Nature of the Game
Disk 4: Where You Belong
-by Ajora Fravashi

*Disclaimer - I don't own Digimon. Toei/Bandai does.
*Props to Iron Maiden's "Caught Somewhere in Time", The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and Poe's "Hey Pretty", which were all greatly inspiring for this fic as a whole. And of course, to the people at Bandai responsible for giving Millenniumon a real personality.


Somehow everything always circled back to the desert. It was on a hovering continent over the desert that he defeated Millenniumon the first time, in the desert that Millenniumon fell the second time and Ken took the Dark Seed in his stead. It was over the desert that Moon-Millenniumon's crystal tower exploded. And here he was again.

The sand shifted under his weight each time he set a foot down, it was tossed in the wind and got into everything it could. He paused for a moment to spit out the gritty material that somehow managed to find its way into his mouth and poured the water from a canteen he had picked up onto his kerchief. Once he slipped the canteen back into a pocket, he folded the kerchief into a triangle and tied it so that it covered his nose and mouth. The water would act as a humidifier as well as block the majority of the sand kicked up by the wind. It wasn't a problem, really, for he was used to the desert environment. There was just something about the familiarity of it...

He wandered the desert with only his partner for a companion. No one was around to expect anything of him, no one was around who expected him to play the good little Japanese boy. He didn't have to be bright and cheerful for anyone. There were no chafing rules or leashes to tie him down, no annoying clamor of urban life. Better yet, his wound had closed without scarring once he stepped into the portal to the Digital World and he couldn't even feel the ghost pain anymore.

Freedom. It was something he never had before. Even in his previous ventures in the Digital World he had to answer to higher powers. Now he had yet to run into anyone in authority who wanted him to fulfill some task or another. Of course, he had been here for only a few hours, but a few hours of pure freedom was enough. He smiled under the red kerchief, one of the rare genuine smiles that lit up his face and was not a protective mask like the fake ones he so often used. Every sense of disappointment, anger, abandonment, betrayal... it all seemed so insignificant now.

As the sand dunes leveled out to cracked earth, Ryo's pace picked up into a trot. He felt alive, even if he was in a digital world. Once upon a time he believed that the Digital World was far less important than the real world, that everything he had done for the world was only part of a game, but now it no longer mattered.

"There's a thoroughfare near here," a rough voice offered, cutting into Ryo's reverie like a knife. The sense of elation left him as he recalled how he got here. "A spiral staircase that leads to the other layers of this Digital World."

Ryo sighed and turned to look at the cybernetic dragon that had been following him silently since they entered the portal. He had been doing his best to forget the incident, and now Cyberdramon had to ruin it by speaking to him. "Right. What am I going to do with you?"

Cyberdramon tilted his head ever so slightly at that, it was the only reaction Ryo would get out of him.

"I can't very well take you back to... back there," Ryo gestured abstractly in the direction of the now nonexistant digital gate. "I remember what you used to be, you've always been too dangerous. Even in this weakened form you're too dangerous. You said we were partners, but I never asked for this. And where's Monodramon?"

With a snort of disgust at the last question, Cyberdramon walked ahead towards the staircase. "Does it matter? We are one now."

"Yes, it matters! It's not a real partnership if I can't understand anything about you," Ryo shouted after the dragon. He rolled his eyes when Cyberdramon responded only with a short growl and ran after the digimon. "Why won't you tell me anything, Millenniumon?!"

That did it. Cyberdramon stopped immediately in his tracks and turned to face the boy. "I have said everything worth saying. That is enough. Do not call me that anymore."

Ryo wasn't ready to dismiss the issue if the set in his jaw was any indication. He was likely to push the issue until he got an answer. The boy was so ready to snap at his partner again that Cyberdramon was hard pressed to keep from laughing. As much as Ryo may try to deny it, they were two sides of the same coin.

"Dear boy, you are the only random element that makes the impossible possible. Were I attacking anyone else, I would not have stopped. That is all I will say for now."

