousy of Davis for his. There's something more going on here. It's a basic dysfunction between Sam and I. I don't think God...or the universe...is responsible for THAT.*

Ken looked at Sam with all of the gravity at his command. "It's not me who is 'touched,' Sam. It's you. Let it go."

++

A shadow seemed to gather around Sam, a palpable thing, and he shrieked in pain.

Ken stood swiftly. "Ahh...the darkness. Now I understand. Evil has it's own emissaries of fate."

Evil is not easily abjured from a tattered soul, because then, what would be left to hold it together? Ken moved to hold his brother in a tight embrace.

In a moment, without any thought, the innocent Ken took over, and our Ken felt himself slipping away, into his own drowning.

*I hope that worked*

** **

Davis felt his body slide against the floating arm of Ken, and he knew then which of his Annals he'd be recording in when the day was over: both.

*Davis the dumbass, who practically let his Ken drown because of his idiotic horseplay*

*Davis the magnificent hero, who rescues his Ken from the clutches of death*

Well, the second part of that was still in progress. He pulled at Ken's arm, and soon Ken's body was held tightly to his own, as he began to clip at the vines that held him down.

** **

[3. Disguised as a Human Being]

Ken was overcome with regret. He wanted to know how it would turn out, between Sam and him! Sam would give up evil, he was sure. Would that other, gentler Ken find a way so that they could both help the Digital World together?

But perhaps it was just as well. If he had stayed in that dream for much longer, he might never have come back. He felt Davis' thin, muscular arms encircle him awkwardly, and he had a sensation of his head crashing through a barrier, and Davis squeezed his belly tightly. Water spewed out of his lungs, and Ken was coughing uncontrollably as Davis swam him to shore. Davis was swimming on his back, using his body as a lever to hold Ken's upper body out of the water.

When the water was shallow enough, Davis stopped, so that he and Ken were sitting in the water, which lapped around them gently. Ken seemed really weak, and Davis felt horrible. Hesitantly, he angled his head forward so that he could kiss Ken's ear, wet and slightly muddy as it was. He whispered, "I'm sorry. That wasn't so bright on my part."

Ken leaned back into Davis, exhausted spiritually and physically. Davis rubbed his nose against Ken's chin, and leaned down further so that he could kiss Ken's collarbone. With one arm firmly around Ken's waist, he drew up his other arm, placing his dripping hand on Ken's wet shoulder. Davis placed his lips on Ken's clammy skin, at first merely pressing, but then he began to taste.

Davis felt deliciously powerful. *I guess there's a little bit of wickedness in everyone, ne?*

Ken's coughing had ceased, and he stared in wonder at the scene before him. Under the night sky, the bridge that he had so recently stood on towered ominously, but it was lit sweetly by the occasional glow of a firefly. The summer stars were clearer here, their red and orange and purple fire so distant and yet distinct. He smiled at the beauty around him, and he breathed deeply the boggy green smell of the river. He smiled at the idea of the beauty behind him, holding him up, protecting him, kissing him so saucily.

He remembered what it had been like, to meet Davis in that other world. He remembered what that Davis had said: You can't win at anything unless you are willing to take a few hits. *What a cunning boy Davis is, in any world!* Ken had felt like he'd been battling his memories of Sam for so long, but he had never allowed his pain to touch him like he had this evening. He had taken a hit, but he felt closer to winning then ever.

*Maybe someday I will be pure and clean, and the Kaiser will disappear forever*

Abandoning all propriety, Ken lifted one of his hands from the muck, and reached back swiftly to spread some muck on the side of Davis' cheek.

Davis stopped what he was doing, and exclaimed "Hey!"

Ken flipped over, and with one of his more noteworthy "mean" Judo moves, pinned Davis down in the shallow stream. "Just settling the score, my dear and worthy adversary" he said with a toothy grin.

He then kissed Davis right between his eyes, a tender kiss full of spirit.

"I have an idea," Ken pronounced regally.

+The Next Morning+

dark and dangerous like a secret that's whispered in a hush
when I wake the things I dreamt about you last night make me blush
when you kiss me like a lover
then you sting me like a viper
i go follow to the river
play your memory like a piper
and i feel it like a sickness
how this love is killing me
but i'd walk into the fingers of your fire willingly

indigo girls, "ghost"

**

Ken's idea had been simple, and elegant. So the Motomiya parents would be upset if Davis was late? How would they feel if he never came home at all?

At least, just for the night.

Davis was astounded with the fact that duplicity would hardly even be needed. "Let me get this straight," he frowned, looking adorable with dirt ground into his once snappy clothes, hair flat and sopping wet. "I'm not going to have to lie? Not even once?" It seemed unnatural.

Ken wiggled a finger at Davis. "Just let me do the talking. You might break into absurd lies, just out of habit."

Davis opened his mouth, prepared to raise the following objections: what about my dirty clothes? What about my curfew? What about my toothbrush? What about...morning cartoons? This last was a most troubling thought. Before he could say anything, Ken's finger flicked against Davis' forehead, a tiny sting from a mini whip.

"I'll take care of *everything*" Ken paused for a moment to admire the open-mouth way that Davis was staring. He began to coo in a syrupy, slightly sarcastic tone full of mirth. "I'll even wake you up for 'Pokemon,' just like your mama would."

Davis tumbled backwards in the dew-drenched grass of the park, putting his hands behind his head and whistling thoughtfully. "It just might work, Ken. Ne, Ken?"

Ken just barely restrained himself from resuming the Dirt War that they had just finished. "It *might* work?" He shook his head. Too wet, too tired. He got up and proferred a hand to the oblivious boy. "Let's get going. You were saying?"

"I want you to tell me sometime about why you almost drown back there." Davis took Ken's hand, using it as a lever to get up.

Ken paused for a moment, and then he favoured Davis with his most childlike look of wonder, still gripping his hand. Davis didn't say anything, even though the grip became tighter and tighter. Ken finally realized what he was doing, looking down at the bloodless hand he was clutching. He dropped Davis' hand, and averted his gaze. "It's a promise."

Davis smiled, satisfied. He knew that the perfect Ken Ichijuoji didn't just fall in a river and forget how to swim. He had seen the look in Ken's eyes right before he splashed in, and now that he had time to process it, he recognized it for what it was.

It was fear.

++

At the Ichijuoji residence, no-one was waiting up, so it was without witness that Ken snuck Davis into the hallway, and then into his bedroom. He ordered Davis to strip, and began tearing off his own wet clothes. Ken pulled everything off with ruthless efficiency, and so it wasn't until he turned to his wardrobe to pull out a pair of clean boxers that he noticed that Davis was still standing, fully clothed and even more fully blushed, staring but trying not to, his hands forming a twiddling church in front of him. Ken sighed.

"Remind me never to take you to a public bath, will you?"

Davis whispered, "But Ken...you're *beautiful*"

Ken looked down at his own naked torso coolly. "I suppose I'm not all that different from any other person, when you get right down to it." He folded his arms on his chest. "This is not a free show. You are dripping all over the floor, and every minute we waste is a minute your parents are crying by the phone, thinking you are dead."

Ken nodded with satisfaction as Davis shamefacedly began to unbutton his shirt, and then turned to his drawers so that Davis couldn't see the faint pink tinge colouring his own high cheekbones. Ken pulled out a pair of simple white boxers for himself, and then dug down deep to pull out a special treasure for Davis: Batman Underoos.

++

When both boys had taken a quick shower (seperately!), and had dressed in pajamas, Ken went over to the phone and began dialing.

Davis looked around for a phone book. "You know my number by heart? I'm touched!"

Ken put his hand over the receiver to reply dryly. "I have 314 unique phone numbers memorized. Don't be too overwhelmed."

Davis pouted, and began to mumble..."Huh. Well, I never bothered to memorize yours, so there!" Ken hushed him quickly: the line had just picked up on the other end.

"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Motomiya? This is Ichijuoji Ken. Yes, Davis is fine, he's right here, I'll let you talk to him in a second. I just wanted to let you know that Davis is terribly sorry for missing curfew. I'm afraid it's my fault. On the way home, I sort of fell into a river...what? Yes, I'm fine now. It was terribly clumsy of me. Anyways, I wanted to let you know about the brave thing that Davis did, because he would never tell you himself. Yes? It's true! He saved me! I bumped my head on the bottom, and it kind of knocked me out. It took me a while to feel steady enough to walk home, and Davis helped me. Yes, he's quite marvelous, I agree entirely. I thought it would only be right if he stayed the night. His clothes are drenched, and it will take me a while to get them clean. So he'll have to wear some of mine. Hmm? Oh, it's no trouble at all! My parents love it when I have company. If you want I can walk him home...what? Ok, that's great. Yes. The dance was lovely. Yes. Yes. I danced with one girl, but Davis didn't dance with anyone this time. Yes. I'll make sure he gets a dance in, next time. Oh, did you want to talk to Davis now? No? You want him to get some sleep? I'll make sure he does. You are *too* kind. Goodnight!"

Throughout this whole exchange, Ken was grinning at Davis evilly, and Davis had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing. As soon as Ken placed the receiver in the cradle, Davis let loose a stifled whoop, and then hugged Ken wordlessly, tightly.

++

Ken very concientiously left a note for his mother. "Mama: Davis is spending the night. Please don't disturb us in the morning. We'll want breakfast around 9, if it's not too much trouble. The dance was nice. Love You, Ken XXX."

Davis picked it up, examining the careful calligraphy on the thin rice paper. "You are an alien, do you know that? There is nothing human about the way you do things. 'XXX.' Kisses! Unreal."

Ken said stiffly, "What is so wrong with me loving my mother?"

Davis was unmoved. "I dare you to call me a baby after this! I just *dare* you."

He couldn't help it. Ken stuck out his tongue, "Yeah, right, Mr. Thumb Sucker. Whatever you say, sir!"

Davis adopted an aloof tone. "Shouldn't we be seeing to those wet clothes?"

++

The clothes taken care of, the two boys returned to Ken's room, smelling clean and fresh after their showers. Davis was barefoot, but Ken had kicked into his house slippers. After a moment of thought, looking at the one bed and the large floor, Ken turned to Davis and smiled. He then locked the door.

"You sleep with me."

+Tell Me +

i want you to remember
a love so full it could send us all ways
i want you to surrender
all my feelings rose today
and i want you to remain
the power of children can amaze
i'll try not to complain

the chemicals between us
the walls that lie between us
lying in this bed the chemicals displaced
there is no lonelier place
than lying in this bed

Bush, "Chemicals Between Us" (Gavin is a *real life* hottie!)

++

After the lock clicked, Davis looked around the room nervously. "Where's Wormmon?"

With a grin, Ken clambered up into his loft, and held up a small green Digimon like a trophy. Leafmon. The adorable little creature was sleeping soundly, emitting the faintest snore (and a fluctuant pink bubble!), and he didn't even notice when Ken picked him up. After a soft hug, Ken handed Leafmon down to Davis. Davis accepted the "present" gingerly, afraid to wake him up.

Gripping the edge of the bed, Ken slid his body out of it, hanging from the edge for a second, and then landing on his toes. He then went over to where Davis was standing, and took Leafmon back from him. With a wink and a nod towards the corner, Ken urged Davis to look around. Davis turned to see a little bed made up in the corner.

"He doesn't sleep with you?" Davis whispered.

Ken sniffed disdainfully, and replied in a normal voice. "No need to whisper. Of course he does, most of the time. But occasionally he wants a change, or I do. Sometimes he snores, or I kick. It just works out best to have a backup plan."

Davis nodded, still afraid to say anything too loud, despite Ken's example. Ken paced over to the bed, and after he tucked in Leafmon, he pointed at Davis. "You first."

Davis was a vision of confusion, so Ken raised an eyebrow, and shifted his pointing finger to target the elevated bed. Davis backed into the bedpost, grinning foolishly as he finally realized the import of what Ken was suggesting.

"Go on," Ken urged. "There's room enough up there. I promise not to kick you...much."

Davis craned his neck behind him, swaying slightly. "Are you sure we're ready for this? I mean..."

For a second Ken stared at him blankly, and then Davis had the delightful sensation of realizing he had caught Ken offguard, considering the way he went all pale and began to...stammer!

"That's...not... what... I meant. I would never, I mean, to tt..take advantage! Unforgivable!" Ken shook himself slightly, and struggled to retain a sense of composure. He had been looking up at the ceiling, his fist clenched beside him, looking more nervous then Davis had ever seen him. Davis began to laugh, and that was enough to break the tension. Ken walked up to Davis and began to push him firmly towards the ladder. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Motomiya!"

Still laughing, Davis angled his head upwards slightly, to kiss Ken on the tip of his nose, a whisper of touch that rang through Ken's body like a bell. "Too late."

Licking his lips subconsciously, Ken resolutely turned the smaller boy around, and with his hands gripping Davis' shoulders *very* firmly, he shoved him up the ladder, following closely and suspiciously.

++

When Davis got to the top, he stopped, frowning slightly. "I don't want to sleep by the wall."

"For all the...! Very well, I'll sleep there." Ken grumbled.

"It's only right that I get to sleep where I want. I'm the guest." Davis announced piously.

++

With a flip of a switch, the room was soon enveloped in darkness, a bar of blue city light escaping from the closed blinds. The faint light pointed towards Ken's computer, reflecting off the monitor eerily. It changed everything in the mood between the two boys. Suddenly the silence was electric, and both Ken and Davis lowered themselves down into the bed with glacial slowness, each settling into his spot with a nervous gingerness. Sharing a bed, even if it's just for sleep, is always significant.

First, there are the proprieties. Davis, as the guest, had dibs on pillow position, but his self-effacing nature caused him to slide his hand under the pillow, so that he could slip it under Ken's head completely, with his own cheek hanging perilously over the edge. Ken was still in the process of arranging the sheets nervously, and so it took him a second to realize what it was that Davis had done. Davis had turned his back to Ken, and curled up into as small of a ball as he could, so as to take up as little room as possible.

Ken sat up violently, his eyes gleaming black in the darkness. He looked down impassively at the form of the tiny boy lying next to him, seeming so much smaller and younger the way he huddled at the very edge of the bed, his arms and a leg hanging over. Ken felt a burn of anger in his heart at this, a choking pain as he realized what it was that Davis was trying to do. Unerringly, he placed a hand on Davis' side, feeling the place where his ribs curved through the borrowed flannel. He tugged insistently, forcing Davis to flip over onto his back. "What?" whispered Davis, noticing the way Ken's eyes flashed against the night. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, I did." Ken replied in a caustic whisper. "I... forgot to tell you a bedtime story." This was the first thing that flew to his head: he had to relax Davis somehow, make him feel comfortable and at home!

In the dark, the Ken could only see Davis' outline. The way that Davis rustled suddenly, squirming so that he could turn his body *towards* Ken and his wall, told Ken that his idea was a success. "Would you? Really?"

Ken moved his hand lightly up Davis' side, fingers dancing over his arm and feeling the way that the muscles slowly relaxed. "Mm. I think I should, don't you?"

Davis looked up at the boy who was staring down at him, not seeing anything but a shadow, but feeling the affection all the same. Lying there in Ken's bed, he had been overwhelmed with the scary reality of it all, the way Ken's sweet odour clung to the sheets, the way it felt to wear Ken's slightly too-large pajamas. He had begun to feel so unworthy. *Here's this miracle boy, who is perfect at everything, and somehow he deluded himself into thinking I'm loveable. What a horrible mistake he's made* That is what he had been thinking, as he pulled himself into a fetal position, miserableness rising.

Oh, but Ken could command anything of him! And yet, here was Ken trying to make *him* feel better, treating him like a treasured equal. Davis felt his body ache as his muscles relaxed, a good longing ache, as he felt his head settle into the pillow that Ken was rearranging to fit better under his head.

"I would love it. Tell me a story, please!"

After rearranging the pillow, Ken very deliberately lay his head on Davis' chest, where he could feel his pounding heart, which rose to meet him as Davis drew in a deep breath. Ken rubbed his cheek against the flannel, wanting to nestle closer to the body underneath. Ken reached up a hand to touch Davis' lips, and closed his eyes comfortably as he felt the smile that played there. "It'll be my pleasure. But you'll have to hold me..." Davis placed his arms around Ken, hesitantly at first. Ken shifted slightly. "That's not good enough. I'm going to tell you a fantastic story. You've got to make it worth my while." Davis squeezed tighter, and Ken made a pleased noise.

"That's better."

Davis tapped his chin against the top of Ken's head. "So tell it already!"

Ken thought for a moment, and then began.

"Once upon a time, there was a witch who desired to know everything. But the wiser a witch is, the harder she knocks her head against the wall when she comes to it. Her name was Watho, and she had a wolf in her mind..."

++

They soon fell to sleep that way, Ken's voice trailing off as he realized that Davis was no longer listening. He buried his face against Davis' chest, proud that he'd found a way to solve the Pillow Question so equitably. Sleep soon overtook him, and Ken slid one leg over the body stretched out underneath him, to purchase a more comfortable position.

He wished that every night could be so perfect.

+Judgement Call+

A pane of light streaks through the window. Morning is not sorrowful and it never pretends to be. Although people are often sad at all hours of the day, this is when sadness seems most unnatural, most pathetic.

A husband and wife lie together, sleeping comfortably, but the woman is already stirring as the warm light plays on her face. She is pretty. You can see the tiredness around her eyes, however, even as rested and as calm as she is at this moment. Her brown hair is naturally fine, and the locks that touch her cheek are cut sensibly, like a mother's. Despite these distractions, the small smile that curls her lips is passionate, and it is the girlish charm that she still possesses that makes her beautiful.

With increasing awareness, the woman lifts her hand to her forehead, shading out the intrusive light. She hears the call of the birds outside, a gentle murmur that reminds her of the prefecture where she grew up. She had been a country girl in her youth, simple and traditional, and she desired one day to return to that life. It was not to be. Her husband had a very good job in the city, and her son...well, he would not have access to the opportunities he needed to thrive if he were raised among rice paddies. Still, the birds were nice.

++

Cody always woke up early on Saturdays, so that he could practice his kendo forms. So, it was no hardship for him to get up early this morning, although his heart wasn't into practicing. *Discipline....it's a Discipline..*. Tiredly, the small boy began his breathing exercises, concentrating on as little as he could. His Buddhist training was hardly strict: his family was of the opinion that enlightenment is a choice, not something that should be forced on anyone. It was strictly Cody's initiative that helped him soldier on, even though his thoughts kept turning back to Yolei.

Why had she been so devastated over Ken? It seemed impossible that she could *love* him...she didn't even know him all that well. Surely she didn't find his Kaiser persona glamourous...she had even hated him for it. After Ken had become "good," Yolei had been slow to resume her earlier crush on Ken...but the fact that she had done this at *all* never ceased to puzzle Cody. *She must know that she deserves better. She deserves someone untainted by evil... *

Unlike most little boys, Cody wasn't grossed out by the idea of love or romance. He had been taught to value these qualities, and he honored his mother and grandfather too much to go against their teaching. But love is for goodness, love is for light...love is NOT for filth.

Cody respected Ken's desire to make amends for his past, but it seemed frankly impossible that he could ever successfully do so. At least, not in this lifetime. Ken was a curiosity, a person to be pitied. Not admired...NOT loved.

*Breathe..*.

++

Matt was sprawled on the couch, reams of paper scattered around, marked with scraps of lyrics and squiggles. His guitar was cradled protectively in his arms, and the frets were hardly hurt at all by the drool. It had been a great night for composing, because his father was out of the country and he didn't need to be quiet. Davis' sister, Jun, had stopped by the night before, much to his discomfort, but she had been unusually sedate. Instead of hanging all over him, once she realized that Matt was going to be composing all night, she had asked if she could listen quietly while she wrote some letters.

A new strategy? Whatever it was, Matt liked it, because it didn't make him feel awkward, heavy and hot. Jun remained true to her word, sitting at the kitchen table and writing out long letters in childlike cursive. Occasionally she would look up, off into the distance, and Matt realized that she was listening particularly intently. With an artist's instinct, he realized that these were the bits that she found moving, and he began making little notations on his compositions wherever he had elicited a smile from the enigmatic girl.

Matt was startled into consciousness by the ring of a phone. Placing the guitar carefully on the couch, he stumbled over to where the phone was, a cherry-red fixture on the opposite wall. *What time is it...nine?! For the love of...*

"Hello?"

From the other end of the line came a chipper voice that Matt recognized. TK. "Hey there, oni-chan! Have you written that song for Kari yet?"

"Write your own damn song. What's up?"

Matt could sense TK's amusement over the line. "Hmm. Late night, Matt? Anyways, I have some news that you might find interesting. Davis is lately involved with one of the other Digidestined. Care to hazard a guess as to who?"

Matt had been yawning, but that last bit caused him to choke a little. "Randy little bugger! I didn't know he had it in him. Can't be Kari, or you wouldn't sound this pleased. Let's see, the only non-scandalous choice is Yolei. I hope to god its her."

"Nope." TK was clearly enjoying this.

Matt leaned against the wall, scratching his head. Davis. Who would have thought that he's be so bold as to get involved with one of the older girls? It couldn't be Mimi. She lived in America, and had made it very clear to him and to everyone else that she was only interested in =sophisticated= men. Not that he, the peerless Matt Ishida, cared. He only liked =sophisticated= girls *...or boys...* although he kept that thought carefully to himself.

This left Sora. Which seemed almost plausible, but odd. Sora was bright, capable, and practical. No matter how adorable Davis could be, he was too young for her. She was too proud, how could she accept that? "It's not Mimi, clearly. Must be Sora."

"Stop being so provincial. Think outside the box, and the answer will come to you."

No...impossible! How could Davis have the courage to do something so gutsy, get involved with another boy? The idea frightened Matt half to death. *But then, Davis is the Digidestined of Courage...just like Tai... * Matt was convinced that if Tai were gay, that he wouldn't be afraid to hide it. Matt wished he had a little of that quality himself.

And then, with a horrible twist in his stomach, another thought occurred to him. "It's not...Tai...is it?" Matt was proud of the way that his tone was so light.

There was silence on the line, and Matt realized glumly that he couldn't hide things so well from his brother. After a pause: "Not him."

"Who, then? I'm obviously not very good at pairing people up." Matt was thankful that TK wasn't going to call him on it; although in truth, he never did.

"Think Kaizer. Think =Ken=."

Matt slid down the wall until his bum connected with the floor. "Oh, my. So much for inconspicuous. He really =is= the Digidestined of Courage, isn't he?"

This time, TK couldn't hold in the mirth. "And 'Friendship.' Don't forget that."

Matt just sighed. "This isn't friendship, it's love. Love is Sora's territory, not mine. Leave me out of it."

++

Like TK, Kari also wanted to talk to someone about this latest development, and Tai was still sleeping. For a while she sat by the phone, not daring to call anyone, afraid that Davis' situation might be a secret that she wasn't privileged to share. But she was so happy for Ken and Davis! Although she didn't know Ken very well, she knew that Davis did, and she realized how wonderfully Ken had supported Davis through those embarrassing days when he was avoiding her, too pained to speak.

Did this mean that Davis was gay now? And why did that thought give her so much pleasure? It seemed like it was now "okay" for her to acknowledge to herself that she had found Davis attractive, even though she didn't love him. If he were gay, then he would be out of her reach, and yet in a way, that would bring them closer together.

Is this kind of thinking sick, selfish? Kari was very much afraid that it was.

She decided to call Mimi. She lived far away...the distance should give her a refreshing objectivity.

++

Nine AM in Tokyo equals 7pm Eastern Standard Time, and this means only one thing in Mimi's world...time to fix The Hair. As a budding fashion model, she felt a deep responsibility for keeping her look "fresh" whenever she took a night on the town, and her favourite look for that involved a pink and red stripped wig that she had rigged with jaunty gold stars. She was busy pinning her brown hair close to her scalp when her cell phone began to ring.

"Mimi ici. Qui est-il?" This week was Mimi's Sylvia Plath week, which she always associated with French for some reason.

"Mimi...is that you?" It was Kari, sounding a little hesitant.

"Of course, darling. How are you doing? What time is it there?"

In every international call, times must be compared, so that each party can be properly impressed by the distance that separates them. After the two girls exchanged these vital details, Kari launched into her story, presenting it as a transparent moral dilemma.

"Straight off, no names. I don't think that this is a secret, but I'm not sure, sooo...." Kari trailed off. Mimi picked this up immediately, and gave the proper response. "That's alright. Say what you can."

Mimi lived for this kind of intrigue. She settled back onto her bed, a vision in a green slip, purple facial masque, and fluffy pink slippers. "Go on," she urged Kari.

"I have this friend, and he's had a crush on me for a long time, but recently he has 'moved on,' and is in love with someone who probably returns his feelings for a change. I'm not sure, but this really makes me feel..."

