Updated author's note 060516 - re-uploading chapter 1 with minor edits.

This story will unfold without much commentary for me so you can figure out the plot for yourself.

I had made a promise here that I wouldn't abandon this story without resolution, which I did not keep. But it's not abandoned yet


Across the Universe

SL

A few months earlier

His sister would have been sixteen years old today.

Taichi sat cross-legged on his bed, a framed photograph in one hand and a silver whistle in the other. The little girl in the picture beamed at him, a pair of bright eyes peering from a fringe of short brown hair, a whistle hung like a talisman around her neck. Even after all these years, she was so real to him. The tinkling sound of her laughter, the softness of her small hand, the way she called him big brother.

Evenings at home were now filled with silence, broken only by the drone of television programs nobody watched and the occasional mews of the aging family cat. He could easily envision his parents sitting on the couch, eyes empty and staring into nothing. Even now that he was hundreds of miles away for university, her ghost haunted him. He would sometimes awaken from sleep with a start, imagining that she had crawled under his covers after a nightmare.

Taichi rubbed his thumb over the tarnished surface of the whistle, and sighed.

A familiar buzzing suddenly caught his attention. He gently set down the artifacts from his sister's childhood before starting to rummage around. A dirty soccer ball rolled to the corner of the room; misplaced laundry fell out of a few drawers. His room might be small and bare, but the lack of furnishing hardly stopped his usual messiness from taking over. Eventually he managed to locate the D-Terminal, buried under a year's worth of chemistry exams.

He flipped it open, expecting a message from Koushiro or Sora, perhaps even Yamato, only to find that the sender was someone from whom he had not heard in a long time.

"Gennai?" he said aloud.

The message was short and cryptic, characteristic of the old man's correspondence. For the light go directly to the source, not to any of the reflections, it read. I received that in a fortune cookie once.

Taichi raised his eyebrows. Fortune cookie?

There was a short pause, and then he received a second message from Gennai. Once more, it was addressed to all the Chosen Children. This time, it read like an oddly composed poem:

What was once lost could finally be found,

Seize the moment when it comes around.

To borrow the true bearer of Light

And match the Darkness in a final fight

(Be prepared, Chosen Children.)

All inclination to sleep had disappeared. Be prepared? Prepared for what, Gennai? He typed and sent his response, knowing that an answer was unlikely. Gennai had always operated this way, ever since the Chosen Children's first encounter with him. Answers were earned, never carelessly shared.

As expected, the D-Terminal did not buzz again.

With a sigh, Taichi walked over to the window and pushed it open, letting in the cool winter breeze. It had snowed earlier, blanketing the campus in white and reminding him of a summer day long ago. When the adventure had first begun. When they became Chosen.

Much had changed in the intervening years.

He wondered how his friends would react to the message. Was it intended as encouragement, or was it a final warning from their old mentor that they only had one more chance to accomplish what they had long failed to do? If the latter, what was the endgame? What would happen if they failed again?

When he returned to his bed, the clock read one forty-three in the morning. His gaze fell once more on the photograph of his little sister. Five years old, with her entire future ahead of her.

"Happy birthday, Hikari," Taichi whispered, before he tucked away the D-Terminal and turned off the light.


One

Stranger in the Rain

Here

It was raining cats and dogs.

In hindsight, Takeru should not have suggested that they make a run for the subway station. By the time they realized their mistake and dashed back to the school building, both he and Hikari were completely soaked.

"This…was a bad idea," he acknowledged, as they tried without success to dry themselves in the entrance. The thin fabric of their school uniforms was no match for the rainstorm. Even umbrellas would have made little difference. "I'm really sorry about this. At least we could say…we caught the first thunderstorm of the year?"

Hikari brushed her wet hair out of her face and cracked a small smile. "Actually, I think it caught us. That's all right though. It's a terrible idea, but I agreed to it."

"It may let down soon."

She looked skeptical. "Like how it got so much better the past hour? I doubt it."

