|The Slaying of the Wolf
Author: SilvorMoon PM
Matt is murdered, and Jun's the prime suspect... only she didn't do it. Now Detective Ken Ichijouji must catch the real killer before another friend dies.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery - Jun M. & Ken I. - Words: 32,408 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 1 - Published: 07-02-01 - Status: Complete - id: 338717
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Jun advanced on Matt, gripping the knife in her hand, and Matt stared at her in surprise.
"Put that thing down!" he said. "What do you think you're doing?"
"You asked for it," Jun replied.
Matt scowled. "No, I didn't. That's a vegetable knife. I asked for the cheese knife. Can't you tell the difference?"
"Not really," said Jun, looking down at the blade with a sigh. "What is it with chefs and their knives, anyway? They all cut, don't they?"
"True," Matt acknowledged, "but some of them do it better than others."
"You're such a perfectionist," said Jun, giggling a bit. Matt managed to look noble.
"That's not always a bad thing," he answered. "I didn't get where I am today by settling for second best. And I'm also a better cook than you. Any guy who marries you will have to get used to take-outs."
"I'll come over to visit you a lot," Jun replied.
"I knew you had an ulterior motive for coming over tonight. You've gotten bored with pizza, haven't you?"
"I like your company," said Jun, "and I am a little tired of leftover sushi."
"Well, as long as you're over here, you might as well make yourself useful. Since you've got the knife already," said Matt, tossing her a tomato, "you can start making the salad."
Jun fumbled for the tomato, trying to catch it left handed, and nearly dropped it. "Lucky me."
Matt grinned at her, the teasing look he usually reserved for the people closest to him. His brother TK had known it for years; Tai Kamiya saw it almost daily; Sora Takenouchi was getting equally used to it. Few people would have ever guessed that Jun Motomiya would have joined that inner circle of those who were accepted into Matt's confidence. Going by the way they had acted around each other when they were younger, most would have said Jun would be the last person on Earth to become one of Matt's best friends - Matt was more likely to run from her screaming than to carry on a conversation with her. However, Jun had a bit more sense than a lot of people gave her credit for, and when she had realized that he had feelings for another girl, Jun had given up the chase. A year later, she was happily dating Shuu Kido, and while she was still one of Matt's ardent admirers, she was happy enough to leave Matt to Sora. As the tension between them eased, they learned to be civil, then friendly to each other. When Jun had finally left Shuu in a painful breakup, Matt had been there to help break her fall. By the time she had recovered, their friendship was secure. Now weekly visits were a matter of habit.
"Dinner with Yamato Ishida," Jun sang, chopping carrots. "Ten years ago I'd have given my left arm for this."
"For what? Slicing veggies?" asked Matt, quirking an eyebrow.
Jun threw a carrot top at him. "You know what I mean!"
"Watch it!" Matt yelped, as the flying greens nearly landed in the casserole he was making.
Jun giggled. "Sorry. I bet this isn't what your fans think of when they imagine being in your apartment. They probably think you've got a butler and gold-rimmed china and champagne in crystal glasses."
"No butler. Just a Digimon or two," Matt replied, nodding to the dining room. Gabumon and Jun's partner, Penmon, were busy wiping down the table and laying out plates for four. "And the fans are just going to have to go on dreaming. I've found the only girl I want. No others need apply."
"So everything between you and Sora is still going well?" asked Jun.
"Fantastic," Matt replied. "And I'm hoping my luck holds out a little while longer... I want to show you something. You'll be the first to see, except for Gabumon. Hang on a minute. Don't let Penmon eat the rolls."
Matt darted out of the kitchen, and Jun watched him through the half-open door as he poked around in his room. He fished something out of his top bureau drawer and came back with it hidden in his hand.
"Take a look," he said proudly.
He opened his hand. He held a small black box, and at his nod, Jun picked it up and flipped the lid open. Inside, glittering in prismatic flashes, was a dazzling diamond ring.
"Think she'll be impressed?" asked Matt.
"Wow," Jun sighed. "Anyone would be impressed. Sora's a lucky girl."
"I hope she thinks so," Matt replied. Noticing a wistful look in Jun's eyes, he added, "What's wrong? You aren't jealous or anything, are you?"
"No! ... Well, maybe a little, but not like you think," Jun replied. "I just wish I had someone of my own. There hasn't been anyone since I had to leave Shuu. That was almost two years ago. I haven't even had a date in ages," she finished sadly.
"Hey, don't start feeling sorry for yourself," said Matt. "You're still young and pretty - you've still got lots of time to find the right guy. And in the meantime, you're better off not stuck in a relationship you're not happy with. Am I right?"
Jun nodded silently, thinking. The last breakup had been hard on her, harder than most people knew. In the beginning, Shuu had seemed everything she'd been looking for, handsome, kind, intelligent, and she'd thought all her dreams had come true. However, in the months that came later, she began to see sides of his personality she'd never noticed before. He could be moody at times, snapping at her or lapsing into sullen silences. A jealous streak had surfaced, too, making it difficult for her to go anywhere without paying for it later in the form of a noisy argument. He'd always apologized afterwards and been very sweet to her, but in the end, she'd decided that enough was enough. She'd told him it was time they started seeing other people; he'd responded by following her around and showing up where he wasn't wanted, trying to apologize and win her back. In the end she'd had to tell him she no longer wanted to speak to him. It had been emotionally harrowing for her; she'd needed every bit of Matt's support to bring her back to her normal, cheerful personality.
"Jun?" chirped a worried little voice at her feet. "Are you sad, Jun?"
Jun smiled down at the pudgy blue penguin who had been her constant companion since the gate to the Digital World had been opened. She'd been frightened by the idea of Digimon at first, but now she couldn't imagine life without Penmon.
"No, I'm just thinking," she assured him.
"Good," said Penmon, cheerful again. "Is supper almost ready? Is it? Is it?"
"It will be if Matt quits showing off and gets that casserole in the oven," she answered, shooting a mock-glare at her friend. Matt took the hint and went to put his ring away.
Within a few minutes, dinner was served, and the little group was happily dining on a home-cooked meal.
"Good, good, good," said Penmon happily, wolfing down his share of the casserole and getting melted cheese all over his face.
Matt laughed. "It's nice to be appreciated for something besides my looks! If I get assaulted by one more screaming fangirl, I swear I'm going to scream."
Jun grinned devilishly and latched onto his arm. "Aaaah! I'm touching Matt Ishida!"
Matt peeled her off, trying valiantly not to laugh. "Cut it out! Didn't you do enough of that kind of thing when you were a kid?"
"I'm just kidding," said Jun. "Besides, there are lots of people who like you for more than your looks. You've got a sexy voice, too."
"Thanks a lot. I think."
"You'd better hush up your engagement," Jun advised. "When the word gets out, it'll be Sora who gets assaulted. Your fans are going to be green with envy."
"Let them be," said Matt. "You know, I've started to think I've had about enough of this rock star business. It's beginning to get on my nerves, having everyone want to know my business. I've got enough saved up that I can do pretty much whatever I want for the rest of my life. I can do something else for a while - something low key, preferably."
"Got any ideas?" Jun asked.
"Well, I was thinking of getting into the restaurant business," said Matt. "I've always been a pretty good cook, you know."
"The best," Jun agreed, and the Digimon nodded their accord.
"Glad I have your blessing," said Matt. "I've already told the rest of the band about it, and they agree. We're all ready to go our separate ways. The guitarist has an offer from another group, and he wants to accept. Our drummer's already engaged, and he wants to move to a smaller city so he can settle in to raise a family. We've got one more big concert planned, and then... I guess that's it."
"That's kind of sad," said Jun quietly.
Matt shrugged. "That's the way life is. Things change. Things end. Things fall apart. The only thing to do is accept them and see what you can do to make the best of them." He paused, considering a bit. "I think I'd like to announce my engagement right after the last concert. Go out with a bang. That's assuming Sora agrees."
"She will," said Jun confidently.
"I think so, too," Matt replied. "I guess I can't help but be a little nervous, after what happened with my parents, but I have confidence in Sora. After all we've been through together, there shouldn't be anything left that can pull us apart." He paused again, thinking. "Hey, Jun - how would you like to go out somewhere tonight?"
"Huh?" she said, caught off guard.
"Just you and me, as friends. If I get engaged, I'm not going to have as much time for hanging out. Even less if I get married. I'd like to have one last night out while I'm still a single man." He grinned at her to let her know he was kidding - at least a little.
"I'd love to," she replied.
"Great," said Matt.
So, as soon as they were done cleaning off the dishes, they went out for one last fling, little knowing that Matt was about to go out with a bigger bang than anyone had ever imagined.
Their favorite place was called The Digiport, a small restaurant and club that had opened up sometime after the defeat of MaloMyotismon, hoping to play up on the newfound popularity of Digimon. It had worked better than anyone had expected, and was now a well established hangout for humans and Digimon alike. The owner's Psychemon, a member of the Gabumon family that sported a bright coloring that matched the club's neon interior, proved an effective bouncer, deterring rowdies and welcoming regular customers. He waved a cheery hello to Matt and Jun and pointed to indicate that their favorite table was free. They took their seats, and Matt ordered ice cream for the Digimon and drinks for himself and Jun.
"Nice to know some things never change," said Matt as he looked around the familiar room.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Jun.
"I don't know, really," Matt replied. "I've just been thinking a lot lately about changes. I've just had this feeling lately, a premonition, maybe, that things are about to happen to me. I keep catching myself looking around, trying to see if I'm ready."
"Ready for what?"
"For whatever's going to happen. Even I'm not totally sure," Matt replied. "I feel safe enough here, though. Nothing different ever happens around here. Always the same loud music, always the same thing on the menu, always the same people here having a good time."
"Yeah, it's nice," said Jun. "Don't worry too much, Matt. If anything changes for you, it's going to be good."
"Jun's right," said Gabumon. "After all you went through as a Digidestined, how could anything else bad happen to you?"
Matt smiled a little. "You could be right. Anyway, this isn't a place to be worrying. We came here to have fun, right?"
"Right," Jun agreed, glad to drop the subject. Though she'd learned to deal with it, Matt's melancholy streak made her uncomfortable at times. Her normally cheerful personality couldn't understand how anyone could be somber for such long streaks of time.
*I definitely wouldn't have had any fun dating him,* she reflected. *If I'd had any idea what I was trying to get myself into, I would have gone running in the other direction faster than he was running from me!*
They sipped at their drinks and chatted with each other, and Jun managed to get a few laughs from her friend, telling him about the crazy things the customers did at the clothing store she managed - how someone's Candlemon had set fire to a rack of sports coats, and about ugly old ladies complaining because her designer dresses didn't make them look like cover girls. She had a gift for exaggeration that could make even small instances seem funny, and it was rewarding to see Matt relax. After their glasses had been emptied a few times, she suggested they go out on the dance floor.
"I don't dance," said Matt.
"Why not?" she asked. "Everyone else is."
"But I'm no good at it!" he protested. "I'll feel stupid."
"Nobody will notice. They're all to busy worrying that you'll look at them and think they look stupid. Come on. I promise I wont' step on your feet."
"No. I'm not going to let you drag me out there to make a fool of myself."
"Why not?" Jun persisted. Her grin turned wicked. "Weren't you planning to get married? Everyone's going to expect you to dance with the bride, you know. Better to learn now while nobody will pay attention to you."
Matt gave her a pained look. "Maybe I'll elope."
"Nope, can't do that. Everyone's going to want to see you. On television, probably. It'll be on the news," said Jun. "Come on, just one dance. If anybody laughs at you, I'll tell them you're drunk."
"I am not!"
"I know that, but they don't," said Jun. "Come on. Please? For me?"
"Oh, all right," said Matt. "If I don't give in, you'll just nag me all night. You're the stubbornest woman I know."
They went out to the edge of the dance floor and joined in the festivities. Matt really wasn't as bad a dancer as he claimed he was, not once he relaxed a little and started paying more attention to the music than whether or not anyone was watching him. Jun grinned and mentally chalked up a score for herself. Someday maybe she would loosen this guy up a bit.
"Hey, Jun," he said, cutting into her thoughts, "you know a lot of people. Do you recognize that girl over there?"
"What girl?" asked Jun, looking around.
"The one over there at the bar. The one with the long brown hair. She keeps looking at me when she thinks I'm not looking."
"You're being paranoid."
"No, I'm not. Just watch her."
Jun watched, carefully, out of the corner of her eye. Sure enough, she woman was stealing the occasional glance over her shoulder, shooting looks at them as if she thought one of them might attack.
"I don't know her," said Jun. "Weird. She's dressed too nice for this kind of place - must be her first time."
The frown lingered on Matt's face. "I thought you might know her. She looks... familiar, somehow. I feel like I met her before somewhere."
"She must be one of your fans," said Jun. "She's probably shy. Maybe you should go say hi to her."
"I don't know," said Matt. "Something just doesn't feel right..."
"You really are crazy," said Jun. "Are you going to worry about it all night or are you going to do something?"
"Well, when you put it that way... I guess it can't hurt just to talk to her," Matt admitted.
He stepped off the dance floor and started heading toward the bar. However, he'd only gone a few feet before...
"Hey, Matt! Jun! I didn't know you guys were here!" shouted a cheery voice over the bar hubbub.
"Miyako!" Matt called back, as if he were glad of the distraction. "Nice to see you again! What are you up to tonight?"
"Just stagging it," she replied. "Ken's at work tonight and Daisuke's gone out of town for a soccer game, so it's just Hawkmon and me. Looks like you're not alone, though."
"Jun and I thought we'd have a night out," said Matt. "Care to join us? We'd be glad of your company."
"I thought you'd never ask," Miyako answered, grinning.
Matt murmured something polite and guided them to their table, glancing over his shoulder as he went. The woman at the bar had vanished, and with a few more friends nearby, he felt a bit better. Still, he had the prickly feeling that someone out there was watching him, and in the dimness of the bar, it was hard to know whose shadows those were that lined the walls.
It was well after midnight when the pair returned to Matt's apartment. Both were tired from a night of dancing at their favorite club; Jun had her arm around Matt's waist, leaning on his shoulder. As they opened the door, Matt turned her loose to let her stagger across the room to drop onto his sofa.
"Whee!" she said, giggling a little as the bounced on the springy cushions.
Matt looked at her with a smile that was half-amused, half-annoyed. "You don't know the meaning of moderation, do you?"
"I don't think I can even s-say it right now," she answered.
"Well, at least you're smart enough to admit it," said Matt. He was a moderate drinker himself, but he knew Jun was fonder partying than he was.
"I went to college," she said, settling back and closing her eyes. "By now I know what I can do and what I can't do by now when I'm drunk." She giggled. "That sounds funny."
"I ain't gonna drive home tonight," she said.
"That's what I thought," Matt replied. "You can stay here, if you want."
Jun thought about that one for a while, trying to work things out with her brain slightly fogged. She finally found the words, "Won't Sora mind?"
"I think she trusts me by now," Matt replied. "It'll be all right. She knows we're just friends."
"Okee-dokee," said Jun. "I'm gonna sleep over at Matt's house! Won't that be fun, Penmon?"
"Yup yup!" the little Digimon chirped. He tried to clamber onto the sofa with his partner but didn't quite manage, falling and rolling across the carpet, giggling all the way. Matt watched the display with interest. He knew that Penmon hadn't had anything during their trip out that was stronger than an ice cream float, but it seemed his soul-link with Jun was affecting him anyway; he didn't seem much steadier than she did.
"I hope he doesn't wind up with a hangover in the morning," Matt muttered, watching Gabumon herd the penguin onto the sofa. Penmon curled up on Jun's feet and fell asleep almost instantly. Jun had her hand over her eyes, blocking out the lights.
"Get some sleep," Matt told her. "Good night, Jun."
"G'night, Matt," she murmured.
There were soft scuffs as Matt and Gabumon walked tiredly across the room. Then there was a plink as the light switch was flipped, the lights went out, and Jun knew nothing else until morning.
Jun slept late that morning. When she did finally roll over and open her bleary eyes, it was almost noon, and sunlight was peeking through the blinds that Matt had thoughtfully drawn for her. She thanked him mentally; though her headache wasn't nearly as bad as she had expected, she had a feeling that bright lights and loud noises were things she wouldn't be wanting to deal with for quite a while to come. By why hadn't Matt gotten up yet? He was usually an early riser. Perhaps he was up and was simply being quiet to spare her aching head. At any rate, she thought she ought to get up and let him know she was no longer comatose, and perhaps see if she could talk him into making her an omelette before she went home. She sat up carefully, to avoid waking Penmon, and put her feet on the floor. They were slightly numb from having a pudgy penguin on them all night, but rubbing them on the carpet helped wake them up. She got up, stretched carefully, and went looking for Matt.
"Hello?" she called. "Matt? Gabumon? Where did you guys go?"
The house was very quiet. They couldn't possibly not be up yet. Had they gone somewhere, intending to be back before she woke? There was no note on the coffee table in the living room, nor was there one magneted to the fridge in the nearby kitchen. Concerned now, Jun went to his bedroom and found the door ajar. That was odd; Matt was a secretive sort, and she'd never known him to leave doors open when they could be shut. She pushed it open. She stared.
The covers of Matt's bed were in a tangled mess, as if he'd been thrashing violently, the blankets half-thrown to the floor. He lay in the bed, sprawled in an awkward position. His eyes were open, glazed over, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling, and his face was twisted into an expression of pain and horror. There was blood on the blankets, his hands, his throat, his chest, leaving red-black stains everywhere, even on the walls. One of his cooking knives was buried deep in his chest.
Jun screamed until she was out of air, then inhaled and screamed again. She could not move her eyes, even though she wanted more than anything not to be seeing what she was seeing now. She screamed until her lungs ran out of air, and her world spun and, mercifully, went black.