Mimi interrupted. "Go Davis! I wonder who the lucky girl is?"

*If you only knew*. Kari sighed. "I can't go into that. Confidentiality issues, you know. I can't even officially confirm your guess. But what I really want to talk about is how I...."

"Is it Sora or Yolei?"

"No, it's not either of them. As I was saying, I think..."

"A-HA! A wild card then! Probably someone that I don't know. Could it be that Digi-Dingo girl?"

"He's never even met her! Anyway, there's something I wanted to get your opinion on. It's the way this all makes me..."

"Let's see. It's probably a Japanese girl, I can't see Davis knowing where America is, let alone dating a girl from here. Not that's he's stupid...just so =unfocused=!"

Kari began grinding her teeth. *Look who's talking!*

++

Mrs. Ichijuoji found Ken's note in the kitchen, and began making breakfast cheerfully. Perhaps an English style breakfast would be fun. She scrambled some eggs, and started water to boil for the rice.

It just wouldn't be breakfast without rice.

++

Cody picked up the receiver, and then replaced it in its cradle. He wanted to call Yolei, but what would he say? *I'm glad that he rejected you because he's a tainted human being?* Dummheiten!

Nine years old, and Cody knew enough to realize none of his emotions were anything that Yolei needed to hear right now. She didn't need to hear about how deficient Ken was. She didn't require an disquisition on why she had been foolish to desire Ken's affection in the first place. All that she needed was pure sympathy, and Cody felt a little strung out on that front.

Who else could he call, then? He needed to talk to someone. *Koushiro, perhaps?* No. Cody wanted to protect Koushiro from having to hear about Yolei's devastation. This required someone sensitive, a man of =faith= and reliability.

Cody dialed the numbers.

"Kido residence." The husky voice of Jyou's father greeted Cody in a clipped, business-like manner.

"Good morning, sir. This is Hida Cody. May I please speak to Jyou-kun?"

"Certainly. One moment." A pause, and Cody hears a muted shout, and then some shuffling.

"Hey! Whassup?" Cody rolled his eyes. Jyou could be so trendy sometimes.

"Hello. I need to talk to you about something. I'm very angry right now, and I need some perspective."

There was the sound of Jyou shifting, perhaps to situate himself more comfortably. "This sounds serious. How can I help?"

"Just listen. I need to vent."

"I'm just the man for that. Shoot."

Cody began his frustrated elegy.

++

The smell of breakfast seemed to have aroused Ken and his friend from their slumber, although when Mrs. Ichijuoji watched them shuffle into the kitchen, she wondered if they were even awake yet. Davis led the way, a faint smile on his face, although his eyes were closed. How did he =do= that?

Ken was following, scrubbing at his hair, yawning without even attempting to cover it. He didn't look rested at =all=!

Mom alert! Code yellow: Concern Activated!

"What's the matter, Ken? Are you becoming ill?"

Ken leaned against the refrigerator, and smiled prettily at his mother. "Probably. I...fell into a river on the way home last night."

Mrs. Ichijuoji rushed over to where Ken was, feeling his forehead for fever, checking his pulse, and looking carefully into his eyes. He didn't look sick, but it never hurt to be cautious. Ken suffered her ministrations with strained equanimity. She began a minor tirade: "What? Why didn't you wake me up right away I could have given you some medicine last night as well as a poultice for your chest oh this is intolerable how could you not tell me..."

She took a deep breath.

"...and I hope that you took care of your clothes that was a new shirt and it was =very= expensive...."

Ken pretended to listen dutifully, but his eyes couldn't help but shift over to Davis. Davis had shrugged his shoulders, and was already piling up an impressive collection of rice, eggs, sushi, and whatnot onto his plate. Ken bit his lip, holding in a smile, and then shifted his attention back to his frazzled mother.

"It was nothing, mama," he interrupted. "I didn't want to wake you for no good reason. The clothes are fine, and so, I believe, am I."

The Code Yellow alert was downgraded to a Code Azure. "Um..alright honey. So long as you are really okay." She gave him a suspicious look, and seeing no hidden guilt buried in his eyes, her whole appearance brightened.

"So why don't you eat some breakfast before your friend there beats you to it?"

Ken laughed. "He already has!"

Davis looked up, puzzled. He hadn't been following Ken's interaction with his mother. "Mrghhh?"

++

After breakfast, Ken and Davis settled down for a most sacred endeavor: watching Saturday morning cartoons. Ken sprawled lazily on the couch. Last night had drained him completely, and he decided to nap a little while Davis got his fix. Davis was lying on the floor nearby, and Ken reached down lazily to play with his hair for a second. Davis blushed, and then wiggled a bit closer to the couch.

Pulling a blanket over himself, Ken snuggled in. His thoughts were drifting lazily, warmly settling again and again on the boy who was at this very minute flipping through the channels like a madman.

"Card Captor Sakura! Yes!"

How funny....Davis didn't seem like the type to go for shoujo anime, no matter how battle-oriented. Ken tore his gaze away from Davis for a moment, although it was difficult. He wanted to touch Davis again, slide his fingers over the nearest cheek, bury them in that rust-colored hair. But he had a hovering mother to consider, and Ken wanted to keep this relationship private for now. Ken turned to watch the TV screen.

The girl, Sakura, was in the process of laying some serious smackdown on what appeared to be...a giant rabbit? *Oh, this is impossible...* Ken turned over and prepared to get some well-deserved rest, when the phone began to ring.

Before Ken could even sit up, Davis was up like a shot. Ken watched in amazement as Davis picked up the phone, winking conspiratorially. "Ichijuoji residence. This is Ken."

++

"Hello, is this indeed Ichijuoji Ken? My name is Mara Gelen, and I'm a reporter for the New York Times. I contacted your parents last week, and they gave me permission to contact you for a piece I'm doing. Did they tell you about it?"

Davis looked panicked. "Umm....no? Just a second." He covered the receiver and stared wide-eyed at Ken. "Help!"

Having seen the look of terror that had crossed Davis' face, Ken sat up sharply, preparing to take the phone in a second if it turned out to be one of the annoying pranksters who sometimes called. But as Davis quickly apprized him of the situation, he relaxed.

"Oh, that. Yeah, the name's familiar. I'm sure she's legitimate."

Davis' mouth twisted into the shape of an "O." "So...you should talk to her, right? Did I screw this up for you?"

"Not at all. You can take care of it. Just continue on. As you were." Ken managed to make this last bit sound like a command, playfully switching into his Kaizer style.

Davis looked like he was going to strangle himself. "No way! I'm not near as smart as you are, and she'll figure it out right away. You'll look like a jerk!"

Ken was already re-situating himself with the blankets. "I trust you. Are you going to leave Ms. Gelen waiting all day?" With this, he pulled the blanket over his head completely, and the only part of Ken that showed was a languid arm, hanging over the edge of the couch.

Davis looked at the phone like it was a viper, ready to strike. *Well, might as well get to it....*

"Hi? Yes, I just checked...and...they said it was fine for me to talk to you. So what do you want to know about me?"

Mara Galen got right down to business. "Excellent. My piece is going to be a feature article on the struggles of the youth in Japan. My colleague who covers Japanese politics recommended that I talk to you, because you are very well known in your country. May I begin?"

Davis sadly turned off the TV. He really wanted to know if Sakura would defeat the Jump card! "Sure," he said, a trifle glumly.

"What do you think about the current state of education in Japan? Have you felt the effects of the Prime Minister's reform, or does it all seem like empty talk from where you are situated?"

Davis groaned. "Education? I don't know very much about that, but I CAN tell you that I'm learning more in my life =outside= of school then I ever will in the classroom."

Davis noticed that Ken appeared to be giving him a thumbs up from under the covers, and he began to warm up to the subject.

"You said that you're from New York. Do you know about soccer there?"

+Salt Warrior+

No stars in the sky, the night seems so dark around you
You won't say a word, and wonder why no one's found you
Waiting for love, praying for love again...

Love's a heavy weight...give it to me, don't hesitate....
love's a heavy thing, too heavy for one heart to bring me your love...
Give me your love again, its not your fault
One heart can never win...it takes two hearts...
Two hearts just to hold your love....

Chris Isaak, Two Hearts

++

Tears are made of water, salt, and a trace of enzymes meant to keep them clean. Yolei had washed away all of her tears in the sink at school. When Cody picked her up, she walked home with him in stormy silence, and refused to shed a drop of pain. When he dropped her off at home, she thanked him distractedly, and then went directly to her bedroom, deftly bypassing the concerned inquiry that would meet her if she encountered one of her parents.

She was done with tears.

In the sparely-furnished room, Yolei took off her dress carefully and folded it over her desk chair. She touched the shiny fabric wistfully. *This should have worked....*

Yolei had a pocket mirror on her dresser, and she opened it. Holding it at arm's length, she tried to look at her face in the small rectangle of silvered glass. All she could see were her large red eyes and a touch of her nose, so she moved it up and down, side to side, until she had at least glimpsed at every landmark that her visage had to offer. *Not pretty. I'm not beautiful, not like Kari, but I always thought I was a little cute. Was I wrong?*

How had the evening turned sour? It had started out so well, and when Ken had started talking to her, she had felt like the queen of the world. He had been so interesting, and the way he looked at her had left her breathless. Most people glanced at her with only half their concentration, but Ken had given her his =full= attention. It was disconcerting, but invigorating.

And yet when they had danced, Yolei could sense his attention flying away, and it had been like dancing with a zombie.

Poromon peeked out from under the pillows where he had been sleeping. "What's the matter, Yolei?" His voice was squeaky and warbly, suggesting the effete tone that defined his rookie form.

"Ken." She didn't need to say anymore. Poromon winced a little.

"If you don't mind me asking, what makes him so important? You never are this way when Davis or Kari do something to annoy you."

Yolei began to remove her pantyhose, and Poromon looked away discretely. He had already learned that she didn't like too much scrutiny when she was changing her clothes. She was looking down at her feet, and she paused a long moment before answering.

"I could learn to love him, I guess, and I thought that he was finally getting to see the real me. But then..."

She got up, and stood over near the window, wearing only her underwear. Looking down to the street, she could see people walking by in the rosy glow of the evening light. Poromon waited.

"I lost him! I must have done something bad, or maybe he just didn't like the real me. And after we danced...." Her voice broke, and she stopped talking.

"You danced?" Poromon wasn't overly familiar with human customs, but that sounded like a =good= thing.

"Yeah," Yolei whispered. "And he never seemed so far away! So I thought, 'it's okay, he has a lot on his mind.' We had been getting along so well before that. I asked him..."

She pulled the shades suddenly, viciously cutting the world out of her sight. "I asked him....if he liked me. And he didn't seem to hear me at all. It was like I wasn't there."

She looked very tired and grey, standing so still in the stark twilight. Her voice sounded dead, defeated. Poromon decided to forget about all formal injunctions, and flew over to her shoulder, so he could snuggle against her perfumed hair.

"I don't matter to him at all. And now I feel like I don't matter."

Poromon hastened to assure her that this was preposterous, impossible, completely untrue, but she was only half listening. Instead, a mantra began to form in her mind. *I won't cry. I won't cry. I won't cry*

A single, salty tear slid down her cheek, and got caught in the corner of her mouth. She tasted it, and it seemed bitter. She felt suddenly ridiculous, and began to laugh, sneering at herself.

"I'm so pathetic, Poromon. How can you stand to be associated with me?"

She didn't hear the answer, because just then she began to sob.

++

There is a Bible that many smartie-pants girls use to determine their course of action with a very particular sort of man (or, in this case, boy). The name of this sacred text is "Pride and Prejudice," and it tells the story of a witty girl and her triumph in attracting the affection of a difficult, masterful gentleman named Mr. Darcy.

Because Yolei is something of an uber-geek, she had read this book a long time ago, and it was sitting near her bedstand, certain critical passages dog-eared and tear-stained. She also had a copy of "Bridget Jone's Dairy" sitting there as well, all of the Jane Austen references cross-checked and adequately swooned over.

Unbeknownst to Yolei, she was less of the Elizabeth Bennett prototype, and more of the Eustacia Vye. Thomas Hardy's endless heath lurked behind the bonfire of her eyes. The thing that she loved most about Ken Ichijuoji was the escape that he offered, the chance to live an adventurous and free existence.

If Yolei had ever read anything by Thomas Hardy, she had forgotten it a long time ago. But one passage referring to Eustacia might have struck her as apt, at this very moment:

"To be loved to madness- such was her great desire. Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long for the abstraction called passionate love more than for any particular lover."

Unfortunately, Yolei is a child, and children believe that fairy-tale happy endings come true more often then not. She believed that she loved Ken for himself, and not for the person that she wanted to be for him.

This is not foolish. It's tragic.

++

Yolei had stood in the spot near the window for a good half hour, the evening darkness shading everything surrounding her until she felt quite disconnected from the universe. Poromon tried to comfort her as best as he could, but she refused to hug him, instead hugging herself tightly. She was overcome with several sobbing spells, and she would bend over slightly, feeling nauseous and lightheaded. She did not fall. She did not sway.

Poromon leaned hard against Yolei. He refused to leave her, even if she seemed determined to play out her loneliness without any comfort whatsoever.

++

In the dying light, something glittered unnoticed on the floor. It was the belt that Yolei had worn earlier that evening, and attached to it was a charm.

++

After ten minutes stretched by without any new onset of shivering sadness, Yolei sniffed quietly, her nose running and her eyes puffy. Slowly, she reached up and shifted Poromon into her arms, which was probably where he should have been the whole time.

"Let's get some sleep," Yolei said gently.

Poromon hugged her with his tiny little wings. "Yes, that's a splendid idea."

++

Sleep has different stages, and each stage has its own style of dream. REM sleep produces most of the dreams that we remember, including all lucid dreams. These dreams belong to Freud, and they constitute a major portion of what has come to be understood as the Subconscious.

There is another type of dream, and these are rarely, if ever, remembered. These dreams come during Delta sleep, when the whole brain pulses as the neurons discharge synchronously. Delta sleep is associated with Night Terror, a syndrome that happens primarily in children, when they wake screaming and inconsolable. No one understands the purpose or content of Delta sleep. Perhaps it is restorative; some people theorize that the work of the Unconscious is done at this time. Impulses are sent throughout the body, not modulated by the stress of the day.

In many religions, this emptiness is a spiritual state, a "small enlightenment."

Dreams are tricky things. No sooner had Yolei laid her head down on the pillow, then she dropped first into sleep, and then into the most vivid dream of her life.

Was it REM? Was it Delta? She never remembered it, so it could have been either. It is not impossible for REM sleep to occur near the beginning of a rest period, especially a young person. But more likely, it was a Delta dream, because it reeked of meaning.

The dream was noteworthy for its fragmented content. It did not follow any coherent story. In the dream, Yolei was blind and deaf, all remote sensation was denied her. Instead, she floated through a garden of physical sensation, touches and burns and whispers. Following mechanical touch, she also was innudated with chemical sensation....the bitter taste of her tears seemed to return again and again.

In this ocean of chaotic input, there was only one constant. Yolei returned again and again to the way that it had felt to be held by Ken, the smell of his hair, the taste...of his scent. That moment seemed timeless, and in this context, his attention hardly mattered. Who cared about his mind, so long as she could drift along with his lovely body forever and ever?

And the dream shifted, and taunted, and suddenly she was kissed. With that, she awoke screaming.

+outside chance+

i am ashes, i am jesus
i am precious
could I be your girl?

Jann Arden

++

Some naps are the =best=. Ken had no idea how long Davis had been on the phone, because it was only a few moments later that he had fallen into a luxurious, cat-like repose. It wasn't hard to define what made this nap so good...Ken was warm, his belly was full of yummy breakfast food, and he had drifted off into a light doze, content to listen to the cheerful buzz of Davis' impersonation efforts.

Stretched out under the blanket, arms akimbo, there was no more comfortable way to be.

However long the nap was, it was enough. As soon as Davis hung up, he sauntered over to where Ken was holed up, and after a moment of apparently deep contemplation, he stripped the blanket off of Ken. Ken tried to grab it back, but he was a little groggy and Davis clearly had the upper hand. Despite this, it was a =happy= Ken that rubbed the sleep out of his eyes....he sat up, and yawned widely.

"So'rya rihgh?" Ken tried to speak through his yawn, which is bad form, but he looked so cute doing it that Davis couldn't help himself. After glancing to make sure the Mrs. Ichijouji wasn't spying in the doorway, he leaned down to give Ken a spontaneous bear hug, lifting him just a bit from the couch. This only made Ken more breathless, and more happy.

Feeling rather bold, Davis kissed Ken on the forehead and then relaxed his hold, dropping Ken into a sitting position on the edge of the couch. Ken was fully awake now, and he looked up at Davis with a slow, marvelous smile, shy and sly all at once.

"How did it go?" Ken asked, rephrasing his question and saying each word distinctly.

Davis buffed his fingers against the borrowed pajama top, cocksure and proud. "No problems," he intoned, and then, just because Ken looked so adorable again, he reached out and brushed his hand against the side of Ken's cheek. He was feeling quite possessive of Ken right at that moment, maybe because he seemed so vulnerable and childlike. Ken shifted his gaze towards the living room door, but didn't pull away.

"Let's be careful," Ken said, quietly, and then patted a spot on the couch right next to him. Davis curled his fingers up into a ball, and then took the proffered seat. When he leaned back into the soft leather, Ken did the same, and they placed their hands near...but not touching....each other.

"We should go to the Digital World today, and then we can...you know..."Davis blushed.

Ken laughed. "Although that is an excellent plan, I'm sure that your parents are worried about you. Wouldn't it be better if you checked in with them? And I have some homework I need to do. We can meet up later this afternoon." Ken paused, and then looked out the window. "I have an idea."

The magic words! Outside of Ken himself, Davis was at least half in love with Ken's "ideas." The same brilliant mind that engineered a near-flawless takeover of the Digital World was also capable of more innocent mischief, and Davis always envied Ken's faculty for devising Fun. Davis brightened considerably. "What, what?!"

Ken allowed one tiny tip of his smallest finger to overlap Davis', and this keyed Davis up even further. "Ichijouji, you're playing one dangerous game..." Davis whispered. "I love it!"

With a sniff and a sparkle, Ken replied. "Don't get too excited. This is a pretty mundane idea. It's just that it's such a lovely day, I wouldn't mind a scrimmage, and then..." He purposefully paused.

And paused.

"You are =killing= me! What's with the suspense?"

"Let's go swimming. In the Digital World. Later." Ken licked the spot on his lip that was a little bit bruised from where he had bit it, the night before. Clearly, despite his protestations to the contrary, Ken thought that this was a terrific idea, and wanted Davis to savour it.

Perhaps Davis can be forgiven for his delighted whoop. "Yes!"

++

Yolei yawned into her coffee. What a strange night it had been! *It seems that I had a bad nightmare.* She didn't remember it, however, and had to be informed when she woke up for REAL earlier that morning. Yolei wondered what could have been so terrible.

The whole Inoue clan had streamed into Yolei's room when she started to scream. Poromon, who had been trying frantically to comfort her, had to make himself scarce. Yolei was sitting up in her bed, staring blankly into the darkness, and screaming inconsolably. Sweat was streaming down her face.

The team went into action! Mr. and Mrs. Inoue took point, sitting on either side of their daughter, Mrs. Inoue hugging her tightly. Both of them murmured encouraging words. "It's just a dream...oh, sweetie, wake up! You're only dreaming." One of her sisters brought a washcloth, lately treated with cool water. Another brought a glass of water. Her brother stood in the doorway and surveyed the whole scene anxiously, and when Yolei finally calmed down he went and got his sleeping bag and set up camp right outside of her door, "just in case."

Yolei found out the story when she tripped over her brother trying to make her way to the bathroom.

"Are you okay?" he had asked, anxiously.

At first, Yolei thought that somehow he had found out about what had happened with Ken. "I could ask the same of you! The dance...didn't go so well for me, I guess. But why are you so concerned?"

"You had a nightmare! Don't you remember?"

Yolei looked at him blankly. "Did I?"

"It was horrible! You were screaming loud enough to wake the dead! We all had to come to your rescue."

How embarrassing! Yolei suddenly realized that this was the reason her brother was curled up in her doorway. "Thank you," she said sincerely.

"That's what family is for, right?"

Several hours later, Yolei was stirring her coffee, thinking about the night before, all of the pain and hopelessness that had ripped her soul to shreds. *My nightmare...it must have been precipitated by all those sad feelings!*

The coffee was dark and bitter, but still delicious. Yolei took a sip. *Hopelessness is a joke. Just because Ken didn't like me last night, doesn't mean that he will feel that way forever!*

Another sip. Yolei drank her coffee black, always.

*I won't give up. I can't. That's a nightmare I don't want to face.*

++

After a first kiss and first sleepover and first...*ahem*...well, "rated R moments" in a relationship, the first parting is a Huge Deal. It defines much of the later tone of the relationship. Too casual, and it minimizes the importance of all of the intimacy that preceded it. Too passionate, and it practically ensures that the relationship will die quickly in a flame of physical attraction untethered by any friendly attachment.

The complications are increased 1000-fold when the first parting is attended by a worried mother who would probably faint if she thought that her young son was dating anyone, let alone a =boy=. Mrs. Ichijouji loved Davis like another son, =especially= since he seemed determined to eat her out of house and home. But it was very unclear whether that love would bleed into acceptance of...

Acceptance of what? Ken was pondering the logistics of the whole affair, and he couldn't find a good word to define the relationship that he had with Davis. Were they dating? Lovers? Boyfriends? Homosexual friends? That last seemed particularly stupid. Whoever it was that thought it would be a GOOD idea to define people by sexual orientation rather then romantic affiliation should be shot!

Ken looked over at Davis, who was putting on his shoes very slowly. Time enough to solve the world's hang-ups later! He needed to find a way to telegraph how much he would miss Davis without tipping off his mother: an intriguing challenge. He considered Subtext, but dismissed that idea out of hand. His dear little boy-love wouldn't know Subtext if he were repeatedly hit over the head with it!

He would just have to be sneaky.

"Isn't it nice to have Davis over, mama?" Ken cocked an eyebrow towards his mother.

"Of course! Your friends are welcome here anytime. You know that!" With this, Mrs. Ichijouji bowed towards Davis. While she was doing this, Ken caught Davis' eye, and threw him a little kiss.

"Th..thank you, ma'am." Davis returned the bow, after a flustered moment gazing into Ken's eyes.

Ken was all innocence, his expression sweet and detached, by the time his mother straightened up from her bow. Turning to Davis, he executed a formal bow of his own. "Thank you for inviting me to your school dance. It was...memorable."

"Yeah it was!" Davis grinned. "You'll have to come to all of my dances, then." He returned the bow.

Ken addressed him mother. "Very generous, don't you think? But I wouldn't expect anything less from the person who saved my life last night...." It was practically a hint.

The cue was irresistible. Mrs. Ichijouji bowed again, and if it were humanly possible, this bow was even lower then the first, and more protracted. "Yes. If there is any way that our humble family can be of service to you, do not hesitate to ask. Thank you ever so much for saving my darling son!"

While she was doing this, Davis took the opportunity to pucker his lips towards Ken, feeling quite daring. "No...no problem, Mrs. Ichijuoji," he managed to spit out, trying to sound serious even though he felt fit to burst with laughter. As she began to straighten out, Davis adopted a serene expression, slightly marred by the traces of a grin.

Ken considered making another flattering remark that would necessitate his mother having to drop into yet ANOTHER bow, but he took pity on her, and ended the formal aspect of their parting. "Give me a call later, Davis. We need to get that scrimmage in."

"You can count on me!" Davis winked at both Ichijoujis. Mrs. Ichijouji blushed. *What a charmer that Davis is....*

"See ya later!" With this, Davis slipped out the front door.

Mrs. Ichijouji turned to Ken, with a pleased smile on her face. "He's so sweet! I hope all of your friends turn out to be so nice."

"Me too," Ken replied thoughtfully.

++

Early afternoon, and Yolei felt like she was still waking up. Today was her day to help out at the family convenience store, and as she was shelving in the Curry aisle, she wasn't able to stifle the yawns that were plaguing her. Because it was the weekend, the store was teaming with customers, the bells on the door ringing nearly continuously as people streamed in and out.

Thus, Yolei almost fell over in surprise, when one of the customers tapped her on the shoulder while she was in the middle of a jaw-splitting yawn. "Hey, there Digi-chick. What's up?"

Casting her gaze upwards through long lashes, she looked quite fetching, and Jyou Kido smiled down at her admiringly. After his talk with Cody, he decided that he wanted to pay Yolei a little house call, and as he gazed into her maple-syrup eyes, he wondered if Ken wasn't a little crazy for rejecting her.