"Well, I don't think we can hitch a ride on such short notice," said Takeru, glancing at his phone. "My mom is still at work for a few more hours and Yamato is out of town. Your parents don't own a car. Guess we'll just have to wait until it calms down."

"Not the end of the world." She tapped him on the shoulder. "Come on."

He was momentarily impressed. "Hang on. You got a plan?"

"Depends what you mean by a plan." She was completely deadpan. "I was thinking we might as well go to the library and get a head start on homework."

That was most definitely not a plan. He stared at her. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." She had already started to lead the way. "You coming?"

Takeru shook his head in amusement and caught up with her in a few quick strides. One could always trust Hikari to be responsible and sensible. He grinned, though it soon faded upon noticing that his friend was shivering and her face had an unnatural pallor. He was reminded uncomfortably of a scorching day in the desert, when an eight-year-old him was looking down at a young girl with flushed cheeks and labored breathing.

"Hey, you feeling okay?"

She wrapped her arms about herself. "I'm fine, just a bit cold."

He hurriedly shrugged off the jacket of his school uniform. "Here," he said, placing it around her, his hands resting a few seconds too long on her shoulders. "That will help."

She stopped walking and turned to him, her expression changing from bewilderment to consternation once she realized what he had done. "I'm fine," she said. "Take your jacket back. You will catch a cold."

Takeru sighed in exasperation. Usually he found her complete lack of self-concern endearing, though there were times when he wished that Hikari realized in the process of trying to not cause problems to others, she tended to create even bigger problems down the road.

"Keep it. You look like you're about to get sick."

"I'm fine, so please –"

Before Hikari could finish her sentence, she started coughing. Without thinking, he caught one of her arms and pulled her toward him so he could press the back of his free hand against her forehead. It felt uncomfortably warm.

"Hikari, we need to get you home," he said, alarmed. "You are getting sick."

She had gone very still at his touch, her eyes wide and her cheeks slightly pink. Once he was aware of how closely together they were standing, he promptly dropped his hand slowly and moved aside, wondering if he had just overstepped the boundary of friendship.

"I'm fine," she said, her tone a lot more subdued.

The rest of the walk to the library was quiet, the silence interrupted only by the squelching of wet sneakers on cement floor. Once inside and at a table, Hikari opened up a textbook and began what appeared to be her physics assignment. Meanwhile, Takeru found himself studying her worriedly, not bothering to keep up the pretense of work. She kept sniffling and one of her hands had wandered up to support her forehead. Maybe he should call his mother at work after all, she would understand –

Hikari caught him looking. "Takeru," she began, clearly about to tell him off, when the crack of thunder interrupted. She frowned. "Did you hear that?"

Takeru looked around. They were the only two students in the library. "Hear what?"

She had gotten up and walked to the nearest window. "I think I hear someone," she said, peering into the rain intently. "He's calling my name."

Her choice of word struck him. Calling. An uneasy knot began to form in his stomach.

"Who?" he demanded, joining her.

"Big brother," she murmured, after a few moments of consideration. "Big brother needs me."

"Taichi?" Takeru was incredulous. Taichi was attending university hundreds of miles away and wouldn't be back in town until the summer.

Instead of answering, Hikari turned around to head toward the library's exit, stopping only when Takeru grabbed her shoulders. This time, he was too worried to notice any awkwardness.

"Where are you going?"

"Outside," she said, struggling to pull free. "Takeru, let go."

He only gripped her shoulders more tightly. "Hikari, it's pouring out there," he said. "You can't go out there when you're already sick."

"But big brother is calling me," she insisted, meeting his blue eyes with earnest brown eyes. "And…and so are you, Takeru."

Now he was certain that she was delirious. "Hikari," he said. "I'm right here."

She shook her head stubbornly. "I have to go," she said. "You both need me. I have to answer the call."

Takeru felt chills down his spine as he recalled what happened the last time Hikari answered such a call. She ended up in a dark monochromatic world with misshapen creatures who wanted her as their bride, and it was due to sheer luck that he showed up in time to save her.