She woke up sometime later with Penmon shaking her, babbling incoherently. She looked at him, slightly confused as to what was going on. Then her head turned, giving her another look at the grisly sight, and she had to haul herself to her feet to rush to the bathroom as shock, revulsion, and the leftover sickness from last night all caught up to her at once, and she vomited helplessly. That was almost a relief; unpleasant as it was, it gave her something immediate to think about. It went on for a few minutes, finally leaving her dry-heaving and shaking so hard she couldn't stand. It was only then that she noticed Penmon standing next to her, his wide eyes worried.
"Jun?" he said, his voice tiny. "Are you... going to be all right?"
"He's dead," said Jun. The words might have been from another language, for all the sense they made. Her brain was giving them to her, but she couldn't comprehend them. "Matt is dead."
Penmon shook his head. "You're sick. Don't talk about it now."
"I - I have to do something," said Jun. She put a still-trembling hand to her aching head. "Oh, I'm not up to this, this can't be happening now... I need a drink of water."
Penmon performed some acrobatics to get up to the bathroom sink to get her a plastic cup full of water, which he gave to Jun, but her trembling hand refused to accept it, and it spilled all over the floor. Patiently, Penmon retrieved the cup, refilled it, and held it up to her lips. She took a sip to rinse her mouth out, spat it out, and then drank the rest of it. It revived her a bit.
"Are you okay now?" Penmon asked.
"I'll manage," she said. "I've got to do something. I've got to call someone. Help me up."
Penmon gave her a push, and with his help, she managed to get into the kitchen and pick up the telephone. That was where her brain froze again. She couldn't remember the number she was supposed to call in emergencies, and besides, her fingers were still shaking too hard for her to dial. Her Digimon looked up the number for the police and pushed the buttons. There was ringing on the other end of the line, and then a voice answered. Jun barely listened as she was told she'd reached the Tokyo police force.
"I need to report a crime," she said as soon as she could get a word in edgewise. "Yamato Ishida's been murdered."
One of Ken's co-workers was trying to read over his shoulder, watching as Ken typed busily. It had been a slow morning, unusual for the big city but certainly welcome, and the young man seemed to be using his time to catch up on his mail.
"What are you writing?" the other man asked.
"Hm?" said Ken, distracted. "Don't bother me; my Spanish is so rusty it creaks. I need to think."
"Spanish," his friend replied. "Well, that explains why I can't read it. What do you want to write an e-mail in Spanish for?"
"For your information, I have a friend in Mexico," Ken replied. "We met way back when the Digimon were running loose all over the world, and we still write back and forth once in a while. She sent me a letter last week, and this is the first chance I've had to get back to her."
"Ah," said the other policeman. "Her?"
"Don't get any ideas. Rosa's my friend, nothing more," said Ken. "And she's interested in police work. You know, one of those adventurous tomboy types. She likes me to send her stories about gunfights and car chases and gory murder cases." He shrugged, clearly puzzled at why anyone would be so enthusiastic over anything so violent.
"I don't understand you sometimes, Ichijouji," said the other policeman. "Why anyone as peace-loving as you would want to be a gunslinger is beyond me."
"I never wanted to be a 'gunslinger,' as you put it," Ken replied. "I'm a Digidestined. I was born to fight evil. After... after what my life used to be like, I have to fight harder than anyone. Even if it hurts me sometimes, I have to fight to keep the peace, so others don't have to be hurt instead. See?"
"Ah," said the other policeman. He was quiet a moment, considering that one, and in that moment, someone else came into the room. Both young men and their respective 'mons snapped to attention. The newcomer was a senior officer, accompanied by a diamond-skinned Meteormon that looked only marginally less tough than his partner.
"Ichijouji," he greeted, nodding to Ken. "I thought you would be here. I have news for you, and I'm afraid it's not good."
"What's wrong?" asked Ken, his eyes turning dark with worry.
"Well... I'll go ahead and say it. There's been a murder on your beat." The officer sighed and lowered his eyes. "Someone you know."
"Who?" asked Ken, his brain spinning. The faces of everyone he knew went spinning through his mind, and each image left him thinking, *No, not them, please...*
"Yamato Ishida," the officer replied. "Found knifed to death early this morning."
"No..." Ken suddenly seemed to have turned to glass; not even his eyes were moving, and there was the odd feeling that if someone brushed up against him, he might fall and shatter. Wormmon pressed close to him in a silent gesture of support. The officer put a heavy hand on Ken's shoulder, and the gesture seemed to transfer a little of the large man's strength into Ken's frail shell.
"It happened in your precinct," the officer said, "but seeing as how it was a friend of yours, I can have someone else assigned to this case. I know it must be painful for you..."
"I want the job," said Ken. His amethyst eyes had gone the color of storm clouds.
"I'm not sure that would be wise," the senior officer replied. "You're an emotional man. We all know that. It wouldn't be right to let your attachment to the victim cloud your objectivity."
"You heard me. I want the job," Ken said again. "I want to find the one who did this, and I want to make him pay for what he's done. If you don't give me the job, I'll investigate it on my own time. You can't keep me out of this."
The officer sighed. "Fine, then. But keep in mind that everyone who was close to the victim is a possible suspect. That means your friends, Ichijouji. Don't let anyone off the hook because you don't feel like they're capable of killing. When you're on the job, you treat them like you've never met them before. Is that understood?"
Ken nodded. "I've got it."
"All right. We've already got the body, and it's being examined now. We'll get that information to you ASAP. The forensics team will be up any time to have a look at the crime scene. I want you to get out and start talking to people. Start with the lady who found him; she was in his apartment at the time. Her story sounds a little fishy. Here's her address."
The officer handed Ken a scrap of paper, and Ken looked at it.
"Jun Motomiya," he muttered. "I know her. She's my best friend's sister."
"You don't know her," the officer reminded him. "And right now, she's the first suspect. Go talk to her. After that, plot your own course."
"I was going to do that anyway," Ken muttered. "Thanks. I won't let you down."
"You had better not," the man growled; he seemed to be at the end of his patience. "Good luck." He turned and marched out of the room, with his 'mon clomping along after him.
"Do you really think you're up to this?" asked Wormmon.
"I have to be," Ken replied, "for Matt's sake. Come on. We've got a killer to catch, and when we do..." He trailed off, and the glint in his eyes hinted that there was more than one person in this city that was capable of killing.
Time had become a blur. As far as Jun was concerned, that was a good thing. At the moment, being sure about anything was painful; she didn't want to think at all, nor did she really have the heart to do anything. She could barely remember how she had gotten back to her apartment, only that a neighbor woman had heard her screaming and had finally worked up the nerve to come in and see what had happened. The neighbor had given her a lift home and fussed over her a bit while Jun had fumbled to find the words to say she didn't really need a cup of tea now, thank you, she just needed to be left alone for a while. Then she had wandered around her home in a daze, staring at everything as if it were a dream and she was searching hopelessly for something real to hold on to.
Finally, it began slowly sinking in that her friend was gone, and he was not coming back. She had been staring blankly at the objects in her room, looking at the dirty clothes she'd forgotten to put away, remembering she had worn that purple shirt to Matt's last concert, and suddenly everything was too much for her. Now she knew what hysterics was really like: it was having a waterfall of tears inside, flowing with crushing force, and she couldn't cry hard enough to ease the pressure. Sobs wracked her until she shivered with the strain of trying to keep herself together. Penmon stayed close by her, hugging her with his awkward flippers, and she got his feathers wet as she buried her face against his side. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she ran out of strength and became quiet. She got up, not even shaking anymore, and splashed cold water on her face, making her eyes burn. She brushed her disheveled hair and changed into clean clothes. Then she went into the living room, sat down, and did nothing. She supposed dimly that she must be in shock, and she was grateful. Here was peace of a sort - not moving, not thinking, barely being at all. Even dimmer was a sense that she'd finally gotten over the worst of it, and that she would have to brave nothing worse than this. Nothing else in the world could have been as bad as this.
After some indefinite amount of time had passed, the doorbell rang. Jun would have jumped, but she'd used up all her adrenaline already. Instead, she turned her head, dreamlike, toward the door.
"Go away," she croaked. Her throat was sore from all the crying.
"Jun? Are you okay in there?" The voice was familiar, and concerned. Jun thawed a bit.
"Ken?" she called back. "I think the door's unlocked."
The door swung open, revealing the figure of Ken Ichijouji, looking official in his dark suit. The image was slightly marred by the fact that he had a large caterpillar slung over his shoulder. Ken flipped out his badge, letting it flash briefly in the sunlight that streamed through a nearby window.
"Detective Ken Ichijouji," he said. "I'm on duty now. Are you feeling well enough to answer a few questions for me?"
"I don't know," she admitted.
"She's a mess," said Penmon. "Is there anything you can do for her? I'm trying to take care of her, but..."
"Maybe I can be unprofessional for a minute or two, anyway," said Ken. He looked Jun over critically for a minute. "Have you had anything to eat today?"
Jun shook her head. "I don't think I could keep it down. When... I was sick when I saw what had happened."
"You should at least have something to drink. You'll get dehydrated," said Ken. "Do you mind if I...?" He tilted his head toward the kitchen.
Ken wandered into the next room and began going through cupboards. He took down a kettle and found a box of teabags.
"Peppermint," he remarked. "That's good. That will help settle your stomach. I feel like I could use some myself."
Within a few minutes, the apartment was full of the scent of sweet steam, and Ken reappeared carrying the tea tray with the kettle and a collection of teacups. He set the collection down on the low table in front of the sofa, and everyone settled down around it. Jun accepted the drink gratefully; the warmth of the cup was pleasant against her chilled hands, and the hot liquid did help steady her a bit and soothed her aching throat. She hadn't realized how thirsty she had been, but now she drank eagerly.
"Thanks, Ken," she said. "I needed that."
"Glad to be of help," he said. "Do you feel well enough to talk now?"
"What do you want to talk about?" she asked, narrowing her eyes a bit.
"Don't worry," said Ken. "I just have a few routine things I need to ask. We have to have every bit of information we can get so we can find the killer. Now, you and I both know that you didn't do it, so don't be afraid to tell me everything you can think of."
"All right," she said timidly. "What do you want to know?"
"First of all, you were in Matt's apartment this morning. What were you doing there?"
"He'd invited me over to dinner that night," she replied, "and we decided we wanted to go out to the club - you know, that one we all go to together sometimes. The Digiport." Ken nodded, jotting things in a notepad. It made Jun wonder what she'd said that was important enough to write down. "I had a few drinks, and Matt didn't want me driving home, so he told me to spend the night at his place and go home later."
"And what time did you get home?"
Jun thought hard. "I don't remember, exactly. Like I said, a was a little drunk. Things are blurry. I'd say about one or two in the morning."
Ken nodded; that could be checked against the time of death, when the medical examiner was done. If the coroner ruled Matt had died before midnight...
*Jun Motomiya did not kill Matt!* said a rebellious little voice in his mind. *She was his friend! She cared too much about him to hurt him.*
*Ah, but you can't be sure about that, can you?* said his rational side. *Let's wait and see if her story holds water.*
"Can anyone vouch for your whereabouts last night?" he asked.
"Huh?" Jun asked, blinking in perplexity. "Use small words, Ken. My head hurts."
"Sorry. Did anyone see you at the club who could tell me you really were there?"
"Oh! Miyako was there; she had dinner with us. She can tell you we were there, and what time we left. So can Hawkmon." Jun considered. "Better ask Hawkmon. Miyako's a worse sponge than I am."
Ken allowed himself a small chuckle. "Don't I know it. When I take her out, I tell them to water her drinks. Anyway... did anything happen at the club?"
Jun's brow furrowed as she tried to remember. "Well... it was weird. Matt was acting all jumpy last night. He kept talking like he thought something bad was going to happen. And there was this woman at the bar - she kept looking at him. She made him nervous."
"Hm," said Ken.
*I'm supposed to believe this?* asked the suspicious side of his nature. *That's the flimsiest story you've ever heard, and you know it!*
*Shut up,* he told his suspicious side.
"What did she look like?" Ken asked.
"Hm... She had long brown hair. Dark eyes, I think, but it was hard to tell. And she was dressed all wrong. You know what kind of crowd comes to the 'Port - really relaxed, but she was wearing a pantsuit."
"You wouldn't happen to know," Ken said slowly, "if there was some kind of reason for why Matt was acting nervous, would you? Was someone threatening him, perhaps?"
"Not that I know of," said Jun. "He would have told me if he was, wouldn't he?"
"Possibly not. He might not have wanted to worry you," said Ken. He made a mental note to check through Matt's correspondence for any evidence that he was being stalked.
*You won't find anything,* said the irritating little voice.
*I might,* he told it. *Matt was a star. His name was in all the papers. You know what happens to stars - people get notions and stalk them. You've seen it before.*
*True,* said the voice. *I bet Jun has, too. She could have made up that story about the woman in the bar just to throw you off her scent.*
"This woman... did she speak to either of you? Do anything suspicious?" he asked.
"Not a thing," said Jun. "That's why it's so weird. Matt just got really nervous. He said she looked familiar."
"Ah. All right. Then what?"
"Not much," said Jun. "Like I said, we hung out with Miyako and Hawkmon for a while, and then we went home. I... well, it sounds crazy, but I had this feeling that we were being watched. I thought it was just because Matt was being so paranoid, and because I was drinking. You know you start seeing things that aren't there, sometimes, when you've had too many... Well, maybe you don't," she added. Ken, she knew, avoided alcohol. Not only did his job mean he had to be in peak condition at all times, he had a deep distrust of anything that would make him lose control of himself.
"Hm," said Ken again. "And then when you got home...?"
Jun shrugged. "I went to sleep. I was tired. When I woke up the next morning-"
"A little before noon, I think. I didn't check," Jun replied.
"Ah. And... can you tell me what happened next?"
"Well, I... I thought the house sounded too quiet, so I went looking for Matt... and I found him." She broke off, suddenly choked up again as she recalled the scene, the blood on the walls and floor, the look of terror that had twisted her friend's face...
"So this would have been close to noon, then?" Ken persisted.
Jun nodded silently.
"Our log showed you didn't call the emergency number until almost two o'clock. Why the delay?"
"When I saw... I fainted. Then I woke up. Then I was sick. It took a while for me to pull myself together."
Ken nodded and jotted everything down on his notepad. He had a lot written down now, but he wasn't sure how much of it was useful. So much of what he'd been told was sketchy, covered under convenient blankets of "I don't know... I can't remember."
"Anything else you want to add?" asked Ken.
"Nothing I can think of," Jun replied, after a moment's thought.
"Fine. I'll probably have more questions for you later," said Ken. "Thanks for talking to me. Thanks for the tea."
"You're welcome." Jun got up to escort him to the door. "Ken?"
"I know I haven't been much help to you yet, but... I want you to know if there's anything I can do to help, I'll do it. I want to see the monster who hurt Matt get what's coming to him."
The look in her eyes was almost too much for Ken. Even the annoying little voice was silent.
"If I need your help again - and I probably will - I'll be back," he assured her. "We'll catch whoever did this."
Jun shook her head. "I don't want him to just be caught. I want him punished. Matt had a future ahead of him. Before he died, he was telling me about his plans for his life. He wanted to open a restaurant. He was going to get married - he showed me the ring. He was taken before he could make his dreams come true. You didn't see... you didn't see what I saw. Whoever it was, whatever they did, they didn't even let him die peacefully. Matt was awake. He died in pain. He was terrified. That look on his face... someone made my friend die in agony, and I'm not letting them go easily."
Ken tried to suppress a shudder. He wasn't sure he succeeded.
"Goodbye, Jun," he said. "I hope next time we meet, it's on a better occasion." And he slipped out the door quickly, sparing her the trouble of trying to say anything to him around the lump in her throat or to look at him through the tears in her eyes.
"So," said Wormmon, as the two of them headed for the car, "what do you think?"
"There are two possibilities," Ken replied, turning the matter over in his mind. "Either she didn't do it, or she did."
"You don't really think she did, do you?"
"I'm not really sure," said Ken. "I don't want to believe she did it. She's a friend. She's Daisuke's sister. She's just not the type I think of when I think about a murderer. On the other hand, you and I have seen some unlikely people get caught in some awful things. Right now, I've got two scenarios in mind."
"And you're going to tell me, right?"
"Well, the first idea is that Jun could be lying. We know now that Matt was planning on getting married. We also know Jun used to have a thing for Matt, and they'd gotten a lot closer lately. She could have been hoping that he'd changed his mind about her. Then he showed her the ring, and her hopes got crushed. She went out, got drunk, and killed him in a jealous rage. There are a lot of blanks in her story - all that stuff about how she was drunk or asleep and didn't know what was going on. There's room for that to have happened."
Wormmon shivered. "I don't like that idea."
"Well, it's only a possibility. I've got another idea in mind," said Ken. "This is just a rough sketch, based on what Jun told us. See what you think. You know about stalkers, don't you? You've seen them before - they get so obsessed with someone, they start believing they're meant to be together, and they'll go to any lengths to get to them. Suppose the woman they saw at the bar had something like that going on for Matt, and she'd come there hoping to get a look at him? Maybe she'd already been writing to him or phoning him, and he was keeping it quiet because he didn't want Sora to get the wrong idea. That would explain why Matt was acting nervous, and why he was bothered by seeing her. Then she saw Matt out buying drinks for other women, she got jealous and started thinking that if she couldn't have Matt, no one could, so she followed him home and did him in. Of course, there would be some difficulty in that, but if he forgot to lock his door, or if her Digimon was a flying type that could get her in through a window..." Ken lapsed into a thoughtful silence.
"Which do you think it is?" asked Wormmon.
"I don't know," said Ken. "There's something about both of these theories that doesn't feel right to me. I have a feeling there's something going on here that I don't know about."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I need more information," Ken replied.