Yolei pushed back a lock of hair, and gestured at the boxes of groceries that she was busy unpacking. "Living a life of quiet desperation," she said playfully.

"I see," Jyou replied seriously. "Want some help with that?"

Yolei looked at him suspiciously. "This can't be how you prefer to spend your weekends, visiting random Digidestined and volunteering to do their work for them. What did Cody tell you?"

Jyou shrugged, not surprised by her question, nor perturbed by it. "Not much. Just that a certain boy has been a little wanting in the gallantry department, and that you were feeling kind of low. He didn't ask me to talk to you, though. I'm afraid this is my initiative."

Yolei was surprised. Although Jyou had joined the younger Digidestined on a few missions, he had always been so busy with his studies that she had never felt particularly close to him. She knew that Cody and Jyou shared a special bond, and that the two spent lots of time together, but she never suspected that the Digidestined of Reliability would ever go out of his way to make time for HER. "My goodness," she said, feeling stupid. What should she say? She felt completely dumbfounded.

Jyou knelt down next to Yolei, and picked up a box of curry, looking it over critically. "Ok, where does this go?"

"Here," Yolei pointed at a shelf. "Everything is arranged by popularity. The best selling items go in the middle shelves, the heavier things on the bottom, and the gourmet items on the top. That's the general scheme. But each section has its own rules. It's an art."

"Sounds pretty complicated." Jyou went to start unpacking the box of curries, but Yolei stopped him with a grin.

"Not so fast, tiger. You've got to put the price on each one, first." She picked up a pricing gun, and demonstrated.

"I see. Well, I'm in your hands. Instruct me in the mysterious art of groceries and I'll be your slave forever."

Yolei knew that Jyou was flattering her in an attempt to make her feel better, and that this didn't count as REAL flirting. Still, it made her feel better. "Thanks, Jyou. For visiting, and for helping out. So, do you want to hear the whole sordid tale?"

Jyou was trying to juggle three boxes of curry and the gun, in a bid for efficiency that actually was taking more time. He looked up at Yolei, and his smile was very cheerful and kind. "I'm all ears."

And so, Yolei began, pausing now and then to give Jyou a few pointers about curry-shelving.

++

Sora, the iconoclast. That's how she though of herself, as she arranged flowers for her mother's customers, eschewing the traditional yellow-pink-white rule of Japanese flower bouquets in favour of daring arrangements that included whichever color of the rainbow was appropriate for the effect that she wished to achieve. It was a bold gambit, and seemed to be working, because the flower shop had never been so busy.

She was busy fussing with a post-modern pussy-willow and orchid creation when a new customer bounced in the door. It was a young girl, with spiky brown hair and a gusty expression, looking determined for some reason. Sora blinked. This girl looked familiar...

"What do you know about love?" the customer demanded., apropos of absolutely nothing.

"Enough," Sora hazarded, and she couldn't help offering a dimpled smile. *If only she knew...*

"Hmm. I need a flower arrangement that expresses my love, but in a *subtle* way. Is this the kind of thing that you do?"

It wasn't all that odd of a request, actually. Sora found that her job involved a surprising amount of romance counseling. "All the time. Tell me about the person that you like. Are you an established couple, or is this something that you are working to accomplish?"

The girl flopped into a chair near Sora's table, and let loose a stomach-wrenching sigh. "He barely knows that I exist. I used to lay it on pretty think, and I think that scared him. I'm trying something different, now. I want to send him flowers, but as if from a secret admirer. But I want the flowers to reflect important aspects of my personality, so that he can guess that it's from me."

Sora was already getting a picture in her mind of the perfect bouquet for this complex young girl. "Don't send roses...it's cliche, and way too impersonal for what I think you'd like to achieve. Do you like lilacs? They are delicate, ephemeral, but have the most delicious smell. I think they'd fit."

"Maybe." The two girls worked together for a few minutes, and negotiated a very good package that seemed guaranteed to pique the interest of any sensitive young man. Sora rang up the purchase, and handed the girl a card that she could fill out to be included with the bouquet.

The girl stood at the counter for a very long time, choosing her words carefully. Sora proceeded to take care of other things, and other customers, and it was probably a half hour later when the card was thrust into her hands, name and address of the intended recipient printed neatly on the envelope.

Sora read the name, and a strange feeling overcame her as she saw that it was a name she recognized: Ishida Yamato. "Matt, eh?" Sora filed the card away carefully, wondering why she suddenly felt so hot.

*I can't be jealous....can I?*

+daedalus flies, icarus falls+

I weep for the wounds of luck
with brimming eyes
because her gifts to me
she rebelliously takes away.

Carl Orff, "Luck, Empress of the World" from Carmina Burana

++

It was his secret shame.

Koushiro held the fountain pen at arm's length, examining it critically. He then glanced at the paper on his desk, a thin white sheet of rice paper. *This isn't going to work.* He had already produced four experimental pages, each one displaying his utter lack of handwriting skills. His strokes were blotchy and uneven, so aggressively unartistic that the lay person might call them "ugly as hell." It embarrassed him; usually after trying something a few times, Koushiro showed marked improvement. It's all part and parcel with the "genius" package: excellence in everything.

Looking at the smears that were supposed to represent eloquence, Koushiro frowned. *She's going to think I'm an idiot.*

Logically, this was an imprecise and probably incorrect conclusion based on scant evidence. Although the writing was somewhat sloppy, it was legible. Moreover, the content was clear, intelligent, and even faintly poetic:

"Thank you very much for the lovely thimble set from Nagoya. It will be prominently displayed near my computer, next to the dishtowel from Kyoto and the cat figurine from Kobe. It's very sweet of you to think of me when you are vacationing. I never would have thought to purchase these things for myself! Anyway, I was wondering if you could be troubled to join me and my family for dinner sometime soon? I must find a way to repay your kindness."

*No, that's flawed too.* Koushiro ripped up the page, narrowing his eyes and tapping his foot impatiently. *Why can't this be done via the Internet? Everything else is.* He knew the answer to this, though: for some strange reason, most people thought of computers as "cold" and "impersonal." Koushiro thought this was madness, and even Tentomon agreed, but who was he to single-handedly break down the bastions of tradition?

Koushiro pulled out another leaflet of white paper. As he did so, he had a fantasy of himself burning all of the paper in Japan, and then branching out, destroying all of the paper everywhere. Trees would be spared forever, and the future as all would know it would be completely paperless. Digital.

*What am I, kidding myself? I just don't want to write this letter.*

++

*Your people will be my people, and your god my god.*

Sora didn't usually undertake home deliveries for the flower shop, but she decided to make an exception today out of curiousity. As she walked down the sidewalk, she held the carefully wrapped bouquet close to her body, and recited the biblical verse like a mantra. Sora was a Buddhist, so the appeal of the phrase was mostly in the loveliness of the words themselves... who wouldn't respond to such a passionate declaration of fidelity?

*Your people will be my people, and your god my god.*

It was...soothing. Sora had a little ritual for walking. As she skimmed the sidewalk, she took care to place her foot precisely on each crack that divided the cement into even blocks. The space between each crack was just long enough so that she could fit it within her stride, although sometimes she would have to skip, or shuffle, to maintain the rhythm. It's the privilege of her youth that she was able to accomplish this without attracting any odd attention. Several adults looked on with tolerant bemusement, but most seemed to be charmed to see the dignified-looking high school student behaving so childishly.

*Your people...will be...my people...and...your god...my god.*

As she neared the apartment complex where Matt lived, Sora began to mouth the words under her breath, keeping time with her own steps. She often wondered about the kind of love that would cause a person to abandon everything... Love was her crest, after all. The divvying up of the crests seemed to be full of quiet contradictions... it seemed almost a TEST, as if each crest was meant not only to reflect an innate strength of the child who bore it, but ALSO to reflect an apparent deficiency. Ken...the bearer of Kindness...was the most recent example of someone for whom there was a rich irony in his appointment. But he was not the first.

Sora had always felt a little uneasy carrying the standard of Love.

Reliable, tomboyish, cautious, =normal=... do these things comprise love? Sora had wrestled with this disparity for a long time, feeling almost guilty about being cast into a role for which she felt so inadequate. It didn't always help to see that some of the other children had similar problems: who would have pegged morose Matt for Friendship, when she first met him? Or jittery Jyou for Faith? Or spoiled Mimi for Purity? It didn't make sense... until she saw the others rise to the values implied by their crests, and become true exemplars of these fine qualities.

What is love? At first, Sora believed it was passion, a certain fire of feeling. Romantic love seemed a blazing mystery to her , and all other types of love (including love of family) were a warm tenderness not without their own set of complications. Above all, Sora had believed in the power of love as an *emotion,* and quite despaired of ever being able to live up to her crest. How could someone so even-keeled transform her temperament? She didn't =want= to change... to become a fluttery, overly-dramatic little fluff of a girl, driven to madness by erratic shifts in her emotions.

The revelation, when it came, had been a shock. And a relief; oh, what a relief! Love...TRUE love... isn't an emotion at all. It's a choice.. it's an =action=. It's something you do, offer, give; you don't need to feel anything particularly magical when you love someone... love isn't in the heart, it's in the head.

Love is =attention=.

The most amazing thing about this realization is that it freed Sora to explore her own inner passions, to attend to others and offer them the experience of love, without worrying about whether her feelings were "correct" or "enough." Freed from the burden of trying ever-so-hard to feel what she couldn't, her heart began to bloom with affection in a most remarkable manner. All of the mysterious emotions that used to puzzle her were now old friends.

Sora no longer feared the chains of love's =emotion=, now that she held the key to love's =purpose=.

*Your people will be my people, and your god my god.*

Sora stared up at the building where Matt lived. That phrase.... "your people will be my people, and your god my god"... it was from a story about a woman named Ruth. Ruth abandoned everything, and =chose= to follow her mother-in-law out of her native land. She gave up everything... her people, her gods.... not because of passion, but because she saw in the frail old woman someone who needed and =deserved= her love.

*Oh, Matt....*

++ After about 15 minutes of unpacking curry, Jyou had not forgotten about Yolei. *I wonder what's taking her so long?* He looked out the window of the grocery store, but couldn't see her or Davis anywhere. Ever cautious, Jyou decided to wait another 10 minutes before deciding to do anything. Yawning slightly, he picked up the pricing gun and doggedly began labeling another box of merchandise.

Yolei's romantic problems were...interesting, to say the least. After a hesitant start, she had poured out her frustrations to Jyou in a very open and confiding fashion. Not a single nuance of her hunger for that boy... Ken Ichijouji... was left unexplored. This kind of talk wasn't =completely= foreign to Jyou... his friendship with Sora and Mimi had often included frank discussion of many things. But when it came to matters of romance, both of the older Digidestined girls tended towards secrecy and silence. Jyou saw how it was for Sora... her feelings might be quiet, but they seemed to run deep. He was willing to bet that she had a hankering for Tai, or Matt- or both. As for Mimi....

Well. It seemed best not to dwell on that subject too much.

Nonetheless, the thing that fascinated Jyou most about Yolei was her connection to Mimi, no question. They seemed so different, at first blush: Yolei styled herself as a "boy-crazy geek," but Mimi never seemed to much notice boys at all, except as useful adjuncts to her vision of herself as the most fashionable person around. Looking deeper, it became apparent that both girls were surprisingly similar at the core; strong, unyielding in their convictions and allegiances.

Jyou had to admit, he was a =little= bit fascinated with Mimi. Or a lot... it really depended on the day. By extension, this fascination spilled over onto Yolei.

Jyou wasn't so crass as to think of Yolei as a potential "in" with Mimi... it was nice, however, to get to see how someone like Mimi might think when it came to love. *You know, just for information.*

Pausing in his work, Jyou shrugged uncomfortably. *It's bad when I start trying to justify things to myself.*

Hmm...back to the topic at hand. Yolei. Lovestruck, lovesick, presumably rejected, but who knew what information Davis had to impart?

Jyou hoped it was good news.

++

Despite his resolution to wimp out, TK found himself gravitating towards Yolei's family convenience store on his way to find Cody.

*Maybe I'm made of sterner stuff than I realized!*

He just couldn't get the image of how Yolei had looked when she walked off the dance floor out of his head.

TK wended his way through the Saturday afternoon traffic, whistling tunelessly. He passed by street vendors, ice cream stands, bicyclists, and hoards of pedestrians. All appeared to be cheerful enough, but TK guessed that most of them were less happy then they looked on the outside.

*Why can't everyone have a Digimon partner? They are so alone, otherwise.*

Tk had a theory. He wasn't sure if it was a =good= theory or not, because he wasn't a Digimon expert like Koushiro. But it seemed to him that there were a heck of a lot of Digimon out there who could use a human partner for better control of their digivolutions... and far too many humans who were lonely. He wondered if the technological evolution of the Digital World wasn't intended to bring together the digital and analogue in a more concrete fashion, with an end to the absolute isolation that plagued the souls in BOTH worlds.

If this was what was intended (by fate or the gods), he decided that something had gone awry. Knowing that he was more obsessed with the "powers of darkness" then is quite normal for a young boy, he usually masked his concerns with a front of cheerfulness and equanimity. But deep inside, TK worried a lot. For almost as long as he could remember, his life had involved the Digital World in some fashion, so he didn't really know how to be "normal" the way that the older kids did... or, for that matter, the way the newer generation of Digidestined did, either. The only one who really "got" TK's obsession was Kari, because she enjoyed the same depth of =connectedness= that he had.

It wasn't conceit that made him realize that his position in the digital world was special. If anything, it was humility... he felt a awful lot like Eustace in "The Chronicles of Narnia." Eustace had started out as a whiner, a sniveler, a coward... these were things that TK could identify with. But when it came time to shut Edmund and Lucy out of Narnia, Eustace was given the implicit promise that HE would be the one allowed to return to the magical world, when the others could not. And in a way, wasn't this how it had worked out between him and Matt? Sure, Matt still could go to the Digital world... but he had lost his ability to access the world independently. Furthermore, his position as the defender of friendship seems to have been passed on to Davis. Matt no longer had a crest, or a calling. His participation in the Digital World was clearly optional, but it seemed that TK was still =required=.

Destiny is strange.

TK wished that he had Patamon with him. He was starting to feel a little morbid, and his little yellow "batpig" partner always seemed to cheer him up. But before he could become too caught up in his dark thoughts, a clanging sound from behind the Inoue Convenience Store distracted him.

He decided to investigate.

++

Jun was addicted....absolutely =addicted=.... to American makeup.

The first tube of lipstick that she had ever purchased had been "Rose Envy," by Maybelline. She had felt so chic wearing it, when all of the girls around her were stuck with kawaii little applicators of sparkly lipgloss made by Japanese cosmetics firms. It seemed classier somehow, to use the more expensive imports. The first time she ever wore the pale pink lipstick was also the first time that she kissed a boy, and since then she'd never looked back.

Today Jun was on the lookout for a particular line of eyemakeup. Her favorite English magazines had all recommended it. Despite her flighty appearance, Jun was quite the smartie, and so she tended to read only foreign language literature as a way to strengthen her linguistic skills. Already she was fluent in English, German, and Spanish. She liked the way that reading in other languages made her feel...so =cosmopolitan=.

The assignment: Urban Decay. It was a brand name synonymous with raves and partying. A little wilder then she was used to...but Jun felt a need to project a hipper image in order to attract a =hipper= sort of man. After exploring the Urban Decay website, Jun had picked out a few colors that seemed to "speak to her," and was checking them out at a little boutique not far from her home.

*SWF: light shimmery pink*

Basic to any girl's repertoire, a nice simple pink to be worn daily. Jun liked the name...*I really AM a "single female," although there's a big question as to whether I'm "white" or not. I prefer to think of my skin as "darkly pale."* Jun picked up a little metal can of the eyemakeup at examined it critically. She thought that she'd like it when she called up the picture on the website, but in person it looked a little plain. It's not me.

*X: gold with a sheer rose tint*

Ahh...a pink with character! Jun liked it quite a bit, and brushed a little bit of the sample on the back of her hand. Unfortunately, the color clashed with her "not exactly white" complexion, and made her skin look sallow. *I guess I'm not an "X" girl, either*, Jun thought with a smile. Next!

*GASH: dark metallic red *

This one passed the "hand test," but failed the "eyelid" test. *I look like an escaped convict with this on... a true loon! *

*SPEED: baby blue and silver microglitter *

Better, better. The "amphetamine look" was definitely Jun. Something about her hyper personality just screamed "glitter!" Alas, it was not to be. Although the tester was in stock, the actual product was sold out! Jun mourned her unlucky fate a full 2.5 minutes before scanning down the rack to find the last colour she was gunning for.

*STALKER: intense lilac with silver glitter*

Jun couldn't help but sigh when she realized that this colour was even more lovely then SPEED, and completely available for purchase. Although she had known from the start that she liked the color, she was shying away because of the name.

*Why does it have to be called "Stalker?" That's not me. It's not.*

++

"Come on, tell me who they're from already!"

Matt had invited Sora inside after she delivered the bouquet. He was brewing some tea, intending to inveigle the name of his "secret admirer" out of her.

"Not telling. How can I accept some person's money and then betray their trust like that?" Sora was sitting at the kitchen table in Matt's cramped bachelor-pad apartment, kicked back in her chair and smiling broadly at the frustrated boy. She was being very careful not to reveal even the sex of the party in question, which was probably a little wicked of her. This was certainly NOT privileged information, but she liked to see Matt sweat the fact that the most basic information was being denied to him.

Matt was wearing a kitchen mitt, and he tapped it against his teeth thoughtfully. "How about if I make guesses, and you tell me if I'm right or not? =That= wouldn't be telling!"

Sora snorted. "Semantics. =Of course= it would be telling, just in a round-about way! No game."

Pursing his lips in frustration, Matt was suddenly struck with an inspiration. Putting on his most pathetic, winsome look, he got down on his knees. "Okay, then. I'll beg. Please, Sora, please just tell me whatever you think would be okay for me to know! You've got to help me out!" Eyes twinkling, he decided to close with a bribe. "If you give me some hints, I'll tell you the gossip that I heard this morning. From TK, about someone that Davis might be seeing. It's =outrageous=!"

At this very moment, the kettle began to boil over, and Matt got up to start filling the teapot, looking back at Sora and giving her significant little glances as he began brewing the tea. "Well?" he said finally, as he brought the pot over to where Sora was sitting.

She relented. "Alright, alright already!' It's a girl, and she seems to be our age. That's all I'm saying."

Matt sighed. "It's probably some fangirl, then. Nothing special."

"What, were you expecting something different?" Sora felt particularly bold saying this, because it touched a little too closely on an issue that she didn't much want to explore with Matt. It was like a sore tooth, however...no matter how painful it would be, she couldn't help wiggling it. *When will I learn to just leave things be?*

Matt blushed. "No." "Well then. Just appreciate your good fortune, then. She seemed nice enough, if you want to know."

"They always are." Matt looked glum, distracted.

*And you never care.* Sora had her own suspicions as to why no girl ever seemed good enough for Ishida Yamato. But since these suspicions involved =another= boy that she felt all wiggly about, she had to let it be. For now. Putting on her most droll expression, Sora leaned across the table to tweak Matt's nose.

"Hey! What was that for?"

"Don't ever underestimate the power of nice girls." Sora leaned back quickly, so that Matt couldn't retaliate in kind.

Sora then continued. "Tell me about Davis, do. I wonder what kind of person has been sucked into the web of his most =fascinating= personality."

++

"Damn him!" It was more satisfying then she could have imagined, kicking garbage cans into submission. Yolei wasn't exactly sure who she was cursing, however. Was it Davis, for stealing Ken away from her? Or was it Ken, for not appreciating everything that she had to offer? She couldn't decide.

"Damn who?" A familiar voice called out curiously.

Yolei spun around, surprised that she had been caught out in such reckless behaviour. "Oh. Hi, TK."

"Hi back at 'cha. What's going on...you redecorating back here?" TK stepped into the alley, looking quite nonchalant. His heart was racing, however. *Does she already know? Oh, no....what if Davis told her?*

TK gets 3 points for insight, but since he was (wisely) keeping his thoughts to himself, Yolei was unable to appreciate this fact. Yolei looked confused, and started patting her hair down, trying to push the stray locks back under her blue kerchief. After taking a few moments to compose herself, Yolei replied. "I am venting my sadness." Yolei drew herself up into a dignified pose, practically daring TK to question her further.

"About what?" There are times when it's best to cop ignorance.

"About Ken. Were you aware that he kissed Davis last night? =Davis=?" Yolei was giving him a vague, superior stare that was obviously intended to deflect from the tears that were forming in her eyes.

"Uhh..maybe I might have heard something like that." This was not the time, apparently.

Yolei focused on TK, and her glare was blinding in it's intensity. "You =knew= that they had feelings for each other?" she accused hoarsely, her voice rising in pitch.

"I found out yesterday," TK admitted guiltily. "I had no idea before then, honest."

"HOW did you find out?" Yolei folded her arms in front of her. She liked asking these accusing questions. It made her feel like she was replacing some of the weakness that Davis' confession had instilled in her. *I must take control...somehow. I must control my feelings.*

"After you danced with Ken. He told me." This was something of a lie...TK had guessed well before then. But this seemed the best way for Yolei to save face, and TK would lie until the stars fell out of the sky if it meant that Yolei would come out of this without feeling like a loser.

"Oh." Yolei deflated, and then crumpled. "I yelled at Davis, you know. I told him that he'd ruin Ken. That was mean. Do you think that was mean?"

*I was right. Davis DID tell her*. "It's...understandable."

Yolei shook her head. "It was definitely mean. But right now, I don't care. I don't feel like being reasonable or understanding. Why should I?"

"I don't know. Why should you?"

Yolei stared at TK for a long moment. "I guess....Davis is my friend. I thought I loved Ken. I'll try to be reasonable later, because I care about both of them. But right now, it hurts. TK, do you understand that? It =hurts=."

"I know." TK, guardian of Hope that he was, knew enough to realize that this was not the time to speak of it. Instead, he stepped up to Yolei and gave her a brotherly hug.

"I know."

+boys of summer+

but i can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun
you got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
and i can tell you my love for you will still be strong
after the boys of summer are gone.

don henley

++

the ascendant: ken

I am eleven, and I slept with another boy last night.

Yeah, that sounds quite brave and daring, but we just =slept=... the really confessional moments came in the morning. It all blends together in my mind, though...the sleeping and the kisses and the unexpected revelations of the prior night. So much happened to me. To =us=. It was nice. No, it was more then "nice."

It was staggering.

I slept with another boy last night, and his name is Davis. Davis...that's who he is, Davis Motomiya. I've known him for a few months now. I think I must have known him always... his story intertwines with mine so perfectly, it's as if we were made for one another. He was just here a few minutes ago, and he left at my insisting. If my entire life before I knew him serves as a prelude of sorts, any time without him can best be described as "purgatory." It's been a few minutes, but in kyrios, God's time... it's been an eternity.

I think I love him.

Last night, when he kissed me for the first time, I was so scared. It didn't feel real; I thought it was another dream. It seemed that Davis would vanish into the mist of my mind and then I would be =alone= again. Even after all that we did later, my hand still keeps drifting up to brush the spot on my face where he first touched me with his lips. He kissed me, while TK was there and Kari was watching! He kissed me, without shame or hesitation or fear! I admire him so much; my heart breaks just thinking about it. He is so beautiful, so brave. Perfect.

I slept with him. And he slept with me. He wanted to be here, he seemed to want me to touch him as desperately as I want him. For almost as long as I've known him, I've found him attractive. But it wasn't until after...things happened... when I got a chance to throw over my identity as the Digimon Kaizer and reacquaint myself with the =real= me, that I started to spend time with him. Spending time with him changed everything.

For one thing, I began to learn his stories. Stories are important... knowing =his= helped seal the bond between us. He is my Jogress partner, but that very interesting mystical connection would have meant nothing... absolutely =nothing=... if it were the only thing that bound us. But I hold his life in my hand; with some of the secrets he has shared with me, the mundane details of his life than no one else seems to have the time to hear.

I know a story that makes me smile, a story that is as much about Davis' sister as it is about him.

Naturally, I have an interest in older siblings, because of Sam. Jun is no exception; she's funny and smart (although she tries to hide it from boys). She actually resembles Davis quite a bit...were I ever to be attracted to a girl, she would be the one. I would never tell Davis =that=, but it's true. Anyway, here's what I've been told: when Davis was 6, his school was having a fund-raising drive that involved the sale of candy. At the beginning of the drive, each child was given four boxes of confections, and told that the top seller in each classroom would get their choice of a prize. Many prizes were offered, but only one interested my Davis: a regulation-sized leather soccer ball.