He drew closer until their faces were inches apart. "I'm not letting you go."

Without warning, she shoved him away. They stared at each other, shocked as much by the action as the strength by which she performed it. Even during their rare fights, Hikari was never one to utter even a harsh word, let alone attempt to physically hurt someone.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, before she took advantage of his surprise to run out of the library.

Once he recovered, Takeru chased after her. The hallway was empty. Heart pounding, he ran outside and saw nothing through the gray curtain of rain. There was no sign of her anywhere, no green silhouette, even though she only had a few seconds' head start.

"Hikari?" he cried, panic settling in. "Hikari!"

His call was met only by the shrieks of the wind and the pattering of rain. She was gone.


There

It was raining cats and dogs.

Takeru learned the expression in English class two years ago, where the teacher was promptly greeted by a sea of puzzled faces. "What's that supposed to mean?" someone asked, and when the teacher explained that it was a figure of speech, Takeru had been mildly amused. Little did they know that Takeru actually had seen cats and dogs, or what passed for cats and dogs in the Digital World, fall from the sky.

Today he wouldn't have been surprised if actual cats and dogs were falling out of the sky. The storm was so intense that he wondered whether the entire Pacific Ocean was being upended over his high school. Between the flashes of lightning and the flickering lights, he tried to focus on the papers scattered before him. The next issue of the school newspaper was due to be out on Friday and there was so much that remained to be done, especially when most of the staff opted to go home. Unfortunately, as the editor-in-chief, he didn't have that option.

Most students didn't take the school newspaper very seriously. That also included the staff. The writing quality varied but was overall quite low, and the articles themselves were dull to read, since the reporters often eschewed the topics Takeru assigned for something silly, like the correlation between lunch food and hospital visits. Only one person actually did her assignment, yet her article was so full of grammatical and factual errors that he despaired of fixing it in time.

As he drew a red pen through a run-on sentence about the high school's falling enrollment, there was a prolonged crack of lightning that seemed to shake the whole building. Takeru glanced at his watch. Six thirty. He grimaced. His mother would be home soon and he'd promised to make dinner tonight. Of course, she would understand if he were late, given her own profession as a newspaperwoman. Nevertheless, he knew how worried she would be. These days, parents in Tokyo rarely let their children out alone at night.

He began sorting the articles into neat piles for perusal tomorrow before grabbing his backpack and umbrella. The campus of the high school, an acre consisting of a few tall buildings and a few patches of grass, was deserted. He was grateful for the solitude. Even among the Chosen Children, he generally preferred to be alone. Having been the youngest since the adventure started, he respected and trusted the older children, though privately found difficulty relating to them.

He stopped suddenly, his foot having connected with something too soft to be cement. Squinting through the rain, he saw a girl lying on her side, apparently unconscious.

Takeru bent down to get a better look. She was wearing the green school uniform – two jackets, in fact – so she must go to the high school. It was rather strange that Takeru did not recognize her. Having been on the school newspaper since the start of high school, he knew practically all of the student body, even if only by sight.

Three thoughts occurred to him then in quick succession. The first was that she could not stay out here in the rain, because she would surely get very sick. The second was that he was going to miss the next train home if he stayed here any longer. And the last was that she could be dangerous.

Takeru considered his options. The right thing to do, he supposed, would be to take her to the police station, since the school nurse had most likely gone home for the day and the girl obviously couldn't stay on the ground. On the other hand, she could be one of them, maybe even a trap. Did he really want to risk helping her?

Just as Takeru was leaning toward leaving her here, but alerting the campus security so she would be found sooner rather than later, he caught sight of her sleeve and froze. Threaded in black was the name, Takeru Takaishi.

Very slowly, he glanced down at his own sleeve to find the same words. His mother had been sewing his name on his jackets since he was a child, supposedly so that she could never lose track of him. The stitching on the girl's jacket was exactly the same.