There was no avoiding having the word about Matt get out. The police had to call his family and let them work out their sadness and anger in their own ways. Then the word got out to the news, blared on the radio and reported on television. Even before that, the grapevine had gone into effect, spreading the word from Digidestined to Digidestined that their old teammate was gone. By nightfall, it was all the city could talk about: "Did you hear? Have you heard that Matt Ishida is dead?"
Jun had drawn her blinds. She had closed her door, too, and locked it up tightly. As the sun slipped lower of the city, even the persistent sunbeams that could fight their way through her curtains to leave faint spots of light on the rug had finally given up the fight, and she showed no signs of wanting to turn on any lamps. All she wanted to do was sit and stare at the walls. If she cried, it was silently, letting tears escape her eyes only to be wiped away quickly, as if she were embarrassed by them.
Penmon was miserable. Gabumon and Matt had been his friends, and he was naturally disturbed by losing them, but the greatest part of his heart was given to his partner, and it hurt him deeply to see her in even a little bit of distress. At the moment, he barely knew how to cope. She wouldn't talk to him, and except for coaxing some tea and whatever food his clumsy flippers could prepare into her, he couldn't get her to do anything. Finally, he decided that the best thing to do was let her be for a while, and hopefully she would work through this problem on her own. Sadly, he snuggled into her lap and felt her put her arms around him. He sighed; this might be the best it was going to get for a while.
The phone rang, a jangle filling the silent apartment. Penmon lurched, startled, and Jun roused enough from her daze to have a few coherent thoughts about the situation.
*Should I answer it?* she wondered. *Is there anyone I really want to talk to?* She ran through the list of her friends; somehow, she couldn't imagine any of them saying anything she wanted to hear. Yet, as the phone continued to ring, the only sound of life she'd heard in hours, she found herself getting up to answer it.
"Hello?" she said.
"Jun?" asked a voice on the other end. It was unexpected, a voice she hadn't heard in a long time. Now it sounded quiet and gentle, soothing in a way she'd forgotten. "Are you on speaking terms with me?"
"Sorry, Shuu. I'm not doing much speaking to anyone today," she said, "but I might be on listening terms."
She might have been imagining it, but she thought she sensed a smile on the other end of the line. "I'm glad. I wasn't sure you wouldn't hang up on me, but I heard what happened and thought there might be something I could do to help."
"It's been an awful day," Jun sighed. "I still can't get over it. Every time I close my eyes, I see it all over again. I don't know how I'm going to get to sleep tonight. I've been sitting here watching it get dark and thinking I'm going to have to go to bed soon, and imagining the nightmares I'm going to have. I thought about just staying up all night."
"Don't do that. You'll make yourself sick," said Shuu.
"That wouldn't be much of a change," Jun replied. "I've felt so awful, I've barely been able to eat. I wouldn't have done that much if it weren't for Penmon."
"I'm sorry. I know Matt meant a lot to you."
"He was one of my best friends. I don't know how I'm going to get by without him."
There was silence on the end of the line. Then, hesitantly, "Is there anything I can do for you? Anything at all?"
"Well..." Trying to get her mind in gear again, Jun weighed the options. Her parting with Shuu had been so painful that she didn't even like to think about him much anymore, and she still remembered how he had acted to make her leave him in the first place. On the other hand, this didn't seem like another ploy to try to win her back. It sounded like he was simply concerned about her and wanted to help. She felt like she could use some help right now.
"It is kind of lonesome over here," she said at last. "Would you like to... come over for a while?"
"Are you sure you trust me that much?" asked Shuu. "I don't remember us being on very good terms last time we met. I remember whose fault it was, too. I don't want to upset you."
"If you promise to be on your best behavior, I might give you a second chance."
"I can't ask for better than that," Shuu replied. "I'll be right over."
Sure enough, a short while later, there was a knock on the door. Jun opened it, and was surprised at how pleased she was to see her ex-boyfriend and his Gazimon partner standing there. Penmon, pleased at how his partner seemed to be waking up again, greeted them both happily. Jun and Shuu's greetings were more muted, but there were undercurrents of emotion present in their words that added volumes of meaning. Jun noted that her friend seemed to have aged in the years since she'd last seen him; there was a tired air about him. Yet, he smiled as he saw her, and his eyes took on the soft glow she knew so well.
"Still as pretty as ever," he said.
"Don't even say it. I know I'm a mess," she said. "I've been on edge all day. It's got to show. I keep thinking that if something like this could happen to Matt, it could happen to me."
Shuu nodded somberly. "The world's getting more dangerous. There were two murders at my college in the time I was attending. One of them was someone I knew."
"Won't you sit down?" she asked politely, as a little thought threaded through her mind: *He knows how I feel!* "Is there anything I can get you?"
"No, I didn't come to socialize. I came to make sure you're okay," Shuu replied, settling onto the couch. She sat down next to him at a carefully calculated distance. "So, how are you doing?"
"Mostly, I'm tired. The police came in, asking questions. Even thought it was Ken who was investigating, and I know he'd never suspect me, I still felt like I was being put on the spot. The more questions he asked, the more stupid I realized I sounded. If it was anyone else in the world but Ken, I think they would have locked me up right then and there!"
Shuu looked shocked. "You think they might suspect you?"
"How can they not? I couldn't give them a straight answer to anything. Do you have any idea how hard it is to answer police questions when you're sick and half scared to death and hung over all at once?"
"That's bad," said Shuu, shaking his head. "That's really too bad. It's an awful thing to have to deal with on top of everything else. I'm sorry."
"Thanks," said Jun. The carefully calculated distance shrunk a tiny bit as she settled back into the cushions. "This is depressing. Tell me what you've been doing lately. It's been so long since I've heard from you."
"I've just been working," Shuu replied. "You know I'm helping Izzy and Mr. Takenouchi maintain the information database on the Digital World. It sounds exciting, but it's really not. I mostly just number-crunch all day. The field studies are fun, though. And sometimes we do police work." He blushed suddenly. "Oops. That was the wrong thing to say, wasn't it?"
"I don't know," Jun replied. "What kind of police work?"
"DNA testing," he said. "Since we have the Digimon database, we're the natural choice when it comes to trying to track down a criminal's Digimon. We don't get asked to do that very often, though. Most smart criminals these days leave their partner at home if they have something that sheds."
"So, what do you do in your spare time?" Jun asked.
"Read, mostly. Play a few video games. Izzy's been teaching me to program my own. Isn't that something?"
Jun nodded. "So... you do all this... by yourself?"
His eyes met hers, and there wasn't much left of the carefully calculated space.
"Are you asking what I think you're asking?" he replied, raising a quizzical eyebrow.
"Because if you are... there was only one girl for me. I've known that for a long time."
"Good. I'm glad."
"You never liked wasting time, did you?" asked Shuu softly. "I always liked that about you."
The space was gone, and she had slipped into his arms. She'd forgotten what a good fit they were, and some of the coldness that had been inside of her since that morning melted away.
*I'm going to regret this in the morning,* she thought. And yet, it felt so good right now to have someone strong close by to protect her from the world. If she regretted anything that happened in the morning, well, she could worry about it then.
The owner of The Digiport would not ordinarily have been surprised to see Ken and Wormmon turning up in his club. However, seeing Ken dressed for official business gave him a turn. Ken made his way through the lunch crowd - or what there was of it, as this was primarily a night spot - and flashed his badge to the bartender.
"Talk to you a minute?" he asked over the noise of a jukebox.
"In my office," the bartender replied. He waved down a server and told him to keep an eye on things for a minute, and then led Ken down a back hall into a small office. Ken took a seat in a rickety chair, and Wormmon settled into his lap.
"What's this all about?" asked the bartender.
"Don't worry, you're not in any trouble," Ken replied. "See, Lou, it's like this. I suppose you know by now I'm working on the Matt Ishida case."
"Oh, yeah," Lou replied. "And this was the last place he was seen alive, right? I can't tell you anything about what he was doing. He just came in with his friends for a while, had some drinks, and left."
Ken nodded. "I'm just here to check up on a little detail. You wouldn't, by any chance, have seen any strangers around last night, did you?"
"Now that you mention it, there was one person..."
"Man or woman?"
"Woman. Foreign babe, by the sound of her. She didn't talk like she was from around here."
"Interesting," Ken murmured. "Do you remember what she looked like?"
"Oh, yeah. She was a real looker, know what I mean? Knew how to dress. Had long brown hair, brown eyes, wore a nice suit. Better class than what I usually get around here."
"Did she show any particular interest in Mr. Ishida?"
"Not that I noticed," said Lou, his brow furrowing in thought. "I had to finally chase her out of the club for loitering, though. She wasn't drinking anything. She was just sitting there watching people."
"Interesting," said Ken again. "Thanks, Lou. That's just what I wanted to hear."
"It is?" asked the bartender.
"Absolutely. With some luck, it might save an innocent woman some problems."
"Oh. Well, I don't know how that works out, but it sounds good," Lou replied. "Either of you two hungry? I think I've got a couple of ice cream cones with your names on them."
"I don't know if that would be-" Ken began.
"Ken, can we?" Wormmon begged. "Please?"
Ken and Wormmon left The Digiport carrying vanilla ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles, courtesy of the house. There was no point, Ken thought, in overlooking a bright spot in an otherwise unpleasant day.
"You've got mail," Ken's computer informed him.
"Shut up," said Ken irritably.
The computer obligingly said nothing, but Ken didn't feel any better. Normally, patience was one of his greatest virtues as a detective; he seldom got frustrated like his colleagues, who complained about lack of evidence and the slowness of the forensics labs. Now it was Ken who was seething with impatience. Perhaps it really had been unwise to get into such a personal case, he thought. He had only been on it a day, only a few hours, and he was already getting tired of waiting for a break.
*This is not going to be one of those cases that goes down in the history books as an unsolved mystery,* he told himself. *I'm not letting my friends down - not Matt, and not Jun either... that is, assuming she's innocent.*
He sighed. Something told him he was getting into a problem. What did he have to go on? At the moment, little more than a story about a mysterious woman in a bar. That much sounded more like the stuff of a detective novel than reality.
*But if I knew who she was and what she was doing, I'd know a lot more than I do now,* Ken thought. *What I really need are the reports from the labs. Those are usually what tie up cases anyway. Then all I have to do is track down the problem and put them away.* He looked back at his computer, which was still trying to remind him of his message. *At least I can open my mail while I wait.*
He opened his e-mail and found a letter from Rosa. Oddly, it was written in Japanese; normally, when they conversed, it was in her native language. He hadn't even known she spoke Japanese that well. Now he looked at the letter and wondered whether to be annoyed. It would have saved him some time and trouble if they had just agreed to talk in their own tongues. He read the note over.
Dear Ken, it read, I heard through the grapevine that Matt Ishida was murdered. Is it true? How did he die? Are you on the case? Have you found the killer yet? Please tell me all the details. Love from Rosa.
Ken snorted a little and decided he was annoyed after all. He was not really surprised that "How did he die?" had come in early on, nor was he surprised by the request for details. She had always been interested by murder cases - why, he had no idea. However, he could have wished for a little more sympathy and a little less enthusiasm. He was in the middle of writing her back a terse reply when someone came in and dumped a stack of papers in front of him.
"Case reports," said the deliverer. "Notes on the Ishida case. Chief said you wanted them."
"Right. Thanks," Ken replied.
He put his letter aside and began going through what proved to be the coroner's report. He had to make a valiant effort to pretend that this was not the body of someone he knew that he was reading about. There were a series of wounds, ten in all, knife inflicted. The first few were minor, at least compared to the wounds that had finally done him in, apparently inflicted as Matt had tried to defend himself. Then there were two deep cuts in the throat, aiming for important blood vessels. That explained the blood all over Matt's room - slashing an artery was guaranteed to make a mess. It was also a quick and guaranteed way to put an end to someone, which was small comfort; at least Matt hadn't suffered long. Then came the interesting bit. Someone had gone through a great deal of time and effort to cut open Matt's chest, and, with surgical precision, took his heart out. Ken swallowed a sudden wave of queasiness.
*Matt hurt someone very deeply,* Ken decided. *Cutting out his heart was symbolic... Or someone trying to make it look that way, but it's more likely someone was trying to make some kind of statement.*
Ken sighed, leaning back in his chair to reason things through. Matt was bound to have made some noise if he'd been struggling, and the creator of the human body had put a few bones in the way to make it difficult for people to get their hearts cut out; it was a difficult procedure in any situation. To do it with a vegetable knife without anyone hearing it would be an undertaking indeed. It would have been very hard to do without waking Jun up...
*But she was drunk,* Ken reminded himself. *Let some people get like that, and you could fire off a canon next to them without them noticing. And there are things you can do to people if you don't want them to wake up... On the other hand, the easiest one would be to kill Jun too.*
Ken sighed; much as he wanted to defend his friend, it was starting to look like it would be harder than it had first appeared.
*But wait!* he thought. *Nobody could have pulled off a killing like that without getting blood all over themselves. Jun never got close enough to the body to get even a speck of blood on her, and getting hold of clean clothes would have been a real trick if she was at Matt's house. All we've got to do is have an official search for blood on her clothes and car, and if she comes up clean... Well, it will at least be a point in her favor.*
On the down side, he was stuck again. The report offered him nothing new to go on, and what he really needed now was a new lead. He could follow standard procedure and continue to interview all of Matt's friends, but he had the sneaky feeling it wouldn't do a bit of good. Either this case would end in the obvious suspect being arrested, or it would have some bizarre answer that he wouldn't find by following the usual sorts of routes. Well, he'd play the waiting game, then. Something would turn up. It had to. With a sigh, he turned back to his computer and went back to typing e-mail, wondering why he felt like he was missing something, something important, something that was right in front of his face...
"I don't know what I can say today that someone else hasn't already said better than I have," said Jun to the assembled people. They looked back at her with red, teary eyes, or kept their gazes fixed on their feet. The day had dawned sunny, unfitting for the funeral of Matt Ishida, and now uncounted numbers were jammed into the cemetery to see their friend one last time. Jun had been one of the favored few who had come to the visiting, to say goodbye to him in some semblance of privacy. She had been afraid to look, at first, remembering how he had been when she had found his remains, but she need not have worried. Someone had done wonders with his body, easing away the fearful lines on his face and replacing them with an expression of peace. A suit and turtleneck covered his wounds, and he looked as if he was resting easily, far away from the terror that had done him in. Jun felt better seeing him that way; it gave her something to hold against the horror of her earlier encounter. That had been a private gathering, reserved for family and his closest friends, but everyone had come out for his memorial ceremony.
"I haven't known Matt for as long as some other have," she continued. "But when it comes to knowing him well, I think I can safely say I understood him as well as anyone here. So many saw him as just a figure on a stage, a man on a pedestal. He was something to look at and reach for, but never attained. I used to see him like that. I was fortunate to get to know him better. It was difficult getting close to him. He could be cold and hard, sometimes, pushing people away. You might think he was stone all the way through. I'm here to tell you different. Matt was as human a person as you'll ever meet. If he was distant, it was because he would never want to hurt anyone with his own problems. He understood problems... that was one of the best things about him. Any time I ever hurt, I could come to him, and he could ease the hurt, because he always knew just how I was feeling. He had a lot of caring to give, and forgiveness, too. I was lucky to see that side of his personality. He forgave me and cared for me and let me get to know one of the best friends I've ever had."
There were no more words to say; Jun went to sit down again. A few more words were said, and then the coffin was lowered quietly into the earth and covered up. After some moments of respectful silence and a few last words of farewell were said, the crowd was blessed and dismissed. Some went home, but many more, especially those who had been closest to the deceased, hung around to talk. It wasn't long before the Digidestined and a few of their friends had huddled into a sociable knot.
"That was a nice talk you gave, Jun," said Tai. He gave her a wan smile; losing his best friend was hitting him hard, but he'd had a few days to recover. He also had someone to help him through the pain, in the form of his pretty French fiancee, Catherine. They had announced that they were moving the date of their wedding back a bit to give Tai a bit more grieving time, but there was no sign that they would be separating, not judging by the way they held their arms around each other.
"Yours was better," Jun answered. "You knew him so much better than I did, and went through all that in the DigiWorld together. We never had anything to compare to that."
"Being in the Digital World does make you closer to a person," said TK quietly. He was looking haggard, but he was not without moral support himself; Kari hung close to him, sharing his pain.
"It does," agreed Sora softly, "but you can still get to care about a person here in the real world..."
Jun suddenly became conscious that Sora didn't have anyone to lean on now. Jun's heart went out to the girl, and she went over to put a friendly arm around Sora's shoulders, choosing to ignore, for now, that Shuu was lurking in the background, trying to catch her eye. She wasn't feeling in the least romantic right now, and Sora needed someone.
"Are you going to be okay?" Jun asked.
Sora nodded, shaking a bit as if holding back tears. "I'll be okay. It just... hurts."
"Don't worry, Sora," said Mimi, moving over to her friend's other side. "We're all here for you."
Ken watched as the redheaded girl was surrounded by comforters, and Sora turned to cry on Mimi's shoulder. Then his eyes flicked to Mimi herself, flown in from the States. She was just as pretty as she'd ever been - prettier, even, now that she'd grown up a bit. Ken had heard through the grapevine that long before Sora had entered the picture, people had been hinting that Mimi and Matt would make a picture-perfect couple, and it wasn't too hard to see what they had based that guess on.
*I wonder what Mimi thought of those ideas?* Ken thought. *I wonder if she even knew? She had to have known; she was as much a gossip as any teenaged girl. How did she feel when Sora came into Matt's life?*
As Sora calmed, the conversation began turning to less morbid topics, and the detective listened with both friendly and professional interest; it wasn't often that the whole Digidestined team came together in one place, and it was nice to catch up on what his friends were doing. Tai had been on an extended stay in France, a short visit that had turned into him renting an apartment and finally moving into Catherine's manor. Daisuke had just set up his first permanent restaurant and was bursting with pride. Kari was student-teaching, almost ready to collect her degree and strike out on her own. Mimi was studying fashion at a prestigious school, and her dress and manner were showing it.