There's a surprising amount of industrious know-how in Davis' irreverent little soul. He canvassed his apartment complex like a champion, cajoling neighbors to buy candy until hypoglycemia became a thing of the past. He sold four, then eight, then twelve boxes of candy. He was flying high...he knew that if he sold just four more boxes, he would completely =cream= his nearest competition (Yolei!). She was stalled at 15 boxes, and had lost interest in the whole candy-selling affair as soon as her family stopped buying it from her. So he sold another 3 boxes, making neighborhood rounds daily and calling in favours. ... but that's when temptation and disaster entered in.

One day, a few days before the fund-raising drive was scheduled to end, Davis went out to sell his last box of chocolates. Usually, Jun would accompany him on these little trips, but she was too busy that day, and he decided to sneak out on his own. This proved to be unwise... mere minutes after stepping out of his apartment building, a few of the older kids in the neighborhood swooped in and started harassing him. I can see it; Davis has always been kind of cocky, but even he admitted to me that these kids scared him quite a bit. They followed him for blocks, refusing to let him go home, refusing to let him sell anything to anyone. They made him march in front of them, taunting him cruelly. The whole ugly scene climaxed when they herded him to a local park. They sat him down, stole a few of his candies, and then forced him to eat the rest. One by one, Davis...MY Davis...ate the candy grimly. They wanted to make him cry; he didn't oblige. It took him a long time to eat it, and the sun was setting by the time he finished the last bar of chocolate. By this time, the older kids were tiring of their "sport," and let Davis go after they dumped the whole box of candy wrappers over him.

Why does this horrible story make me smile? You would be quite justified in wondering this. It's because I know the ending, and it's =good=.

When Davis got home, he retreated to his room, and huddled himself under his bed, sobbing bitterly. He was young and scared, and his tummy hurt dreadfully. He was so afraid about what would happen to him... not only was his chance of winning the soccer ball gone, now he had a box of missing candy to account for, with no means of paying for it. Life, as he knew it, was over.

And this is where Jun comes in. Home at last from all of her extra-curricular obligations, she sought out Davis to collect him for his last few days of candy selling. When she told me the story, she admitted that she wanted to get it all over with because Davis had begun to annoy her with his obsessive daily chatter about candy sales. That's why it surprised her, when she called into his room to tell her that she was ready to go out, that a small voice answered her from under her brother's bed...

"Don't wanna."

Jun =claims= that she always knows when someone is lying to her. Whether she is truly an undocumented psychic, or merely observant, is hardly for me to say. But in this case, the sniffling that accompanied Davis' gutsy declaration clearly marked the falsehood of the matter. Jun refused to believe that the boy who spent the last two weeks plaguing her life with his dreams of candy sales domination had suddenly "given up." Davis is many things, but fickle he is not.

So she did what any sensible older sibling would do...she crawled under the bed with him.

It was like pulling teeth to get the story out of Davis, but when she did, Jun became a miracle of fury. She marched out of Davis' room quickly, only to return in moments clutching her prized Luna piggy bank. She'd had it since she was Davis' age, and it was designed so that it had to be broken for any money to be retrieved from it... a common innovation in banks designed for impatient children who don't like to save.

Without any sort of hesitation at all, Jun hurled the bank to the floor, where it shattered into many pieces. Those Motomiyas: they love to break things.

At this, Davis peeked his head out from under the bed. Jun told me that he looked so cute, spying on her as she counted out the money, that it was completely worth the sacrifice of the bank. There was plenty of money to cover the cost of the candy, as well as a little left over. Jun pocketed the difference, and then handed the balance over to Davis.

"Don't tell mom that I broke my bank, and I won't tell her how you ate a whole box of candy."

See? Isn't that a great story? I'd like to say that Jun exacted revenge on her brother's behalf, by seeking out the bullies and challenging them to one-on-one duels. But that's not her style.

But the things that =are= her style are pretty neat.

Davis' life is precious. His family- they are precious too. If the only thing that they ever did in this world was to bring him into being, that would be quite enough. That's not all they've done, however. Often accused of being too permissive, too lenient, there is one thing that they never deny Davis, and that is love. I like them; they are just as funny and as unpredictable as he is. They are an integral part of Davis' past, and will stay that way for the rest of his life. Their stories are his.

I want it to be that way between Davis and I. We have a shared story, now. Unfortunately, the most significant part of that story involves the time when I was Kaizer. There's darkness in my soul... darkness that cannot be erased just because I have seen the foolishness of my past choices. But last night... I feel like at least some of my sins have been washed clean. Davis is my redeemer, my heart's kin.

Without him, I would be washed in that darkness still.

The river thing... that was weird. I'm still not sure I know how to explain it. I almost don't want to think about it. After Davis pushed me into the river last night, time seemed to stop and I had the most *vivid* sense of being ripped out of this world and forced into another. A world where Sam was still alive. A world where Sam was the Kaizer, instead of me.

How I wish it were true! Not because I want this burden of guilt to be shifted onto =his= shoulders. That would be selfish and I'm done with that. I think he would have given up being the Kaizer eventually, just like I did. And he would be =alive=! I would accept almost any flaw in him, if only he were alive. I miss him dreadfully. I want to have an older brother to look out for me, to take care of me like Jun takes care of Davis. They have their moments, true, but the fact that there are moments to be =had= between them sometimes makes me sick with jealousy. I want that.

I am eleven. It's weird to think that one decade of my life has already passed... one tenth of everything I will ever know in this world is behind me, and that's if I'm lucky. I think I stopped being a child and am now an adolescent, but I'll have to check the encyclopedia to be sure. I'm not sure even the doctors know when childhood ends. All I know is that I can't be a child anymore, not if I've slept in the same bed with someone I've kissed.

I am eleven, and Davis...=my= Davis... slept with me last night. If I died today I would be content. Everything I can think to want out of life- with the exception of Sam- is in my hands, now. I can't stop touching my face. Davis kissed me. It's =real=.

If it weren't real I'd die anyway.

Davis and I... we have a story between us. And =this=.... This is the beginning.

the nadir: dark rings

Exclusive domain over the Digital World. The ultimate challenge, to devise the means by which to capture each of the millions of Digimon coded into the program. *This is my virtual reality. This is MY world.*

It was a brilliant day for scouting. Although most of the time Ken scouted from the air, today he was on foot, flanked by a Monochromon on the right and Wormmon on the left. Whip in hand, Ken walked a few paces in front of the Digimon, as seemed most proper for someone who wished to call himself Emperor. Holding his head high, Ken sighed with pleasure as the cool sensation of "breeze" wafted over him, bringing a yellow-green scent: the smell of crushed vegetation.

"It must be nearby. Stay alert, Monochromon."

There were prizes, and then there were =prizes=. Ken found it useful to include in his ranks a few select Digimon who served him willingly: these acted as spies for the most part, wandering freely throughout the Digital World. Today he had received a report from a Bakemon that Zanbamon had been spotted in this forest. It was a Mega Digimon of the Virus type, a murderous Ronin warrior with the temperament of a tornado. Normally a creature of the endless plains, Zanbamon was a rare commodity, and in this environment he would be particularly vulnerable.

Zanbamon would be a =most= valuable capture.

Although it would be easy to use technological means to follow this Digimon, Ken preferred a more primitive method of tracking. After all, he really had no enemies in the Digital World other then the Digimon themselves. There was no reason to rush this; expansion of the empire must continue expeditiously, but it also must be =fun=, otherwise what would be the point?

"...promise me you'll be careful."

This was the third time in the last hour that Wormmon had asked for Ken to be cautious, and he was starting to get annoyed. "I'll start being careful when you start being useful."

As anticipated, this shut Wormmon up. Ken continued his march through the forest, stepping lightly but confidently as he followed the signs that he had trained himself to look for. More then anything, tracking is a matter of psychology... the markings that a predator leaves aren't always easy to spot, so when a clue is found, its import must be extrapolated. A bent blade of grass is all very well, but is it significant, or merely "noise" in the system, a random and unrelated finding?

Knowing your prey is key.

The forest was a bright and cheerful place, crossed by natural pathways and littered with meadows. The trees were all young, and very few were felled or deformed. This forest lived in perpetual spring, studded with trilliums and daisies, spackled with the random flecks of white light that gave it a slightly digital flavour. Ken found himself wondering what Zanbamon was doing so far from his native home.

*Maybe he... IT... just needed to get away. *

*Like me.*

Ken grimaced. He hadn't meant to think that last part. It just popped into his head, unbidden.

A flicker of movement off in the distance caught Ken's attention. *Perhaps that's Zanbamon.* Methodically, Ken began reviewing everything he knew about Zanbamon's capabilities. *It's a virus, so it's naturally aligned with evil. It's a Mega, so it's =strong=. Attacks are "Prison Gate of Beheading" and "Cross Slash." It rides an electric horse when it's on the plains, and it wields a sword.*

The litany of fearsome attributes didn't impress the Kaizer. Sure, he'd never bothered to place one of his Dark Rings on anything higher then a Champion-level Digimon before... but the principle was solid. There was no reason it shouldn't work. With the Dark Rings, Ken didn't need any assistance at =all= in capturing Digimon, but he liked to make the Digimon fight each other.

Ken licked his lips. Let the hunt begin!

Unfortunately, his Digivice had other ideas. It began beeping, sounding an alarum that he'd never heard before. Curiously, Ken unclipped the D-3 from his belt and examined the monitor. What he saw shocked him to the core of his being. *Other humans, here in the Digital World... and nearby? *

*Intolerable.*

"Wormmon, we need to get back to the fortress. We have visitors." Ken looked up to the sky; an Airdramon was already racing towards him.

"Monochromon, stand by."

...

The four human children.... intruders!... were routed for a time by the Monochromon that he'd left behind, but then the small boy in a peculiar jacket held up a egg-shaped object, and before Ken knew what was happening, the Veemon Digivolved into a flaming monster with fearsome capabilities, and after a very short battle, defeated Monochromon by the simple expedient of destroying the Dark Ring that bound him.

This was the first time that one of Ken's rings had been successfully removed from one of his slaves. Sure, it was just one among many, but the thought was displeasing nonetheless.

Ken spent a long time staring at the monitors; each held a still frame of one of the children who dared called themselves "Digidestined." He spent the longest time staring at the picture of the brown-haired boy who had unleashed this odd new power of Armor Digivolving, who had somehow manages to overcome the power of Ken's black Digivice.

"You summoned me, Master?" Wormmon wended his way over to where Ken was sitting in quiet contemplation.

"I believe we've found ourselves a worthy foe at last."

For the second time that day, Ken licked his lips.

...

The first order of business was to figure out how these human children were sneaking into his realm, and see if there would be an easy way to prevent it. When he watched them tumble into a random monitor, the =means= became obvious...but then the Kaizer was left with an unpleasant dilemma: those monitors were his tools as well, and to destroy them would be to limit his =own= access to the Digital World. Furthermore, the =why= behind their presence was still unknown... *they come here to fight ME, instead of to play the game like good little kids. How is it that they take the side of the =Digimon= over that of a fellow human being? It doesn't make sense.*

Ken's heart hardened. *My world, My rules.*

As the sun set over the Digital World, the Kaizer felt a mixture of frustration, displeasure, and.... excitement? Clearly, these children would interfere with the Kaizer's ability to continue conquest at his current pace. Events could quickly outpace him if he became complacent, and Ken had no intention of allowing that to happen. Leaving Wormmon with instructions on how to manage things in his absence, Ken returned to the real world.

The real world, with his empty room, to bask in the empty love of his sorrowing parents.

Lately, Ken had begun to withhold himself purposefully from his parents. Every camera-friendly moment of filial perfection that Ken forced himself to endure for the sake of his parent's love of reputation poisoned whatever genuine affection he felt for them. It was becoming harder and harder to pretend to care whenever his mother prattled on about her damnable pride in his =accomplishments=, when it was clear she could spare little pride for any genuine quality that Ken might possess.

Ken skipped dinner. What was the point? It was an empty ritual, a way to pretend that life was rosy and neat. Ken passed on evening television as well... his parents watched stupid shows that were well below Ken's level of sophistication. Ken didn't take any calls- none were from friends; he HAD no friends. Ken didn't go anywhere... nobody ever wanted him unless it was for their own gain.

Ken had become accustomed to being used. He never =liked= it.

The Digital World... he was wanted there, even if it was only by one ridiculous little Digimon with a pre-programmed sense of loyalty.

Ken would be =damned= if he let anyone take that from him.

...

Ken skipped soccer practice the next day, suspecting... correctly... that now that the Digidestined children had a way to infiltrate his garden, they would continue to harass him until they broke the Empire he had so painstakingly crafted.

It interested him to see that the composition of the group was different this day. The young boy with the goggles was there, but not the older boy who he seemed to consciously emulate. Also present was the girl with the long pink gloves and the boy with the hat. Davis, Kari, TK.... all repeat offenders. New to the group were children who wore green uniforms similar to the older boy who had been present the day before; they looked older too, probably high school students from the same second-rate institution. One was a girl named Sora... her manner was unnaturally mature and Ken formed an instant dislike of her, for no reason he could name. The other uniformed child was a boy with striking red hair, and Ken was startled to see that he recognized him. *That's Koushiro Izumi, computer genius. He could be a real danger.*

Rounding out the group were two children who obviously had never been in the Digital World before. They marveled at their new outfits like fools, completely oblivious to the danger they were in, exposed and vulnerable as they were. Their names? Ken registered them without concern: Yolei, Cody. Altogether they seemed too fresh to be a threat; looking at Cody, he could barely stifle a sadistic grin.

*It will be TOO easy to delete them all from the program!*

"Snimon...Go!"

... Ken's plan was lovely in its simplicity. Capture the boy Davis, and the Veemon he had acquired. These possessed the only concrete threat to his realm: the Digimental of Courage.

Before the Digimental could be activated, Drimogemon was called into service. Ken watched with delight as his monitor screen captured the exact moment when the earth swallowed both boy and Digimon, and when the rest of the group reacted with predictable levels of panic and fright.

He could replay that footage all day.

Unfortunately, capturing the boy meant that now he had things to tend to personally. The boy had been knocked unconscious in his fall, and the Veemon was proving to be quite intractable, difficult for Drimogemon to control, even though he was only at the Rookie level. Ken gathered together the necessary regalia of his conquest.... the whip, and the dark rings. And Wormmon.

Somehow, the presence of Wormmon seemed to dispirit otherwise intractable foes... Vaccine-type Digimon, in particular, would become quite sad when they encountered the feeble caterpillar. Ken never understood it, but he certainly exploited it.

Not far from the rolling plains where the boy had been captured, the landscape fractured. The Digital world was like this sometimes... it didn't always follow normal rules of geology and climate. Looking out over the vast expanse of canyons as an Airdramon transported him towards his prey, Ken smiled. It was a genuine smile of pleasure... nothing like this existed in Tamachi....=nothing=. Ken felt like he deserved to master such beauty, to control how it was used, to control how it was seen.

He would make this boy see him for exactly what he was: unchallenged, unchallengeable Emperor. The uncrowned King, the eternal Kaizer of this realm.

After this day, these titles would be assured.

Alighting at the top of one of the highest outcroppings, he saw that Drimogemon was guarding the Veemon warily, and the boy was lying nearby, motionless. Ken frowned to see this. He himself had never been injured in the Digital World, and didn't know precisely how it worked. For a moment he was assailed with doubts... *what if what happens here holds over into the real world?*

Ken stepped over to where the boy lay, and after ordering Wormmon to prepare the Veemon for his chosen demonstration, the young Kaizer knelt down to check for a pulse. *Davis... isn't that the name?* Ken nodded after a moment... the pulse in Davis' neck was strong and steady, and he didn't appear to be bleeding. He shook the boy gently, who then aroused for a moment, mumbling something about Veemon. Ken sighed, relieved. *He's not hurt...he's only sleeping. Recharging... maybe its like hit points or something.*

The last thing that Ken wanted to do was have to worry about protecting the corporeal safety of the Digidestined even as he sought to overthrow them.

The next order of business would be to transfer... Davis... to the manacles that Wormmon was even now constructing on the side of the high canyon. *He will be bound like Prometheus, and will taste my wrath for daring to summon fire to this realm.* But for whatever reason, Ken didn't feel like doing this just yet. Instead, he sat down next to Davis, and began looking him over impassively.

*Digidestined, huh? Destiny is for fools...and for tyrants.* Ken shifted uncomfortably as he recalled something he had read in English once, a quote from a man named Bierce.

*Destiny: a tyrant's authority for crime, and a fool's excuse for failure.*

Ken knew very well that his actions in this world were tyrannical. He wanted absolute mastery over everything that happened here. But is tyranny a crime against nature, an immoral act, or is it merely a reflection of the natural dynamics of power? *And either way, are all my choices merely the result of some greater destiny over which I will NEVER have any control?*

*No. I can't believe that. *

Ken placed a slim hand on Davis' brow, wiping away the sweat that began to bead there under the harsh digital light. *If I'm the tyrant, here's the fool.*

A fool with power, however. Ken leaned forward to search through Davis' pockets, fishing out the D3 and D-Terminal. He was very interested in the D3, because it resembled his own in such an uncanny fashion. *These are mine, now. *

*You are mine. * Ken placed his hand again on Davis' brow, but now he was smoothing down the rough locks with meticulous care. Brown skin glowing, the boy Davis looked so peaceful in his sleep. So beautiful. For a moment, he was struck with an overwhelming longing, to ally himself to the boy, to force him to rule jointly at his side.

That's when Ken first realized that he was attracted to the foolish boy. He withdrew his hand sharply, and loosed a breath that he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Attraction can be physical, and often is... but this felt different. For as long as he could remember, Ken had preferred boys, but such preferences remained academic because his own emotional responsiveness to any human being after Sam's death had become hopelessly blunted. But attraction can also be spiritual, and Ken was aroused into a frantic state of worry once he realized that suddenly, he =cared= about this boy... this enemy.

*I don't want to hurt him. But I must. For the protection of what's mine.*

Ken continued to stare at Davis for a few long moments, drinking in the sight even as he refused to resume his caresses. For a bleary, delirious moment, Ken didn't know what it was, exactly, that he intended to protect: his empire, or his heart.

...

"Wh..where am I?"

After transferring Davis to the cliff, Ken felt a little less perturbed. Peering over the edge of the cliff through his dark sunglasses, he saw that Davis was looking around curiously, the full magnitude of the situation only beginning to dawn on him. Ken felt that things were still going his way, and it was with a touch of self-satisfied amusement that he replied. "You're just hangin' out."

"Who're you?"

Ken couldn't help but laugh. "I'm your worst nightmare come to life." A pause, as Ken considered what to say next. Davis looked so small, so vulnerable from this vantage point. "Frankly, I'm rather disappointed that I was able to capture you so easily."

"Are you the Digimon Emperor?"

"Speaking."

"But you're a kid, just like me!"

Ken frowned. Interacting with this difficult boy was not going precisely how he'd planned it. He expected more fear, more awe. He did not expect to be accused of being... ordinary!

"Ha! I'm nothing like you, because if I were then =I'd= be the one hanging from a cliff." A beat, as Ken paused to allow Davis to consider that killing point. *I'm losing it... what do I care if he thinks I'm clever?* "Oooh, that reminds me." Ken snapped, and Veemon appeared in the cliff opposite Davis.

*Ok, that was sufficiently Imperial...*

"Veemon!"

"Davis!" Ken was a little surprised to see how exuberantly Veemon greeted Davis, despite the fact that he was chained to the cliff, which couldn't be all that comfortable, and was arguably in great danger. Veemon was supposed to be one of those ancient-type Digimon, resurrected from extinction if Wormmon's information was at all correct. Only alive for a day, his bond to Davis seemed to have supplanted all reason that he might have originally possessed. "Hey! Great view, isn't it?"

"I haven't had time to look! Quick, Armor-Digivolve!"

Ken felt...left out! Of his own triumphant scene! He decided to reassert his presence.

"...uh, just one problem? Aren't you gonna need =these= to pull off that little trick?" He laughed, trying to make it sound as wicked and menacing as possible.

"Oh!" Davis looked up, surprised. *He actually forgot I was here... he forgot where he was! That's insulting!*

"Give me back my Digivice! And let Veemon go, he has nothing to do with this."

Time to play the cruelty card. *I'll make him notice me. I'll make him BEG.*

"=Yeah, right=. You've both been trespassing in my garden without my permission. And as your punishment, you'll be forced to watch Veemon- as he becomes my slave." Ken snapped once more, and this time a dark ring materialized in the air just under the rim of the canyon.

"Veemon, no!"

Ken laughed. *Now, he'll HAVE to plead with me....*

Before Davis could say anything though, Veemon began purposeless boasts of defiance. "Ha! You'll never get me to be your slave. You might as well destroy me right now and get it over with."

*Bravado...of course.* Ken smiled sweetly. .

"As you wish."

"Hey! Take it easy, I was just kidding. Come on, old buddy, don't you know a good joke when you hear one? A little comedy to lighten the mood. Ha, ha..funny guy, Veemon. Come on!" Veemon's voice broke near the end of his plea. Clearly, at least one of the two captives understood the need to placate the Emperor.

"Veemon...no!" Davis struggled against his bonds, voicing his concern at last. And if Ken's psychological acumen continued at top form, he was willing to bet that his original supposition had been correct. Davis actually =cared= about this Digimon... an imaginary creature of this complex dungeon world.

*Fool.*

The dark ring continued its decent. Ken had no intention of killing this Digimon, no matter what he said. Enslaving him would be too useful, and it would forge a bond between Davis and him, a bond of grief and control.

"I don't hear anyone laughing now, Veemon." *Not even me... how peculiar. *

"Leave him alone!" Davis cried desperately. For a long moment, the scene contracted as the Kaizer's heart tasted doubt at last. *I don't want to hurt him.* Against his very nature, Ken doubted. His feelings towards Digimon hadn't changed, and he acknowledged no concern over what Veemon might =feel= as his slave. Digimon don't feel...right? But Davis was a human boy...very real, even if he wasn't "real" in the Digital World. If this did hurt him, the hurt would be real, and would hold over into the REAL world.

*I don't want to hurt him.*

This kind of thinking was dangerous. This kind of thinking lead to pain. The dark ring moved slowly, reflecting the doubt in Ken's heart. As it closed the distance between Veemon and himself, Ken cursed himself. *I always hurt those I care for.*

*Always.*

In the frozen moment that reflected Ken's deepest doubt, Veemon's salvation rushed in.

"Tempest Wing!" A flying creature quite unknown to Ken appeared in the west, sending out rays of light that shattered the dark ring like glass.

"Who's that?" Ken watched in amazement as he recognized one of the two new children from earlier, the one who had seemed most flighty and inept at handling the rigours of this game. *More Digimentals? Maybe this represents a new level of the game... maybe my very success has thrown up these challenges to thwart me. To confuse me.*

"Davis, hold on!" The girl and her Digimon called out to Davis, and suddenly, another Digimon burst onto the scene, another Armor Digivolved creature, another Digimental revealed. Ken suddenly tasted bitterness in his mouth.

*I've been defeated. One might even say I've been humiliated. But this just means that there are new levels of the game to master.*

Clearly, until Ken could be able to control the contrariness of his own heart, he himself remained the biggest obstacle to his own ultimate success.

Ironic.

*I don't want to hurt him. But I must. For the protection of what's mine.*

... The key to the treasure is the treasure.
Barth, Chimera ...

the descendant: miracles

It was supposed to be the final battle, the triumphant destruction of Kimeramon and the obliteration of the Kaizer's hopes of Digital conquest.

*What went wrong?*

Davis and the others were huddled behind crates in the arena-sized room where Kimeramon had inexplicably gone silent, ceasing his attack just as it seemed that he was going to wipe out each of their Digimon partners with terrifying ease. After months of battles, had it all boiled down to this: an ignominious end in some forgotten corner of Ken's vast fortress?

"Let's get out of here." This was TK. His optimism and hope were often tempered with a cool realism. But it wasn't his realism that was speaking just now. Davis glanced over at the normally swaggering boy with astonishment. TK usually carried himself with an admirable level of grace and unflappability. It wasn't like him to sound so... defeated.

"You mean, leave?" Davis redoubled his astonishment when he recognized the hopeless tone underlying TK's none-too-cheerful suggestion. *If we've lost TK, we've lost... without hope what is there?*

*There's ME.*

Despite Davis' propensity to Talk Big, whenever he Thought Big he tended to shoot himself down very quickly. This time was no exception. *Is that pathetic? If I'm the only thing holding us together as a team right now... is that scary?*

"Our plan didn't work because our Digimon weren't strong enough. Sometimes you just have to fall back, come up with a new plan, and try again." TK was trying to sound reasonable, but more then anything else, he sounded =tired=.