Takeru took a deep breath. It took only a few seconds to make up his mind. He would just have to give his mother an excuse for bailing on dinner tonight.

He set down his umbrella, letting it fly away with the wind, and awkwardly pulled the girl into his arms. She was heavier than her slim frame would imply, her soaked clothes having added weight. He allowed her head to settle against his shoulder before he straightened and made his way back into the school building. Fortunately, he did not come across anyone. Once inside, he set her on the floor and dialed a number. The phone rang twice before someone picked up.

"Takeru? Is that you?"

He relaxed at the sound of the familiar voice. Sora was the only one of the older children to have stayed in Odaiba for university, although she had moved out into her own apartment.

"Sora, it's me."

"Everything okay?" She sounded surprised and he did not blame her. The children tended not to contact each other outside of emergencies.

"Are you busy?"

"Well, my shift at my mom's shop starts in an hour," she said slowly before repeating her earlier question, "Is everything all right?"

"Can you come pick me up?" Takeru said. "I need your help but it's too complicated to explain over the phone."

Sora was momentarily silent. He knew that it was due to her curiosity rather than her reluctance to help. Certainly anyone being asked to drive out into a rainstorm needed answers. However, he also trusted her to be someone who could understand the gravity of the situation without demanding more details.

"Where are you right now?"

Takeru glanced at the girl. "I'm currently at the school," he said. "The high school. Can you come soon?"

"Okay," she said, and he heard the jingling of keys in the background. "I'll be there in ten minutes."


The aging Honda Accord grunted as Sora slowly pulled it onto the street, making sure to first look twice as her father had taught her. Not that she really needed to worry. A combination of weather and the attacks kept the streets of Tokyo deserted, even though it was typically rush hour.

In all honesty, she was grateful for the excuse to tell her mother that she couldn't work her shift at the flower shop today. Although her relationship with her mother had improved over the years, it did not change the fact that Sora was very much a tomboy at heart, preferring the excitement of sports to the delicate art of flower arrangement. She did try to enjoy it, but cataloguing inventory, even on a rainy day, felt oppressive.

As a girl, she had dreamed of achieving athletic glory far away from her mother and Tokyo. It hadn't been a far-fetched dream. She'd always held her own against the boys on the soccer pitch and led her high school team, which had then been completely unknown, to the regional championships twice. The walls of her childhood bedroom were adorned with her medals and trophies. Coaches, some from overseas, had begun scouting her in her second year of high school.

Her friends had been puzzled when she turned down several athletic scholarships, all from schools with well-regarded soccer programs. Instead, she chose to stay in Odaiba for university, trading the thrill of dorm life for a small apartment a few blocks away from campus. She still played soccer on the college team, although even an amateur who watched her play could tell that she was a talent gone to waste.

Taichi, especially, had been uncharacteristically angry about her decision.

"What are you doing?" he had demanded, the summer before he and the others left Odaiba. "Why are you throwing your future away?"

"Am I really throwing my future away?" she retorted. "Do we really have a future?"

Taichi bit his lip and his shoulders slumped. For a while, he was silent, and then, with his eyes still on the ground, he asked, "Don't you want to escape from all of this?"

Sora had looked around the small park where they were meeting, her eyes lingering on the jungle gym with the peeling green paint. Of course she wanted to escape from the city that was a constant reminder of their failure. She didn't need to see the children with the cold dark eyes or watch the news reports of yet another young woman gone missing, any more than her friends did. But what she wanted to do and what she could do were two different things. Her mother and the flower shop needed her, Odaiba needed her, Takeru needed her, and even more than that, escape wasn't so simple.

"Who's to say that we're safe anywhere else, Taichi?" she said softly. "Tokyo is not his last target. You've watched the news reports. New York…Paris…Hong Kong…"

He raised his head to look at her, suddenly angry again. "Then you're just going to stay and wait for the world to fall apart?"

"Yes," Sora had said, "because when it does, I will be ready."