"You know, you sound different," Joe commented. "You picked up an accent somewhere."
"It comes from speaking English all the time," answered Mimi, making a face. "I'm glad they taught it in school here. Even with Michael helping me, I still have a hard time understanding these New York types."
"That's what it is," said TK. "You're sounding like a New Yorker. A Japanese New Yorker. What a concept."
Ken nodded thoughtfully, realizing that she really did have a note in her voice that said clearly, "out-of-towner." He noticed, too, how well-dressed she was, probably a result of all her fashion schooling. She had let her once-pink hair grow out to its natural brown, setting off her dark eyes, and she looked quite attractive.
*Would you look at that!* said the suspicious voice. *Pretty woman. Foreign accent. Nice clothes. Long brown hair. Dark eyes. I wonder if she knows where The Digiport is? Maybe I should ask her to dinner, just to see how she reacts.*
Ken glanced at Mimi, and then at Miyako, who had noticed him staring at the lovely foreign woman and was now giving him dagger glances that he knew only too well. Ken decided not to try any experimenting. He wanted to find Matt's killer, not end up as a homicide statistic himself. A guy had to like danger if he wanted to date Miyako.
Still, it was an interesting idea, considered objectively; a long-lost-lover theory was just about as plausible as a crazed stalker. Still, the logistics involved - getting to Japan, finding a way into the apartment, getting away cleanly, having a motive in the first place... Mimi had a temper, but it would take a lot to prompt the Mimi he knew to murder. Still, there was no telling what kind of things she had been getting up to in New York since he'd last seen her. He decided to take the safe route and ask Joe to take her out and report back to him.
And speaking of Joe, he seemed to be having an interesting conversation as well, and Ken scooted unobtrusively over to eavesdrop.
"This city's getting so violent lately," Izzy was telling his friend. "When we first opened the lab, the police gave us a case maybe once or twice a year. Now we get one every month - sometimes every week!"
"We can hardly keep up," Shuu agreed. "We're going to have to hire on help soon, if this keeps up."
"I know what you mean," said Joe. "Not just this murder business, either. There's more little stuff going on. Robberies and things. Someone got into my house a few weeks ago!"
"I heard about that!" said Cody. "I never heard how it ended, though."
"It didn't," Joe replied, sighing. "The police couldn't find any real evidence, and there wasn't a lot of harm done, so they let the whole thing drop. It was nothing serious, anyway, and I didn't want to push the issue."
"I didn't hear about it," said Izzy. "What happened?"
Joe shrugged, looking uncomfortable at being the center of attention. "Not much. Someone got into my apartment and took a few things out of my medical bag. Drugs and syringes, you know. I figure it must have been a local kid looking for a new buzz. Either that or he was already hooked and desperate for another hit. The stuff that was taken can be addictive if you take it too often. Pretty safe just for once in a while, though."
"Can you remember the specific kind?" asked Ken, trying to sound casual.
"Why do you want to know?" asked Joe. "It's not important, is it?"
"Probably not," Ken admitted. "It's just my business to know everyone else's."
"Oh," said Joe. "Well, it was a bunch of different stuff. One was one of those multi- syllabic things, a new synthetic they just came out with. It's a little like morphine, only milder and harder to get hooked on. Sleeping aid, pain reducer, that sort of thing. The other was the opposite - one of those diet pills that hypes you up. That's why I figure it was an addict that took it. People take the downers to unwind and the uppers to keep going - or the other way around."
Izzy was reminded of a new medical breakthrough he'd read about in some scientific journal, and as the talk turned more technical as the scientists debated pros and cons, Ken drifted away again. Once he'd gloried in the acquisition and flouting of knowledge, but these days, he preferred to keep the lowest profile possible. He wandered back over to see what the rest of the group was doing, and found that Matt's parents had made an appearance. Mrs. Takenouchi was as pretty as ever, though perhaps a bit drawn looking. Mr. Ishida still had the same blunt attitude and rough good looks, though his blond hair was beginning to show paler streaks. He was talking to Tai, Sora, and Jun.
"...bad business anyway we go at it," he was saying. "TK's already said he can't. You can understand why."
"I see what you mean," said Sora. "It's going to be difficult for you, I'm sure."
Mr. Ishida shook his head. "I don't know how I'm going to manage. I heard the police have already been through and checked on things, and someone cleaned up ... Matt's room, so that's not a problem, but... Just having to go through and pack up all his things is going to be really hard."
"What's going on?" Ken whispered to Daisuke.
"Talking about cleaning out Matt's apartment," Daisuke answered. "Since Matt's not living there anymore, they've gotta take out all his stuff so someone else can move in."
Ken shuddered. "Why anyone would want to live in the home of a murdered man is beyond me. I wouldn't be able to sleep."
"Someone will take it just because it was Matt's," Daisuke replied.
Ken shied away from the ghoulish thought and went back to eavesdropping.
"I was wondering," Mr. Ishida was saying, "if any of you would like to lend a hand. You know since he didn't leave a will, everything goes to us, but... if any of you want anything, a keepsake... You know what I mean."
"I'd like to help," said Tai, "but I really can't stay. We only made arrangements to be here for today."
"I'll help," said Jun. "I don't think I could handle going to work again so soon - I asked to have a couple weeks off, and they're letting me, so I've got nothing better to do..." She trailed off, aware that she was babbling and equally aware that no one would really blame her.
"So will I." That quiet, determined voice was Sora's. She didn't offer any other explanation, and no one asked for it.
"Fine," said Mr. Ishida, looking a bit relieved. For all his tough appearance, he really hadn't been looking forward to going through his dead son's things. Come ask either of us any time you're ready, and we'll loan you the key to the apartment."
"Thank you," Sora replied. "I think I'll feel better, putting things in order."
Matt's family left soon afterwards, going home to cope with their grief in solitude. Tai, Catherine, and Mimi made their departure not long afterwards, off to catch their planes. In ones and twos, the rest of the team drifted off in separate directions, until the cemetery was empty. Ken took the long way home, thinking, the strongest image in his mind being that of a red haired girl kneeling on a mound of freshly turned earth, the final mourner crying her heart out as she leaned her head against a cold stone.
When he got home, he found something to drive the thought completely out of his mind. He and Wormmon had barely made it through the front door before the phone started ringing. Ken, slipping out of his jacket and tie, made a grab for it.
"Hello?" he asked cautiously.
"Ichijouji," said a voice, scarcely more than a hiss of air with syllables, "are you working on the Ishida case?"
"What is it to you?" Ken replied.
"I want you to stay out of it," said the whisper. "You hear? You stay out of the case, or you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble."
"I don't think you're in a position to threaten," answered Ken coolly. He gestured at Wormmon, who seized a pen in one pod and a sheet of paper in the other and went to check the caller ID box. The worm began jotting down something.
"I am," the whisperer replied. "I know who you are, Ken Ichijouji. I know where you live, where you work. I know everything about you, down to the location of the last Control Spire. I can hunt you down anywhere, wherever you go, and I can do the same thing to you that I did to Ishida. You understand?"
"You're the one who killed him?"
"Why?" The word slipped out before Ken could catch it. "Why did you have to do that to him?"
There was silence on the line for a while.
"You think you're going to catch me that easily?" the whisper asked. "I'm not that stupid. You can't catch me, Ichijouji. I'm too slick, even for you. Back down and leave the case alone, or you'll regret it."
There was a click, and then a dial tone. Ken stared at the receiver in consternation.
"That close," he muttered. "I hate it when I let them get away. Wormmon, did you get anything?"
"Just a phone number," answered Wormmon apologetically.
"Figures," Ken replied. He had caught crank callers and threat-deliverers by caller ID a few times, but big-time criminals were seldom that foolish. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check. Ken made an official phone call to have the number traced, only to be told that it was the number of a phone booth in a local mall.
"Too bad," Wormmon muttered. "It would have been so nice to get a break, for once."
"Don't worry, Wormmon. We'll get one," Ken replied. "This guy - or girl - isn't as clever as they'd like to think they are. If they were, they wouldn't have called me at all. They would have just kept quiet and come after me in secret. They want to show off, and criminals who show off get caught."
"Not if they catch us first," Wormmon said nervously.
"They won't," said Ken. "Don't even think they will. We'll find them, don't you worry. Come on, let's get some sleep. It's been a long day."
Ken didn't even bother with a shower, but simply shrugged off his clothes and crawled into bed, his partner settled in his customary place at Ken's shoulder. This was the one time and place that Ken always felt totally at peace, in that dreamy state between waking and sleeping and with the creature he cared about most next to him. Tonight, though, nothing could get his mind away from the thoughts of the killer who still stalked the streets somewhere, the one who knew his name and number. Detachment couldn't come when the first to die had been one of his best friends. Wormmon fell asleep early on, but it was well after Ken had counted off the twelve strokes of midnight chiming from his hall clock before he finally drifted off. Even then, his dreams were uneasy, showing him a trail of footprints that vanished even as he looked at them, a shadowy figure with a knife who was stealing needles from Joe's bag, and a Spanish girl who scolded Ken for his foolishness... scolded him in fluent Japanese.
Jun had given up reading newspapers. All any of them wanted to talk about was something she had heard far too much of already, so she got her news second and third hand from her friends. Ken in particular had become a good source of information; he had ranted long and loud to her when the early editions began coming out, all of them talking about a killer they had christened the Wolfslayer, hearkening back to the name of Matt's band. Ken didn't like it, saying that the last thing the killer needed was to be given a pretty name that stoked his ego, and that it was just the thing to encourage him to kill again just to get his name in the paper, or to encourage copycats who were just as eager for attention. Jun was more interested in the fact that the papers seemed to make her out as the main suspect.
"At least the people who matter don't suspect me," she said to Sora, as they exited the elevator with their arms full of boxes. Their birds followed along behind them, equally laden down.
"People are going to talk," Sora answered with a shrug. "Everyone admired Matt. They want someone to blame, and if they can't get the real killer, they'll take whoever's handy."
"I know," said Jun with a grimace. "I've asked Daisuke to do my shopping for me. I'm so tired of getting looks and being asked questions."
"So am I," Sora sighed. "I don't know which is worse - the people who want to tell me how sorry they are, or the ones who want to ask questions. Would you believe one girl had the nerve to ask me if I'd slept with him?"
Jun made a face. "What did you say?"
"Nothing," Sora replied. "Miyako, on the other hand..."
"Oh, boy," said Jun. "I would have paid money to hear that."
"There wasn't much to hear. I didn't know Miyako could hit that hard, though."
"She's been taking lessons from Iori," Jun replied.
"Ah. That explains it."
They reached Matt's apartment, and Jun shifted the load she was carrying to fumble in her pocket for the key, then fumbled some more to get the key in the lock and open the door with one hand. Then they went inside. It was more or less as Jun remembered it, though she thought she could see some evidence that the police had been there sifting through things. She tried to put it out of her mind.
"Well, this is it," she said, looking around the room, feeling a bit daunted. "Where do we start?"
"I don't know," Sora replied. "I don't like the way this feels. It's like we're stealing from him."
"I know what you mean... but I guess he doesn't need this stuff anymore. Look at it as cleaning up for him."
"I guess," said Sora. "Why don't we start in here and work our way in? It's going to be a lot of work, no matter how we go at it."
Jun nodded. "How about you and Biyomon start over here with the bookshelves and stuff? Penmon and I'll take these cabinets."
Sora nodded and went over to the bookshelves with a cardboard box, while Jun went to the other side of the room, watching out of the corner of her eye as Sora began packing paperbacks up in neat rows. She had hoped that it would be a comparatively painless job; Matt hadn't been much of a reader, tending to buy a book and read it twice, then leave it to molder for years. There would be fewer memories attached to the dusty volumes then there would be to the curios Jun was busy handing to Penmon to be wrapped in newspaper.
*When did I get so strong?* Jun wondered. *I'm surprised I'm not crying rivers right now. I guess I'm all cried out... Or maybe I really have accepted this. That, and one of us has to hold ourselves together, or we'll never get this done.*
Jun glanced over at Sora again. The girl was putting up a brave front, but any keen observer could have seen the pain in her eyes, the dreamlike way she moved. There was no doubt that she was finding this difficult. Jun had never really been close to Sora before, seldom even spoken to her beyond social pleasantries, but now her heart went out to her. If only there was something she could do to help her...
"Are you sure you're okay?" Jun asked. The words were quiet, but they carried across the silent room.
"I'm fine. Really."
"Would it feel better if you talked about it?"
Sora turned around, and even across the room, the haunted look in her eyes was evident, raw emotions flashing through them. Then she hung her head.
"You wouldn't understand," she said.
"That doesn't mean you can't still talk about it," Jun replied. "Besides, I understand a lot more than people think. I know what hurt is like, and you're hurting. Let me help you."
"I'm all right," Sora repeated. "It's just... I miss him so much. We had planned... to have a future together. Now he's gone, I don't know what to do. I'm so lonely, but I feel like I'm betraying him if I start thinking about finding someone else. I just... don't know what to do..."
She burst into tears, and Jun went to put an arm around her, letting her cry on her shoulder and murmuring soothing words that went unnoticed.
"Why did he have to leave?" Sora sobbed. "Why did he go away and leave me alone?"
"No reason," said Jun softly. "No reason at all. It just happened. You know he would never have left you if he had a choice."
"I know... and then I feel guilty for being angry. There's just no way out..."
"Shh. It's okay. You've got nothing to feel guilty about," said Jun. "Hey, I just thought of something. Wait here a minute."
Without waiting to hear if Sora agreed, Jun slipped away, heading for Matt's room. She was dreading what she might see inside, but Sora's welfare was more important, so she steeled herself and opened the door. As it turned out, she need not have worried. The bed coverings had been taken away, leaving only the bare frame, and the walls and floor had been sponged clean. There was a small scorched spot on the rug marking where Gabumon had made his exit, and that was all. Even so, Jun tried not to look at any of it. She headed instead for his chest of drawers and began rummaging around in the upper drawer. She returned moments later carrying something behind her back.
"Here," she said to Sora, who was sitting on the sofa and sniffling. "I want to give yo something. I know I'm no substitute for Matt and it's really not the same this way, but... I know he wanted you to have it."
She took out the little jewelry box and opened it, showing the diamond ring inside. Sora gave a small gasp.
"Matt loved you very much," said Jun quietly. "He loved you enough to want you to live your life with him. I think he loves you enough now to want you to live your life without him."
Sora took the ring with trembling fingers and slipped it on. Tears were still trickling down her face, but she was smiling now. It was a sad smile, but genuine.
"Thanks, Jun," she said. "This means a lot to me... Matt didn't really leave me alone, did he?"
"No, he didn't," Jun replied. "He didn't leave either of us alone." She stood up, blinking away a few tears of her own. "Come on, let's get the rest of this junk cleared out."
But she thought as she was packing that maybe it would be better if they left the rest of the job to Matt's family, after all. She had already taken the most important thing Matt had to leave her, the greatest possession he had: friendship.
"Special delivery!" someone shouted.
Izzy winced, scowling as he hunched over his computer. He knew the voice - it was one of the men from the police force, come to bring him and his lab partners some more work. That didn't bother Izzy so much. He loved the challenge of decoding the mysteries of a bit of digital DNA, probing secrets that might save a life or put a criminal behind bars. No, having more work was definitely not a bad thing. What annoyed him was that this particular man seemed to have no respect for the work at all.
"Could somebody get the door?" called Izzy, without much hope.
"Sorry!" called Mr. Takenouchi from another room. "I've got my hands a little full here, right now. If I turn my back on this experiment for too long, it could fall apart and I'll have to do it all over again."
"Same here," Shuu called. "You get it. You aren't doing anything that can't wait, are you?"
"Hey, what are you all doing in there?" shouted the man outside. "Playing video games? Open up!"
Izzy sighed. "Come on, Tentomon. Looks like it's up to us."
They went and opened the door to face an annoyed looking man in an official uniform.
"A body could catch cold waiting for you to answer the door," he said.
"Well, sorry. We are trying to get some work done in here, you know," Izzy replied. "What have you got for us today, besides insults?"
"Evidence in the Ishida case," the man replied, handing a small box to Izzy. "Maybe you can figure it out before the killer dies of old age."
"Wait a minute, you just went too far," Izzy snapped. "Matt was one of my friends, and I won't have you joking about it!"
"All right, all right! Sheesh. Be that way, then." The man stalked off, looking affronted. Izzy shut the door pointedly behind him.
Once inside, however, his mood lightened considerably. He had been hoping to have a crack at Matt's killer since he had heard about the murder. Now he opened the box eagerly to investigate its contents. What he found were a dozen or more tiny containers, each holding a single strand of fur - Digimon fur, hopefully that of the murderer's partner. On the other hand, it could be only Gabumon's fur, and a lot of it likely was. That meant a careful examination of each individual hair, hoping to find even one that didn't belong.
*Even if they've brought another Gabumon,* thought Izzy, with a touch of pride, *they won't be able to slip it past me.* That was one advantage his lab had that others that had sprung up later did not. They could identify a Digimon by type alone, but it had been one of Izzy's hobbies for a long time to keep records of the different 'mons he met and cataloguing them. A tuft of feathers, a strand of hair, a leaf clipping, a chip of rock dust - all went into his computer files, and he could use it to track that Digimon again whenever he needed to. He seldom did, but sometimes...
"Maybe I'll just take a few of these with me," he said to himself, slipping a few of the minuscule vials into his pocket, "so I can work on them at home. I can add them to my collection."