"Besides, they don't have enough strength to keep going." Kari was kneeling on the floor, cradling Gatomon in her arms. She sounded tired also. Although it was obvious that she was taking TK's side because she felt the same way that he did, Davis felt a stab of jealousy nonetheless. Without even trying, TK and Kari seemed to come together in agreement on far too many things.

"I'm with TK." Cody always spoke as if he were the lone voice of reason in a world gone mad, even when he was agreeing with someone. Usually, Davis found this quite funny, but he didn't like that everyone seemed to be shifting to TK's side before Davis could even make it clear that there were sides to be had. *I have to step in now before Yolei finishes it.*

*My leadership is nominal. Without consensus none of them will listen to me!*

"Well, I'm not!" Cutting in, Davis saw that all eyes present had begun to gravitate towards TK. Everyone gave a guilty little jerk as they turned their heads back towards Davis. They wanted consensus alright... they wanted Davis to acknowledge that TK was right, so they could all go home and recover from this disaster. In their eyes, Davis saw embarrassment. They were embarrassed for =him=, because he was obviously too dense to see when things were finished. Davis felt a blush stain his cheeks. *I'm not stupid. I don't care what they think!*

Davis mustered every bit of can-do Warrior Speak at his disposal, wondering if courage could trump hope, especially the baseless courage he was now channeling. *Maybe they won't agree with me. But they WILL listen to what I have to say.*

"Look guys, we can't just give up and leave now. We might never get a chance like this again. And...how do we know he won't start attacking again?" Davis gestured to Kimeramon, towering over them, visible even from their hiding place in the corner of Ken's enormous warehouse. " Come on. He's just standing there like a big ugly stuffed animal. Let's finish what we came here to do!" Davis burned with conviction, =willing= each of his friends to give him a chance..for a change.

"It's impossible." Kari retorted petulantly.

"Kari's right.." Cody's soft emphasis made it clear that he intended to dismiss Davis' argument as childish, and didn't want to hear anything more about it.

"Davis, look around! Most of our Digimon have returned to their in-training forms!" This was Yolei, a trace of irritation and frustration in her voice revealing that she too thought Davis was being unreasonable.

"We didn't mean to!" Chibimon piped in bravely.

"I just can't forget what happened..." Davis said softly.

Recalling Kimeramon destroying a Digimon village, Davis looked particularly grave and thoughtful. *Kimeramon is the Kaizer's creation. Ichijouji is responsible for all this. He needs to be stopped...* Davis struggled to articulate his deeper concerns to himself, why he felt so convicted about finishing this here, now. Today. *We need to stop him before....* Before what? Hadn't Kimeramon =alread=y done the unforgivable, proven that Ken Ichijouji was =already= capable of ordering destruction of unmeasurable magnitude? Davis shook himself slightly, and recalled himself to the argument at hand.

"....we had to sit around and watch as this mix-and-match monster destroyed everything. It didn't matter who got in its way." Pause. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't stand by and let that happen again!"

*No response. I'm losing them. No, correction: I've lost them. Davis sighed. Time to roll the dice.*

"If none of you want to go with me, then I'm going in alone. Because I refuse to give up until this thing is completely destroyed, once and for all."

"I'm going with you, Davis!" Chibimon announced bravely from atop Davis' head. Davis looked up. He could just see the edges of blue from around the tufts of hair.

"Are you sure?" Davis was pleased...beyond pleased... that Chibimon at least was willing to stand by him. It was hard not to feel a pang, however, to realize that none of the others rushed to do the same.

"Come on, do you really have to ask?" *I am Chibimon, hear me roar!* It was easy to forget about his leadership problems, with a partner like this. Davis resisted an impulse to hug Chibimon, and collected his wits resolutely.

"All right then, let's go!" A chain on the other side of Kimeramon descended past the engine room several floors below, and Davis raced over to it and jumped on, allowing the pulley action to send him rocketing down towards his target. *If they follow, they follow. *

*If not... that's okay too.*

The giant fortress enveloped a hollow core, crossed with bridges and cables, so deep and so wide that a small skyscraper could be tucked comfortably within it. The expansive storeroom was connected to this core closely, and was located very near to the engine room that the children had identified earlier. As Davis descended, it occurred to him just how large the engine room must be, because it was farther away then it had originally looked, and was becoming alarmingly large as he drew closer with gravity's acceleration.

"Hold on, let me put on my safety belt!" Chibimon sang out from his perch as he used his odd little suction feet to grip a little more tightly.

"Ow! That's not a safety belt, that's my hair!" Davis replied, distracted.

The distraction nearly proved disastrous. Davis grabbed for the walkway and nearly missed it, his hand catching a small ledge at the last minute. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea," he panted.

"So what do we do now?" quipped Chibimon . Davis said nothing in reply, as he swung his other arm around to catch the walkway, grunting against the tension in his arms and the fear in his heart. *I won't fall. *

Davis scrambled onto the walkway.

"Next time, =you= climb, and I'll sit on =your= head." Davis paused to catch a breath. "That looks like the engine room!" *I did it! I...can't believe it!*

"Uh, grr..." Davis went into fighting stance as Wormmon appeared in front of him, blocking the only way to the Engine Room. *That's Ichijouji's Digimon.* "Get out of the way! I know who you are."

He knew who Wormmon was, for damn sure. Not exactly a sycophant, but something more then a mere servant, Wormmon had been there since the beginning. *He's always at Ichijouji's side... I wonder why. He never is allowed to DO anything.*

Wormmon seemed unsurprised by Davis' stance. Returning Davis' glare with a mournful expression, he turned to face the doors of the engine room. "This way," he announced in funereal tones.

"Huh?" Davis appeared genuinely amazed. *Is this his loyalty leading me into a trap, or is it a treason designed to bring down Ken?*

"The engine room is over here. Follow me."

"Do I look stupid to you....um, never mind. This is some kind of trap!" *Treason. It must be. I have difficulty commanding the loyalty of my own friends... it's not POSSIBLE that this Digimon feels loyalty to the Emperor!*

Wormmon spun to face Davis, a furious and intense look upon his face. "No! Listen, you have to believe me. This isn't a trap! I'm trying to save my Master. He created this awful Digimon.. Kimeramon... now he can't control it anymore. I'm afraid that things have gone too far, and =I'm losing him=!"

Of all the things that Wormmon could have said, this was the most astounding. *After all that Ichijouji has done... he still follows? Willingly?*

* Why?*

Not finished dressing down Davis for his presumption, Wormmon continued. "I hope that if you destroy this place, I'll be able to get him back. I'm willing to help you, if you'll help me. What do you say? Is it a deal?"

*It won't end with destroying this place. He'll want me to help him redeem Ichijouji somehow.* In the split second that Davis considered this, it became clear to him why he had wanted this finished with today, why he hadn't wanted to wait. *If there's any way to get through to the Kaizer, it has not be NOW, before all the goodness that ever was in him is lost forever.*

Davis dropped his stance. "Alright, I'll do it."

Wormmon couldn't disguise the surprise in his voice. "You will?"

"Sure, I'm not as big a jerk as people think!"

*Besides, I'm the leader of the Digidestined now. Tai said so. Ken is MY responsibility.* Never before had Davis felt so alone in a decision. It seemed so rash, so reckless, to be making deals with the Kaizer's Familiar.. on the very precipice of the inner sanctum of his fortress!

"Really, you're not?" A beat. "Thank you. Come on!"

All ran towards the engine room doors... Davis didn't need to be told to hurry. Who knew whether Ichijouji was storming his way down here at this very moment?

Wormmon activated the door by brushing his antennae across a low-lying touch pad, seemingly designed specifically for his access. This shouldn't have surprised Davis, but it did. *Ken treats his Digimon so poorly, but gives him access to the most powerful areas of his fortress? Is he mad?*

As the door slid open, a tingling sensation washed over the three trespassers.

"Do you feel that? It's like the whole room is full of some kind of energy!" Chibimon breathed as he began to acclimate himself to the soft light.

Davis was squinting, trying to see if there were any hidden enemies. This could still be a trap, after all. "What do you think it is?"

"I don't know, but it's coming from that black thing."

In the room, panels of blue light illuminated the floor, but the etched metal walls that curved around the center of the room reflected the light poorly, the rough matte finish ensnaring the light, refusing to allow its escape. On a pedestal in the center of the room was a black object, the one that Chibimon was referring to, and it was surrounded by a barely-perceptible patina of energy, as delicate as a soap bubble.

Wormmon answered the unspoken question: *What is that thing?* "Ken-chan found that. Somehow, the power from it is making this base move."

*Ken-chan?* Davis hadn't imagined that anyone who styled themselves Dread Kaizer, Emperor of the Digital World, would appreciate the "-chan" appellation. *Ichijouji is more complex then I thought. You'd think he would have put a dark ring on this one, a LONG time ago! Why didn't he?*

Davis tried to put these thoughts out of his mind, trying to remember his role as Leader. "Okay, so all we have to do is take it away, and the base will stop moving." *That's all?* Davis remembered how hard it was to lift a Digimental, even the ones intended for him. And this thing looked to be something awfully similar. "We'll never be able to lift it!"

As if in agreement, the angular black object rose slowly from its resting place, sending out tendrils of light as the energy field surrounding it warped. Davis rocked a little as the entire flying fortress shuddered to a stop.

Suddenly, the object began to glow, and the flower that represents Kindness appeared on a panel. Not recognizing the sigil, Davis drew in a sharp breath. *When I came to the Digital World, I became the guardian of crests that were handed down to me. I thought that between us, my team of Digidestined possessed all the powers this Digital World had to offer.*

*I was wrong. This is NEW.*

*I always suspected that Ken was Digidestined... but this thing... it's his! And it's... it's beautiful!*

"Davis, look at that!" Chibimon digivolved spontaneously to Veemon, as the rays of light emanating from the globe branched out in a searching pattern, growing thicker and more luminous with each passing second.

"You Digivolved! How?" The energy field briskly filled with a blue glow, as warm yellow light flooded forth from the mysterious black device. All present were blinded as the light broke forth from the confines of the engine room to illuminate the entire central core of the base.

*If this is Ken's... why is it responding to me at all?*

The engine room walls dissolved, and the object floated unaided above where it's pedestal used to be. The black patina was scoured away by the light, revealing a golden Digimental of unknown characteristics.

*I thought Kari was supposed to be the guardian of light...*

* ...if this thing isn't made of light, I don't know what is!* Davis felt a strange yearning in his heart, a desire to make things right, to keep his promises as a leader. Wormmon had asked for the impossible. It would require a miracle to redeem Ken.

*And yet...*

"Veemon... I think I'm looking at a miracle..."

...

*He's crying...*

Davis and the others stood in a semi-circle around Ken...Kaizer no more. They had watched, helpless, as he stumbled gracelessly through the shifting sands, every layer of artifice ripped away into fractal nothingness. Without the midnight blue cloak, stripped of restraints and whip, Ken looked very small and vulnerable as he wept. The victory that Davis had dreamed about so fervently had come to pass, but now Davis felt like he had more questions then answers.

*Crying... *

When Magnamon appeared, everything had seemed so simple. Davis thought it would be impossible for Kimeramon to last more then a few minutes against the powers of goodness and light. After all, Kimeramon was merely a hollow construct pieced together by a human child, and no matter how genuine Ken's brilliance might be, how could it withstand this =miraculous= onslaught? Magnamon was forged with the very power that moved the Kaizer's giant base... surely that power would overwhelm Kimeramon =easily=....

The truth? The truth is, Magnamon was quite nearly creamed by Kimeramon. The only reason that victory had been achieved at all was that Wormmon had knocked out Ken in an eleventh-hour play of desperation, sacrificing himself by offering Magnamon every last ounce of his power. *Wormmon didn't need ME to bring down the Emperor... not if the power was within him all along.*

But that hadn't been Wormmon's goal. Wormmon didn't want to destroy the Kaizer; he wanted to save Ken. .

Of all the Digidestined, only Davis had been Ken's captive- twice, if you counted the time that he held Davis by a lie. But it was the first time that stuck in Davis' memory... how he'd been trussed up like an animal at the side of that enormous cliff. *He was cruel to me then. He tried to steal Veemon from me forever, and he didn't even KNOW me.* Observing quietly as Ken picked up Wormmon, only to lose him seconds later into the same aether that had captured everything else that sheltered the young genius from the cruelty of the Digital World, Davis had been struck with how sad it was, that it had never been given to Ken to understand the reality of this place that he had run away from his family to conquer. *The older Digidestined... they had each other. Yolei, Cody and I: we had each other, as well as the original group to guide us. What would I have done if I had slipped into this world, with no conception that it was anything more then the video game it had seemed?*

This was not an idle question. Davis played video games with no mercy, happily cheering for every gory death he had ever presided over. He didn't have any sad, tragic reason for using games as a way to escape... he just =liked= it. But in games like Pokemon, Davis was content to play the game as it was designed... he would become obsessively involved in the virtues of Bulbasaur versus Ivysaur, and had once gone through a harrowing week of trying to decide if he wanted to evolve Charmander into a higher-level fighter. What's more, he took exemplary care of his digital charges, making sure that they ate and rested according to their needs, and fought according to their abilities. Up until the day that his Gameboy had been confiscated by his teacher, Davis would even play the game in class, worried that his Pokemon would become lonely if they weren't "visited" every so often.

*That was just a flat-screen construct with unimpressive graphics, and still... I cared. Ken downloaded himself into a 3D VR adventure of unparalleled realism, and he never wondered, or CARED, about what was going on?*

*He must be REALLY screwed up.*

It was obvious to Davis that Ken had the mind of a programmer, and was not a mere end-user like himself. Davis liked to find the tricks embedded in a scenario, to lose himself in the cleverness of someone else's vision. It was a wonderful way to supplement his own imagination; by injecting new vistas into his psyche, Davis felt enriched. Davis never wanted to look behind the curtain, to examine to unlovely, unromantic code that defined his favourite game characters. Ken seemed to =live= behind the curtains. As a creator, he never seemed to care about the end-product, so long as the process in creating new truths for the Digital World was...memorable.

*It must be hard for him to feel human, sometimes.*

Ken had ripped the Digital World apart, had rejected and ignored the Digimon partner that he had been assigned... and for what? It had to be more then mere boredom, more then innocent escapism. Ken conquered with the zeal of an evangelist... there was something he had been trying to prove with all that destruction. Davis wondered what that could have been.

*Why is he crying?*

Davis felt guilty, suddenly so guilty. *We could have tried harder, to make him understand. But once we decided that he was the enemy we... didn't bother.*

It was a humbling thought, and Davis felt disgusted with himself. *Ken sincerely believed this was a game, and played that way. We knew better... and still, we played. Every game needs a villain, and we just assumed....*

*We assumed.* Although it was true that the Digidestined had never had such a good opportunity to reason with the Kaizer as they did this day, Davis found it easy to berate himself over their prior, imperfect efforts. *We won, not because we had the better plan, but because we convinced Ken to "see the light." *

*Why aren't WE crying? This is no victory.*

Wormmon needed the intervention of people from Ken's world, to convince him of the realness of =this= one. *Well, we did it. Finally. He believes.*

*But this isn't the end. This...this is the beginning.*

the midheaven: davis

send, send her away to her grieving
i will never set you free
no more, no more a life without meaning
you and i will fly away to...
love, in my mind
love, in my soul

the corrs, heaven knows

He thinks I saved him.

I don't mean last night. Pulling him out of the river was a necessary hazard of having pushed him into it in the first place. I guess it wasn't the smartest move in the world, but then again, I've never been accused of excessive genius or anything. The story that he told my parents about it paints my actions in a very flattering light, making me seem like a hero instead of the bumbling fool that I know I am, sometimes.

When Ken says that I "saved" him, he's most likely =not= referring to his last days as the Digimon Kaizer. There's so much that I don't know about Ken... what he was like before he discovered the Digital World is probably the least of it. But I have to wonder, if I saved him, what exactly did I save him =from=? At the time, I would have sworn up and down, to any gods you would care to name, that I was trying to save him from =evil=. But there was no evil that was threatening Ken that was larger then the emptiness in his own soul.

I didn't save him from evil. He did that himself, by recognizing the wrongness of his own choices, and choosing differently. Far from being instrumental in this task, all I could do was watch as Ken fell apart in front of my eyes. And if anyone put him back together again, it was Wormmon.

But he still says it. He swears I saved him.

I had been falling out of love with Kari ever since I found out that she was seeing TK. The only reason I didn't discover this sooner is because I wasn't capable of =seeing= anything, at least so far as Kari was concerned. The only thing I noticed about her was her desirableness, and I filtered out everything else. But after the wool had been lifted from my eyes, Ken helped me through that difficult time... and I think that it was easier to fall out of love with Kari, because I was falling =in= love with Ken.

I love the hell out of him. He's so... perfect.

Sometimes... and this is particularly cute... he can go on and on about things, totally babbling. Even though I can only understand the edges of what he's saying, its awesome that he thinks that I am worthy of his =best= intellectual efforts. I know it's his best, because once he confessed that sometimes talking with me gave him a headache, because he was trying =too= hard to be smart.

He made me sleep with him last night, and that was incredible. How can one person be so domineering and hesitant, all at the same time? He can totally control me, never mind that he's given up the Kaizer thing and is now the "virtuous" boy his parents always pictured him to be. I think the thing is that he's =wicked=... not bad, not evil... just your garden-variety wickedness that's kind of witchy and mysterious. People say that I'm "mischievous," but that's because I have my fun out there in the world where anyone can see.

Ken is always correct and dignified on the surface. His sense of fun is carefully hidden from everyone but.... =me=.

Another thing I like about him are his silences. Yeah, I'm aware that I'm being incredibly inclusive about what I like. First, it's his babble, now its his quiet. But really, everything about either activity is pretty remarkable... when he talks to me, he is fully present, his attention focused on me like... a laser gun pointed on a target or something. I've never felt so =noticed=. But on the flip, we can share long minutes that stretch into hours where nothing is said at all. During these times, it's different. His attention is focused inward, but I still feel pretty special, because I don't think he normally likes to have people around when he's thinking deep thoughts. He always looks pretty vulnerable when he's doing that, and I guess he feels that way too.

But he allows himself to be vulnerable for me.

Gods, I love him! He is lovely and perfect and I really don't care what Yolei says... I don't think I'm bad for him.

He says I save him every day.

How? Is it loneliness? Do I save him from =that=? If that's the case, I have to laugh. What does it matter if I'm his savior from being alone, when he is the exact same thing for me?

I have a story. Ken's big on stories, for some reason. I keep thinking about a day that I spent with Ken, just a week ago. It wasn't anything special, and I certainly wasn't tuned into my own growing attraction to Ken. But the signs were there...

He said I needed new clothes for the dance... he said that I would be =irresistible =to anyone who saw me, if only I wore something a little bit dressier then my usual tee-shirt and khaki shorts combo. When he presented this idea to me, I had clear thoughts of how my clothes would affect Kari, so I agreed readily. Now, let me remember this through the lens of what I know now. As we walked through the aisles of his favorite stores last weekend, he wouldn't let me touch anything. "Clothes aren't breakable," I complained, but he only laughed and said that there's a first time for everything. After finding out my size, we walked through the racks with Ken at the helm, and he refused to look at anything that I even pointed at, preferring to do his own evaluations of what looked good.

"You wear flames," he would say simply, every time I tried to bully him into giving my favorite clothes more then a passing glance. When I tried to point out that the flame-painted jacket was a Digital World innovation that had nothing to do with my personal taste, he laughed. "But you like it, right?" I had to admit that I did, and from his point of view, the argument was over.

I never knew clothes shopping could be so... complicated. Ken's eyes kept darting towards me speculatively, and a few times he would even hold a shirt up under my chin so that he could see if it looked right, somehow. He spent a great deal of time chattering about "colour theory" and something about "warm undertones," and it made me laugh... it still makes me laugh. How does he =learn=stuff like that?

I guess Ken is gay. I suppose that I am too, now that I think about it. I'm just gayish, however... I like girls well enough, and if Ken didn't fill my head with dreams of his sweet-tasting kisses, I'd probably still have a few residual crushes on some girls I know from school.

Ken picked out the shirt first. It was dark grey, and looked pretty tame at first glance... and then I tried it on. When I stepped out of the dressing room, Ken gave me one of those pools-of-wisdom stares that he is so famous for, and after a time, conceded that I looked "good enough," and after a moment, he stepped up to me to rearrange the collar.

This is why hindsight is so fantastic. When I recall Ken's skilled fingers rearranging the lay of the fabric on my shoulders, I can pretend to remember that he did this slowly, tenderly... with a touch of intent and desire. I don't remember that, though. All I recall is the bald fact that he helped me out somehow, rearranging the clothes with a minimum bother. Afterwards, he turned me around to look at myself in the mirror, and he was standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder with an air of deep appreciation.

"You'll pass," is all he said.

He must have been wanting me so bad, at that point. He must have, because everytime I reconstruct this scene in my mind, the look in his eyes is anything but innocent.

I have a dirty mind.

It's very dangerous, when I apply the lens of the present to the events of the past. I start seeing things that may or may not have been there, and hope for a truth that is most pleasing to me. This is how I allowed myself to become so caught up with Kari... I was always misreading her intentions, because I so wanted her to love me that I assumed every slightly positive comment that she'd make towards me was the sign that her heart was melting.

Am I misreading Ken? I hardly think I can be, if his enthusiastic behavior last night was any indication. But it scares me to think that I might be screwing up everything.

I saved him?

Ridiculous. I'm incapable of saving myself, let alone anyone else.

The only way I can think that I could possibly be saving him is by loving him. And I think I could find it within myself to extend a great deal of love to him, my favourite boy in the entire world, the beautiful fussy boy with the deep thoughts known as Ken Ichijouji, eleven year old genius, former Digimon Emperor. And my friend. My lover. For as long as he'll have me.

+fit to print+

if the mind is as clear as a mirror, there is no need for a sword
miyamoto musashi

He tied on the belt last, of course.

Whatever joys that Ken usually found in the forms and throws of judo were lost to him today, but he tied on the thick red belt anyway, determined to live in the moment. This was no time to worry over... =things=. Formal uchikomi wouldn't begin for another hour yet, but Ken was still technically late. All of the other boys were already out on the mats, limbering up their muscles. Some would even be paired up already, getting a little advanced practice in the forms.

Ken could remember when he was that eager... there was a time when mastery of hand-to-hand combat skills was a critical aspect of the master plan. *The Kaizer's master plan*. Ken sometimes thought of his days ruling the Digital World in third person, distancing himself from those actions by pretending that someone else had committed them. He knew this was unfair, juvenile, and probably unhealthy, but it helped.

Since those days, judo was no longer high in Ken's favour. He looked forward to most practices now with a wary anticipation, always slightly fearful that he would enjoy his victories overmuch.

Ken was alone in the locker room, so he was free to examine his aspect in the mirror without intrusive scrutiny. *I am....beautiful.* Never before had Ken felt free to admit this so openly to himself, because his beauty had always seemed a sort of curse. After all, Osamu had never been beautiful, but =handsome=. No one had ever mistaken =him= for a girl, not with his strong jaw and boyishly strong build. Both of the Ichijouji boys had somehow managed to look more exotic then their parents, whose country-bred blandness was a reflection of their harsher upbringing. Osamu, however, had always been clearly his father's son, whereas Ken was his mother's. Like his mother's people, Ken's bones were small and exquisitely shaped, and his languid sprightliness was more consistent with that of a geisha than a samurai. The only thing definitively masculine about Ken was his gaze, the fearlessly male way he had of looking at the world and evaluating it with cool logic rather then warm emotions. But even this was changing.

The eyes that looked back at Ken in the mirror were feathered pools of shadowed light, a purple-blue night sky suggesting fireflies and legendary constellations deep within. His pupils were almost always dilated these days, aroused and open, not afraid to let the light in. The elegance and power were still there, of course. Ken could pretend that the Kaizer had been someone else entirely, but when he looked at his own reflection he knew this wish for the lie it was. But the light... this was new.

*This is what I am. And I am...lovely.*

Davis had made it okay to be lovely. Being loved had made it acceptable.

Ken ran his fingers through his slip-shined hair, so clean and soft it was obscene. His loose-fitting trousers and thick cotton jacket were unremarkable, a pristine white gi meant to reflect Buddhist humility and tranquility. Ken slipped his hand down his neck and rested it on his chest, feeling the steady pulse of his heartbeat both answering and mocking that tranquility, reminding him that human life is tidal, not constant. Calmness both precedes a storm, and follows it.

Tranquility is the natural state of the universe, the endpoint of both chaos and entropy. Ken took a deep breath, and then stepped out of the locker room, to face the tatami mats and the dis-ease tugging at the edges of his soul.

++

One point. In Judo, the difference between winning and losing is one point.

The system is fair yet merciless: you only need to take out your opponent once, either with a throw, or a ritualized hold. This is intended to mimic real life- there are no second chances.