The rain was starting to come down even more heavily than before. She could barely see through her windshield even with the wipers on. Fortunately Sora knew the way to the high school quite well. She parked the car in front of the school building, blatantly ignoring parking rules, and honked her horn once. Takeru emerged, looking as if he'd gone swimming with his clothes on.

Then she blinked, realizing that he was not alone. He was holding someone in his arms and, judging from the green uniform, that someone was also a student at the high school. Well, she thought, unlocking the doors, this was an entirely unexpected reason for requiring a ride.

Takeru opened the back door and carefully laid the girl across the backseat of the car before he joined her in the front. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm getting your car completely wet."

She shrugged. "It's an old car," she said. "It's going to smell funny no matter what we do."

Takeru gave a half-laugh, as if he weren't sure whether Sora was joking. To be fair, she wasn't sure herself. Rather than dwelling on her humor, both of them returned their gazes to the third occupant of the car. Heart-shaped face, dark brown hair. Hardly distinguishable, plus she had never taken much interest in underclassmen. When she noted the girl's flushed face and shallow breathing, she raised her eyebrows.

"Is she okay?"

"Probably not," Takeru said. "She's burning up."

Sora frowned as she turned the steering wheel. "Did you want to take her to the hospital then?"

"I was hoping that we could go back to your apartment and contact Jyou, actually."

Sora glanced at him sharply. Takeru's obvious indifference toward the girl clashed with the rather personal request. She could come up with only one possibility.

"She's not –"

"I don't know if she's one of them."

"Who is she then?" When he didn't answer, she added, "Do you even know her?"

Takeru looked taken aback, as if he had never considered whether he knew her. "No," he said. "I've never seen her before today."

It was getting hard for Sora to keep her impatience in check. She had to stop herself from asking, "Then why are we helping her?" Instead, she tried to keep her tone casual as she said, "Takeru, I want to help you, but you are going to need to give me more information than this. What exactly is going on here?"

"Could we please wait –"

"No," Sora said. "If you don't tell me something I'm just going to drop her off at the nearest police station and take you home."

Takeru sighed. "All right," he said. "Could you pull over after the next light? I need to show you something."

Once the car had slowed to a stop, Takeru unbuckled his seatbelt and reached for the girl in the back seat. He grabbed her arm and held it up. It took Sora a minute to see what he wanted her to see. On the girl's sleeve, threaded in black, was Takeru's full name. Sora lowered her eyes to Takeru's own sleeve, where she found the same name.

"I only have one jacket," Takeru said, "and I'm wearing it."

"Then that's not your jacket," Sora said, before she realized that she had just said something ridiculously obvious.

"Nobody but my mother embroiders my name like that. That's definitely my jacket."

"You just said you have only one jacket," she pointed out. "So that can't be your jacket."

The two stared at each other before Sora sighed.

"Let's start over," she said. "Maybe she just knew your name."

"Why would anyone put my name on their jacket?"

"She might have a crush on you," she suggested.

The possibility sounded reasonable to her, but Takeru only gave her a funny look and brushed the possibility aside. "There's another thing," he said. "I'm pretty sure that she doesn't go to the high school. I go through proofs for the photography section on a daily basis and just helped the yearbook staff organize senior portraits. I have never seen her in any of the pictures, not even in the background."

"So she doesn't go to your school."

"But she's wearing the school uniform, and I found her at the school."

"Maybe she was visiting."

"If she's visiting, then what is she doing passed out on the grounds after hours?"

"Okay, listen," Sora said, coming to a decision. "I still have some theories, and I'm sure you do too, but chances are neither of us would be right and we're just going to keep contradicting each other. What we need are answers from your new friend, who's obviously in no condition to talk. I'm guessing that's where my apartment and Jyou come in."

Takeru nodded. "Thank you."

She shook her head as she shifted gears and stepped on the accelerator. "You better call your mother though," she said. "You will probably be home pretty late."

His eyes grew round and he began to fumble in his backpack for his cell phone. "Oh shoot, I completely forgot about calling her. What should I say?"

