Ice'is Blue does not own Digimon. She's quite content writing fanfiction for it and receiving no money for her efforts. ::grin::

Author's Notes:

Yikes. It wasn't supposed to take this long. I am a master procrastinator, so I have a very long list of legitimate excuses: my father was deathly ill for several months (he's better now), full-time work, moving 600 miles away, and now graduate school (and possibly adding part-time work, so beware!). Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and all of you who have reviewed and prodded. You have the patience of saints.

Minor changes have been made to Chapter 4: The Hunter/Greene scene has been extended and Yamato hides the transmitter given to him by them upon waking.

The version presented here at FFN has been edited from its original content to preserve the R-rating. I didn't change it much, but I prefer my original wording and details. Adults are welcome to visit Mediaminer (dot) org or my website (Frosted Reality) to read the uncensored chapter. Both sites are linked through my LiveJournal (the homepage listed here at FFN). If you do decide to read elsewhere, be advised that MM (dot) org is no longer accepting anonymous reviews, so if you'd like to leave me a review, feel free to drop it here, at my LJ (remember to leave me a name!), or send me an email.

Finally, since I realize and agree that while long chapters are nice, some people would prefer shorter pieces delivered more frequently... Chapter 6 will be released in sections at both my LJ and my website before being posted in-full here and at MM (dot) org

As always, reviews, questions, and constructive criticisms are greatly appreciated.


Digimon 222: Dark Masquerade

by Ice'is Blue

5. Revealing

Taichi had known his mind was entering a losing battle with his heart the moment he'd stepped into the room. The kiss they were currently sharing was yet another surrender to instinct. The earlier anger, frustration, and disappointment over the guards' deaths had receded at the sight of a panicked Yamato — something that four solid hours of exercise hadn't been able to work out of his system. Most of all, he had been disappointed with himself for misjudging Yamato's character so badly... but seeing that despondent blue gaze and hearing the fear in the man's voice had bolstered his confidence in his belief of Yamato's innocence.

Then Yamato had turned cold again, showing little remorse over Taran and Chutsu's deaths and all Taichi's frustration came rushing back. Why did Yamato have to act like a jerk? He knew the blond wasn't that way all the time — in most cases, he'd lash out when he was scared or angry — but the seeming lack of empathy had made Taichi pause and wonder if he'd made a serious mistake of judgement. If it was too late, if Yamato had become more like his father without Taichi realizing it, even if Yamato wasn't involved in a plot against him... he couldn't stay with a person who didn't value human life.

To his immense relief, Yamato eventually had apologized, giving Taichi the excuse to believe his earlier unfeeling statements had been born of stress and fear.

Yet, that was a problem of its own.

Yamato's fear bothered him. He could tell that Yamato desired him, but he hated that it was so intertwined with a fear of Yagami. Yamato was supposed to desire Taichi for the person he was... not for the sole fact that he wasn't a cruel bastard like everyone believed Yagami to be. But with so many lies obscuring the air, there wasn't any way to glimpse Yamato's true feelings.

Then there was the very real possibility that if Yamato was told the truth, he'd want nothing to do with Taichi anyway. And Taichi needed Yamato — he'd learned that much during his self-punishing work-out. The thought of having to give Yamato up had put a mindless desperation into his movements.

Wearing the mask forced him to tell lies. He'd accepted this long ago and he'd been able to do great things because of the lies. Yet he'd given up so many things to keep the falsehoods believable. Hikari and Koushiro helped him stay sane and relatively happy, but there were certain things he could never ask of them...

Four prime years of his life had been spent locked within the shaped metal and wires and at no point had he enjoyed the touch of another. He hadn't dared get intimate with the mask off, for fear of being recognized. But even with the mask on, if the awkwardness of the contraption wasn't enough, then the fact that his body in no way resembled that of a forty-year old's sealed the matter. All things considered, Taichi was rather glad that his physique couldn't be mistaken for an old man's... but that satisfaction did little to fill his carnal needs.

Now with Yamato willingly beneath him — a fantasy born over the years as he watched from behind the mask — he was finding it impossible to stick to his predetermined priorities.

As much as he knew Yamato's situation looked bad, he couldn't shake the feeling of Yamato's innocence in the men's deaths. He could tell the blond wasn't being entirely truthful, but then again, neither was he. True, he had the responsibility of safekeeping the fortress and its occupants to uphold, but Yamato, in a slightly embarrassing display of emotion, had promised that Taichi wouldn't get hurt. And, while he had been momentarily angered by Yamato's callous lack of proper regret for the guards' deaths, if their situations had been reversed, Taichi didn't know for certain that he'd be acting any differently.