"Hey, Izzy, what have you got there?" asked Mr. Takenouchi, walking into the room. His Elecmon hopped along beside him.
"Evidence," Izzy replied. "This is the digital matter they found in Matt's apartment. We need to sort through it and see if we can find something that doesn't match up."
"Sounds like fun," said Shuu, walking into the room. His Gazimon tried to hop up on the table to look in the box, and Izzy pushed him away. "Mind if I pitch in? I'm not working on anything pressing at the moment."
Izzy gave him a piercing look. "What were you doing when the delivery man came?"
"Same as we all were," Shuu replied. "Hiding from the delivery man!"
"Humph," muttered Izzy. "Some friend you are."
"Well, let me make it up to you by getting some of the work done," Shuu replied. He scooped the box off the table. "I'll let you know when something comes up."
"Wait a minute, there," said Mr. Takenouchi. "Don't you think the work will go faster if we all work on this? It looks like there's enough to go around."
Shuu stopped and considered. Then he shook his head.
"What was I thinking? This isn't like an ordinary case, is it?" he said. "Of course we should all help. Here." He offered a handful of the vials to Mr. Takenouchi and another bunch to Izzy. "That looks pretty evenly divided."
"I guess," Mr. Takenouchi replied. "My experiments can wait. I'll get started now and let you know if I find anything."
Shuu grinned. "Only if I don't find something first!"
"Hey, this is serious business," said Izzy, "so let's settle down and get to work already."
The others agreed, and soon they were all hard at work on their computers. It was slow, painstaking work, separating tiny shreds of evidence and scanning them bit by bit, but Izzy tackled it with stubborn persistence.
*I'm not letting you down, Matt. I'll find whoever killed you, if it's the last thing I ever do!*
Jun walked into her apartment and dropped into an easy chair, a contented smile on her face. Penmon scrambled up to sit on her lap, and she played absently with his crest feathers. The evening had been a pleasant one. She'd met Shuu after they had both gotten out from work, and he had taken her for dinner and a movie. It hadn't been a serious date, just a night out to talk and laugh and forget for a while that anything bad had happened. He was still on his best behavior, making her glad she'd chosen to give him a second chance. He seemed to have grown up in the years since she'd dated him, and she was beginning to wonder if perhaps things would work out better this time.
"Wouldn't that be nice, Penmon?" she asked her partner. "It's been so long since I had a real boyfriend."
Penmon nodded. Anything that made Jun happy was all right by him.
"You know," she said, "I'm really beginning to think things are going to be all right. When I found out Matt was dead, I thought it was the end of the world. But it didn't. It just... took a time out for a while. Things aren't ever going to be the same without him, but... it's going to be all right."
Penmon nodded. "You've got Shuu and Sora now, right?"
"And I always have you," she said, cuddling her partner. "You just watch, Penmon. I've got a feeling the worst is over."
Just then, there was a knock on the door.
"Now, who could that be?" Jun wondered.
She got up, shifting Penmon to the floor, and he waddled along behind her as she went to answer the door. Opening it, she was dismayed to find herself facing an unfamiliar policeman who flashed a badge at her.
"Are you miss Jun Motimiya?" he asked.
"I am," she replied. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm afraid so, ma'am," said the policeman. "You're under arrest for the murder of Yamato Ishida."
"What?!" she yelped. "But I didn't - I never-"
The policeman did not care. He dragged her and her unhappy 'mon down to the police car and trundled them both off to the police station. There, she was taken to a room and told to sit down in a chair on one side of a small desk. On the other side was another policeman, who regarded her with a stony glower. She opened her mouth to try to ask him or tell him something, but as soon as the words reached her mouth, the look on the man's face was enough to make them all retreat into silence. He waited a moment to make sure she got the message, and then he took out something and placed it on the desk between them.
"Do you recognize this?" he asked.
Jun stared, trying not to flinch. It was a knife - not just any knife, either, but a sharp, well- made, stainless steel creation, almost artistic in its precision craftsmanship. It was the tool of someone who appreciated a good piece of workmanship. It was also tinged with blood.
"That's Matt's vegetable knife," she said.
The man nodded. "It's the weapon that killed him. It has your fingerprints on it."
"I was using it!" Jun protested. Her voice sounded shrill and frightened, too loud in the small room. "We were making a salad that night, and he asked me to cut the vegetables."
"I see," the man replied. "And didn't you wash the dishes after dinner?"
Jun blushed, realizing that was just what any normal person would have done.
"We were in a hurry," she said lamely. "Matt said the dishes would wait until morning."
"Mm hm," said the policeman skeptically. "Be that as it may, the evidence against you has been collected. If you're as innocent as you say, you're going to have to present some evidence of it when you go to court. Right now... you're going to jail."
Ken arrived a while later to pay Jun's bail money.
"I can't believe this," he muttered, ushering her out of the cell.
"You can't believe it? I'm the one who's been behind bars for the last hour," Jun complained. "All because of a lousy vegetable knife! Whoever killed Matt obviously wasn't a cook."
"What I don't believe," said Ken, "is that they had the nerve to arrest you in the first place. Sure there's evidence that you did it, but there's just as much evidence that you didn't." He sighed. "I blame myself. If I had been doing my job better, this wouldn't have happened."
"It's not your fault," Jun assured him. "You couldn't have changed the prints on that knife. If it wasn't me, I'd say that was pretty good evidence that I did it, too."
Ken would have made a reply, only it was then that the officer with the Meteormon appeared, and Ken instinctively quailed.
"What's this, Ichijouji?" he asked. "Isn't this girl supposed to be in jail?"
"No, she's a free woman, for now," Ken replied. "I've paid her bail."
"Why did you do that?" the officer demanded.
"I have that right," said Ken.
"You don't have the right to go getting murderers out of jail!"
"True," Ken replied, "but Jun's no killer. She's innocent, and if you'd given me time, I would have proven it!"
"There's nothing to prove. All the evidence is there - it's clear as day she was the one," the officer snapped.
"You haven't looked at all the evidence. I can offer you arguments right now with some reasonable alternatives."
"I think you're letting your emotions cloud your objectivity," said the officer darkly, "just like I said they would. You went into this thing thinking this girl was innocent, didn't you?"
"I think you're grasping at straws," Ken replied. "The public was putting on pressure to catch Matt's killer, so someone took the first substantial-looking piece of evidence they found and used it to put someone behind bars, whether she was guilty or not."
The officer scowled. "I can see there's not going to be any compromise here. Let it just be stated that I think what you've done is wrong."
"No," said Ken. "I've done a lot of wrong things in my life. I know wrong when I see it. This isn't wrong. Now, get off my case so I can get back to working on it."
"That's where you're wrong again," the officer replied. "A suspect has been arrested. That means your case is closed."
"It is not closed! My friend is still dead, and you're arresting the wrong woman to make up for it!" Ken shouted. "I am not letting this thing stop here! I am going to find the real killer if... if it kills me!"
"That may or may not be," the man replied, "but let me tell you something: if I find out that you're working on this thing behind my back, I will personally make sure you are fired. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Yes, sir," said Ken. "Nothing has ever been clearer."
"Good," the officer replied. "Now, get back to work. They've found something new for you to work on, something about-"
Ken was ignoring him.
"Come on, Jun," he said. "I'll drive you home. You could use a lift, couldn't you?"
"You said it," Jun replied, and they walked away, leaving the officer with his mouth hanging open. He tried a few syllables without success before finally finding words to speak.
"I could fire you right now, you know!" he shouted at the retreating pair.
Ken paused and turned around, letting his cold purple eyes bore into the dark ones of the man who was glaring at him.
"Then I could investigate all I want, couldn't I?" he said quietly. "That would make us both happy, wouldn't it?"
Then he turned and led Jun away silently, while his superior stood fuming.
"Should you have done that?" Jun asked worriedly. "You could lose your job! I don't think he was kidding about that."
"Big deal," Ken replied. "That's not important right now. I've got enough laid by that I can afford to do without a paycheck for a little while. I can get another job - don't you think anyone would want to hire the famous Ken Ichijouji? What's important now is keeping you out of jail, and the best way to do that is to find the one who really deserves to be there. And we could hire you a good lawyer," he added as an afterthought. "I'll bet Iori knows where to find one; he's in law school now."
"How are you going to catch a killer before I wind up in court?" Jun asked. "The trial is going to be in just a few weeks! There's no way you're going to wrap this thing up in time."
"There's always a way," said Ken. "Miracles do happen, you know. I've seen them. I'll just have to see if I can pull off another one. But don't you worry - I'm not letting you get convicted, no matter what it costs me. Here." They had stepped out the front doors of the building and out into the parking lot as they'd talked, and Ken was holding open the door of his car for her. "Hop in. I'll take you home."
"Thanks," said Jun. "Ken?"
Jun leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You're a really sweet guy. You know that, don't you?"
Then she climbed into the car and shut the door, letting Ken walk around to the other side, giving him a bit of time to recover from a furious blush that had suddenly overtaken him.
Unfortunately, there was nothing Ken could do about the media. Everyone in the city and beyond had been hungering for news that the killer had been found, and now every paper screamed it from the front page: they were all safe now, the killer had been found, and she would get what was coming to her. The television stations displayed it, too, giving them all glimpses of a scared-looking redheaded girl trying desperately to avoid the cameras that were being pointed at her. Penmon had tried to attack a few of them, doing what he could to protect the girl he loved from the people who were making her cry. His Endless Slap attack wasn't all that harmful, causing nothing worse than a few scratches or bruises, but the more sensational reports brought back reports of a ferocious attack Digimon that didn't do much for her reputation.
"It's getting so I can't even walk outside anymore without someone coming after me," Jun complained. Shuu, sitting across the table from her, nodded. She had invited him over to share dinner and a talk away from prying eyes, but despite whatever he might have been hoping for, she seemed to mainly want the privacy just so she could unload her emotions to a friendly ear.
"I believe it," he replied. "Don't worry about a thing, though. The lab hasn't given up on you yet, either. We're still going through the evidence, trying to find a clue that there was someone else there that night. If we can make a breakthrough, you're in the clear... or at least better off than you are now."
"I hope so," Jun replied. "In the meantime, I was thinking of getting away for a few days, going somewhere where hopefully nobody will bother me. Ken will know where I am, so hopefully it won't get me into any more trouble with the police... not like they seem to think much of Ken these days."
"What about me?" Shuu asked piteously. "Am I allowed to know where you are?"
Jun laughed a bit. "Well, I'm supposed to be hiding... but for you, I'll make an exception. I'm going to be camping out with Sora for a while."
"Sora?" Shuu repeated.
"Oh, you know, Matt's girlfriend," Jun answered. "You saw her at the funeral, the one with the red hair."
"Oh, yeah, her," said Shuu. "I remember now... She's really taking losing him hard, isn't she?"
Jun nodded. "We both need some emotional support right now, so we thought it wouldn't hurt to room together for a while. We can keep each other company. It might be good for my public image, too," she added as an afterthought. "Everyone knows how close Sora and Matt were. If she's still on good terms with me, it will make me look less like a killer."
"Ah..." said Shuu. He seemed to be seriously considering something. "I don't suppose I could tempt you into vising me a few days instead?"
"You're not that tempting," she teased. "Really, though I think it will work out better this way, at least for now. Maybe when this is all over, though... and assuming I don't wind up behind bars."
"Maybe I'll go on a crime spree so I can get in there with you," he answered, grinning.
"Don't you dare," Jun said.
"Can I at least send you a cake with a file in it?" asked Shuu innocently.
Jun was about to come back with a witty retort, only she was having trouble thinking of one. She was saved by the bell as the telephone began to ring.
"I'll get it!" shouted Shuu's Gazimon, who had been eavesdropping under the table. He sprinted along on all four paws, skidding on the kitchen linoleum before finally finding purchase on the living room rug. He snatched the phone off the hook. "Motimiya residence! ... Hm? ... Hey, Shuu, it's for you!"
"Who knows I'm here?" Shuu wondered, going to answer the call. He accepted the receiver from his partner. "Hello, Shuu Kido speaking."
"Hey, Shuu, this is Izzy," answered the voice on the other end. "You're really hard to track down, you know?"
"I do have a social life," Shuu replied. "What's up?"
"We've got a problem down here," Izzy replied. "All the samples have disappeared!"
"What?" asked Shuu. "You mean, the Ishida evidence?"
"That's it," Izzy replied. "The whole box has just up and vanished. You didn't move it or anything, did you?"
"Haven't touched it," Shuu replied. "Are you sure someone didn't just sit it down in the wrong place by mistake?"
"Tentomon and I looked all over the place for it," Izzy replied. "It's really gone. Good thing I thought to take precautions."
"Precautions?" repeated Shuu. "What kind of precautions?"
"When the box was first delivered, I sort of borrowed a few of the vials to study at home," Izzy replied. "I've still got them here. So far I haven't found anything but Gabumon fur, but hopefully something will turn up."
"Yeah," said Shuu. "That really was lucky. What are we going to do now, though? Aren't we sort of going to be in trouble with the police for losing their important evidence?"
"I don't think we lost it," answered Izzy darkly. "I think it was stolen. Call it a hunch, but I think the person who killed Matt and threatened Ken also knows we're involved, and he took the box to keep us from catching him."
"He?" Shuu repeated.
"Well, sure. I don't think it was Jun any more than you do. If it was Jun, they would have been picking up feathers instead of fur, and I'm going to say as much if they ask me to talk at her trial."
"Good," said Shuu. "Anyway, thanks for telling me."
"Yeah. See you tomorrow, Shuu."
"See ya, Izzy."
Jun watched him hang up the phone, the his dark eyes seeming even darker with concern.
"Something wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," said Shuu.
Jun looked skeptical. "Come on, tell me."
"You won't like it. I don't want to worry you."
"As if I'm not already worried. Spill, or I'll have the 'mons ferret it out for me."
Shuu looked deflated. "You'd do it, too. All right, all right. The evidence from Matt's case has disappered. Nobody can find it anywhere."
"All the evidence?" Jun repeated. "As in, the evidence that's supposed to keep me out of jail? That evidence?"
"Don't worry," said Shuu soothingly. "Izzy was smart enough to pocket some of it, and I'm sure the rest will turn up somewhere. Somebody probably just dropped it in the wrong box or something. Some of our aides aren't very organized. We'll find it."
"Good," Jun replied. "I'm glad everything's okay."
"Still, I'm all of a sudden not feeling like partying anymore," said Shuu with a grimace. "Maybe I'll go back to the lab for a while and see if there's anything I can do to help."
"If you think it will make you feel better," Jun said. She knew that feeling, knowing that there was nothing to do that would affect anything, but itching to try anyway...
"I think it would. It might even do some good... What about you? When are you moving out?"
"Tomorrow. I'll give you a call when I'm settled in."
"Need any help packing?"
"No," said Jun, "I think Penmon and I have it covered. I don't really need all that much, just enough clothes to last me a couple of weeks, and a few other things. With luck, I'll be moving back in soon." She didn't bother to mention that if luck wasn't with her, she wouldn't be needing her other things anyway.
"Oh," said Shuu, looking crestfallen. "Well, if that's all... guess I'll just say goodbye, then."
"You can do more than just say it," Jun replied.
A faint smile crossed his face. "All right, then."
He moved closer to her to give her a kiss that was a good deal more than a perfunctory social peck, gently stroking her face as they folded into each other's embrace. Their Digimon watched the display with expressions of puzzlement.
"Why do they do that?" asked Penmon.
Gazimon shrugged. "Don't ask me. He seems to like it, though."
"So does Jun. She told me so," Penmon answered, "so it must be all right."
When the humans finally broke apart, they looked to be a bit more cheerful than they had a moment ago. Shuu smiled fondly at Jun and stroked her hair.
"Does that mean I'm allowed to tell you I love you again?" he asked.
"I think so," she answered.
"Good. I love you, Jun. Always. No one but you." He let his hand fall down to take hers, bringing it briefly to his lips. "Don't worry about a thing. Somehow, it will all turn out all right. You'll see. Everything's going to be fine."
Tentomon snored, a tiny buzzing noise like the sound of a small fly trying to get through a window pane, and the sound blended with the soft whirr of a computer in action. Izzy ignored all the sounds, concentrating instead on his work. Very few people knew that he had equipment in his own home that was equal to what he had in his lab. After all, it had been he, with some help from Miyako and occasionally Ken or even Gennai, who had invented and built most of the specialized machinery and programs they used. The ones Izzy used now were prototypes, not as neat and polished as the ones he used at work, but still serviceable. Some were even better, having been repaired and adjusted over the years, honed by hours of careful work and trial-and-error. He had been using them for quite a while just tonight, and his eyes were beginning to burn from the light of the computer screen he stared at. It was dark in the room, lit only by that one screen, but he was too absorbed in his work to abandon it even for the moment it would take to flip a light switch. One thought hummed urgently in his brain: find a clue, anything that would help bring his friend's murderer to justice. So far, all he had found were Gabumon's hairs, and once a feather of Penmon's that had drifted in somehow, but nothing else. He refused to give up, though. There were still three samples of matter left, enough for him to still have hope. He reached for another and began gently easing the strands of hair into the scanner. The computer hummed for a moment as it mulled over what had been presented to it, and then put up the results for Izzy to read. He skimmed them hopefully, and then with more resignation as he saw more of the same. Then...
"Well, that's something different!" he said, his eyes widening with interest. "I think this is it! I've found it! But what is it?"
He typed a few things, sending the computer on a search through its database to see if it could identify the kind of 'mon the sample had come from. Finally, it offered up a match. Izzy blinked, rubbed his eyes, and looked again.
"No..." he said. "It couldn't be! I've got to double check this."