"Tell her you're helping me with something that just came up and that I'll drop you off later," she said. "It's not too far from the truth and she will know that you're safe."

Takeru shot her a grateful look. "Thanks Sora."

Sora did not respond. She listened quietly to Takeru's side of the conversation as he explained the situation to his mother. He looked serious, almost a little tense, the same way Yamato looked whenever he spoke to his parents. As if they were treading on glass, afraid of saying the wrong things. Children of broken families. Her hands clenched the steering wheel more tightly. Now was not the time to think about her father.

After Takeru finished calling his mother, they were silent the rest of the drive. The rain was still heavy, although the thunder and lightning had finally stopped. After parking, Sora led the way upstairs to her apartment, where Takeru waited politely outside while she grabbed a handful of towels from the closet and spread them over the bathroom floor.

"Before anything else, we need to get her out of these clothes," Sora said, as Takeru laid the girl down on the towels. "I have some old clothes that might fit her. Could you go give Jyou a call in the meantime?"

Takeru nodded and left the room. Once Sora heard him talking to Jyou, she took a deep breath and returned her attention to the girl. She had seen other girls in locker rooms, had bathed with complete strangers in public bathhouses, but she found the prospect of undressing this girl awkward and wrong.

Eventually, she managed to change the girl into some old clothes that she had outgrown years ago. As she was putting the girl's wet clothes away to be put in the dryer later, something fell out of the pocket of the girl's skirt. She picked it up, her expression changing with recognition.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. "Jyou will be here in ten minutes."

Sora rose to her feet and opened the door. "Look what I found," she said. "In her pocket."

She held up a pink and white Digivce. Takeru took it, studying it for an unnecessarily long time before he handed them back.

"Who is she?" he asked, clearing not expecting an answer.

Sora put the Digivice in the cabinet. "Let's worry about that later," she said, running a hand through her hair. "Can you put her on my bed? Then both of us need to dry off and have some hot ginger tea. Yamato will kill me if you catch a cold from all of this."

"I think we've been through worse," Takeru said, as he bent down to pick the girl up.

"Nevertheless, Yamato will kill me," Sora said, managing to draw a small understanding smile from the younger boy before she headed into the kitchen.


Jyou couldn't pinpoint the exact point in his childhood when he decided that he wanted to be a doctor. It was probably just the natural course for a quiet, awkward kid who grew up in a household with a father who was already a doctor and an older brother in the midst of medical studies. He received his first toy doctor's set at three years old and, for his first Halloween, tried to fashion his own scrubs out of old shopping bags.

Mimi liked to say that until he became a Chosen Child, being a doctor was just a dream. Then it was a calling. That was true enough. He didn't understand suffering and death until he saw Digimon disintegrating into data, and didn't understand the satisfaction of treating patients until he had to bandage friends with his limited medical knowledge.

Nevertheless, the path to becoming a doctor was rough, and today was one of those days when he questioned his own sanity. He was wading his way through anatomy notes, in the middle of a cram session for his final exam. If he were to do well, he would earn the right to dissect an actual human cadaver. For someone who still had trouble squashing flies, the thought alone was threatening him to upend the contents of his lunch.

Just as he was recalling the difference between visceral pleura and parietal pleura, his cell phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID and reached over to silence it. There were a total of two people whose calls he would answer under any circumstances and Takeru was not one of them. He turned his attention back to his notes, studied a diagram of the lungs, and decided the right answer was parietal pleura.

His phone rang again. This time, the caller ID read Sora.

"Sora?" he said, flipping his phone open. The other Chosen Children sometimes made fun of him for being the only one of them who had yet to upgrade to a touch screen model.

"Actually, it's still Takeru," said the younger boy. "Sorry."

Jyou momentarily pulled the phone away from his ear to glare at it. That was a lowly trick. "Takeru," he said. "I have a pretty big exam tomorrow. Can this please wait?"

Takeru was silent, which was as polite a "no" as he was going to get. Of course.

He sighed, tapping his pencil against the desk. "What can I do for you?"