The boy facing Ken was of a lower level, but this hardly mattered when ambition was at work. Both boys were sweating, trying to make the other submit to the point that would assure victory. Breathing hard, Ken curled his lips into a sneer, trying to focus. This was the fifth time in a month that a child of a lower rank had been able to pull Ken into a hold, and he was feeling ashamed. Ken strained to maintain his balance, and then he tugged hard, lifting a leg to curl it around his opponent before the 30 seconds were up. No point granted, but that was close.

*Careless.* Ken danced back a step, and decided that he wasn't going to end this with a throw.

Ken's bare feet curled against the mat, and it was a struggle to still the triumphant, slightly mad laugh that he felt building up inside of him. *I will not be the Kaizer.* There are no kicks in judo, but sweeps are allowed, and so Ken dropped to one side, shifting his center of balance to free his right leg for the exploratory strike.

Having anticipated this, his skilled opponent avoided the attack deftly, but Ken converted his sweep into a stance, using every ounce of his practiced dexterity to shift his turbulent energy into stillness. He wedged his foot against that of the confused boy, trusting that the boy had established a level of balance. Converting the kinetics of that stability into a controlling grip, Ken twisted his opponent's arm forward. His left foot locked against his own right heel.

Ken brought his arms together into a frame, one gripping his opponent's right wrist tightly. Having established balance and control, Ken aimed for submission, twisting the other's boys elbow around and holding it into painful deformity. It is traditional to apply pressure incrementally, allowing the opponent to taste the full degree of futility as he keys up for surrender. Ken did no such thing.

Submission is more humiliating then a throw. This is why Ken chose it; he wanted to wash away the doubts he was feeling with a decisive victory over his opponent. And yet...the seduction of control was unbearable. The other boy was squirming, drawing in ragged breaths and clearly hurt. Ken tasted blood in his mouth, and realized that he had bit his lip earlier. He licked it slowly, and a nearly erotic rush of pleasure whipped through him.

The boy was turning pink with pain. *It's no use...I AM the Kaizer.*

This thought shocked him into mental clarity. *What am I DOING?*

He hesitated.

In that moment of hesitation, the other boy acted, and Ken twisted through the air, defeated by a floating hip throw. His back slammed hard against the mat, and all of his breath escaped him.

"One point, Takagaki. Match, Takagaki."

Ken turned his head blearily, knowing he would have to rise momentarily and bow to his opponent, who was already bowing deeply before him.

*Fuck.*

Ken hadn't been concentrating, and so hadn't taken the fall properly, and as such was experiencing an unaccustomed level of pain, especially in his left leg. The master had been quick to notice this, so he was already approaching Ken to assist him, crossing the mat quickly, weaving through ongoing matches with enviable dexterity.

"Are you alright?"

Ken nodded slightly. "It's just my ankle, sensei. I think I sprained it, a little. It's okay."

The teacher shook his head. "No it's not. You have been too distracted lately. I would say it is because you brought a visitor today, but this has been happening over the past few sessions as well. Your mind should be like a mirror, but instead it is like dark glass..." He paused, collecting his thoughts in that unhurried way that gurus have. "Today you are especially moody. I want you to step off the mat and spend some time in contemplation. It used to be your occasional ruthlessness that was the problem. Now it's your hesitation. These shifts in temperament must stop."

For the second time that day, Ken lifted his hand to his heart, to feel the pounding of his heart. One or the other, one or the other. Ken sometimes wished his could live in the space in between the beats, in the space in between his breaths. Ken looked up at his teacher, and then off to the side, where Davis was watching him anxiously.

*This is humiliating.*

Ken nodded. "I'll think about it, sir.."

The teacher placed a hand on Ken's shoulder, not unkindly. "That is good. You understand judo better then most, Ken-kun. And that is why you struggle against it." The teacher paused, looking over the other matches that were taking place on the other side of the dojo. "It is your nature to fight, I think. This is a dangerous gift. Think on how you can make it an advantage, not a curse."

Ken got up with a little assistance from both his sensei and Takagaki, his victorious opponent. After bowing, Ken stepped over to where Davis was waiting on the sidelines, his head turned down only slightly, proudly. He refused to limp, so he walked slow.

"What happened?" Davis whispered. "I've seen you on TV thrashing the black belts. Did he cheat?"

"No, he didn't cheat." Ken sat down next to Davis and crossed his legs, facing the mat and all the battles it contained. Off the mat, fighting was not allowed. "Oh." Davis looked sorry that he had asked. "I mean, I think I understand why this is hard for you." He tilted his head just slightly towards Ken, wanting to rest his head on that bowed shoulder but not daring to. "I'm sorry you're not so good at judo today." It was clear that Davis was sinking further and further into misery, realizing that his words didn't sound kind or supportive, even though he was trying ever-so hard to make them that way. "You know what I mean," he ended lamely and incongruently.

"I do." Ken smiled just slightly.

Davis looked relieved. "It's that damn appointment, isn't it?"

*Oh...things.* Ken didn't want to think about...=things=. Especially not things for which he had an irrational fear. No response from Ken, as he pretended to ignore Davis in favor of contemplation., closing his eyes pointedly.

"I'll be there with you, you know. I won't let them hurt you. Promise!"

*I am a lotus... a many-petalled lotus....*

"I'll kick that doctor's ass, swear I will. No way will you have to be scared of anything."

On top of the fact that Davis was skirting very close to confessing his feelings for Ken right there and then, in front of a roomful of unsympathetic boys, he kept coming back to the =forbidden subject=. Ken reeled over the inappropriateness of it all. Unfortunately, Davis hadn't really been informed of the verboten nature of this topic, and so he soldiered on blithely, with typical confidence.

"I'll even hold your hand if you want." At least Davis had the good sense to whisper this very softly, right near Ken's ear.

*I am the ocean, deep and still....* Ken's heart fluttered rapidly, a mixture of fears and desire.

Of course, Davis couldn't help but add the =piece de resistance=. He was very young. "It's just a needle. It won't hurt that bad!"

*I am...arghhhh!* "I'm contemplating my nature here. Do you mind?"

Ken slitted his eyes open to throw Davis an imperiously withering stare, but once he saw all the concern and love and blundersome helpfulness reflected there, he relented. Suddenly, Ken felt better about...=things=.

Which was, of course, the whole point. Davis smiled.

He knew that he was a screw up, never saying the right things. But he hoped that his love would come across, strong and clear. And it did.

++

-earlier that morning-

"No! I'm not going!"

Mrs. Ichijouji sighed. "Why do we have to go through this every time? You are being unreasonable."

Although Ken tended to be =such= a compliant child, he had his moments- as he proved by running away to some place called the Digital World, and later when he insisted on quitting almost all of his extracurriculars and going on a "sabbatical." He usually bent to parental direction like a willow branch bending in the wind, but Mrs. Ichijouji was well aware that her son had a implacably stubborn core. It came out at moments like this, when his greatest inner fears were brought to light.

"No! Well, yes, I =am= being unreasonable, but that doesn't matter. I will never be swayed!"

In a way it had become a game between mother and son. Ken needed to see the doctor periodically- this was non-negotiable. He was born with a form of chronic anemia that required regular monitoring. Ken didn't mind having his belly poked at or his eyelids flipped; some things just must be endured, and he could be quite stoical for almost all medical torture. But when it came to the blood draws...

Mother and son faced off silently, Ken baring his teeth in an almost feral manner. Mrs. Ichijouji remained unfazed, however. This was a battle she had never lost, because she invested so much of her own home-grown genius into it. When it came to her son's health, this mother was =ruthless=.

"You could die, you know." Mrs. Ichijouji said this conversationally, but also with a tone that implied that if he =did= die, then it would be because he didn't love his mother enough to do something so simple as take a few minute out of his life to give some paltry drops of blood.

"I hate needles!" Ken roared. He avoided the topic of death quite deftly, knowing that down that road his mother would inevitably play the Osamu card, and then all would be lost.

"Do you hate your spleen, too?"

Ken looked down at his belly, and involuntarily pressed one hand against his side. "You wouldn't!" he gasped.

"If you aren't mature enough to do the simplest things to promote your own health, welll.." Mrs. Ichijouji let this sentence trail off suggestively. If Ken's health declined, a splenectomy would become inevitable. As it was, it was merely an elective procedure... one which his parents could elect to, on his behalf.

The Spleen card was also quite effective.

Mrs. Ichijouji sensed her advantage, and moved in for the kill. She placed one hand on her son's shoulder, and kissed him on the cheek. "I know this is hard for you. But you have to do this. You know that."

"But you won't be able to be there with me... and I don't want to go by myself." Ken said, wide-eyed and small-voiced. Not without cards of his own, Ken knew that postponing the inevitable was almost as good as getting out of it altogether. Knowing this, Ken poured on the charm.

Besides, even though he hated to admit it, having a loved one present to console and soothe him when that damn needle went in was =essential=.

"I know." Mrs. Ichijouji frowned. "But honey, these appointments have to be scheduled a few weeks in advance, and it's really too late to cancel now. I'd come, but your grandmother needs me too. When she asks about you, do you really want me to tell her that you couldn't go see the doctor because I couldn't be there? She's so proud of you, you know."

Ken grimaced. Family guilt was a killer, and he was more susceptible to it then most. He wanted to continue to refuse, because the needle scared him so much...but....

"I can get your dad to take off early from work, if you want." Mrs. Ichijouji said compassionately. "He wouldn't mind."

"No, no... that's okay." Ken looked down at the crook of his arm as if it were an enemy. "I'm not saying I'll go, but.. no. You don't need to call him."

"Well, if you don't promise me that you'll go, then I'll have =no choice= but to get your father involved," his mom replied disingenuously.

"Let's just put it off. Please?" Ken begged with as much dignity as he could muster. It wasn't much.

"Impossible. Shall we negotiate?" Mrs. Ichijouji said cunningly.

"I guess." Ken closed his eyes in mock fatigue, as he leaned against the wall. In the end, it usually came down to "negotiation."

"How's this? No dessert for a week."

"Bah! I laugh at your punishment. No game." Ken continued to keep his eyes closed, but a faint smile touched his lips. The only thing his mother ever offered in these "negotiations" was some kind of punishment, and she always started off easy, with a punishment he could handle. It was a test of will, in the end... the only way that Ken could be persuaded to face his fears would be to offer him something even worse in exchange...

Mrs. Ichijouji looked at the play of expressions on her son's face, and she smiled as well. "I see. How about no dessert.... for a =month=?"

"I barely eat my whole dinner, you know. The dessert ploy is getting you nowhere."

"True. Hmmm..mmmm. Oh, I know! I'm thinking... grounding. That's pretty awful, don't you think?"

Ken opened his eyes slightly, interested in a guarded fashion. "I'm listening."

Mrs. Ichijouji walked into the kitchen, and pulled out a couple cans of iced tea. "One month. No television, no visitors."

"Mmm...better. Nearly intolerable. = Nearly=." Ken winced at the thought of having to live without Davis for a month, but the Threat of the Needle was compelling enough that he would almost prefer it.... or he would, unless....

"No telephone or internet, either."

Being forbid even to=talk= with Davis? Oooh...that would be just too painful. Ken opened his mouth, ready to begin admitting defeat, when his mother offered the =coup de grace=.

"And Wormmon goes back to the Digital World."

"Mama!"

Mrs. Ichijouji cracked open the lemon-flavoured teas, and handed one to her outraged son. "Well, do I win?"

"Yes. I'll go." Ken admitted sullenly. "But if I die of fright I'm going to come back from the grave to haunt you."

Mrs. Ichijouji looked wistful for a moment, and then she smiled, ruffling her son's hair. "You'd better, honey. You'd better..."

++

-that afternoon, around lunchtime-

**beepbeepbeep**

Davis looked up, and then down, and the around at his friends, who were also looking around in a curious fashion.

"Is it mine?"

"Not mine. Is it yours?"

"Fuck, mine's at home. How could I forget it?"

"Mm...Davis I think it's =yours=." This was Kari, who was leaning forward, cocking her hear sideways to listen to a sound that appeared to be originating from somewhere around Davis' lap.

Davis unclipped his D-Terminal from his belt, and looked at it curiously at first, and then with unmaskable excitement. "Oooh..! email from..." Davis suddenly cut off what he was about to say, covertly avoiding looking at Yolei.

"Ken? That's okay, I'm over it." Yolei said airily, attempting to convey nonchalance, and failing miserably. "...umm...so, what does the wonder boy have to say today?"

Davis read the email over slowly, carefully. As the moments stretched into minutes, Cody broke in dryly.

"The suspense is killing me."

Davis looked up briefly. "Ha ha," he said snidely, but quickly became reabsorbed in whatever little message that Ken had written. Again, he seemed to forget where he was, totally concentrating on the screen in front of him as if it contained the secret hieroglyphics of life.

"Okay, now it's killing =me=," TK added, not so dryly. "Give over, or I'm going to question your right to wear the goggles."

Reflexively, Davis slapped his hands over the goggles on his head. "You will never take them! Never!"

"Ah-ha... so he can be aroused!" Kari added.

Davis wrenched his attention away from his D-Terminal. "Ken...mm... he wants me to =cut classes= this afternoon. Cut....classes! I can't even fucking believe it!"

"Why?" Yolei asked, trying to sound blandly curious, hoping to hell that her jealousy wasn't too painfully obvious.

"Doesn't say. Just asks me to meet him in the park...it's all very mysterious."

"So are you going to do it?" Again, Yolei.

"Sha! Ken versus Algebra...which would you choose?" Davis replied airily, and then recalled- too late- exactly who he was talking to.

"Algebra, of course," Yolei replied through gritted teeth, and with a hint of steel in her voice. "I would never be so irresponsible as to skip class for some =gay= little soiree..."

Cody slurped on his Capri-Sun-like yogurt thingie impassively. He had nothing against Davis, of course... but Ken had hurt Yolei, and so Cody was staying aloof of the whole affair. He knew that if he were pressed to comment, he'd have to side with Yolei... a bad business for all involved.

TK watched as Davis practically strangled himself. He looked like he both wanted to apologize to Yolei, and to kick her ass... neither option pointed to a peaceful resolution, in any case. Especially not with Yolei looking so bitter and thwarted. "Umm... Yolei... let's go on a walk, okay?"

Yolei got up and dusted off her skirt. "Fine." She pointedly avoided looking at Davis.

"I'm going to kill her right after I shoot off my own fucking mouth..." Davis said slowly, as he watched the diminishing forms of TK and Yolei as they walked off to a remote part of the courtyard.

"Don't be so hard on her...or yourself." Kari cautioned. "Why don't you go see what Ken wants? We can take care of Yolei. Poor thing..." Her eyes glanced off to where Davis was looking.

"She can take care of herself." Cody commented. "She's stronger then you think."

Davis looked over at Cody, and then smiled... it was his patented, bigger-then-the-world grin. "You're right! I really am sorry for what I said... it was thoughtless. But I trust Yolei to do what's right, whatever the hell that is. I just hope that she can forgive Ken and me someday. We're really not doing this to hurt her, ya know."

"I know," Cody said, with a trace of warmth. "And I don't think Ken is good enough for her anyways, so there." And then, to the shock of the universe, Cody stuck out his tongue.

Davis looked surprised for a second, but then laughed loudly. "Yolei better watch out. Hida might just turn out to have the hots for our fair Digidestined of Love and Purity."

Cody blushed.

"Get outta here, Motomiya!" Kari hollered playfully, and then began throwing raisins at him. "You've done enough damage on the love front today."

"Okay, okay...I'm audi!" Davis dodged the rain of food as best as he was able, pleased to hear the sounds of Kari and Cody...Cody!... laughing as he staged a tactical retreat.

++

-into the woods-

"...First off, you must swear a solemn vow not to repeat this to another soul... not to the other Digidestined, not to your sister....not even to Chibimon. No one must know."

Ken and Davis were sitting cross-legged, across from each other. Ken appeared to be holding court, looking very solemn and formal as he laid out the ground rules. They were sitting in a small clearing within a very large bush, deep within the park's most inscrutable thickets. It was a perfect place for privacy, and beautiful as well... gold-tipped butterflies bumbled on by, from time to time, and peculiar white bugs with cottony fluffs of tails joined them in the pursuit for the perfect nectar. The sunlight slipped past the trembling leaves of the trees overhead, dappling the two boys regally as they settled into the tender grass.

Davis though for a moment, and then made the universal sign for secrets... he made as if to zip his mouth shut, and then grabbed an imaginary key, and pretended to throw it away with a violent gesture. "There," he said, wiping his hands theatrically. "I promise."

"Very good..." Ken said, smiling at his boyfriend slightly. "I need your help, and it's somewhat embarrassing... you see, I have a doctor's appointment today..."

Davis straightened like a shot. "What? Why? You must be okay. Tell me that there's nothing wrong with you. Tell me!" Involuntarily, he leaned towards Ken and placed both of his hands on Ken's shoulders, shaking him slightly.

"Well, there is a small little problem, but nothing to worry about..." Ken said carefully. "But that's not the secret."

"What's the problem?!" Daisuke said, his eyes wide.

"I'm anemic. It's something I was born with, and it's nothing I can do anything about. There's something wrong with my hemoglobin. But onto the secret..."

"=Are you going to die=?" Davis cried inconsolably, filtering out Ken's statement and jumping to the worse possible conclusion.

Ken looked irritated, and yet pleased. He loved that Davis was so concerned, even though it was hindering him in his soul-searing confession of weakness. "No, no death in my future. Sorry to disappoint."

Davis pulled Ken into a tremendous hug and began kissing his neck thoroughly. "Thank goodness, I'm so relieved! If you were to leave me then...mmm....yum...hmm...oooh, Ken you taste =great=!"

Ken leaned his head onto Davis', enjoying the way that Davis peppered hickeys all over his pale skin. "Mm...so...onto....the deep...dark...mm!...=delicious= secret."

Yes, yes...there's a =reason= why Ken wears his high-necked school uniform everywhere. Ken is =sly=.

Davis began kissing Ken up underneath his chin, enamoured of the way that Ken's whole body moved as he swallowed and panted. His hands slipped from where they were perched on Ken's shoulders, and found Ken's taut waist. Ken's waist was very slim, so that even the gentlest grip made Davis feel like he had complete control over the dark-haired genius. Davis seemed perfectly prepared to expand this makeout sesh into an orgy of epic proportions... but then Ken sighed. "I'm afraid of needles," he blurted.

"Mm..mm..Wha?" Davis asked, stopping his barrage of kisses to lean his head on Ken's shoulder, heavily. "Needles?"

"Yeah." Ken chewed on his lip, looking down at Davis, who was practically in his lap. "It's pretty stupid, especially since I've been poked so many times since I was born. You'd think I'd be used to it."

"Why have you been poked so much, Ken-chan?" Davis asked softly, not pulling back one ounce, but relaxing into a comfortable, non-kissing hug that was perfect for confessions.

"It's the anemia."

"Tell me about it."

"Well... it's a genetic thing, mostly. Some of the genes that code for some part of my hemoglobin are deleted. This means that I make about 25% of the regular hemoglobin that your average person does."

"Isn't that bad?"

Davis was hugging Ken very tightly, paying very close attention to the explanation he was being given, as if it were his own life on the line. "Mmm... well, you'd think so, wouldn't you? It gives me a condition called thallassemia. If I get sick, sometimes I can have a crisis where all my blood breaks apart, and then I have to go to the hospital and get transfused. It really hasn't happened that much so far... just once, actually. Generally, I'm just as healthy as everyone else. But...."

"What, what?" Davis squirmed impatiently, after giving Ken a soft little kiss that made Ken moan slightly.

"Oooh... don't do that if you want me to be coherent! Okay. The point is, I need to go see the doctors every so often so that they can make sure my hemoglobin levels are okay, and that my spleen isn't overtaxed. Mama says that if I don't go to the doctor enough, we'll have to take the spleen out. It's kind of a threat more then anything else, but.. we might need to do it for real, someday. So I need to get poked, just to make sure that that 'someday' isn't =today=. But I hate it!"

"No!" Daisuke forbid loudly. "I love your spleen!"

Ken grinned. "Well, so do I..."

"I love it more!" Very carefully and shyly, as if he were about to touch a newborn, Davis lifted one corner of Ken's uniform jacket and dropped his head down to that level, looking at Ken's stomach reverently. Gently, he kissed the pale flesh right under the ribcage.

"Umm...Davis?"

"Yes, love?"

"That's my liver."

++

-after judo-

And so, the plan had been set. Davis had been very quick to agree to spend the afternoon with Ken, distracting him with kisses and illicit touches until Ken was quite delirious indeed. When the shadows in the grove lengthened to indicate that the afternoon was nearly over, Ken invited Davis to join him... first to Judo, and then to his date with the evil plotting doctors and their sharp-pointed implements of doom.

Ken hadn't planned on sucking at Judo with Davis watching...but if anything, it just impressed on Davis all the more forcefully just how much Ken =needed= him, and just how paralyzing Ken's fears could be. Ken declined to tell Davis the real reason that he hesitated and lost during that match... a reason which had nothing to do with his fears of needles....

The Kaizer was on the move. Ken could feel it, deep inside. And nothing scared him worse then this.

"Ichijouji-kun?"

Ken and Davis sat together in the small waiting room at his doctor's clinic. Although he was only in for routine blood tests, because of his chronic condition Ken usually saw a pediatric hematologist for these visits, instead of a generalist. All joking aside, Ken's doctor was a kind and gentle older man, a specialist who understood very deeply problems with deficiencies in the blood, and how difficult it could be for young children to cope with them.

But that didn't seem to make the terror any more tolerable, unfortunately.

When his name was called, Ken looked up, startled. Even with Davis there, he had allowed himself to get lost in a depressing reverie...* am I losing control?*

"Yes. Here I am." Ken was shaking slightly as he walked up to the nurse. "Do your worst." She laughed. "I remember you! So..." She looked around. "Where's mom?"

"She had some important business to take care of."

The nurse raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay with this? The staff is all here and ready to help, of course... but it's still pretty scary for you, I know."

"I brought a friend." Ken waved at Davis, encouraging him to get up. "Is it okay if he joins us?"

"Absolutely! Follow me." Ken caught a glimmer of...relief?...when he mentioned Davis. * I can't be THAT much of a monster, can I?*

Ken thought back onto his last visit here... and the way it took 4 able-bodied adults to hold him down. And then he remembered the incident that he had when falling off the bridge a few weeks ago, on the day that he first hooked up with Davis...how peculiar it was, and so vivid! And THEN he recalled what had happened that very day, when he almost tried to break that boy's arm during judo, and liked it. * Oh yes. I hate it, but it's so damn true. I AM a monster.*

Ken then brushed his hand against one of the warm, slightly pink marks on his neck, a "gift" from one of Davis' more enthusiastic kisses, and smiled.

*A LOVED monster.*

Ken's anxiety slowly diminished.

++

-faraway, a little different time-

If it was around 4pm when Ken first stepped into the clinic, discovering to his happy surprise that love may not be able to conquer all, but it sure blunts out needle fears...

...well, then... it was 2am in New York. It's okay if you yawn, that's pretty early.

But if you wait for a while....

Say... six hours...

okay...you see... by this time Mimi would be awake.

....

Yeah, yeah... so this is MIMI we're talking about...

Wait =eight= hours.

Sitting serenely at the breakfast table, Mimi ate her Frosted Flakes while her daddy read the New York Times. She was still in her pajamas, unsexy flannels that reflected the fact that her parents adhered to the philosophy that ALL air must be conditioned, no matter the cost. It was pretty chilly in their spacious downtown apartment, and yet Mimi didn't much care, so long as she had her fuzzy-bunny slippers to keep her warm and snug.

"Hey, sweetie! Check this out.... there's an article in here about the youth in Japan! Want to read it?"

Mimi took a dainty sip from her orange juice, and then proffered one of her hands. "Why not?" Her dad handed over the International section, folding it so the appropriate article was easily found.

Unbeknownst to just about everyone except for nosy old Jyou, Mimi was farsighted. Few people had ever witnessed her in the act of reading, so this deep dark secret was destined to remain as such for a long time yet. But of course, her family knew... so it wasn't all that surprising that she pulled on a pair of glasses before perusing the article that had just been handed to her.

Mimi read like a man. This was another one of her deep, dark secrets. Her posture was lazy and yet commanding, the look of a busy salaryman as he followed the trades. Concentration burned in her eyes, and not even her fuzzy-bunny slippers detracted from the fact that she was one serious motherfucker when it came to news analysis.

It only took her a few seconds to realize that the story was about Ken... but it wasn't until she read the story completely through once... and then again... that she realized exactly what was going on. And then.....

"Holy whoa," she whispered with consternation.

"What is it Mims?" Her dad looked up from the sports section.