Rather than this being an espionage attempt, he got the impression that Yamato just wanted to escape his 'enemy' and didn't care who helped him leave. In the back of his mind, Taichi knew that Yamato could still be an unwitting pawn in a larger scheme to infiltrate the fortress... but for the moment, it was enough that Yamato didn't wish him harm.


Yamato's fear was an issue he shouldn't completely ignore.

Taichi knew he shouldn't, but Yamato was lying hot and needy beneath him, encouraging Taichi's touches with pants and soft moans. Taichi pressed closer, enjoying the delicious grind of their hips. The voice of reason in his mind dropped to a whisper.

He's afraid.

He doesn't really want you.

This isn't right...

He shifted, starting to rise, but Yamato's arms pulled him close, refusing to let go.

"Taichi." Blue eyes glazed with lust looked up at him. "Don't go." Yamato pressed upwards, forcing them together again.


Reason faded away completely...


Only dimly was Taichi aware of Yamato tilting his head to the side and breaking their current kiss, his blue eyes opening and the haze in them clearing a bit. For Taichi, the distance apart only served as a necessary opportunity to catch his breath. Once remotely under control, he reached to move Yamato's head back into position, but the blond ducked away from his hand.

"Taichi? What comes next?"

Taichi stroked his cheek. "Whatever you want. We can just kiss if —" Yamato bucked up into him.

"I want more."

Taichi brought their mouths together. His body rested perfectly in the spread hollow Yamato opened around him. The kiss continued furiously, Taichi's attention was consumed by it until Yamato began making small, grinding circles against him. Then, the only thought filling his mind was that they both were seriously overdressed.

His hands moved over the material of Yamato's shirt, stopping only when he found a gap between two buttons. The feel of warm flesh at his fingertips left him aching to touch more and he deftly popped the button. Somehow, Yamato heard the plink of it hitting the wall and correctly guessed the source of the noise.

The blond broke the kiss with a low bedroom laugh.

"Taichi, I'm not exactly partial to this shirt, but it's the only one I have. Be nice to it."

"Hmmm... Wouldn't you rather I be very, very nice to you, instead?"

"Mmm. The shirt might get jealous. You'll just have to be nice to the both of us."

Taichi smiled in answer and dipped his head to run nimble lips along Yamato's jaw. He worked at the sensitive spot behind his earlobe until he managed to coax out a moan, then he pulled away and smirked as Yamato tried to follow him upright.

With Yamato's full attention upon him, Taichi slipped the next button through its hole carefully, slowly, teasingly, and he pressed his palm flat against the stomach he'd uncovered. At his caress, fine muscles contracted and Yamato's legs pulled tighter around him, creating a trap Taichi had no desire to escape.

While his mouth feasted on the exposed skin, Taichi's hand darted under the shirt, tickled along Yamato's side, and ran across his chest in meandering circles, until it finally homed in on a nipple.

With Yamato's pleasured approval murmuring in his ear, Taichi toyed with the nub and resumed careful work on the buttons with his other hand. The shirt needed to come off — he wanted unobstructed access to Yamato's skin.

Not one to be accused of passive participation, Yamato was currently working on extracting Taichi from his jumpsuit. He had managed to get the fastening down as far as his arm would reach, but that only brought the uniform open to Taichi's waist. Yamato pushed the fabric apart, then trailed a slender finger down Taichi's abdomen. The light tickle stopped only a handspan above his center before continuing playfully downward and over hot flesh.

Clothes off. Now.

Taichi finished with the last of the buttons and used his grip on the shirt to bring them both to a sitting position. He placed a kiss on Yamato's mouth, then stood up to shimmy out of the constricting uniform, intentionally dropping the rest of his covering in the process.

He paused, savoring Yamato's gaze upon his bare skin. He knew his muscles were sleek from years of training. Many Lords let their bodies weaken because of the comforts of technology, but Taichi pushed himself, demanding perfection in all aspects of his life. Now, he was reaping the rewards of his dedication. For the first time in years, he was standing bare in front of another man, as an equal, as a lover, as someone desired.

Yamato licked his lips and Taichi felt a matching internal hunger howl to be let out. He wanted to see the blond man stripped. Yamato's pants and open shirt served as a barrier between them. He needed to see Yamato fully, unhidden. Taichi needed the layer gone.