"Can you be at Sora's apartment in ten minutes?"

Jyou dropped his pencil. "Do you realize that I'm currently at Dokkyo?"

Takeru called his bluff. "It takes less than ten minutes to set up Digital Gates."

Jyou retrieved his pencil and rolled his eyes. Dokkyo Medical School might be over two hours out of Tokyo by train, but distance was never an issue for the Chosen Children. Not for the first time, he wished that Koushiro was not the computer whiz he was and hadn't managed to figure out how to configure Digital Gates. Sure, he understood the necessity in instances when the children needed to gather immediately. Sometimes, however, one had to weigh saving the world against passing his exams. Too often, the fate of the world pleaded a weaker case.

"Is this a meeting?" he asked.

"No, but we really need you. Jyou," he added softly, "we've always been able to count on you."

If he had been anyone but Takeru, Jyou would've dismissed the plea as a pathetic attempt to flatter or guilt him into agreement. But this was Takeru, and Takeru had always been straightforward. He wasn't someone who dropped meaningless compliments, the way that, say, Mimi might to get her way.

Jyou gave one last, longing glance at his school work. His gut told him that this was important, and indeed, he did learn once upon a time that he was reliable.

"Fine," he said. "I'll be there in ten minutes."

It actually took him fifteen minutes to arrive at Sora's apartment. Three minutes to locate his Digivice, five minutes to turn on his computer and activate the Digital Gate on his end, five minutes for Sora to turn on her computer and set up the gate on her end, and two minutes to go through the Digital World.

He found himself in an untidy heap in Sora's bedroom, an unfamiliar setting since she moved after he began medical school. Ever the tomboy, the walls were adorned with posters of tennis and soccer idols and the shelves were lined with some of her more recent soccer and tennis trophies.

Sora and Takeru had been sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the computer, but scurried out of the way when Jyou landed in front of them.

"Hey," Takeru said.

"Glad you could come over," Sora said, helping him to his feet. "You all right? Tea?"

Jyou nodded vaguely at them. "Earl gray if you please," he started to say, before his eyes fell on Sora's bed and he gave a start. There was a girl sleeping there. He rubbed his eyes. She was still there.

"Who –"

"I found her on campus," Takeru explained. "We don't know who she is."

Jyou blinked and turned to Sora for answers. Had he missed something? Neither Takeru nor Sora was known for charity. Certainly they wouldn't just let a stranger sleep on Sora's bed, of all places.

Acknowledging his confusion, she got up and headed outside, returning with a dripping green jacket that was part of the high school uniform. She handed it over to Jyou, who examined it with a frown. As far as he could tell, it was nondescript, except that it obviously belonged to Takeru since his mother sewed his name on the sleeve of almost all his clothes. Whether or not that actually worked was still up to debate, though he did get his fair share of teasing at summer camp.

"She was wearing it," Takeru said, "and it isn't my jacket."

Jyou studied him. He was wearing an identical jacket and looked way too serious for his comment to be a joke.

"She also has a Digivice," Sora said. "A different color from ours." She paused meaningfully. "The new kind."

Another Digivice. Jyou exhaled, remembering what extra Digivices entailed the last time they appeared. He had way too many questions at this point, some of which he couldn't put into words, so he just asked the most obvious one. "Where do I come in?"

Sora had resumed her seat on the floor. "Well, she would probably give us a lot of the answers we need, but she's in no condition to talk."

"So you want me to play doctor here?"

When Takeru and Sora nodded, he resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He should've guessed. This was a role that he had played all too often before. Skinned knees, sore throats, injured Digimon. Apparently everything was within his area of expertise despite the lack of formal training and a medical license.

Jyou moved closer to the bed to get a better look at the girl. She had short brown hair and a delicate, pretty face that was for some reason vaguely familiar. When he noticed her flushed face and shallow breathing, he reached over to feel her forehead. It was burning. His hand slid down to the side of her neck, where he felt her weak but frantic pulse.