With that, Cyberdramon returned to the trail.

.~*~.

The next layer was a heavily wooded area that populated by the oddest little glowing creatures. They weren't digimon, but they certainly didn't originate from Earth either. A few of them peeked curiously at the intruders, then flew away with a few trills directed at their hidden companions.

Ryo honestly didn't know what to do about Cyberdramon. Unlike both Millenniumon and Monodramon, Cyberdramon was strangely taciturn. He had Millenniumon's voice but Monodramon's level of informal Japanese. Cyberdramon had Millenniumon's unfocused rage, but only a small percentage of the power. And there was that weird thing that happened after Cyberdramon had attacked him. It was creepy and gross, but probably just what Millenniumon would have done under the same circumstances, especially now that Millenniumon's little secret was revealed. It suggested that he had some amount of control over Cyberdramon's temper, but not enough to prevent serious damage. It wasn't that he wanted to control the partner he was stuck with, it was just that Cyberdramon was too dangerous to be allowed to go unchecked. It was such a frustrating dilemma.

It was a matter of time before they approached what looked to be an abandoned settlement. The homes were small with roofs barely up to Ryo's shoulders. Briefly he wondered whether the denizens would return at all, but hoped they wouldn't mind if he and his partner rested for a while. The grass had been trampled recently, so they probably were not gone for long.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Cyberdramon muttered. His claws flexed in anticipation for a fight he could feel was coming. The place was far too quiet for his tastes. "Be on your guard."

Ryo could feel it too, though it was a much less distinct sensation. Someone was watching them, though from where he couldn't quite tell yet. It might have been the same creature that crushed the grass in the area with broad, vaguely human-like feet.

They came then, swarming from the trees and the seemingly abandoned houses. Each of them swung rough-hewn clubs in their gnarled little hands. It took Ryo a moment to recognize them as goblimon before he barely sidestepped a hearty swipe at his legs. The greater majority of them were attacking Cyberdramon, but several soon surrounded the boy.

"Hey kid, are you a tamer," one of the larger goblimon asked, grinning fiendishly. He tapped the broad end of the club against his free hand in a rather menacing gesture.

Blinking blankly at that, Ryo could only nod his head. He had no idea what the goblimon gang wanted, but it was really weird for them to attack for no good reason. He then flinched as a smaller goblimon gave a hyena-like laugh and barked out to the group attacking Cyberdramon. "He's a tamer! Tamer! Kill the tamer's digimon and we can go to the real world!"

A resounding war cry emerged from the gang, and with new vigor they attacked the great black dragon. The three goblimon that surrounded Ryo gave broad, broken-toothed grins and closed in.

Driven purely by instinct, Ryo dodged the first club aimed for his right ankle, then pounced forward to throw the club's owner off guard. The second roared before attacking, leaving Ryo enough time to hook his arm around the first goblimon's neck and use the warty little digimon as a shield. The club fell with a sickening wet crack on the first goblimon's skull, and Ryo threw that goblimon at the second before grabbing the club to throw at the third goblimon attempting to barrel into him. His trajectory was miscalculated and the club landed before the goblimon's feet, but it was an unexpected obstacle and the third goblimon tripped over it.

With three of them more or less dazed, Ryo yanked out his pocket knife and unfolded the was a weapon at least, and bit into digital flesh better than anything else he wasn't allowed rest, however, and a fourth goblimon tackled him from behind. With a surprised yelp he fell, then attempted to buck the heavy goblimon off his back. This did no good, and the second goblimon was soon approaching to help. With a growl, Ryo rolled instead and sliced at the second goblimon. It gave an inhuman howl as it clutched its leg. In any other situation, the one-footed hop the goblimon was doing would have been funny, but now he had other matters to deal with.

Growling in frustration, the goblimon still latched onto his back attempted to gouge his eyes out with jagged nails black with grime. Ryo was just as frustrated and stabbed at the goblimon's grasping hand with his knife. That goblimon gave a howl of pain even more piercing and inhuman than the other that felt the bite of his blade. That goblimon let go of him, allowing him to rise and settle into a defensive position.