"Now you," he whispered roughly, pulling the shirt off and tossing it away. He'd moved so suddenly that Yamato's eyes were only just now finishing their track up from lower extremities to his face. A light tug brought Yamato to his feet.

Stepping closer together, their heads tilted for a kiss and Taichi found his hands groping blindly at Yamato's waist for the fastening. Yamato broke away, twisting in the embrace.

"No, not like that," the blond said. Yamato stepped backwards, moving closer, rubbing his ass in teasing circles against Taichi's hard arousal. Back-to-front, he drew Taichi's arms around himself and replaced the hands on the waistband of the pants. He turned his head back for a kiss. "I want it like this," he breathed out moments before their lips collided.

Taichi's hips jerked with lessening control against Yamato's softness, seeking more of the maddening friction being offered to him.

...so long...

He almost drowned in Yamato, but the blond moaned his name in a musical prayer, calling him back to their moment. Theirs — not just Taichi's. Easy enough to satisfy, though, their passions were hardly unmatched. Taking pleasure, giving pleasure, sharing pleasure; he wanted it all.

He held himself in check long enough to guide loosened pants down over narrow hips. Yamato leaned back against him and toed the garment aside when it hit the floor.

Taichi took a half-step back, intending to turn Yamato around. He wanted to see. "Should I..." he began, wanting for the other's comfort.

Yamato clung to his arms at the movement to bring them face to face. "Hold me," he said, dropping his hands only when the threat of turning had passed. "Just like this..." He guided Taichi's hands lower, helping him learn the new feeling. "Touch me. Make me know that it's you."

Taichi complied, keeping the rhythm Yamato had set. To further occupy himself, he bent his neck to taste the bare skin of Yamato's shoulder. His mind wandered, imagining the pleasures they would share later on, and he stopped sucking only after seeing a vivid red mark sprawled against the white cream of Yamato's shoulder. He moved his lips onward, traveling across unexplored territory, teasing the salty flesh spiced with musk.

His hands never faltered in their dance, but now his own desire was harder to set aside. He let his weight rest heavily on the man in front of him, and the action brought them both to their knees. As distracted as Yamato was, it was a simple matter to flip the blond's back to the mattress without even breaking contact.

Yamato was too far gone to protest the change and Taichi much preferred this view. He liked that he could see Yamato's eyes as Taichi touched him. He liked observing Yamato's helpless struggle to contain the small sounds of bliss that leaked out. Taichi spread his knees to either side of Yamato's thighs and shifted his grip so that they both would be receiving pleasure from his efforts.

It won't be long now.

He stretched forward, bracing his weight on one hand placed next to Yamato's ear. Their mouths met again and his tongue darted in for a taste.

Unsteady hands ran through Taichi's hair, pulling, tangling, caressing. More than just his hands, Yamato's entire body was lightly trembling. "Taichi," that sweet voice gasped.

Only a moment longer.

With a cry, Yamato spilled his seed, splattering their chests with the evidence of his pleasure. Taichi was close, but he hung on, waiting for Yamato's heaving breaths to slow. He needed to take this further.

"Ya-Yamato," he began, his control more frayed than he would've liked.

Wobbly blue eyes came to focus on Taichi's face.

"Thank you for that." A faint smile graced bliss-slackened lips. Yamato curled upwards for an embrace, then lay back. "So on to the main lesson now? Go ahead. Do it. I'll be all right."

"Huh?" was the most intelligent reply Taichi could manage. His mind registered the gift of permission, but it stalled at the word 'lesson.'

Yamato's hand grasped Taichi to bring them closer together as his pale thighs spread further. "It's okay, Taichi. I'm ready, and I know you'll be gentle."

"Yamato." A single word, a question, a promise, a name, a need.

The concentration required to keep from ravishing the man left little for anything else, but Taichi managed to hold himself steady. He had to do this the right way. He had to make sure... 'Lesson,' I think he said... It can't be like that. Taichi closed his eyes, trying to focus.

Dammit, I know I shouldn't — it's not fair to either of us. Yet how do I deny him when he's looking at me like that? Those eyes. He wants me. And I want him. So it's okay to do this if he wants me, isn't it?

Too much. Too close. Too recklessly consumed by desire. He needed to distance himself, for both their sakes, but Yamato's grip held firm.

Taichi brushed against the length of the pale arm. "Let go of me, please." Slowly, though visibly hurt and worried by the soft request, Yamato did. Taichi silently cursed. He should have been able to express himself better, in a way that didn't make Yamato feel horrible.