He entered in another set of parameters and sent the computer searching once again - not through the general databases, this time, but Izzy's own personal collection, checking the sample against those taken from all the Digimon he knew. The computer gave him back an answer, and Izzy moaned.
"No! It's impossible... I don't believe it..."
"You figured it out, hm?" asked a voice in the darkness.
Izzy spun in his chair to stare into the shadows of his room. Someone was looking back at him, seeming to fill the doorway. A pair of eyes gleamed in the faint light. Izzy had always thought they were friendly eyes; now they shimmered with malice... and insanity.
"It was you," said Izzy with dull certainty. "You killed Matt, didn't you?"
The figure nodded. "I thought you might be the one to figure it out. Yes, I did it."
Izzy felt a cold pang run through him; there was only one reason a killer would confess to him, and that was if the killer didn't intend to let him live.
"Why?" he asked. "How could you do it? Matt was your friend?"
The figure shrugged. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
"Are you serious?" Izzy asked. "That's crazy talk!"
"It's not crazy. You have no idea what's at stake. Besides, it's too late now." The figure in the shadows began drawing closer, and Izzy thought he saw something metallic glint faintly.
"Stop it!" Izzy cried. "You don't know what you're doing!"
"I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm covering my trail," the killer replied. "I'm sorry you have to do this to you, Izzy. I hope you know I always liked you."
"You don't have to do it," said Izzy desperately. "It's not too late. You can still give up and turn yourself in."
"No. You don't understand - I have to stay free now. If I turn myself in, they'll lock me up forever, and I'll lose everything. I have to do this."
"What do you mean, lose everything?" The one thing on Izzy's mind now was to keep his tormentor talking, and thus keep that knife a little further away from him. "What did Matt ever do to you?"
"Nothing," said the figure sadly. "That was my mistake. I should have left him alone... but it worked out for the best. Now I just have to tie up a few loose ends, and I'll have everything under control again."
"You. Ken. And... Sora misses Matt very much, doesn't she? I'm beginning to think it would be better if I sent her along to join him."
"No!" Izzy protested. "You can't do this! And you won't, either. Maybe you could take Matt. Maybe you'll even take me, but every time you kill someone, you're going to make it that much easier for someone to find you, and give yourself another opportunity to make a mistake. Sooner or later, someone's going to catch you, and then you'll lose whatever it is you're after anyway."
That seemed to give the figure cause for thought, and Izzy felt a tiny release of tension as his antagonizer backed down a half a pace to consider. Then the shape in the darkness shrugged.
"They won't catch me."
"How do you know?" asked Izzy, hoping he sounded threatening.
The figure shrugged again. "They haven't caught me yet... and I've had some experience by now."
"Matt wasn't my first."
"What?" Izzy yelped. "When - how...?"
"Matt wasn't the first person to get in the way of what I want, only the first one to make headlines. Now... it's your turn."
"No," Izzy begged. "Please... you can't do this to me... we were friends."
For the first time, he thought he saw a flicker of sanity in those eyes, but it was dim and faint, tempered by that strange fire that made Izzy wonder why he had never seen it before.
"I know," said the figure in the darkness quietly. "I want you to know I'm sorry I have to do this. I always liked you, Izzy. I promise I won't let it hurt."
"Won't hurt? You're going to kill me!"
"Yes. Don't worry, I know how to keep it from hurting you."
There was a blur of movement as the shape in the darkness moved to tackle Izzy, and the young man at the computer struggled with all his might to escape the arms that closed around him. Panic gave him strength, but his attacker had the advantage of surprise and had managed to pinion his arms. Izzy fought anyway; what did he have to lose? Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tentomon come awake and rise into the air, but he was confused by darkness and sleep and didn't see as the attacker's Digimon leapt upon him from the back. Izzy gave a cry composed of outrage for the sneak attack, worry for his partner, and general despair with the whole situation. Then he felt something cold and sharp pricking at the nape of his neck, and his heart sunk.
"All I have to do," said the voice at his ear, "is put the knife in right here, and everything will end. You won't feel a thing, I promise."
"Please, don't do this..."
"Say goodbye to your Digimon."
Izzy sighed. It sounded like his time was up.
"So long, Tentomon," he said. "Hope I see you again sometime."
Then there was a thunk, and Izzy felt an impact on the back of his head.
"There," said the voice at his ear, "did that hurt?"
"No," Izzy mouthed. Then his eyes unfocused, and his earthly remains slid out of his captor's grip to slump on the floor. At the same instant, Tentomon vanished in a cloud of reddish sparks. The killer looked down at all that was left of a brilliant young man and sighed, reached down, and drew the knife back into the shadows. A few minutes later, the room was empty of all signs of life but a computer that was quietly humming as it formatted its hard drive.
Morning found Ken answering e-mail. Coffee cup in one hand and the other on his mouse, he clicked away at his computer and scowled. Rosa was back with more letters - two! - asking him if he knew anything new, and if he had anything he could tell her. All the requests for information were starting to get on his nerves, and not just because they reminded him just how little he was actually learning. He was frowning at the screen and wondering how best to reply to her without being completely rude when the telephone rang.
"Could you get that, Wormmon?" he asked. "I'm busy."
There was a scurrying of feet as Wormmon's pods skittered across the carpet and onto a table, and the ringing stopped. As Ken typed, he could hear the sounds of conversation in the next room. At first, they were too low to hear. Then there was a startled squeak that make Ken's stomach clench; the normally calm and quiet Wormmon didn't make noises like that unless something was very wrong. There was a small expanse of silence as he wondered what was happening.
"Ken?" called Wormmon. "I really think you need to answer this."
That was all Ken needed to hear. He bounded to his feet, nearly dropping his coffee mug and leaping over the sofa in his dash for the phone. He accepted it from his partner and schooled his voice into professional calm.
"Ichijouji residence, Ken speaking."
"Ken," greeted a relieved voice. "This is Mr. Takenouchi. I'm afraid I... have some news for you."
"What kind of news?" Ken wasn't entirely sure he managed not to sound worried.
"Well, I went to work early this morning, hoping to get some of my more delicate experiments done when no one else was around, and I found the box we lost... in a place I was sure I had searched before."
"But that's good news, isn't it?" asked Ken, puzzled.
"It would be, but I have a feeling it won't be."
"What's that supposed to mean? Come on, get to the point. I'm a little short on patience these days."
"I know. Sorry," Mr. Takenouchi sighed. "Anyway, I called Izzy to tell him the news, and he didn't answer. I thought that was strange, so I went over to his place to check on him. He didn't answer the door, but it was left unlocked, so I went in, and... I found him."
There was silence on the end of the line.
"He's dead, Ken," said Mr. Takenouchi quietly. "Just like Matt."
"Damn." Ken, head bowed in grief and anger, beat his fist softly, hopelessly, on the countertop. "Damn. Damn. Damn."
"Are you going to be all right?" Mr. Takenouchi asked.
"No, I'm not going to be all right!" Ken snapped. "These are my friends who are dying here! They're more than my friends. I owe them everything, and I'm supposed to be protecting them, and I'm not! I'm supposed to be finding out who's hurting them, and I can't even do that, either!" He whammed his fist down hard enough to hurt, but he took the pain without seeming to notice it, or as if it was what he wanted.
"Stop it," said Mr. Takenouchi sternly. "This is no time to go to pieces! You of all people should know better than to sit around feeling sorry for yourself, or blaming yourself for things you had no control over."
Ken made a noncommital noise, somewhere between acknowledgment and apology.
"Yeah, I know you're right," Ken sighed, "but it hurts. All right, let's be logical about this. You already called the police, right?"
"Right," Mr. Takenouchi. "They took the box away. Strange, isn't it? We're supposed to be using it to catch Matt's murderer, and they take it away to look for Izzy's."
"I'm willing to bet they're one and the same," Ken replied. "Someone trying to stop Izzy from uncovering evidence that would lead to him, her, or it being discovered. Did you notice anything about the crime scene? Anything that might be important?"
"The computer was on," came the instant answer. "It was showing a blank screen, though. Someone wiped out the hard drive. Whatever Izzy found, it's long gone."
"It figures," Ken sighed. "This is getting serious... more serious, anyway."
"I wish we hadn't lost the box," said Mr. Takenouchi. "It could have given us something to go on."
"Maybe," Ken replied, "or maybe not. Whoever took it, took it for a reason. I'm willing to bet the contents have been tampered with, just to make sure you never find any clues."
"Someone is sneaky," said Mr. Takenouchi. "Not only that, but they're good at getting in and out of this place. I don't like that at all."
"Well... keep your doors and windows locked," answered Ken, "and make sure Elecmon is always watching your back. Find something else worthwhile to work on. The last thing we need right now is for you to make yourself a target."
"What about you?"
"Well, considering what time it is, I'm going to go to work, find whoever's been assigned to Izzy's case, and develop an interest in the details of the incident, him being my friend and all. Then I'm going to do some poking around of my own."
"Won't that make you a target?" Mr. Taknouchi asked.
"Yes," Ken replied. "Unfortunately, that's my job."
It was strange, Jun mused, how even in such a chaotic situation as the one she was trapped in, she could still find time to appreciate the little things around her. Maybe the crisis she was facing made her appreciate them even more. Coming so close to death - first Matt's, and now Izzy's - made her realize just how much life had to offer. Pleasant weather, a cool drink in a streetside café, a walk and some window shopping in the company of a friend... all were things she had enjoyed hundreds of times before, but they had never before left her mentally standing aside in a kind of awe that her life had such good things in them. After all, if life could be snatched away at any moment, shouldn't she be rejoicing in every moment she was allowed to keep? And, she thought, watching the setting sun turn the sky pink and orange, it was nice to know that so many good things would be left in the world...
*Quit thinking gloomy thoughts like that,* she scolded herself. *You're supposed to be out here having fun, remember? Oh, yeah, fun. I'm supposed to be good at that. Funny, it seems like lately I'm losing my touch.*
She could be excused for feeling a bit less than bright, with two friends dead and herself on trial. Despite the trust she had in her friends to protect her, she still couldn't help but consider the possibility that she might be found guilty. If that happened, the best she could expect was to spend many years inside a prison. The worst... Jun went back to contemplating the sunset, trying not to think about the worst, even if it came with the possibility of seeing her missing friends again.
"What are you thinking about?" asked Sora. She strolled alongside her friend, idly swinging a shopping bag. Jun had finished what little moving in she had to do, and the girls had spent the rest of the day looking for pursuits that would take their minds off the things that were going on around them.
"The future," Jun replied. "It's not something I ever thought about much before. I mean, I thought about how someday I'd go to college, someday I would have a home of my own, someday I might get married, but I never thought about the future. You know, the big picture, how things are going to be years and years from now when I'm not here anymore. Did you ever think about stuff like that?"
"I had to," said Sora. "I was one of the people who made sure there would be a tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah, that's right," said Jun. "I keep forgetting."
"I know how you feel, though," Sora continued. "When it does hit you, you really do need some time to think about it."
"Well, I'll have plenty of time to think about it, one way or another," said Jun. "I bet it gets pretty boring in jail."
"Don't talk like that!" said Sora. "Something will work out. There's not enough evidence to prove you did anything. The only reason they arrested you at all was because they were under so much pressure to arrest someone - Ken said so himself. Nothing's going to happen to you."
"I guess you're right," Jun answered, a bit more positively than she felt. "Anyway, there's no point in worrying about it. It just makes me feel better to think about the things that aren't going to end, like sunsets, and friends... and more than friends," she added, with a grin in the direction of their Digimon.
A few paces behind, Biyomon was trailing her partner with birdlike hops and flutters, while Penmon waddled along behind her with a faraway expression. He had grown a bit starry-eyed over the lady bird-mon, and Jun wasn't sure whether to be amused or jealous. She supposed she was a bit of both, but considering that her partner's near-obsessive affections could get cloying at times, she decided she was mostly happy he'd found someone else to follow around for a while. After all, a Digimon's love for his partner was the most unshakable thing she knew; Penmon would never abandon her.
Sora giggled. "Do Digimon date, I wonder? I've never heard of it, but..."
"They do," Jun assured her. "At least, judging by the way my brother's Digimon acts, they do. He's still following Gatomon around just like Penmon's doing now, and walking into lamp posts."
"That would be fun to watch," said Sora, trying to stifle a grin.
"It is," Jun agreed. "Later, when this is over, you ought to come over to my place, and we'll go see Daisuke for a while. He's a nut, but he's always doing something fun."
"That'd be great," Sora agreed. "I haven't been having much fun lately."
"You should," said Jun sternly. "It doesn't do any good to sit around and mope... Not that I haven't done my share, but still."
"I know," said Sora. After a pause, she said. "I had fun today."
Jun grinned. "Must run in the family. Hey, do you know any good movie rental places? I'm not sure I'd want to risk going to a movie theater the way things are now, but we could get a video and some popcorn and-"
Her speech was interrupted as something shot past her head, passing so close that it ruffled her hair as it passed. She turned, seeking the source of whatever it was, and it was only that move that saved her from the next volley finding its target. The rock struck her arm instead, causing an explosion of pain. Jun cried out and clutched at the injury. It had struck her with enough force to tear her clothing, and blood was slowly beginning to seep onto her sleeve. Somewhere in the shadows of an alley, there was a flicker of movement, vaguely visible as a pair of young women and their Digimon, and Sora turned to face them with fire in her eyes. However, the people in the alley were concerned with someone besides Sora.
"Murderer!" one of them shouted. "You're the one who did it! You killed Matt Ishida!"
"I did not!" Jun shouted back. "I never hurt anyone!"
"Oh, shut up. Everyone knows you did it," said one of the shadows bitterly. "I can't believe anyone lets you walk the streets at night. Soon as anyone with any sense gets hold of you, they're going to lock you up and melt the key!"
"That's right, you're going to get what you deserve," the other girl sneered. "And I'm going to laugh the whole time!"
"If she's going to get what she deserves, then why are you wasting your time throwing rocks like a couple of savages?" Sora spat. "Jun's innocent. You're the ones who should be locked up. Get out of here. Get out."
Sensing her partner's mood, Biyomon rose into the air, threads of magical fire forming between her wings. The girls sized up the situation and decided it wasn't worth a Digimon battle in the middle of the street, especially not with one of the famous Digidestined. Shouting jibes and insults that no one bothered to listen to, they vanished into the growing twilight.
Sighing, Sora turned her attention to her friend. Jun had dropped her knees on the sidewalk in a quivering heap of shock, cuddling the ever-attentive Penmon for comfort. He was looking daggers in the direction the attackers had gone, leaving little doubt what he would have done to the people who dared hurt his partner if she hadn't needed him so much right then.
"They're gone," said Sora, bending to help Jun to her feet. "Come on, let's get out of here before they go looking for friends or something."
They went, Jun leaning on her friend until her shaking knees would hold her properly. Then they all but ran, not stopping until they were comfortably locked away inside Sora's apartment, and they could sit back and unwind. Sora went looking for something to bandage her friend's arm, returning with some gauze and a damp cloth to find Jun sitting in a tense bundle on the edge of the sofa. She still shook slightly, with the look of someone who is about to have an emotional explosion. Sora recognized the look and waited.
"I can't believe it!" Jun choked out. "I can't believe they would do this to me!"
"They don't know any better," said Sora soothingly, dabbing carefully at Jun's wounded arm. "Come on, look, it's not that bad. Not much more than a scratch, see?"
"It's not that," said Jun, refusing to be distracted. "I hate that anyone really believes that I was the one who did it. Matt was my friend, one of the best ones I'd ever have. I'd never do anything to him. All those people ever lost was a pop star, just a face and a voice that they happened to like. They're mad because they think I took away something that belonged to them, and now they've got to punish me for it, but I didn't do a thing to them! I cared about Matt - losing him hurt me in ways they couldn't understand in a lifetime, and they think I'm the one who needs to be punished! It's not fair! It's not fair, and I hate it!"
She dissolved into tears, spilling their heat down her face to splatter on Penmon's feathers. The little Digimon made comforting noises, and even Biyomon was moved to come cuddle up against Jun's side. Sora felt awkward. She fidgeted, hovering around her friend until Jun got herself under a semblance of control. The sobs quieted to a few sniffles and hiccups, and Sora felt courageous enough to speak.
"Are you all right now?" she asked.
"Sort of," Jun answered.
"You shouldn't let them get to you like that," said Sora. "You know they're wrong. Sooner or later, the truth is going to come out, and then they're all going to be eating crow... Sorry, guys," she added, meeting the offended stares of the bird-mons. "You know what I mean, though. This is temporary. You'll get past it."
"They're not wrong," said Jun, her voice low.
"What do you mean?" Sora asked.
"It is my fault. It's my fault Matt died."
Sora was stunned. Even the Digimon stared at Jun with wide, puzzled eyes.
"How can you say things like that?" asked Sora. "Jun, you know-"
"I could have saved him!" said Jun despairingly. "I was right there in the next room, and I slept through the whole thing! That's one of the things they're dragging to court, saying that if I hadn't been the one who did it, I should have heard some sounds. Instead I was stupid and went out and got myself so drunk I couldn't even wake up to save my best friend! If I hadn't been so careless-"
"If you hadn't been so careless," said Sora sternly, "you would have driven yourself home, and Matt still would have died. If you had woken up, odds are whoever-it-was would have decided to kill you, too. How much good do you think you would have done Matt if you were another homicide statistic?"
"None?" Jun ventured. She wasn't used to seeing such fire in Sora's eyes; it left her feeling abashed.
"And how much good do you think you're doing sitting around feeling guilty and sorry for yourself?"
"None, I guess."
"That's a good guess." Sora's fit of anger passed as quickly as a falling raindrop, restoring her expression to its usual gentle warmth. "What's done is done. All that's left is to accept it and deal with it. Okay?"
Jun nodded, her tears drying. The Digimon felt the danger passing and relaxed.