"Someone...screwed up," she said. "This is major."

Her dad put down the paper, when he saw that Mimi had gone all pale. "What?"

"Ken....oh, Ken....how could you?"

++

+byzantine rule+

there is fiction in the space between
the lines on your page of memories
write it down but it doesn't mean
you're not just telling stories...

there is fiction in the space between
you and reality
you will do and say anything
to make your everyday life seem less mundane
there is fiction in the space between
you and me

Tracy Chapman, Telling Stories

++

To: Jyou Subject: Concerns!

Hi-ee. By now we all know about Ken's thingie with Davis. But has Ken cracked? Read the attached article and you tell me. This was featured in the New York Times, which is a major newspaper read all across the States. I don't know what to think. I don't think something like this can be buried for long.

Tell Tai.

Yours, Mims!

Attachment: nyt_ken~.htm

++

"How can we have a Digidestined conference and =not= invite him?"

All of the older Digidestined had convened at... um... the beach... for a preliminary discussion of Mimi's bombshell. No-one wanted to bring the younger kids into this discussion just yet, mostly for the very question that Koushiro had just posed: despite Ken's close affiliation with Davis, Ken still remained something of an enigma to the other 10 Chosen Children, and opinion remained divided over whether Ken's presence would be appropriate (or =wanted=) when discussing the potential fallout and how to handle it.

"I remain unconvinced that we require a conference at =all=," Matt replied, a touch coolly. He was clearly displeased at having to interrupt his day kayaking with Tai for this foolishness. He couldn't help but glare at Jyou, vicariously pissed at the world through him. Sure, Jyou was just the messenger. But he was a fucking evil and inconvenient messenger, all the same. Whatever dumbass thing Ken had said to some random American reporter, =surely= it could wait a day or two? It was Matt's unshakeable belief that Mimi and Jyou were probably just overreacting, trying to get a little play seeing as how they had neatly been sidelined as Digidestined due to circumstances (moving far away, a la Mimi), or choice (Jyou, the fantastic doctor-in-training). They should deal with the sidelines like =Matt= had... calm, unconcerned, with a smile on his lips as he.... *Grrr...*

"No, this is clearly important," Tai said distractedly, annoyed at how difficult Matt could be. How could they get past square one, when Matt refused to admit there =was= a "square one?" "But hey... Koushiro... I think it would be best for Ken if we leave him out of it, at first. Davis will probably go ballistic when we say that we want to do something about this, and I think it would be better to deal with him independently of Ken. He =needs= to be convinced."

Sora was wearing a pretty floral print dress, and she smiled seriously, wanting to appear warm and professional at the same time. "Tai's right. And just think of Yolei. She's going to be very weird, I can guarantee."

"So we are leaving Ken out to =protect= him?" Koushiro asked, frowning. "I find that logic questionable."

"No one likes to be left out," Jyou added softly.

"Ken left the rest of =us= out when he unilaterally decided that it was time for the world to know all about the Digital World, don't you think?" Said Sora, the peacemaker.

"Who knows what was going through his head?" Jyou argued. "That's why I say that he should be there when we talk about this. We need to hear his side of the story before we go ahead and make decisions about how we are going to fix this situation. I can't imagine that he'll appreciate all of us ganging up on him and telling him what we want to do, Fait Accompli. That just sucks."

"I see your point," said Tai, who didn't really. It hadn't bothered =him= that Mimi had went to Jyou first with the information of Ken's indiscretion. Mimi just did things like that. Sure, it added an extra step, but if =she= felt a need to put distance between the two of them, who was =he=, Tai, to argue it? Tai felt like this thing with Ken was the same kind of situation. Outside of Davis, none of the other Chosen Children could count Ken as a friend. Tai felt very strongly that they would all come off as terribly fake-- maybe even rude-- if they began including Ken in things only to =trash= him over one of his bad decisions. By using Davis as an intermediary, maybe a lot of rudeness and hurt feelings could be circumvented.

Even if Ken's possible reactions were left out of it, however, Tai believed that his reasons for excluding Ken from the upcoming pow-wow were completely incontrovertible, based on concerns more important then mere =feelings=. Tai coughed, then continued. "It's a fact that despite everything, Ken really isn't one of us. And this..." Tai brandished his D-Terminal, which contained the forwarded text of the Times article, "...this requires teamwork to resolve."

"He will never be one of us unless we trust him." Koushiro thought to say.

"Fuck that," Matt said, disgusted. "He will never be 'one of us' until he gets off his fucking high horse. That's the long and short of it. Who knows what damage he did with this stupid article? He's the 'famous' Ken Ichijouji, after all. People will believe him, and...fuck. What a nuisance."

"Most people =already= have some idea about the Digital World, especially after our last battle. We weren't exactly subtle about it." Jyou said to Matt, trying to be reasonable.

Matt just rolled his eyes.

Tai favored Jyou with a beseeching glance. "This is more then just talking about the Digital World, and you know it. =You= read the article. Ken reveals lots of secrets about the way it all works, and the part that we all played in it. Not only are some of our own identities compromised, it seems quite possible that people will use what he said to try manipulate data in this world, in attempts to affect what happens in the other. That's just a gigantic risk." Tai said, feeling just as Reasonable as Jyou. *Hell, I can be Mr. Responsible, too!*

"But what if he didn't know what he was saying?" Jyou said, but even he had to grimace over that one. How could Ken Ichijouji, of all people, not understand the implications of the things he said?

Matt just snorted. "Yeah, right."

Everyone fell silent for a while. This issue of =intention= was one that they didn't want to have to spell out, but it was there. Not a single one of them could forget that Ken had been the Digital Kaizer, and the issue that they didn't want to speak about was the possibility that Ken had revealed these truths (some throw-away, some not) for reasons that had less to do with his status as the Keeper of Kindness, and more to do with... something else.

After a while, Jyou nodded silently to Tai. So did Koushiro. Sora clearly would do whatever Tai wanted to do, and Matt seemed indifferent. Mimi, as always, could not be reached for immediate comment, and so her exclusion from the final decision was only natural.

Tai watched the clouds that dotted the sky, glad that everyone agreed, but sad that the next step needed to be taken. "Okay. We meet tonight at my place. Matt, you tell TK. I'll let Kari know, and I'll find a way to get Davis to come as well. Koushiro: it will be your responsibility to tell Cody. And Sora, why don't you take care of Yolei? And as for Ken....well. Let's keep the meeting a secret, for now. We have some things to decide before we talk to him...." Tai paused, and turned to give each of the other Digidestined firm looks.

*If Ken knew that this could hurt us, did he mean it to?*

The primary agenda of this convocation of the local Digidestined Congress had been set.

++

To: Mimi Subject: Re: Concerns!

>Tell Tai.

It's decided. We're going to meet tonight at Tai's, and Ken won't be invited. This is against my better judgment, BTW. But I don't know what to do... Tai's reasons for not including Ken seem reasonable enough. I wonder:, however: just because something is reasonable, does that make it right?

We'll see.

Anyway, discovering this article was a good catch. Good on you! ...I wish that you could be there tonight for the drama. We second-stringers need to stick together.

TTFN. Jyou

++

"....And then what?"

"I'm not telling! I'm not telling!"

Jun and Davis were sitting together in Davis' room. This made sense, because under =no= circumstances was Davis ever allowed to set foot in Jun's, even though sometimes she would invite him inside as a test. A few times Davis had allowed himself to believe that Jun's pleasant invitations were actually sincere, and he had braved the doorway...only to be met with pillows and scorn. "I told you," she would say smugly, "not even if =I= say it's okay. Learn your damn role already."

Davis had tried to make a similar rule for Jun regarding his =own= room, but it never took. If he tried to throw pillows she would always retaliate with tickle-torture. "There's no room in this apartment that shall be forbidden to me," she would declare with sparkling eyes. "Especially not yours, brother dearest."

So... gossip only happened when Jun dropped by. Not vice versa.

The room of Davis held its secrets well... most seasoned sisters would throw their hands up in despair of ever gleaning any useful scammed secrets through the veil of dirty laundry and underneath the Vesuvius of toys and other assorted junk. In strict contrast to Ken's room, Davis' represented the best in lovingly crafted chaos, everything tossed about just so, to create the maximal impression of despair-inducing entropy.

Jun had moved aside a largish pile of smelly soccer gear, and was sitting perched on the side of Davis' bed nearest the window, ostentatiously breathing in the wafts of city air as if it would protect her from the toxic aromas originating from within. As soon as she sat down, she had launched into a full-scale account of her exploits with Matt, but her real purpose for being in the room had yet to be elucidated.

Davis enjoyed grilling his sister almost as much as he liked teasing her. "Tell me or else!" he threatened, holding up a rubber-band gun.

"Ooh... okay, okay. So Matt got the flowers, right? And I played all cool, asking him who sent them and things like that. I honestly didn't want him to know they were from me. I just needed to see that his blushing -facilities were intact; I mean, how much of a chance do I have if he can't be moved by having a secret admirer, or if he can't work up enough concern to be embarrassed to tell me about it?"

"You are so sneaky!"

"Well, it worked. He seemed very, very embarrassed!" Jun looked pleased. "We spent the rest of the afternoon going over some of his sheet music, and he taught me how to play a few chords on his guitar. I think I'm going to go ahead and call that progress." Sighing, Jun picked up a seemingly random toy off of Davis' nightstand and began fiddling with it, a tiny calculator. "You must think I'm insane." She did not fail to note the way that Davis lifted his hand involuntarily as if to snatch the little candy-colored calculator away, but didn't comment on it.

"Insane?" Davis' did take his eyes from the calculator, but it was a wretch. "Mm, mm.... Possibly. But it was cool how you got him to show you some chords." He smiled at his spiky-haired sister, enjoying the fact that her enthusiasm was so familiar... after all, he had probably looked =just= the same way when Ken had given him the (now vexing) calculator that very morning as a present for "heroic valor" at the doctor's office.

"Yeah!" Jun made the mistake of falling back into Davis' bed, only to shoot back up seconds later as she realized that she was leaning into more of his dirty linens, smelling god-knows-what nastiness, and noticing some crustiness on the sheet that she probably would have paid good money not to have seen. "Eww! How do you make these things smell so bad?"

"It's an art," Davis replied loftily.

"Ack. It's the sports, but still: that's no excuse." Jun looked out the window pensively for a few seconds, back to thinking about Matt. "...so what do you think of him?"

Davis flushed, and then remembered who it was that Jun was chatting about. He had allowed her comment about "sports" remind him of what Ken and he had done the night before. Sure, the doctor's office had been sweaty and tense ....but it was what happened afterwards that really messed up his clothes. *Some might call it a sport...heh.* "Um...Matt is a nice guy, even if he's related to that total airhead, T.B."

"TB is a disease." Jun commented wryly.

"I think that too!" Davis said with a grin, as he picked up a soccer ball. *I wonder where DemiVeemon is hiding... normally he likes to listen to Jun.*

"You are so incorrigible!" Jun said, taking time out of her busy day to point out the obvious.

"It's true, it's true..." Davis replied humbly, taking Jun's comment as if it were rare praise.

Jun winked at Davis, and held up the calculator. "So this is new," she stated innocently. "Math. Are you into =that= scene now?"

"It was a present."

Especially noting the way that Davis straightened up when the calculator was brandished, she took a moment to examine it carefully. It was a tiny little thing, attached to a keychain, and made out of a kind of orange sparkling plastic that made it looks absolutely adorable. Exactly the kind of thing a girl might buy for another girl... but not exactly the sort of gift a girl gives a boy, unless she is particularly dense. Or unless she knew Davis exceptionally well... Jun smiled. She felt like she was extremely close to discovering the source of Davis' mysterious crush at last.

"It's cute. Who from?"

Davis looked ever so slightly on the defensive, but put on an admirable air of nonchalance that would have fooled anyone else. "Ken," he said carefully.

Oh. *Oh...* Jun turned her eyes away from Davis so that she could hide the slight blush rising in her cheeks. "That was sweet of him," she said with a more practiced form of nonchalance that not even Davis could see through.

"Well, he's just that kind of guy," Davis shrugged it off.

"Yeah. I like him a lot," Jun said, warming to the topic. She knew that she'd never get Davis to confess, at least not today. But she knew it would be fun for him to get to talk about Ken in a non-confrontational kind of way, so she opened the door wide open for a Kenfest. *Hell, he listens to me blather about Matt all the time....it's only fair. Besides...oh, it's just so =cute=!* "You are lucky to have a friend who is so amazingly clever and yet so much fun to be around." Jun actually had no idea if Ken was fun or not, but it seemed like a logical assumption, given the state of Davis' sheets...and the fact that Ken had slept over the night before. Those tell-tale stains told no lies...

Jun found herself blushing in earnest. Speculating about her brother's lovelife was one thing; being confronted with physical evidence of it was quite another!

Davis saw =this= blush. It was hard to miss. Fortunately, he misinterpreted it. "Are you talking about Ken, or about Matt?" he joked.

"Ahh. You caught me!"

Davis was about to say more, but the phone began to ring. Jun dashed to go pick it up, sliding a little when she turned onto the wood floor in the highway, but not before careful replacing Davis' calculator where she found it. He watched her leave and then picked up some of his dirty clothes. *Hey... these don't stink that bad!*

Jun returned to the room in a minute with a glum look on her face. "For you," she said, holding out the phone as if it had cheated her of something important.

"Who is it?" he asked, even as he accepted the handoff.

"Tai," Jun said before leaving, this time walking down the hall at a more reasonable pace.

*Cool!* Davis thought, as he brought the receiver to his ear. *I wonder what he wants?*

++

To: Jyou Subject: Re: Concerns!

>>Tell Tai.

>It's decided. We're going to meet tonight at Tai's, and Ken won't be invited. This is against my better judgment, BTW. But I don't know what to do... Tai's reasons for not including Ken seem reasonable enough. I wonder:, however: just because something is reasonable, does that make it =right=?

Tai is a good leader, but sometimes his people skills are lacking. Not inviting Ken seems pretty harsh.

>Anyway, discovering this article was a good catch. Good on you! ...I wish that you could be there tonight for the drama. We second-stringers need to stick together.

Who are you calling a second stringer. >.< !!!! Just kidding. I want to witness drama! I think Davis will be a most interesting case study. You must tell me how much he sticks up for Ken... I don't know much about the whole gay thing but it intrigues me. I wonder if they are =luvers=. Seems kind of young for all that, but Ken is not the rules sort. I wonder if they've kissed!!!!

Wai! <--Mims goes off to cry about missing all the fun.

Be nice to Davis for me, k? I bet that Tai is going to ream him if he doesn't agree to whatever plan you all decide about Ken. Tai is so autocratic.

Yours, Mims.

p.s. Wots TTFN?

++

"Demi V?" "Yeah...that's my rap star name. Like it?"

It's time for a little exposition just about now. It had taken a little while, but eventually most of the Digimon came to the realization that living in the human world was...in a word... =boring=.

Of course, it was never dull with the Digidestined around, but this kind of happy bonding happened less and less frequently these days. Their partners would go off to school, and most days it was simply impractical for the Digimon to tag along. And then afterwards the kids would all go off for their clubs and societies and (in the case of Koushiro) hacks. This meant even more time wasted. Humans have this annoying need to cultivate their social lives by participating in activities that have little to do with either utility =or= fun (as any sane-minded Digimon would see it, anyway). The Digimon had a hard time understanding this concept... nevertheless, the human need for society meant that the Digimon often were asked (politely, of course) to fend for themselves.

Fortunately, the Digimon lead rich inner lives, and for the most part they are content to lounge around, watching human television all day, eating human snacks, and taking very discrete, Digimon-sized naps. More importantly, every single one of them had access to the Digital World, through means that are too complicated and tedious to describe here.

So the Digimon were free to meet each other, on their own terms. But lately, some of their interactions had taken on a distinctly...human... flavour.

Although it is classical to divide Digimon up into three categories: virus, data, and vaccine, there is another, more accurate classification system. Similar to the Myers-Briggs personality scheme, this cluster of character attributes is a convenient and useful way to predict the way that Digimon will react to certain situations, and it also helps determine the likelihood that various Digimon will get along with one another.

It is called the Herongale Assessment.

There are seven different categories: snooty, scary, funny, loyal, noble, mean, and =strange=. Leomon is, of course, a noble Digimon. Ogremon is not... he's more of a mixed mean-scary, but that's just a front to disguise the loyal little Digimon within.

When it comes to more familiar Digimon, the fallout is rather interesting. The genus =Digidestinedimon= are all deliciously complicated; no one single category is sufficient to describe the totality of their behaviour. And yet it is quite simple to assign each with a primary Herongalian designator.

Most of them are the loyal type: Agumon, Biyomon, Palmon, Wormmon, and Armadillomon all have fanatical devotion to their Digimon partner at the absolute core of their being. A few are actually quite snooty: Hawkmon and Gatomon both qualify here. And two are arguably =strange=: Tentomon and Patamon. =Strange= means that they can be all things to everybody...funny and loyal, snooty =and= mean. Only one is particularly noble, and that's the soft-spoken Gabumon.

Trust me: it makes sense when you think about it.

Only two are particularly hilarious, and these are the two who are cooling their heels in a quaint little café somewhere deep in the Digital World. Gomamon and Veemon have met in a charming little Numemon town to discuss "bidness."

"Not bad," Gomamon congratulated Veemon on his new, non-Herongalian designator. "Mine's Ice Masta G."

Veemon practically choked himself giggling. "That rocks! You rock!"

"This question is not whether or not I rock. It's really just a matter of degree. How much, exactly, do I rock? Do I rock the kasbah, or is it merely a matter of rocking the house? And is rocking nearly as good as getting jiggy with it? So many questions..." Gomamon shook his head sadly. This was obviously a dilemma he's been wrestling over for some time now.

"You rock almost as much as Davis," Veemon said which roughly translated meant "a hella fuck lot, yeah man."

"Hey, thanks!" Gomamon replied, pleased. His loyalty quotient is somewhat less impressive then Veemon's, but Gomamon is a compliment/insult connoisseur. He knows quality praise when he hears it.

"We should start a posse," Veemon suggested thoughtfully. "Maybe even get a few groupies."

"Groupies would be great!" Gomamon concurred enthusiastically. "Just think of all the jokes we could tell!"

"Yeah! Davis could be our leader, and then we would march out over the Digital World, telling knock-knock jokes and making musical rhymes. We could even front!" Veemon made a show of waving his hands around like the rap stars do, but he ended up looking more like an ecstasy-enhanced cheerleader.

"Why does Davis get to be the leader?"

"Because he's =Davis=."

"Oh." Gomamon shrugged. "That makes sense, I suppose. Jyou would be useless for something like that. No sense of style, no flame jacket. But I want him to be an integral part of the organization anyway. He could make cupcakes."

"Wow." Veemon's eyes sparked. "Jyou can make cupcakes? That's so cool!"

"Jyou =is= pretty neat, isn't he?" Gomamon said with the quiet conviction of someone who knows his shit. After a comfortable pause, he decides to bring up the main reason for this meeting. "So... hey. Did you bring the goods or what?"

"Yeah!" Veemon picks up a bag that is sitting next to him and shakes it. "Are you going to make sure that Gatomon gets some?"

"I'll makes sure they =all= do, silly. I've got the best distribution joint in the biz." Gomamon eyed the bag eagerly. His "distribution joint" was nothing more spectacular then personally hand-delivering "the goods" to every Digidestined's Digimon, and then without even taking a slightly larger cut as a reward for his troubles. He might be skilled at talking the talk, but basically Gomamon is no street tough. "Whatcha got?"

"The =good= stuff. Davis calls it freebase." Veemon spread out a dozen extra large milk-chocolate candy bars on the table in front of him.

"Yummy!" Gomamon agreed, looking at the "keys" of chocolate with all the lust of a heroin addict.

Veemon looked sneaky. "I know what we can do...." he insinuated leadingly. He was about to propose a daring plan.

"What?" Gomamon suspected he knew what was coming, and licked his lips in anticipation.

"Let's eat our share now!"

++

To: Mimi Subject: TTFN

TTFN means "ta-ta for now." Don't you know your Winnie the Pooh?

The meetings gonna start really soon. We're waiting on Tai and Davis. Until then, I'll just write you some stuff.

Everyone else is here at Tai's. Kari is acting as interim host, making sure we are all comfortable and what-have-you. We are in the kid's bedroom because the Kamiya parents are busy watching TV out in the main living room. Koushiro and I are being antisocial, as usual. He's on his laptop and here I am, emailing. :P Matt is lying on the top bunk bed... Tai's... and he's just as surly as he was this afternoon. I wonder what his damage is? TK and Yolei and Cody are all sitting on the edge of Kari's bed, looking confused because no-one has told them what's going on yet. Kari doesn't look confused, she looks fake-cheerful. I guess she knows.

No Ken, of course.

Sora is also wearing the fake-cheerful look, and she is trying to chum it up with Yolei. Yolei is not having it... she's tapping her feet and looking angry now! She doesn't understand what all the secrecy is about.

I do... it's so that if Davis gets mad (which he probably will), he'll have company. <-- grins

You know, I don't think I've actually seen Davis ever since they had that dance and he and Ken hooked up. Of course, I saw =Yolei= after finding out... but I told you all about that. What a disaster. Anyway, it's weird to think of them as a couple. Statistically, it makes sense that at least a few of us would swing "light," but the fact that it has actually occurred still seems jarring for some reason.

Oh...hey! Something just occurred to me, and it's a disquieting thought. I thought Tai's reasons for excluding Ken seemed reasonable earlier, but I wonder if Tai isn't doing this subconsciously as a way to punish Davis for the whole Gay Thing. I mean, Davis has always been something of a protégé for Tai... I wonder if he feels threatened by this? People always remark on how alike he and Davis are, after all. Ooh, the plausibility of it all give me chills. My instincts tell me this will be bad, bad, bad. Mmm. So, Mimi? If I ever do something stupid and everyone wants to have a secret meeting about it, promise me you'll tell me about it. I think that...err. I just heard the apartment door open. It's probably our favourite delinquents. I'm gonna have to go.

The drama promises to be intense. I cannot promise to give you a minute to minute summary, but I will do my best. Heck, you're probably asleep anyway. <-- thinks that's cute!

Ja. Jyou.

++

"...what's this?" Upon opening the door to Tai's bedroom, Davis had instantly been confronted with eight tense-looking surprises... Tai had been rather vague about why he wanted to get together with Davis, and Davis had naturally assumed that Tai was jonesing for some soccer advice and was too embarrassed to admit it outside the sanctity of his own home. Obviously, Davis' assumption had been incorrect. He broke into a grin. Assumption Number Two, coming up! "A party?"

"No," Tai scratched his head. "We're having a Digidestined meeting. Sorry for the misdirection."

Yolei shot up from where she had been sitting, and if she didn't look capable of running twenty marathons and then personally ripping apart half of the (admittedly small) Japanese National Defense Force, no one did, or ever had. "Finally! Maybe =someone= can tell us what all this insanity is about!"

Davis pointed at himself, dumbfounded. "Me? I'm supposed to know something?"

"No!" Yolei stepped up to Tai, and stabbed him with her finger. "You! Start spilling."

Tai bit his lip, and then looked over at Davis. Maybe if he just jumped right in, he could get to the reason for why Ken wasn't there before Davis could have a chance to notice that Ken wasn't....

"Where's Ken?" Davis was looking around curiously. *Okay....here's Jyou, looking up at me all wisely.... and there's Koushiro...he's not even paying attention, can't be too serious.... Cody and TK.... they look just about as clueless as I feel... Sora. She doesn't look so good. I... wonder if she ate something funny? Matt... hmm... why is he blowing on his hair that way? He almost looks...mad... And then.. Kari. no, wait! Something's wrong...* Daisuke pivoted back to Koushiro, feeling a little panic rising. *Koushiro. No, he IS paying attention...he's just avoiding looking at me... and Jyou... is that sympathy? No, oh, no...* "Did something happen to Ken?" Davis asked in a small voice, shaking.

"No, no... as far as we know, Ken's okay," Sora started earnestly. "Why don't you sit down? We need to get started..."

Davis frowned. *Get started? .... as far as we KNOW?* "Ken wasn't invited," Davis said flatly, at last.

TK and Cody both startled, simultaneously, and then adopted identical frowns, slow and ponderous. If anyone had any doubts as to why those two had become Jogress partners, it would have been obliterated in seeing how closely they tracked in their reaction to this surprising news. Davis noted their startlement dimly, because all of a sudden he wasn't thinking so good anymore, and a red veil of pain and rage seemed to descend over his sight. No one said anything for a good long moment. Finally, Davis opened him mouth, when...