He pressed a kiss to Yamato's forehead and tried again. "It's all right. I just need to know... Do you really want this?"

Blue eyes flashed, but before Yamato could answer with something scathing, Taichi held a finger against the blond's lips. "Really think about it. I've got to go get some lube." Yamato still looked upset, but he remained quiet, probably content that Taichi hadn't refused outright. Taichi stood and, not wanting to bother with his jumpsuit, pulled on Yamato's pants to cover himself in the halls, his fingers managing the fastening as fast as safely possible. There was no one to see him, Taichi knew, but Yamato didn't know that and would wonder where the lube was kept if Taichi walked out without any clothes on.

Once he was relatively dressed, he leaned over for a parting kiss. "Just remember... if you change your mind and say no, I'll still do all I can to help you."

Yamato made as if to speak again and Taichi shook his head. "Save it for when I get back." He had to give Yamato space, the chance to say no.

The trip to his chambers was swift, but his return was more delayed that he'd intended. Taichi had originally planned to grab the lube, then give Yamato a few minutes alone to think about it. Instead, it took nearly five minutes to find the tube. It wasn't something he had a frequent use for, so of course, he found it three drawers away from where he thought he'd kept it.

At least he had the forethought to double-check that it was still fresh. The consistency was thicker than he remembered, but he decided it would still do the job... if Yamato was still interested.

He gulped down a burst of senseless nervousness in front of Yamato's door. Maybe he shouldn't have left Yamato alone this long. Now it was awkward coming back in... But the clothes... if Yamato was still undressed, that meant he was still willing, right?

Taichi opened the door, then bit down on his cheek to keep himself from saying something foolish or grinning like the idiot he knew himself to be. Not only was Yamato still undressed, he had arranged himself on the mattress so that he was displayed to the best advantage — slightly curled to the side, legs parted wide and lightly bent at the knee. If that wasn't answer enough, the arousal jutting up from golden curls reinforced the message.

Taichi didn't waste time in losing the pants and joining him.

Yamato pulled him down for a kiss while Taichi fumbled the cap on the lube. "You sure this is what you want?" Taichi asked, pulling away, making space.

Yamato smiled, as if discovering a secret. "You need to hear it, don't you? Very well." He took Taichi's hand and moved it to his side, guiding it in long strokes over his bare chest. He ran it down lower. "I want my first time like this to be with someone who's both strong and gentle. You're strong..." Yamato massaged along the muscles of Taichi's forearm. He pulled the arm closer to his face and licked at the brunet's fingertips. "And yet you'll be gentle with me, won't you, Taichi? When you're moving inside of me, you'll treat me well?"

Yamato had to know what he was doing. He had to be driving Taichi crazy deliberately.

"Always," he murmured, his senses narrowing to the warm flesh below him. Taichi stopped resisting Yamato's tugging and let himself crash next to Yamato's waiting body, one arm going to support his own weight. The other hand, with its slickened fingers, began a stretching dance between Yamato's legs.

On the initial insertion, Yamato gasped, clenching his nails into Taichi's skin. Taichi kept himself calm despite the minor pain and eased Yamato through the unusual feeling, murmuring soothing things made more of sounds and tones than actual words. He'd been seventeen when this had been done to him, and he could remember how he had felt. Mostly it was nerves making Yamato's body tense. The sooner he relaxed...

Taichi bent closer, brushing his lips along Yamato's ribs, spacing his kisses out with whispered words of encouragement. He found a sensitive point off to one side and while he focused on the spot, he changed the angle of his finger.

Taichi winced as nails dug deeper into his shoulder. "Breathe, Yamato. It helps."

Blue eyes cracked open. "What, you've done this before?"

Taichi didn't really want to talk about it. It had been a discreet liaison with a young guard purposefully chosen for his blond hair and blue eyes, and although it had been pleasant enough, it didn't mean anything then and it certainly didn't have any bearing on what was happening now.

"Enough to know that relaxing and keeping the oxygen flowing is a good thing." He nibbled on the nearest piece of flesh. "Of course, that's good advice in general, ne?"

Yamato's belly pulsed in time with his laughter and he smacked Taichi on the shoulder he had just been painfully gripping. Taichi grimaced against the further abuse, but Yamato was already relaxing and he didn't want to call his mind to something so trivial. He swore to himself, though, that he'd get Yamato's nails trimmed first thing in the morning.