"The best thing to do now," said Sora, "is sit back and let Ken do his work. He's not going to let them do anything to you. I think he'd move the whole world to keep a friend out of trouble."
"You're right," Jun replied. "If there's anyone in the world you can trust, it's Ken. Kind of funny, isn't it?"
She didn't explain, but she didn't need to. The Digidestined knew.
"It's poetic," Sora agreed.
"So, Sora... for now, everything's okay, huh?" asked Jun.
"I would say so," answered Sora.
"Then can I make a request?"
Sora smiled. "Sure. Anything."
"Can we go get those movies now?"
For a moment, Sora was stunned. Then she laughed, and gradually, the others joined in, and they let the tension fade into the shadows with all the other dark things of the night. At peace again, they went back out into the gathering night, walking together under the stars that guarded them, bright and eternal.
Shuu felt restless, and his partner reflected his mood, prowling around the apartment and putting his nose in things. That was the problem with having a Gazimon as a partner, Shuu mused: they could be good and loyal friends if they were treated properly, but they were impossible to keep out of mischief. The young man watched with detachment as the 'mon scattered a stack of papers, rearranged a heap of sofa cushions, turned on a lamp and turned off the stereo, and shoved a few magazines onto the floor before finally settling himself in front of the television set. Shuu sighed; if only he could settle himself so easily.
*It would help if I could go see Jun,* he mused, *but she's with Sora now. I'm not sure she'd welcome company... Neither would I, come to think of it. I'd rather have her in private if I could.*
He sighed again. That was always the problem. Jun was a sociable creature at heart, and it seemed like she always had someone with her. It had been a friction point before, and it was shaping up to be a problem that looked, from a casual glance, to be insurmountable.
*I don't like having to make an appointment to talk to you, Jun,* he thought. *I don't mind you having friends, but why have you got to spend all your time with them?*
Of course, there were the murders to take into account. The Digidestined were a tight-knit bunch, with depths of feelings for each other that gave Shuu a shock when he saw them laid bare, as he had at the funeral. Since Jun had been pulled into their circle, the Digidestined were naturally concerned with looking after her. At the moment, their ministrations were probably just what she needed - a strong dose of comfort and friendship to ease the loneliness she must be feeling right now.
*That whole thing with Matt is a real mess, worse than I could have imagined. A real tragedy. I'd give anything now to undo it, but since I can't...*
He dismissed that thought as unproductive and sent his brain off on more interesting lines of thinking. Perhaps, when all the dust had settled, he could convince Jun to take a week or two off of work and go somewhere with him, far away from all the problems, some sunny island where they could have some time to themselves for a change. He smiled at that thought and wove in more intricacies to the daydream, planning out his tropical vacation while his Gazimon dozed on the carpet.
Maybe it was the fact that the television was still blaring away, or the fact that the 'mon on the floor was now beginning to snore. Maybe it was just that Shuu was too busy fantasizing to notice anything outside his own mind. Or maybe person climbing through the window was just very, very quiet, for no one noticed her until she had gotten into the room. She cleared her throat, and Shuu jumped.
"Who are you?" he blurted. "How did you get in here?"
"That is not important," said the woman. She spoke with an accent, Shuu noted distractedly. He was more interested in the gun she held, with the causal ease of someone who was used to having it there. "What is more important is what you are going to do now that I've found you. You know why I'm here, don't you?"
"I have no idea!" said Shuu. "I've never met you before in my life. What are you doing breaking into my house?"
"This is a special occasion," the woman answered, tossing her long dark hair. "Let's say I'm interested in current events. Can you think of any events I might be interested in? Something you've been involved with?"
Shuu's eyes widened. "This is about what happened to Matt and Izzy, isn't it?"
"You get the prize," said the woman.
"What did you have to do with that?" asked Shuu, feeling dangerously close to panic.
The woman only smiled, narrowing her dark eyes until they were two spots of deadly black. She raised her gun and aimed it at him. "Guess."
"Put that thing down!" Shuu yelped. "Lady, listen, please, you've got the wrong guy! What did I ever do to you?"
Before she could answer, there was a gray flash as something furry leaped off the floor. The trickster Gazimon had given up his sham of pretending to sleep, and had launched himself at the intruder, sinking his sharp teeth deep into her wrist. She let out a shriek of pain, and the gun went off. Fortunately, the weight of a heavy animal on her arm had thrown her aim off, and the bullet whizzed harmlessly past Shuu and struck the wall behind him, shattering a picture as it passed. Finally, the woman was able to kick Gazimon, much harder than one would have imagined from such a frail- looking person, and the 'mon sailed across the room with a yelp, landing harmlessly on the sofa. The woman turned, trailing spatters of blood from the deep wound, and jumped back out the window. Shuu dashed after her in time to see her shinnying down a rope and escaping on the back of something large and dangerous-looking, presumably her Digimon partner. Shuu looked around, dazed, at the gun, the broken glass, the hole in the wall, the blood on the floor. He weighed his options. Then he went to the phone and dialed a number that was jotted down on a sticky note nearby. There were a few rings, and then a brisk voice answered.
"Hey, Ken," he said. "Hate to call you this late, but there's something I think you should know..."
Daisuke frowned as he surveyed an array of chessmen that was laid out before him, attempting to tease out a pattern that he could turn to his advantage. From time to time, one hand would go out, only to hover a millimeter above one of the pieces before returning to its place. A lot of people wouldn't have ever guessed Daisuke had the skills to play such an intellectual game, but he had actually developed a talent for it. It had started with him pestering Joe and Iori for lessons so he could practice the game with his best friend Ken, but once he had learned the basics, he began to realize he liked the game for its own sake. After all, it wasn't much different than captaining a soccer team, learning the abilities of all his players and arranging them in such a way as to make them all do the most good. Not that he was as good as Ken, but he could beat most of the other Digidestined without working up a sweat, and took out his original teachers one time out of three. Now his face lit up, and he confidently slid a bishop across the board to click another chessman out of place.
"White bishop takes black rook," he announced smugly.
Wormmon winced, but Ken kept a carefully cultivated poker face.
"You're getting good at this," he said. "One of these days, you're actually going to beat me."
"A whole lot sooner than 'one of these days,' Ken," Daisuke replied.
"That's not likely, if you keep playing like that," said Ken. "We've been playing this game for years, and you're still too easy to beat." He sighed. "If other people were this easy to outsmart, my job would be a lot less trouble."
Daisuke decided to ignore the insult - it had been friendly, anyway - and shifted his expression to one of sympathy. "Case getting you down?"
Ken nodded. "It's getting us all down. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. I feel so helpless."
"You'll figure it out," said Daisuke. "You always figure everything out. Is anyone going to move?"
"Oh, sorry. Black knight takes white pawn. Check," said Wormmon.
"Huh?" Daisuke yelped. "You little... caterpillar! How come I didn't see that coming?"
Ken laughed. "I'll tell you what. If you can get yourself out of this scrape, I'll play you next. You should know by now, Wormmon knows this game almost as well as I do!"
Daisuke mock-scowled and went back to looking at the chess board. "One of these days that smart guy act is going to get you in trouble."
"It already has." Ken sat back in his chair and watched the game with more relaxation that he had felt in days. Being around Daisuke always put him in a good mood; as outwardly different as the two of them were, they shared a close friendship that an outsider would find hard to credit. Daisuke made sure that quiet-natured and reclusive Ken got out and had fun every once in a while, and Daisuke's hanging around Ken seemed to make people less likely to try to insult his intelligence, as if some of Ken's intellect and dignity rubbed off on him.
"I think... this one," Daisuke muttered to himself, reaching out to select a piece.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Wormmon cautioned.
"Hey, I know what I'm doing!"
"He doesn't know what he's doing, Ken," said Wormmon.
"He knows what he's doing," Veemon retorted.
"You don't know what you're doing, Daisuke," Ken said.
"Yes I do," said Daisuke stubbornly. "There! Got your queen. Top that!"
Wormmon shrugged. "Okay." He shoved a bishop into place. "Checkmate. I win."
Daisuke gawped, his expression so comical that Ken burst out into uncharacteristic laughter. Veemon tried to hide a snicker and failed. Daisuke stared at them a minute, but his good nature won out, and he started laughing, too. Wormmon gave a caterpillar smile.
"Best out of three?" he offered.
"Nah, getting beaten once is enough for me," Daisuke replied. "Good game. You're a clever little worm."
Wormmon blushed, and Ken smiled.
"Living with me all these years, he had to pick up something," he said. "Actually, I taught him to play when I was still just a kid, and I learned it from Osamu. Those were the good old days... for a while." The ever-shifting color of his eyes had deepened to a dark violet, shadowed by old dark memories.
Daisuke nodded, letting his own expression sober. "I keep forgetting how hard this has got to be on you. You never wanted to lose anyone else."
"I never wanted to lose anything, so I tried to grab the whole world. The ultimate self- defense strategy. Too bad I had to learn the hard way that not even the Emperor could control death."
Wormmon hopped off his chair to cuddle up to Ken, and Ken scooped him onto his lap.
"You know," said Daisuke thoughtfully, "I'm beginning to think my sister is jinxed. Is there such a thing?"
"What do you mean?" asked Ken, drawing himself out of his daze.
"Well, first she spends the night with a friend. Next thing we know, Matt's dead and Jun's under arrest. You start investigating, and you get phone calls from people threatening to kill you if you don't stay off her case. Izzy does his own investigating - exit Izzy. Shuu starts dating her again, and someone tries to shoot him. Seems like everyone who gets near Jun somehow winds up in danger. Freaky, isn't it?"
Ken regarded his friend with an admiring stare.
"You know," he said, "you're a lot smarter than people give you credit for. A heck of a lot smarter."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Daisuke.
"I've been looking at this case all wrong," said Ken, excitement building in his voice. "This isn't about Matt at all - it's been about Jun all along, and I never saw it! Everyone who's gotten attacked or threatened has been someone close to Jun or someone trying to help her stay out of trouble. I should have seen it sooner... I thought because Matt was so famous, it was bound to be someone targeting him... Daisuke, you know Jun better than anyone. Does she have any enemies? Anyone at all who would want to hurt her? It doesn't matter if it's even anything major; we know whoever we're dealing with is crazy anyway. Any little slight at all could be enough."
"Umm..." said Daisuke, his forehead creasing in thought. "I can't think of anything offhand. You know how Jun is - she can get on anyone's nerves sometimes. She works in a store with grumpy customers all day. Anybody could have gotten annoyed with her if she lost her temper or sold them a crummy dress or something."
"Hm," Ken mused. All that was hardly helpful, but he wasn't ready to give up. "That's not quite what I'm thinking of. This has a personal feel to it. Did she get in a fight with someone recently? Fire someone, maybe?"
Daisuke shook his head. "Not that I've heard, and if someone got Jun riled up, I'd hear. She's probably call me on the phone just to talk my ear off about it."
"Well, it was an idea, anyway," Ken replied. "In the meantime, I want you to watch yourself. Any of us could be next on the hit list, and since you're her brother, you'd make a prime target. We'd better call Sora and tell her to look out, too. The two of them are safer when they're together, but still, someone got past Jun once and they might be able to do it again."
"Hey, Ken," said Daisuke, "if I'm in danger, do you think maybe I could hang out at your place for a while?"
"You want to stay here?" asked Ken.
"Sure! I don't want to wind up as a shish kebab," Daisuke replied. "I'm safer if I stick with you."
"Some Digidestined of Courage you turned out to be," Ken commented.
"Hey, you're safer with me, too," said Daisuke. "We can watch each other's backs, and our Digimon are twice as tough when they work together. Nobody would mess with us if they thought they might have Paildramon to deal with!"
"Well, that's true..." Ken admitted.
"Can we stay over?" asked Veemon, looking up at Ken plaintively. "Pleeeeeeze?"
"It would be nice to have company," said Wormmon, giving Ken an identical look.
"Oh, all right!" said Ken. "Just stop looking at me like that! Sheesh, anyone who says Wormmon's not dangerous..."
"Yay!" The Digimon hugged each other happily, and Daisuke flashed his million-dollar grin.
"Thanks, Ken, you're the best," he said. "This is going to be fun! Your TV is way better than mine."
"It's nice to know I'm appreciated," Ken replied.
"Hey, I appreciate you!" said Daisuke. "I'm going to make sure you don't worry yourself to death over this case."
"Don't set impossible tasks, Daisuke," said Ken, trying to hide a smile.
"Hey, I've done the impossible before, haven't I?"
"Yeah... Just don't push your luck," Ken replied. "Speaking of doing the impossible, how about setting up the chess board again? I'll play a few games before I send you home to pack."
"You're on!" said Daisuke. "And this time, you'd better look out, 'cause I'm not holding back!"
*It really will be good to have Daisuke around,* thought Ken. *I can't get depressed when he's around... and he's already helped me out. I'll have a busy day tomorrow, trying to follow up his lead. I'll have to talk to Jun again, and some of her co-workers...*
He went on plotting in the back of his mind as he watched Daisuke rearrange the chessmen. There were still a few things teasing him, things that didn't quite fit into this new pattern. He had been so sure that what had been done to Matt had been personal - why else go through all the difficult and dangerous work of cutting out his heart?
*But I'm sure I'm on the right track this time,* thought Ken. *There's just something else I haven't seen yet, something I'm still not seeing...*
Sora poured a stream of sweet-smelling tea into one of her best rose-patterned teacups and offered it to her guest with a grace born of long practice. Despite the tomboy ways of her childhood, she was a good hostess. She enjoyed looking after people, making them feel happy and comfortable. She had been looking forward to bringing that warmth and comfort into Matt's life, and now it was she who was comforted as she performed those services for her friends. Shuu took the teacup with a murmur of thanks, politely overlooking the roses, and Sora turned a bit to pour a cup for Jun.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Jun asked her boyfriend.
"I'm fine," he said, smiling. He didn't seem to mind that it was the fourth time she'd asked; on the contrary, he seemed to be enjoying the attention. "It was nothing, really. Sure, it could have been something, but it wasn't, and it's all over now."
Jun nodded, still only slightly comforted. Shuu was being calm about it now, but when she had come to check on him after the shooting, he had been anything but relaxed. His face had been almost chalk-white, his hands trembling. She had never seen Shuu - or anyone, for that matter - look so upset, and there was no doubt in her mind that he had been terrified. Even now, his eyes would turn distant, and she was sure he was thinking back to the incident and wondering if the woman would be back, and if next time she wouldn't miss.
"I hope they catch whoever did it soon," said Sora. She poured herself a drink and sat down. "What did she look like?"
Shuu considered. "Somebody young, younger than you two. Long dark hair, dark eyes. Talked with an accent."
"Was she pretty?" Jun asked.
"Nobody's prettier than you."
"Come on, I'm being serious," said Jun, fighting to stifle a blush.
"Well, I wasn't exactly evaluating her looks while she was threatening me," Shuu replied.
"Be objective," Jun answered stubbornly.
"Oh, all right. I guess she was nice enough looking. Very well dressed. Very professional," he added, almost as an afterthought. "Not what you'd expect a killer to look like. You'd think of them as being big and ugly and dressed in black, wouldn't you? Probably carrying a chainsaw."
"You're not being serious," Sora scolded.
"I bet it's the same woman Matt saw at the Digiport," said Jun. "What do you want to bet figuring out who she is wraps this case up?"
"It just might," said Shuu quietly. "It just might."
"They'll find her," Sora said with certainty. "She dropped her gun when Gazimon bit her. They can use the fingerprints and the ballistics to figure out who she is, and then she'll be arrested, and everything will work out fine."
"Are you saying it's a good thing I almost got shot?" Shuu teased.
"Well, sort of," answered Sora, smiling tolerantly. "It's a better thing your partner has sharp teeth."
Hearing himself spoken of, Gazimon sat up a little straighter and looked smug.
"Gazimon make great partners," said Shuu proudly. "Even as Rookies, they're tough, and they're as loyal as Digimon come. It's the dog in them. Gazimon will do anything for me without question."
"So what? Penmon does the same thing," asked Jun, grinning. "He's cuter, too!"
"I always favored the bird-types myself," Sora agreed, feigning seriousness.
Shuu pretended to be offended. "Humph! All that fuss over a couple of walking feather dusters."
"Better than that overgrown dustmop of yours!" Jun teased.
"I happen to like this overgrown dustmop, thank you very much."
The game continued, the two of them pretending to insult each other while stifling laughter, but Sora drew back and sipped her tea thoughtfully. She didn't feel comfortable, somehow, and was beginning to wish she hadn't invited Shuu over at all, only Jun had wanted him to come, and Sora never had the heart to refuse what people wanted. It wasn't that Shuu was being rude, even though laughter at the table wasn't considered the best of manners. He wasn't even any overt overtures to Jun, or really doing anything that would account for the uncomfortable feeling Sora was getting. No, there was nothing she could put her finger on, nothing except for the way his eyes would go distant every once in a while, and a fleeting expression of fear would run across his face. Then, for no reason at all, he would look at her, and a chill would go through her blood.
Ken jumped as a heap of paper was deposited unceremoniously on his desktop, making a muffled whump. The officer who had delivered gave a guilty start at the noise and looked around to make sure no one had noticed what he was doing. He need not have worried; everyone else was either out on patrol or too busy with their own workload to notice. Ken himself had been working halfheartedly on one of his new assignments, a trifling thing, hardly worth his time, not when he should have been concentrating on finding his friends' stalker... and now there was this interruption. He turned to give his co-worker a look of mild annoyance, only mild because he wasn't sure what it was he'd been given yet.
"What's this?" he asked. "I wasn't aware I'd been given any new cases."
The man looked both ways and answered in a low voice, "This isn't for one of your cases. I know I'm not supposed to do this, but I thought you'd like to have it..."
Ken's eyes lit up, and Wormmon raised his antennae with interest.