He snatched his hand away. "She needs the hospital." When the other two children exchanged a nervous look, he sighed. "Look," he said. "What if it's not just a fever? She could die if she's not treated properly. You're not seriously going to risk someone's life just because she somehow knows your name and might be one of the children? Not to mention I'm pretty sure it's illegal to hide a stranger in your home."

He was staring pointedly at Sora, a silent reprimand that she should have known better. She held his gaze and then bit her lip, conceding the point. When Takeru opened his mouth, presumably to argue, she gave him a slight shake of her head.

"Then what do you think –"

She stopped suddenly. The girl on the bed was moving, awakened by the loud voices. With what appeared to be great difficulty, she opened her eyes. She seemed dazed and a little frightened as she gazed around her surroundings. Then she locked gaze with Jyou. To his shock, she wore a smile of recognition.

"Jyou," she said, her voice weak but clear. "Jyou, I'm glad you're here."

The room had suddenly become too quiet, broken only by the girl's coughs. Jyou was frozen in place as she reached forward and gave his hand a small squeeze. Only after she had slipped back into unconsciousness did he slowly turn back to Sora and Takeru. The shock on their faces proved that he had not imagined the entire exchange.

Jyou could not think of a single thing to say. He exhaled and realized that he was trembling. He understood now why Takeru had been so affected.

Sora, noticing if not understanding his distress, stood up to take charge. "I will show you the medicine cabinet," she said. "Even if we're taking her to the hospital, let's try to stabilize her fever first. Takeru, could you – could you please –"

Her voice trailed off and closed her eyes briefly, as she always did whenever the necessity of being the sensible one in the group fell too heavily on her shoulders. Yamato might be the unofficial leader and Koushiro might be the computer genius, but in face of important decisions, Sora was the one everyone listened to.

Looking concerned on her behalf, Takeru got to his feet as well and lightly touched her sleeve. "Sora, are you okay?"

She nodded without opening her eyes. "Could you please contact as many of the others as possible?" she said, reprising her train of thought as if no interruption had occurred. "We need to talk."


Here

What was once lost could finally be found,

Seize the moment when it comes around.

To borrow the true bearer of Light

And match the Darkness in a final fight

(Be prepared, Chosen Children.)

Koushiro stared at the message thoughtfully. A few minutes ago, he was submitting his assignment for the graduate level operating systems course at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Then his computer blacked out and his D-Terminal, which had been hooked up to the computer for some experimentation, buzzed.

Evidently, Gennai was the sender. That was strange. He hadn't contacted them in ages, certainly never through the D-Terminal. They ran into him often enough during their Digital World visits. Now that everything was safe, their mentor had become much less secretive. And, Koushiro thought, much less cryptic.

He read over the poem again, mulling over one particular word. Light. He wondered whether Gennai's message had anything to do with Hikari.

As if in answer to his question, the computer screen started flickering. Though nothing appeared on screen, Gennai's voice was coming through the speakers.

"Koushiro, can you hear me?"

"Er, yes," Koushiro said, pulling his chair closer. "Good to hear from you again."

"Did you just receive a message?"

"You mean the poem from you? Yes. What is it about? Is everything okay in the Digital World?"

Gennai said only, "I didn't send it."

"You didn't? But the sender –"

"I didn't, but Gennai did," said the old man. "Parallel lines aren't meant to meet, you see, but he is getting desperate. They are all getting desperate. Tell everyone to take care. I will be in touch again."

"Who –" Koushiro began, but the computer screen darkened. The old man was gone.

Koushiro frowned, his mind now far away from his lost assignment. Parallel lines? A Gennai who wasn't the Gennai he just spoke with?

Be prepared, Chosen Children.

He bit his lips. Despite Gennai's eccentricity, he was hardly ever wrong, which meant that he had to take his words at face value. He needed to warn the others.

The computer flickered again, the screen returning to normal. Immediately, Koushiro logged into his email account to start typing a message.

As it turned out, he was already too late.


tbc