The pitch of Yamato's moans changed into something more needy. Taichi broke off his ministrations to apply more lube, then continued the preparation. His hand seemed to move on its own while the rest of his attention was drawn to the emotions playing across Yamato's face.

Yamato's eyes were closed to slits, lashes casting shadows on rose-kissed cheeks. Peace, divine torment, pleasure, and most of all... need.

As he watched his lover, the desire in him changed to a low burn that fed on Yamato's pleasure and it flared up to fill a place in him that had been empty since their first meeting. Each gasp, each moment of lost control, felt right. After so many years, it finally felt right.

"What are you looking at?"

Taichi's head jerked up as he blinked. "You," he said, giving Yamato a guilty smile.

"Hmmm... so what are you waiting for?" Taichi could tell Yamato was aiming for something seductively casual, but he heard the raw desire beneath the words.

He removed his fingers and crawled on top of the lighter-skinned man. "I've been waiting for you," he murmured into their kiss, eyes crinkled in mirth.

Yamato joined him in the laugh, his hand moving up to stroke through Taichi's hair. "It'll be okay, won't it?"

Something told Taichi that they weren't just talking about the sex. "Things will work out just as they should," he promised, his hand working blindly to distribute more lubricant to the necessary areas. Strong arms pulled him closer and he held himself in place, poised to finally join them. Beneath him, he could feel the pulse of Yamato's blood, beating in time with his own.


Yamato drew his head down, letting his heated breath blow across Taichi's ear. Taichi nestled closer. This was where he wanted to be. His one perfect moment. Everything he had ever wanted lay within his arms. Yamato would understand tomorrow, when he explained the truth and the reason for his deception. Everything would work out, just as he'd promised. It was so perfect.

"I want you," Yamato husked, staring up at Taichi.

Absolutely perfect.

Yamato held him close. "Want only you," he murmured. "Make me know it's you. When Yagami touches me, I'll feel only you."

Taichi's breath left him and he stared down at Yamato's body wanting to speak but unable to do more than give a half-sob. He shook his brown head, hanging it low. His fists clenched at his sides.


Taichi's throat filled with bile.

Kami-sama, no. This is all still about Yagami.

He wanted to cry, to scream, to find a way to make Yamato take the careless, passion-born words back.

"Taichi? ... Please... Need you..."

"No," he said, his voice breaking. "I can't do this. Yagami... I... Yagami..."

"Will never have to know," Yamato finished for him, trying to fight through the haze of the moment in an attempt to placate Taichi and tragically making the wrong assumption. "I need this, Taichi. I need the memory of you."

He'll never understand, will he?

But how could he? From the very first moment, Taichi had lied to him. And all for what? So that he could be 'certain' that he, that his people weren't in danger? Was it worth this?

He closed his eyes against the tears that threatened to fall. He was an idiot. A really, really big idiot.

"Please. It's all right," Yamato hushed gently, his hand reaching up to brush a drop of moisture from Taichi's cheek. "I want this... I want someone that I —" His voice dropped as he searched within himself. "Love? Care for? Lust for?" Taichi felt him shake his head. "I don't know. I don't have words for it. But do I need them?" Yamato's hand found the back of Taichi's neck and tugged him closer, forcing his eyes open. The blond's face was open, earnest, certain. "All I know is that I want you to be the one to have me like this first. Please, do this for me. I want to have a memory of you to retreat into when he takes me."

He... It's all about Yagami.

Taichi felt his heart tear. It was all wrong. The realization cooled his lust better than a dozen cold showers. He didn't want to be just the 'pleasant alternative' to the sick, perverted bastard Yamato thought Yagami to be.

"I can't do this, Yamato. I want you, but I need you to want me too."

Yamato looked up at him with guileless eyes. "I do."

No, you don't. I almost let myself...

How could Yamato want him, the real Taichi, if the truth was unsaid? And once the truth was spoken, would he want him still? Taichi had to resist the blue eyes. "It's not just that. Yamato..." His mind flickered an apology to Koushiro and he braced himself for Yamato's reaction. "Yagami doesn't exist."

Yamato's eyes widened, but then after a moment, his smile turned slow and seductive. "Okay," he agreed lightly. He was taking it better than Taichi had even dreamed. "Yagami doesn't exist," the blond repeated, still calm. Though his mind screamed against it, Taichi let himself be tugged back down. Yamato's fingers brushed through his hair while teeth delicately nibbled at the juncture of neck and shoulder. "If that's what you need... The only people in this room are you and me. No one else exists."