"What is it?" asked Ken eagerly.
"The report back on the gun they took from the Kido case," came the reply. "I heard you saying it might have something to do with what happened to Mr. Ishida, so I made you a copy."
"You did? Why?" asked Ken, floored. "Don't you know how much trouble this could get you into?"
"Well... I knew this was about your friends. You deserve the chance to help them. Besides," he added, blushing a bit, "I always admired you when you were a soccer player."
Ken gave a smile of deep gratitude. "Remind me to take you out to a steak dinner sometime really soon. Really, this means a lot to me."
"Glad to help. I've got to get going now, before someone finds me. Good luck!"
Ken waved a goodbye, but his mind was already on the paper that had been given to him. It was a sizeable package, which got his interest, and he began riffling through the stack to see what it could be. He soon found out. It had occurred to him to wonder how they had been able to trace the gun's owner so fast, and now he knew: the gun's records had been entered into one of the police's databanks. Here on the table he had not only the identity of the owner, but her entire life history. He stared at the collection of data, feeling at first shock, and then a feeling of revelation. Things were making sense, now - a foreign woman in a bar, e-mails in Japanese, someone with a bit too much interest in a case that should have been none of her business... it all made perfect sense.
"It was Rosa," he said breathlessly. "Rosa was trying to shoot Shuu, and that means... I've got to call Jun."
He didn't finish the sentence. Instead, he made a grab for the phone and dialed Sora's number, waiting impatiently as the phone rang once, twice, three times, four...
"Hello?" said Sora's voice finally.
"Sora, where's Jun?" Ken asked. "I've got to talk to her. Now."
"She's not home," Sora replied. "She went to Shuu's place."
"Yeah... Is it important?"
"It's life-threatening. Call Daisuke, tell him to meet me there."
"Ken, what's going on? Ken?"
There was a click, and then a dial tone. Sora hung up the phone, worried, while Ken sprinted for his car and drove away with tires squealing, praying there would be enough time...
Meanwhile, unaware of any danger, Jun was enjoying some quiet time. Quiet wasn't something she enjoyed often, much as she loved noise and activity, but she had to admit that this situation wasn't bad at all.
"We should do this more often," she said, resettling herself against Shuu's side.
"We aren't doing anything," he answered, running a hand through her hair.
"I know. That's what I mean."
"That can be arranged," Shuu replied. "I've been thinking a lot, lately, that it would be nice if the two of us could get away for a while. Maybe after this whole ugly trial business is over, I'll have to spirit you off on a cruise or something."
"Mmm. That'd be nice."
"Maybe we could make it a honeymoon trip," he added slyly.
"Shuu!" Jun yelped, blushing furiously.
"Are you saying you'd say no if I asked?"
"No... I don't know, I guess I just hadn't... I mean, that's a really big step. I hadn't been considering it."
"Now's a good time to consider it," Shuu replied. "So, would you say no if I asked?"
"That's a coward's question. If I say no, you won't bother asking."
"So what should I do?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Jun smiled slowly. "Why don't you ask me and see what I say?"
"All right." He took her hands in his, looking deep into her eyes. "Jun, you're the most beautiful, wonderful person I know. You're the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing I think of when I fall asleep, and everything I dream about. Nothing would make me happier than to have you beside me for the rest of my life. I love you. Will you marry me?"
Jun never got a chance to answer. At that moment, the door flew open, and Ken barged in, a gun in his hands and fire in his eyes.
"Freeze!" he bellowed. "Don't anybody move!"
"Ken!" Jun cried. "What on earth are you doing?"
"I'll explain later," Ken snapped, not even turning to look at her. His gaze and his gun were trained on Shuu, who looked back at him as if he'd been struck over the head with a club. "Shuu Kido, you're under arrest for theft, murder and probably a few other things I haven't found out about yet. If I were you, I'd surrender and come quietly."
Jun was stunned. "Ken, what are you-"
"Quiet," said Shuu, his voice gone suddenly cold. "I'll handle this." He turned to Ken. "You're very clever, Ichijouji. I don't know how you figured it out... but the information isn't going to go any further than here."
"What are you talking about?" asked Jun quietly. "You can't mean - you can't..."
"Quiet," he said again. "Don't worry about a thing; I'll take care of this."
"You're not taking care of anything," said Ken. "Not unless you can take care of it with a few bullets in you. Don't think I won't use this, not after what you did to Matt and Izzy."
Shuu rose to his feet, holding out one arm as if to protect Jun. The other hand went to his pocket and slipped out a knife.
"You aren't taking her away from me," he snarled. "No matter what, I'm not letting her get away again. I'll get rid of you, and then I'll take her away, somewhere where nobody will ever find us. Nobody's stopping me. Gazimon!"
There was a snarl, and Ken just barely had time to avoid the Digimon that leapt at him with teeth bared. Wormmon tackled the Gazimon, driving it to the ground, where he set about trying to tie him up with a mass of silk webbing. However, surprise had made Ken stumble, and Shuu pressed his advantage, leaping at Ken and knocking the gun out of his hands. The two of them grappled on the floor as Ken struggled to wrench the knife out of his opponent's hand.
"Jun, get out of here!" Ken shouted. Then he cried out in pain as the knife scored a hit down his side, shallow, but enough to be painful. "Go on, move!"
But Jun couldn't move. She was rooted to the spot by shock, unable to comprehend what she was seeing, and what she was seeing wasn't good. Ken had been an athlete once, but that had been before the power of the Dark Spores had been taken from him. Now he was finding himself outmuscled by his taller and heavier attacker, and Jun didn't know what she could do to stop herself from having to watch her friend have his throat cut by the man she'd thought she loved...
Fortunately, someone solved that problem for her. There was a crack of a gunshot that made everyone turn to look. There in the window perched an attractive young woman, one that made both Ken and Shuu stare in recognition. Ken recovered faster - after all, he'd been expecting her - and used Shuu's distraction to knee him as hard as he could in the gut, making him crumple up as the air in his lungs suddenly took off for less dangerous locations. Ken dragged himself clear of his erstwhile opponent's reach.
"Rosa!" Ken exclaimed "You have got some sense of timing!"
"Hola, Kencito," she replied, grinning cheekily. "And that's Special Agent Rosa Rodriguez to you... And as for you," she added to Shuu, "you're under arrest. For real, this time."
"Thanks," said Ken, "and don't call me Kencito!"
"No," he rasped. With a great effort, he lunged at the window, and Rosa ducked to let him go by. He scrambled and dropped, ignoring Rosa's climbing rope, and there was a crunch as he fell two floors and landed. Everyone looked out the window to see him hobbling down the street on an ankle that appeared to be broken.
"Ay caramba," Rosa muttered. "Lost him again!"
"We can still catch him," said Ken. "Come on!"
Rosa shook her head. "By the time we get to ground level, he'll be gone, even at that rate."
"Then Stingmon can take us. Come on, Wormmon, leave that thing alone," Ken said. Wormmon, who had been eyeing the struggling Gazimon with suspicion, trotted up to his partner's side.
"Before you go," said a small voice, "could someone please tell me what's going on?"
"Oh," said Ken, looking abashed. "Sorry, Jun. Maybe when there's more time..."
"Time for what?" said a new voice. "And did somebody lose this?"
"Huh?" There was a universal sound of confusion as everyone turned around to look out the window. Hovering outside was Daisuke, riding on ExVeemon's back. Hanging limply from the 'mon's jaws, slumped in a faint, was Shuu.
"Hi, guys!" said Daisuke. "Hey, is that Rosa? I was wondering who parked a Monochromon in a No Parking zone."
"Looks like we don't have to worry about recapturing the suspect," said Rosa. "Thanks, Daisuke!"
"No problem," he replied. "When I find someone running around with a bloody knife, I usually assume they're up to no good, so I thought I'd better bring him along. Did I do right?"
"You did great," Ken answered. "I owe you another one, Daisuke."
There was a small moan, and Jun dropped in a faint, slumping over Shuu's sofa.
"Oops," said Daisuke. "Did I scare her?"
"I think she's had a difficult day," Ken answered. "I'm feeling a little weak in the knees myself. I think we'd all better go to the doctor's... with him in custody, of course. Got a pair of handcuffs handy, Rosa?"
"No need," she answered, smiling. "I think Daisuke has everything under control."
"I suppose you're right," Ken replied. "You'd better come along with us anyway. This time, I want some explanations from you."
Some days later, a handful of guests were relaxing in Ken's apartment, enjoying a snack and some talk. It was nice to be able to relax after all the chaos of the last few days, and they were finally finding time to sit down and hash out all the details.
"I still can't believe it was him," said Daisuke, frowning at his teacup. "He always seemed so nice."
"It's possible to act nice and still be capable of doing some terrible things," Ken replied delicately.
"Oh. Yeah. Right. Sorry."
"The truth was," Ken replied, "I don't think he was entirely in his right mind. I also have a suspicion he might have been using drugs. Joe mentioned someone had taken some from his home, and Shuu could have had a spare key, or could have made one. The depressants could have been used to make sure Jun didn't wake up while he was doing his dirty work, but there were uppers, too, and there's not much practical use for those."
"Why bother to drug her?" asked Daisuke, puzzled.
"Well, that's obvious," said Sora. "If she woke up, she'd know. In some twisted way, he wanted to protect her."
"Right," said Ken. "Or more accurately, he wanted her all to himself. Hence, the need to get rid of Matt."
"But why would he have to kill Matt?" asked Jun. "It's not like I was dating him!"
Ken nodded. "But he didn't know that. Either that, or he just didn't care. All he knew is that you left him and went to Matt, and something - maybe even seeing you on that 'date' of yours - made him think the time had come to eliminate the competition. Maybe he even reasoned out that if losing him drove you to Matt, the opposite would also work out. You have to admit, it came very close to happening."
Jun nodded, suppressing a shiver. She was surprised she wasn't more upset over this situation, but remembering the crazed look in Shuu's eyes when he had tried to kill Ken left her feeling nothing but gratitude that she had gotten away safely.
"After the killing, though, Shuu figured out he'd made a few mistakes," Ken continued. "The first was, of course, the obvious, that Matt wasn't what he'd taken him to be. The second was that he'd managed to appropriate a knife that had Jun's fingerprints. What he'd hoped for was that there'd never be a solid suspect, and the case would slide through the cracks. Instead, it looked like Jun was going to be locked up - the law was going to take her away from him, and that was the last thing he wanted."
"So that's why he threatened you," Daisuke guessed. "It wasn't to protect himself, it was to try to keep you from arresting Jun."
"Right again," said Ken, "only it didn't work out that way. He took the risk of bringing his Gazimon with him for the first murder, probably to keep Gabumon busy. Gazimons shed. The forensics team picked up the evidence..."
"And delivered it straight to Shuu," Jun finished.
"To him," Ken agreed, "and to Izzy, who made the mistake of confiscating a few of the samples for his own personal collection. Shuu was smart enough to conveniently 'lose' the evidence long enough to separate his own 'mon's fur from the samples, and possibly slip in someone else's. That might have worked, if Izzy didn't have his own samples - not to mention a computer that would tell him exactly who they belonged to. He must have let that information slip somehow."
"He did," said Jun, remembering. "Izzy called him just after the samples went missing, and he told me Izzy had a few. Then he said he had to go somewhere... how could I have been so blind? I should have known something was up!"
"There was no way you could have known," said Ken soothingly. "Anyway, that left Shuu with the need to take out another friend, this time to protect himself. He also erased Izzy's computer, just to be positive there was nothing left to incriminate him."
"So if there was no evidence left, how did you figure out he was the killer?" asked Daisuke.
"That's where Rosa comes in," Ken replied. "I didn't find out until right there at the end, but it seems Rosa's been working as a special agent for a while, but she'd come up here to pay us a surprise visit and managed to get wind of the case."
"Is that why she was watching Matt in the bar?" asked Jun. "How did she know someone was after him? And why didn't she do anything about it?"
Ken shook his head. "She didn't know, or so she tells me. She'd just come there because someone had told her it was a great place to hang out. She was looking at Matt for the same reason he was looking at her - they'd both met briefly, but they didn't quite recognize each other. It's been a long time after all."
"So how did she find out about the case?" asked Daisuke.
"Through me," Ken replied. "Or, more specifically, through my e-mails. She had... sort of a crush on me, when we met, and we'd been keeping in touch. She went on writing to me, pumping me for information, and I was just crazy enough or lucky enough that I gave it to her. I'd wondered why she suddenly started writing in Japanese - it was because she was here in Japan. She was smart enough to guess what I hadn't. Cutting out Matt's heart was symbolic payback for what Shuu thought Matt had done to him - he thought Matt had stolen Jun's heart, so Shuu stole his, see? Rosa figured that out and started trailing the ex-boyfriend, waiting for him to make a misstep so she could arrest him."
"And that's why she was trying to shoot him," Jun replied. "Too bad she didn't."
"It worked out for the best," Ken replied. "We did a ballistics check on her gun and traced it back to her, and found her police records. I figured if Rosa was after Shuu, then he must be the killer. A wild shot, I admit, but it worked."
"Good guess," said Jun. "I just have one more question."
"What?" Ken asked, puzzled. He thought he'd done a good job of covering all the bases.
"What does 'Kencito' mean? I heard Rosa call you that."
Ken blushed. "Oh, that. It means 'little Ken.' Sort of a pet name for me. I told you she had a crush on me."
"So now it's case closed, eh, Sherlock?" asked Daisuke.
"Case closed," Ken replied. "Several cases closed, in fact. He's given a full confession - the threats, the robberies, and five counts of murder. We won't be seeing him again any time soon."
"Five?" Jun repeated. "But it was only Matt and Izzy..."
"There were murders on his campus while he was in school," said Ken quietly. "As it turns out, the first two were the boyfriends of girls he liked. The other was a girlfriend he caught cheating on him. She'd kept it secret, so nobody ever made the connection, and there wasn't enough evidence to catch him at the time." He gave Jun a penetrating glare, and she shivered, realizing what he might have done if she'd rejected him...
"Are you going to be okay?" asked Daisuke, misconstruing her alarm. "I know he was your boyfriend and all..."
"I'm okay," she said, and was surprised to realize it was true. "I think... I was just frightened, and lonely, and I wanted someone to protect me. He made me feel safe, strange as that is, but I don't think it was really love. It was just me looking for someone to take care of me."
"Well, I'm glad it's all over," said Ken. "Completely over, for me. I think you guys ought to know, this was my last case."
"It is?" asked Jun, shocked. "But... I know they said you shouldn't be working on it anymore, but they shouldn't be firing you for solving a case!"
"I wasn't fired. I quit," said Ken. "I have to face up to the fact that I'm just not cut out for police work. Protecting the world from evil is well and good, but I did my share of that as a Digidestined. I can find other ways to be productive without putting my life and other people's lives in danger."
"It's about time!" said Daisuke, grinning. "I knew you'd come to your senses sooner or later!"
"You... knew?" Ken repeated, stunned. He'd been expecting to deliver a surprise!
"Of course I knew!" Daisuke answered. "Our hearts beat in rhythm, remember? I know you better than you know yourself. The Digidestined of Kindness was never meant to be a gunslinger. You were just too stubborn to admit it. So, now that you've got that straightened out, what are you going to do with yourself? And what's the police force going to do without its finest memmber."
"I wasn't that good," said Ken. "Actually, Rosa's asked to take over for me. She want's to spend some time up here and spend some time with all us Digidestined types. You have to admit, she's better at the job than I am. She likes running around at night dodging bullets and leading car chases. As for me, I hadn't made any definite plans... but I was thinking of becoming an architect."
"Architect?" Daisuke repeated. Ken grinned; at least that had gotten the surprise he wanted! "You want to be an architect? Why that?"
"So I can build something instead of destroy it, for a change," Ken replied. "It's mathematical enough to play up to my intellectual skills, but it's got art involved, too. I can make some useful towers."
"Ah, I get it!" said Daisuke. "Not a bad idea! I should have thought of it myself."
"Yeah, building sounds like a good idea to me," Jun agreed. "That, and rebuilding."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" asked Ken, raising an eyebrow.
"Something Matt said to me the night he died," Jun replied. "He said that life is all about changes. We have to accept the changes, rebuild what we lose, and keep on moving. We've all got a lot to rebuild right now."
"Yeah," said Ken thoughtfully. "You know, Jun, sometimes you're like your brother - a lot smarter than you act."
"Thanks," she said, smiling and blushing a bit. "Coming from you, that's a compliment."
"It's the truth," Daisuke replied. "I am smart! And on that note, I'd better get going. I told Miyako I'd take her to the movies, and you know what she'll do to me if I'm late. See ya!"
"Bye, Daisuke! Don't keep her out too late!" Jun teased.
Daisuke pulled an exaggerated grimace to show them how unlikely that possibility was and scooted out the door.
"And then there were two," Ken remarked. "Is there anything I can get you, Jun? Your teacup's running empty."
"I'm fine, thanks," said Jun. "I... wanted to thank you for all you did, trying to help me. You were very noble, and very brave."
Ken tried to hide a blush. "All in a day's work."
Jun giggled. "You sound like the cop from a movie."
"What am I supposed to sound like?" Ken replied.
"A friend," Jun replied. She considered a moment, and then said. "Hey, Ken, how would you like to go to The Digiport for dinner tonight? Just for old time's sake, and to remember our friends."
"That's not a bad idea," Ken replied. "I could go for that... When would we leave?"
"Now is good," Jun replied. "Unless you have some other plans?"
"Now is fine," Ken replied. "But if you don't mind, I think we should wash the dishes first."
Jun smiled wryly. "Good idea."
So as sunset approached, the two of them followed the familiar path to a favorite place to talk, to laugh, and to remember, secure in the knowledge of friendship, knowing that it was one thing that would never die.