And then...

"Let's go," cried the goblimon that had been slashed at in the leg. It had a noticiable limp that was even more pronounced when it tried to run. "They're too strong for us! It's not worth it!"

The other three that attacked Ryo barked their agreement and retreated with various wounds clutched close. It took Ryo a moment to realize that their companions were long absent.

"Magnificent," Cyberdramon said with the tiniest of smiles tugging at the corners of his mouth. "You fight well without the help of a digimon."

Ryo didn't bother to respond, taking the time instead to fold the blade of his knife back in place and tuck it into his pocket. The thrill he felt during a good battle was more enhanced with the knowledge that he had fought without help. It was odd, kind of pleasant too. But he had the skin-crawling feeling that Cyberdramon hadn't been as merciful with the goblimon gang as he had been. But where were the data bits that would have been floating around had they been deleted?

"Did you enjoy it?"

What a loaded question that was, Ryo thought. He didn't want to consider himself the same as Millenniumon, but he had to admit that he did enjoy the thrill of fending for himself. Nothing mattered but the surge of the moment. Nothing mattered but trying to survive. Simply, nothing else mattered at all. The rush of endorphins and adrenaline was incredibly addictive. What else could he give than the truth? "Yes. I did."

There was a moment of silence as Cyberdramon regarded him. Something insubstantial relaxed in the dragon's posture, as if that was exactly the answer he wanted. Then, much to the surprise of both, there was a bright glow that appeared between them. It faded, and hovering where the light was brightest was a blue D-ark with a silver ring circling the display screen. Ryo stared in utter astonishment as the D-ark drifted into his outstretched hand.

He had never had a digimon or digivice to call his own. Even when he was defending the past with Monodramon, he had to borrow someone else's D-ark. Here he was now with something he could finally call his own. And, as he looked around he realized something that seemed to have always nagged at the back of his mind even before he had helped Agumon so long ago.

He had never really felt at home anywhere on Earth. Cities were too crowded and polluted, and even parks has an artificial, manicured air to them. He was always more alone there than he was in any of the digital worlds. There was no way to test his survival skills back there. But, as he took in the digital skies, he realized what he had been missing the whole time. He was too wild at heart to ever be truly comfortable in the restraints of Earth's modern civilizations.

It didn't matter anymore if he became another piece of data. He was home. And, in a way, he knew exactly what his partner had been going through. Their mutual frustrations with their worlds, their need for independence and release through physical exertion... It was what made them partners even when Gennai and the Holy Beasts of the other universe fought to hide that bond from Ryo. But they weren't governing Ryo's actions anymore.

With a sudden grin, Ryo turned and patted Cyberdramon's claw lightly on his way towards the river. "Well, let's go and find ourselves a decent home. Then after we rest we'll go out and find enemies that can actually survive your attacks."

Cyberdramon remained still for a moment. Deep within, a balm seemed to have spread over the vast psychological wounds that had existed since Millenniumon had first hatched. He recalled the loneliness of hatching and knowing he was missing something, only to realize that this something should have been his partner and was trying to kill him instead. But that was over now. The current situation certainly wouldn't last, but for the moment it was the first time Millenniumon had ever felt true peace. And for that Monodramon was thankful.

You know, I still have some of my old powers, Millenniumon thought to the little dragon whose body he shared. Oddly enough, he didn't mind Monodramon's presence so much anymore. If Ryo is to fight as he did earlier, he would need something to protect from wayward teeth and claws.

"Hrm. Do any materialization tricks when he's asleep. I doubt he knows you can pull crap like that. And I hope you realize that he's only being this nice about you because he's still high on endorphins."

As much as I loathe the thought, very well. ... He was magnificent back there, wasn't he...

"Millenniumon, what did I tell you about those disturbing mental images?"

Spoilsport.

Ryo's voice cut into their mental banter. "Hey, Cyberdramon, are you coming or not?"