Taichi froze braced over Yamato's warm body, wishing he could cry. Yamato was missing the point and Taichi despaired that he would ever understand. Words were failing him and right now he couldn't muster the energy to walk away again. "Yamato..." A finger on his lips silenced him. With a motion that was surprisingly gentle, Yamato pushed him to the side, then straddled him.

Their faces were a bare inch apart. Yamato's breath washed over him, warm and sweet.

"This has been hard for you, hasn't it?" Yamato asked, stroking along Taichi's jaw.

"Shouldn't I be the one saying that, Yamato?" he said, trying to sit up.

Yamato shifted his weight and held him in place. "But you've been trying to make it better for me. I can tell. And you've gotten hurt in the process."

Taichi could tell that Yamato was half-guessing, but he was close enough to the mark for the words to hold him in place. He had to try...

"Yamato, there are things you don't know. It isn't right for —"

A kiss consumed whatever Taichi had been going to say next. He couldn't remember what it was.

"There are things you don't know about me, Taichi," Yamato said when they finally broke for air. "We're even, wouldn't you say?"

Yamato rocked forward and Taichi closed his eyes against the rush of pleasure.

"I —"

He needed to touch, to be touched, so badly.

"Isn't it enough that we want each other? Let yourself go. Lay down your responsibilities." Yamato whispered the perfect words with all of Taichi's departed skill. "Be with me tonight... Be in me... Give me a beautiful memory... I want you."

Taichi clutched Yamato to him, reveling in the contact, and rolled them over. They kissed then, for Taichi couldn't find the strength not to claim Yamato's willing mouth. But the momentary lack of control only made it more painful when he finally tore himself away.

Taichi retreated to the foot of the mattress. Being near Yamato was too tempting, hurt too much. The blond moved closer, following. In one horrible moment, Taichi lashed out, knocking the confused man back roughly.


"It's not right," he cried, pounding his fist into the carpet.

"Taichi..." Yamato tried again, reaching out.

Taichi slapped the hand away. "You don't understand. You can't separate us! Yagami. Taichi. We're the same."

Yamato's eyes flashed in annoyance and hurt. "If you hit me a third time, I swear you'll live only long enough to regret it," he announced in a steely tone. "And you are the same. Right, because in the end, abusive masters and horny protégés are all the same? I still end up fucked!?"

Dammit! When did I...

His hand was throbbing and red. Taichi set aside his own guilt and the bitterness in Yamato's voice and focused on telling the simple truth, that now appeared to be none too simple.

"No! That's not... It's all just pretend. We're the same person, don't you see?!"

Taichi kept up a mental string of curses as Yamato's eyes widened. There. He'd said it. Now Yamato would hate him.

Yamato scrambled toward him.

This was it. Taichi let the blow come. He knew he deserved it.


Yamato reached out to brush soft fingertips across the brunet's cheek. His flash of anger had evaporated at hearing the pain and desperation in Taichi's voice. It was strange. Somehow, although Yamato had been ready for sex, Taichi wasn't. Yamato didn't fully understand, given all the subtle and not-so-subtle hints he'd been getting during their time together, but it was sweet that Taichi was concerned about becoming like his master. It gave Yamato hope that the goodness in Taichi's heart was strong enough to counteract his master's poisoned teachings.

"Shhhh..." he whispered, enfolding Taichi in his arms. The Lord had stiffened at his touch and Yamato fit his chin in the crook of Taichi's neck and shoulder, concentrating on making soothing circles on the bare skin of the other's back. "You could hardly pretend being so gentle-hearted. It's all right. You're nothing like him."

Taichi said nothing but he made a small laughing sound... at least, that was what Yamato hoped it was. As emotional as Taichi currently was, it could have been an unsteady sob. He kissed along the side of Taichi's neck. "Last time I checked, you don't derive pleasure from purchasing people and watching them squirm as you torture them... Although I have to admit... I'd be disappointed if you didn't enjoy it when I squirm against you like this," he teased, putting words into action.

"You don't understand. This isn't a joke!" Taichi cried, struggling to get away.

Having been pinned by Taichi before, Yamato knew the other man wasn't using his full strength. He let go, touched, curious what Taichi would do.

Taichi's pulling velocity carried him back a few inches before he could check himself against the sudden freedom. Drawing up on his knees, he gripped Yamato's shoulders and stared down at him intently.