"Son of a bitch!" Yolei hissed. In his confused state, Davis first thought she was addressing him. But no. She was back to poking Tai, quite violently. "Son... of... a ... BITCH. Who the =fuck= do you think you are? You act =soooo= superior! You... the great Supreme Leader of the Digidestined! What =right= do you have to exclude Ken from =anything=? That's our call, you bastard! OURS. And we...." She was shaking, and then she looked at Davis with eyes bright with...tears? "=We= would never do that!"

It made sense, of course. Yolei had been spending the past few weeks cycling between anger...

* I hate him. I hate the other him! I hate them BOTH!*

despair...

*I want to die. Seriously, absolutely, permanently...*

hope...

*...of course Ken isn't gay! This is just a fantasy! I could have...possibly... fallen into the same error with Kari. Possibly. It's a Jogress thing! Yeah!*

guilt...

*But if they don't really love each other... no. I like Davis too much. And Ken... I would never hurt him. And yet... if I had the chance to destroy what they have... would I ... could I...?*

pain...

*He touched me... he danced with me... is that the only intimacy that I will ever enjoy?*

fear...

*I am alone... I will always be alone. Forever and ever, always. Alone. *

...

...and so of course, she wasn't feeling entirely stable.

Davis and Yolei stared at each other, twins in their separate rages... and disappointments. The disappointment was very bitter, and probably worse then the rage.

"Um...yeah. Would someone mind telling us what's going on here?" TK cleared his throat, but his voice sounded slightly irritated.

"Ken made an ass of himself," Matt announced from the top bunk, cutting right to the chase. "Exhibit fuckin' A." Here he tossed down photocopies of the New York Times article that he had be requested to provide for this evening's "entertainment." The stapled reports fluttered down to the floor aimlessly.

Jyou frowned up at Matt. *Why is he being so rude?* "Davis, Mimi found an interview that Ken did in one of the New York papers. She sent it to me, and then I brought it to Tai... um, Davis? Ken said some pretty unbelievable stuff in there. Some of us decided..." Jyou shook his head, wanting to deny responsibility... but no. To deny responsibility would be to deny himself. "We =all= decided that it would be better to figure out what this means before we confront Ken about it. And since you know him best... Davis? Are you listening?"

TK and Cody had picked up the reports, and both had started reading it... but not until after TK rolled up his copy, stood up, and bopped Matt on the head with it. Kari was wringing her hands, and she walked over to where Davis was. He was looking pretty grim, and was standing unnaturally still...

"Did you say New York?" Davis asked, stupidly.

Kari put an arm around Davis, which he permitted because he was just so unbelievably numb. Tai was still biting his lip, and looking down at his toes. Matt was no longer lying flat on Tai's bed; he was now turned sideways, so that his legs snaked up the wall and his head hung over the edge, with him looking at everyone upside down.

Koushiro sat up, and cracked his knuckles...he was preparing to speak.

"The most troubling thing is the detailed theory he gives for opening Digital gates. His plan for applying a Lorentz transform to the Mandelbrot set is pure genius." Koushiro sighed, vastly appreciative. "Of course, his language describing the whole process is somewhat crude, but I assume he was trying to simplify it for a general audience. The theory itself is quite elegant. He refers to the mathematics of turbulent flow and a starting point, and from there it is easy to presume...."

Tai coughed, interrupting Koushiro before he could really get going. "The point is, we're worried about Ken." He said at last. "Why would he do something like this?" Still stung by Yolei's comments, and even more hurt by the pain he saw in Davis' eyes, he wondered if he had made the right decision, after all. *Anger, I expected... but not this.*

"Give me that..." Yolei growled, and swiped one of the papers that Sora had bent to pick up neatly. Sora was acting very timid around Yolei... obviously, Sora wanted to comfort her the way Kari seemed to be comforting Davis... but Yolei just seemed a =little= too scary at this particular moment.

"Ken thinks that it's 'high time' for the whole world to know about both 'his amazing soccer skills and his association with the Digital World'...." Cody quoted, his eyes narrowing slightly as he scanned the page.

"He does?" asked Kari, who hadn't had the opportunity to read the actual article. "He actually put it that way? How odd."

Sora coughed. "I think I get why he might put it that way..." She mouthed the word "Kai-zer!" to Kari in a way that Davis didn't catch.

Kari frowned, and shook her head. "No way!" she mouthed back.

But Kari was not the only person with questions. "...I don't get this bit about the rivers and fractured plants...er, =fractalled= plants." TK said slowly.

Koushiro leapt up, excited. "That's it! That's the Mandelbrot transformation!" "How did you get that.... From =this=?" TK asked, mystified.

"It's a metaphor," Koushiro said, miffed. "A very deep, deep metaphor."

"If you think so..." TK said. It just seemed slightly off. He looked up at Davis curiously, who appeared faintly pink around the ears and cheeks. "Did you know about this?"

Before Davis had a chance to reply, however, Cody piped in. Cody was indulging in a little theory of his own. "He thinks that Davis Motomiya is... and I quote... 'one tremendously gifted =and=talented Digidestined'...emphasis mine."

"Lo-vers" Sora mouthed to Kari. This time, Kari nodded, with a slightly harried smile.

Matt groaned, and rolled back up onto Tai's bed. "Ugh! He's so =obvious=," he muttered in a prickly undertone, and pulled Tai's pillow over his head.

Davis turned even pinker.

Yolei missed Matt's pithy comment, but she did catch the slight sarcasm in Cody's voice.. so she began to actually read the piece. After a few minutes, her eyes were also narrowed into slits. " 'Wormmon is =jammin=?' 'Tamachi is =lame=?' You're right, Cody. This is very good. I can see why it would fool the unwary...or the ignorant." Yolei looked around at the older Digidestined consideringly, but if the glint in her eyes meant anything, she was still a long way from forgiveness.

"Fool?" Sora asked, confused. And now it is TK's turn to see. "Oh. Oh, my." His face contorts as he tries to hold back a laugh. "Um.. I'm sorry... I know this is serious... but...heh...!"

Tai frowned. "This isn't funny, TK. The entire Digital World could be in danger!" He looked over at Yolei, and put a hand on his hip. "So....speak up. Enlighten the =ignorant=."

Yolei flipped back her hair. "Admittedly, the clues are subtle. Only someone who knows Ken at =all= would be able to recognize the small errors. Coaching must have been involved, because I detect the strong odor of intolerable genius that =some= of us have come to know so well." Yolei allowed herself to crack a pencil-thin, crooked smile. "BUT, the coaching was obviously insufficient, because it is obvious to =Cody=..." Cody nodded vigorously. "=TK=..." TK had a hand pressed firmly over his mouth, and he appeared to be turning purple with repressed laughter. "And =me=..." Yolei pointed to herself, "that the =true= author of these remarks is none other then..."

Before she could continue, she was cut off...

"Me..." Davis said in a wobbly voice. "I said all that."

++

To: Jyou Subject: Winnie the Who?

You think I'm cute? <-- giggles!!!

So it's really, really early here. So what? I'm really, really up!

I expect transcripts!!!!

Yours, Mims. will always tell you when you act stupid. ;)

++

...earlier that day...

"... I think you're being stupid."

"Wha..?" Matt brushed off the sand that was on his feet, looking over at Tai in bewilderment. They had just spent the past hour swimming in the North Pacific... or rather, Tai had been swimming, going way out beyond where the waves began to curl and break... whereas Matt just kind of stayed close to the shore, thank you very much. But even great athletes need to take a break, and Tai had returned as triumphantly as any WWII general might, only to find Matt floating on his back, looking pensive.

There had been splashing and Words were exchanged, but it had all been in good fun. And now, the two boys were chillin' on their beach blankets, relaxing before they moved on to Phase Two: kayaking. Matt was wearing red cargo swimpants and TK's Gillian hat... he never felt like he needed to dress to impress around Tai, and a very hyper obsessive inner voice told him that this was because he was afraid of being obvious.

"Jun." Tai held up a finger and placed it on the side of his nose. "She likes you, you know." Tai was wearing the unsexiest possible swim trunks in the universe... blue Speedos. Tai always had all the most =astonishing= clothes... the oversized jacket with the pawprints was a prime example. With aviator glasses perched jauntily on nose, Tai was the perfect image of a.. a... um... loser? Nah. He's just =unique=.

Matt smiled at Tai fondly. He himself had to try really hard, use a really =disciplined= approach, to project the same carefree air towards fashion that was the Digidestined of Courage's birthright. "Jun's very cool, you know. You'd be surprised."

"No, no, that's not the point! Of course Jun is cool, she's Davis' sister." Tai began scratching at the skin of his lower lip, worrying at a flake of dryness until it came off, leaving an angry red spot. A little blood stained his mobile mouth. "Ugh... ouch!"

"Gross! What did you do that for?" Matt frowned, but the little voice was teasing him with how nice it might be, to lick that stain away. *Subtle, Ishida... that would be sooo subtle.*

"To illustrate a point," Tai announced loftily. "Jun is like a scab, and you keep picking. What is it about her that fascinates you so much?"

Matt was sitting with his knees pulled up to his chest, and he hugged them tightly, while resting his cheek on the top of his patella (oooh! Big word!). This was a grinful moment. "Jun's a cool scab, eh?"

"Totally scabby."

"Explain!" Matt could listen to Tai run down Jun all day, even though of course =he= would defend her to the death. It was certainly better then listening to him rave about Sora, or bitch about Mimi.

"Well, she's insidious. Like, first you think she's just like every other girl, and she's perky and it gets the defenses down. You get all friendly and stuff. But then, like nothing, she becomes =irresistible=! You've gotta scratch. It's all these layers that she's got, you see."

Matt crinkled his brilliant blue eyes. "Have you ever taken a metaphor down a road to its proper destination?"

Tai looked peeved. "=Koushiro= never insults my metaphors. He thinks they are genius."

"Yeah, right. He thinks all metaphors are genius. It's his one flaw."

"Huh! You should be more like him. Respect my author-i-tay!"

Sometimes, Matt wondered. Most of the time that he spent with Tai, he honestly felt like he was being played. It was a nagging sensation that never quite left. Tai was pretty aggressive in his heterosexuality, and yet the way he seemed to say all these little things... insult Jun, butter up Koushiro... it was suspicious. Sometimes, it made Matt happy. And then sometimes, all he felt was jealous... and =used=.

*My desire must be written on my face, for him to say these things. But what does it mean? What does it =mean=?*

Matt thought all these things, but on the outside, he was still smiles. "I think you just want her."

"Sha! She's too Davis-y. She's steeped in Davis. It would be weird...Jun's like my sister or something!"

"You didn't mind when Davis liked Kari," Matt remarked thoughtfully.

Tai grunted. "That was different. And anyway, it's better then what he's up to now..."

Matt sat up straight, surprised. "You don't approve?"

Sighing, Tai didn't say anything for a long while, and his eyes were unreadable behind the aviator sunglasses. Matt watched him closely, curiously. He never really could get a handle on how Tai felt about the whole homosexuality issue... it seemed like now he was going to get a real go.

"Hmm. It caught me off guard, that's for sure, when Kari told me about it. I guess it just doesn't make sense! He doesn't seem gay. Now with Ken, I could understand. Anyone could see that one coming a mile away. But Davis... it's just too weird."

"Do you have to seem gay to =be= gay, then?" Matt asked, keeping his tone light.

"No, no..." Tai shook his head, and rubbed his forehead like he was experiencing a headache.

Matt really wished he could see those eyes, see what Tai was really saying behind all the confusion and discomfort.

Tai continued, the light glinting off his silvered frames. "I just think it's a =hard= way, you know? It's like you wake up one day and say, 'World? How can I possibly fuck things up for myself so painfully that 3/4 of the universe will hate my sorry ass simply for existing?' " Tai began drawing circles in the sand. "I'm sure it's all nice for them now, because no parental units have gotten wind of what is going on. But once that happens... Shit. I =so= do not want to be Davis when that occurs."

"But what about Ken? Is it different for him?"

It was with puzzlement that Tai addressed Matt. "Well, =yeah=!" To him it seemed the most obvious thing.

"How?"

"His parents have to know. They =have= to, even if its on a subconscious level. And with everything that Ken has been through and done, odds are that they won't even care."

"Why do the parents matter in all this, anyway? Shouldn't people live their lives honestly, being who they are without being ashamed of it?"

"If I had your parental issues, I'd be saying that too." Tai sounded a bit flip, but he looked frustrated too. "But my family =works=. We all get along great. I'm not going to give that up to pursue some crazy fantasy life, no matter how appealing." Tai sighed, and then to hide it he got up and began stretching. "Mmm...ready to go kayaking?"

"I see" said Matt, evenly. And he did. "Yeah, I'm ready."

++

It has been said that a complete conspiracy is a law of nature.

Mmm...

But no one is sure what would be the most accurate way to describe a conspiracy that =never existed at all=.

=Crime= against nature might be a good start.....

It is difficult to describe the pandemonium that followed Davis' little revelation. Insults were thrown, pillows were cast, and it took a lot of specialized soothing on the parts of both Kari and Sora to restore any kind of calm to the proceedings. It wasn't so much a "Digidestined Congress" as a =banana republic=, and for a few tense moments there... when Yolei was strangling Davis and Koushiro was blathering, his entire life's paradigm briefly shattered by the revelation that =Davis= was the communicator of such technical brilliance... it looked pretty damn hopeless.

The only two people who seemed to display any level of sanguinity were Jyou, who appeared to be jotting down every word said with the conscientiousness of a court reporter... and Matt. Although he had been first to toss a pillow, causing a cascade of undesirable pillow tossing of almost biblical proportions... he actually looked rather... sunny. From his perch high above the fray, Matt gazed down with benign serenity.

Just call him Matt the Contrarian.

"Whoa...whoa...whoa! Stop the Davis abuse!" Tai shouted loudly. "Parents in the house!" Everyone hushed. It was the voice of Author-i-tay.

"Uh...uh...wha...uh...tha...thanks, Tai..." Davis managed, massaging his neck after Yolei released her grip contemptuously.

"Nn-huh... not so fast. I might pick up where she left off," Tai said darkly.

"Aw...give the kid a break!" Matt was practically beaming. Some perverse part of his soul was loving this: loving that Tai was wrong, loving that Ken (the obviously gay one) had not been solely responsible for this chaos, especially loving that Davis (the occultly gay) was probably the instigator and mastermind behind this hair-brained scheme. It was simply too perfect.

Tai bared his teeth at Matt, roughly approximating a smile. It might have even been a nice smile, except that his canines were prominent and his eyes were blazing with pissed-offedness.

TK was still laughing uncontrollably. Cody also seemed to be holding back some serious mirth, while also looking kind of smug and proud of himself. He had been the first to figure out the felony!

"It might help if you explained yourself," Jyou looked up from his messaging.

Davis was still rubbing his neck, confused. "I don't see what the big deal is. New York is so far away. What does one crappy little paper have to do with anything?" He then coughed as a new thought occurred to him, and he gave Tai a glowering, bristly look. "You were worried about Ken? What does that =mean=, anyway?"

Tai was up to the challenge. "It =means= that the New York Times is only the biggest newspaper in the entire world. It means that critical Digital World data was leaked all over the freaking globe. It =means= that Ken is still not out from under the Kaizer cloud. It =means= we were worried about him... worried he'd done something galactically stupid!"

Davis looked dumbfounded. "But Ken didn't have anything to do with it!"

And then he just looked mad.

"You think Ken is in danger of going all Kaizer?" Davis pushed Kari away, not roughly but with no particular gentleness either. "What, you think I'm so pathetic that I couldn't see it happening, or worse... you think I'm such a =moron= that I'd actually =make= it happen? Fuck that shit!" As little as he was, he looked like he was ready to decimate Tai instantly, holding up his fists and shaking with rage.

"How did this happen, Davis?" Tai asked hotly. "Can you honestly say this was totally your idea?"

Davis cooled down a tad, realizing that maybe he =did= have some explaining to do, to clear Ken's name and reputation. "I honestly can."

"Was this a planned thing?" Koushiro asked, curious.

"No! Nothing like that..." Davis then launched into a description of what had happened... how he had answered the phone at Ken's house, pretending to be Ken... how he panicked when he realized it was a reporter... how Ken was lying on the couch, drowsy, and had told him to keep up the charade, and then promptly fell asleep... "All I wanted to do was to make him look smart, you know? So I just told the reporter some stuff that Ken had recently told me that he had been thinking about, and it happened to be about the Digital World. I figured, 'hey... everyone knows that the Digital World is real, and that some kids from Japan were involved in it, what harm can it do?' "

Everyone listened attentively during Davis' description. After he posed his rhetorical question, they all remained silent a little longer. It was so quintessentially Davis, reckless yet in a completely forgivable way. Kari summed their feelings up best....

"Oh, Davis...." She sighed.

Davis looked worried. "You...you think I could have gotten Ken into trouble?" he asked emotionally.

"Probably." Tai said, but the heat was out of his voice. He knew all too well how easy it was to say thoughtless, foolish things. Involuntarily he glanced at Matt, who was no longer acting giddy. "Don't worry... we'll think of something."

Koushiro looked at Davis in relief, his minor teleological crisis having been neatly resolved for him. "Ken told you all this stuff about the Digital Gates, and you were able to put it together into a pretty logical way... Davis, I'm impressed."

Davis looked rueful. "I'm not feeling all that impressive right now."

TK gave him and encouraging smile. "Aw, don't worry. Ken's a genius. And now that we've gotten this all straightened out, we can help make it right for him. It shouldn't be too hard for us to give him a head's up."

Sora also smiled, but then she pursed her lips thoughtfully. "There may be media attention. Ken is pretty famous around here anyway, so the fact that he's a Digidestined as well is likely going to be newsworthy. But after that rash of Digidestined profiles that went out after our battle with Malomyotismon, it seems safe to assume that this won't affect him to much."

"We don't know that," Tai frowned. "I think it's time that we get Ken involved."

"I'm on it," said Cody, flipping open his D3 in that precise way of his. "Should I just tell him to meet us all here?"

"Yeah," Tai said. "That's probably easiest."

Davis looked at Cody in surprise. He knew how much Cody disliked Ken, and the events of the past few weeks hadn't done much to change that. "Thanks," he said simply.

Cody returned Davis' thanks with a small smile. He still was a long way from liking Ken, but this evening really had highlighted for him the fact that outside of Davis, no-one really knew Ken all that well. He felt ashamed of himself. *Investing all this hatred on someone I haven't even bothered to get to know.... That's just wrong.*

"Hey, he's one of us, right?" ++

To: Mimi Subject: Heresy!

I'm going to send you my copy of Winnie the Pooh right away, which you will read and treasure. Obviously an essential part of your childhood has been brutally denied to you. This should correct it.

We think we've pretty much figured things out with the NYT thing. Attached to this email are the transcripts you requested, kind of abbreviated but you'll get the gist.

We've moved to the living room, because Tai's parents have gone off to dinner, and now we're watching TV and waiting for Ken. Cody tried sending him email, but there was no reply, and so we tried calling a few times and the line was busy. Maybe he's on the internet or something. Koushiro just walked out the door; he has been dispatched to collect Ken with a minimum of fuss (that's why Davis was NOT sent... heh).

Matt no longer is being rude. It seems that after everyone kind of blew up he felt a lot better.

I'll write more later... Tai and Kari are fighting over the remote control.

Ja. Jyou.

Attachment: transcript~.doc

++

"Give it!"

"No way... you'll just put it on some stupid sports show. No one wants to watch that but you!" Kari and Tai were sitting at opposite sides of the couch, but Tai was leaning over the three people sitting between them with his arms outstretched, trying to grab the remote from his sister.

"I'm the oldest! You must do as I say!" Tai said, thunderingly.

Davis, Matt, and Sora... the three unfortunate individuals caught in the crossfire, looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Kari stood her ground. "We're going to watch =this=..." She pointed to the variety show that she had picked, a song-and-dance number that arguably no-one cared for.

Tai considered his options. He knew that he could simply chase Kari around the apartment until he inevitably stole the remote from her due to his superior speed and cunning, but even he had a dim sense that this would be somewhat inappropriate with company over. So he got up, dusted himself off in a dignified manner, and wended his way between TK and Jyou, who were sprawled on the floor. Setting up camp next to the TV, he looked back at Kari (who was still sitting on the couch) with a sneaky, feral grin.

"You wouldn't!" She said, horrified.

"Watch me." Tai proceed to change the channel =manually=.

"You =cheat=! That's no fair!" Kari began pushing buttons furiously.

As the channel switching war shifted from being imminent to underway, all of the rest of the Digidestined squirmed uncomfortably in their seats. TK, who knew how to seize any opportunity once he saw it, got up and dropped himself into the spot that Tai had recently vacated, right next to Davis. "My turn to cuddle with you!" TK said, laughing. Davis stuck out his tongue.

"Put it on the Discovery Channel!" Yolei called out from her spot in an armchair off to the side.

"No way!" said Tai, as he tried to keep abreast of his sister's quick, annoying channel changes. "I'm going for... =extreme= snowboarding!"

Cody was leaning on the couch between Sora and Kari. He moaned faintly. "Extreme?"

Jyou rolled over from his spot lying on the floor, clicking off his email. He gave Cody an understanding grin. "Maybe we should escape before things disintegrate further. We'll be watching =wrestling= before too long!"

Davis and Tai, together: "Nothing wrong with that!"

Matt leaned over to Sora, and whispered something in her ear. She blushed scarlet, and then looked at Tai speculatively. It didn't take her long to burst out laughing. "Wrestling..." she murmured through her wheezes.

"I am going to assume absolute control!" Kari said, with uncharacteristic vehemence. She dug her hand into the side of the couch, and pulled out the VCR remote. "Ah-hah!"

"No you don't," Tai said, and then dove for the VCR wires behind the television, uncoupling the holy link between VCR and TV. "If I'm in the cockpit, you're in effin' =steerage=!" Despite everything, Tai refused to swear directly at his sister...it was pretty cute.

"Shouldn't you be at the helm?" Matt asked. "I mean, metaphorically."

"Write me a fucking song about it!" Tai raged. He never minded swearing at Matt. That was even cuter.

Davis and TK exchanged high-fives. "Good one!" they grinned at Tai. They were both still young enough to think that whoever uses the most swear words in an argument wins.

"Hey...hey...wait! Go back a few!" Yolei shouted, suddenly. She was the only one who was actually paying attention to the screen.

"We don't wanna look at any icky sea anemones, Yolei!" Tai said with a dismissive wave, still concentrating on his task to wear our Kari.

"I saw Ken..." She said, frustrated.

Suddenly, everyone stopped dead.

"Ken?"

"What?"

"Where?"

"How far back?"

Tai and Kari became instantly cooperative. He backed away from the controls, and Kari began scrolling, her brows drawn together in intense concentration. Jyou rolled back onto his belly, and clicked open his email. There might be a few new things to report to Mimi, after all.

"Slower...slower... that's it!" Yolei guided them in, recognizing the sequence of shows as they were displayed in reverse order.

And there he was.

"*Bzzt!* ...earlier this afternoon, we were able to catch the young genius outside his home in Tamachi for comments..."

The channel was nothing other then the local feed for CNN, and there was a standard cut-away shot that showed a very young boy as he was exiting his apartment, only to be mobbed by press reporters...

A close up on his face revealed an expression of deep confusion.

"Ichijouji Ken! What was it that made you decide to go public?"

Defensively, Ken put on a prepossessing mask of confidence. Standing straight, with one hand in pocket, he lifted the other hand up to brush away a lock of dark hair and looked directly into the camera. "Mmm?"

From another quarter, another question was fired. "Is it your opinion that all people will someday be able to access the Digital World?"

Ken stepped back involuntarily, and his eyes went extremely wide, but he collected himself after a moment. "I have no such opinion, or hope. How did you..." He was cut off.

"But it appears that you have been working on that very problem." It was the same pushy reporter. "As you clearly stated in the New York Times, it might be possible for a Digital Gate to be opened without a Digivice. Are you trying to say that even if you developed such a device, you would withhold it from your fellow citizens?" The tone was clearly accusatory.

"But I'm not... it's just a theory... did you say New York Times?"

Ken looked around, and his eyes looked a little haunted. Often, then media treated him just like a small adult because he acted like one, usually, but it was clear that the reporters were seeing exactly what the audience back at home was.. a scared and hesitant little boy, biting his lips and backing into the doorway. This was clear, because they let him do what they would fight hard to prevent in any adult... he fled into his apartment complex, and no-one moved to follow.

"...*bzzt*... Ichijouji appeared distraught, and was unable to discuss his astonishing revelation. However, top scientists confirm that the innocent-seeming interview for the New York Times suggests that this boy might have provided the groundwork for the eventual opening of the Digital World. To discuss this, we have live from Prague...."

...*click*...

The door slammed.

Davis was gone...

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Soon to come: chapter 20, +icon+