"Just answer me this: Could you love the man who made you a slave?"

Yamato flinched at Taichi's use of the word 'slave.' It was an odd question too, but if it helped Taichi feel better he would consider it. Yamato thought of Yagami more as a dangerous adversary and Taichi had never truly treated him as a slave... more as a prisoner of war. It sounded as if Taichi were trying to claim that he was responsible for the current situation, yet that was Yagami's fault, wasn't it? Or even more correctly, Yamato's father's? Taichi was still waiting, oddly silent, for his answer. Could he love the man who had enslaved him? It didn't take long to figure out what his response would be.

"No," he said dryly. "I try not to share my emotions with psychotic murderers. Besides," he added, trying to lighten the moment, "My father and I haven't been in close confidences for several years now." The clarification of blame was unable to lift Taichi's suddenly pained expression.

Despite the strange interruption, he still burned for Taichi's touch and he could not put the memory of the man's fingers inside him from his mind.

I'll find out what's troubling him, then we can resume where we left off.

Or maybe not...

Having looked down, Yamato finally noticed Taichi had withered under the stress.

Taichi hung his head, brown locks matted with sweat flopping into his eyes. It wasn't the most flattering image. Yamato went over and tilted Taichi's face between his palms so that he could look into eyes that were dull and tired.

"What's wrong, Taichi?"

Taichi brushed out of the touch, holding none of his strength back now. "I have to go," he uttered. "I can't. Yagami and I..." He fell silent.

Yamato bit back his temper. He was trying to be understanding, but the normally glib man couldn't even string an entire sentence together and Yamato was left to guess at the problem. "Just tell me what's wrong."

Taichi looked torn. "I can't. Not yet. I promised I wouldn't. I've already said too much. Forgive me," he said, looking away.

Yamato sighed. "Yagami never has to know about us," he offered. He didn't want to let Taichi leave angry. He was the closest thing to a sure ally that Yamato had and he couldn't lose that security, no matter how small it might be.

Taichi shook his head. "Anything I know, he'll end up knowing." His eyes were staring at Yamato intensely, begging him to understand. It was impossible without the words.

"Taichi, does it really matter so much?" He reached for him again. "Please, be with me."

The Lord scooted out of his reach. "It matters to me. I can't betray the trust of one I love any more than I already have."

Is that supposed to be me? Or someone else? Yagami?

A shudder of revulsion swept through him. Afterward, he sucked in a breath and fought off the swirl of anger and betrayal blending within him. He spent a long moment watching Taichi's eyes, but the brown visage was too shadowed with misery to display an answer to Yamato's unasked question.

He shook his head. If Taichi somehow loved him... he shouldn't be hiding the truth from him. And if Taichi had meant Yagami, or someone else... Yamato had no desire to mix himself up in whatever fucked up relationship existed between master and protégé.

It still hurt, though. Enough to make him want to make sure Taichi felt his mistake.

Yamato turned from him. "Fine. Go ahead and leave. You're not the slave who's locked up." He tossed the words back and felt satisfaction as Taichi flinched again. "You don't have to sully yourself doing anything for me, your Lordship. I'll take care of this myself."

He heard Taichi turn but Yamato continued as if unaware in order to prove a point and he let his head fall back on the mattress, eyes closed. Part of him had hoped Taichi would change his mind. Maybe that just meant he was the bigger idiot.

Frustrated as all hell, Yamato reached down and grasped himself, though he soon found that his own efforts did nothing to soothe nor quicken the fire Taichi's hands had kindled.

It didn't matter to Yamato that Taichi was still in the room. He had begged his captor for sex and any dignity he might have retained after days of enforced nudity had been lost in the act. To make matters worse, nothing he tried gave him release. His cheeks burned in needy shame and he hated the despairing mewl that escaped his lips.

And then Taichi was there, brushing Yamato's hand away. Yamato arched up into the warm and wet touch, his fingers instinctively tangling themselves in long brown strands.

Taichi... Ahh... Ohhh... Why?

He wanted to protest, but he couldn't change the sounds he was making into coherent words, his thoughts not all that intelligible either.

A few moments more and it didn't matter anyway.

Taichi held him, chest and arms encircling Yamato's still-trembling body. But rather than spooning, the man held his hips away, putting a distance between them. Yamato didn't want to think on what that suggested about Taichi's feelings. For the moment, all he could manage was getting his breathing back under control.

It wasn't that he was taking a long time to recover — the lower half of him was already getting ready to reciprocate... with a vigor he'd thought lost to his younger years. No, it was his emotions that were causing him trouble now and stealing his breath away. Despite the memory of his earlier anger, he knew Taichi wanted him... wanted to help him. It would just take time. The confusion he felt about what had just happened made him savor the reassurance provided by Taichi's continued embrace. He was loath to pull away too soon, wanting instead to stay there and forget the rest of the world.

Later, the breaths warming Yamato's neck had become so even and steady that he wondered if Taichi had fallen asleep. But when he turned, he saw Taichi had his eyes open and his parted lips were curved in a gentle smile. Shadows still lurked in his eyes, though, so their confrontation was far from over.

Yamato didn't know what to say. Taichi couldn't be too upset with him, but still, Yamato wasn't sure where he stood. Why did Taichi...? He was spared from having to formulate a question by Taichi's soft words.

"You'll have to trust me when I say it's not right for us to be closer, to go any further than what we just did. It's not that I don't want to." He attempted a lecherous wink, but it was half-hearted at best and felt awkwardly timed. Taichi sobered once more, worry creasing his brows, and a note of sadness entered his voice. "It's that it's just... not right. I'm sorry I can't explain it better."

Yamato was quiet for a moment. Taichi's regret seemed genuine and cooled his anger. Still, the worry crossed his mind that this all was a trap to win his trust.. and that was harder to set aside. He ran his hand back, over Taichi's arm and shoulder. His fingertips found rough patches and he turned his head to look at them. Nail marks — spaced equally to his own grip. He brushed his fingers over them once more. If he'd been clawed like this by one of his lovers, he wouldn't have stayed quiet.

"Sorry," he murmured.

Taichi kissed the nape of his neck and directed his head to its original resting place against his other arm. "You got me here, too," Taichi said, turning the arm over so that Yamato could see angry scratches along Taichi's inner wrist.

Two of the marks were crossed in close approximation to a katakana 'ya'. Yamato raised his hand to touch the red, mouth-shaped spot on his own shoulder. They'd marked each other.

"It's all right," Taichi said. "You couldn't have helped it."

Yamato resented that comment, he wasn't out of control... yet, as he couldn't remember making the marks, he had to trust that it was true. Besides, Taichi was doing a wonderful job distracting him from the matter by making lazy swirling patterns along his skin. It caused his mind, however, to turn to other issues.

"Do you love Yagami?" Yamato asked softly, fearing the answer but needing to know.

Taichi's eyes became distant. "I used to," he said, "When he was a different man."

Yamato accepted this silently. He could understand, almost. He and his father had shared a few gentle, loving moments. Just a few, of course, and Yamato still hated the man, but he could see how a tender-hearted soul like Taichi would latch onto the smallest scrap of good in a person. He'd probably felt sorry for the man when he lost his son.

Taichi had said he loved someone. Yamato wasn't letting himself forget that. If it wasn't Yagami...

"You said before you didn't want to betray someone's trust, the one you..." ... love.

"You," Taichi answered, as if their minds were linked. Yamato's heart stirred. "But there are things you don't know. Things I can't tell you yet. Soon, though. It'll make sense. I promise. Until then..." He caressed Yamato's body. "I want us to wait to be together like that."

"What about Yagami? Aren't you supposed to be training me?"

Taichi winced. "Let me worry about that. You're safe here. I promise." The brunet's hands were moving again, with a healer's delicate touch.

The momentary bliss and comfort Taichi was offering were further distractions to cover the secret the Lord was hiding, Yamato knew. Still, in this moment, whatever the secret was didn't seep into the contact between them. The relationship between Yagami and Taichi — for the Lord had never said that they weren't involved, merely that he did not love him — could remain unspoken. There was nothing malevolent or manipulative about Taichi's behavior. The protégé had not yet become the master, so there was still hope.

There was the potential for Yamato's buried doubts to fester and turn ugly, but he let the matter sleep. Taichi's touches were soothing, relaxing, hypnotic, and Yamato never realized when the world fell completely away.


Taichi held Yamato as he slept, relishing the comfort of a warm body next to his. Unfortunately, the happiness he experienced from holding Yamato wrapped in his arms was of the quality that could only be felt by the utterly foolish... and his actions could be called nothing less.

Once the truth had been told, and Yamato had misunderstood three times, Taichi's sense had returned. Yamato had escaped. Two of his men had been killed. That was what had started this evening's fiasco. Koushiro would never understand the impulsive honesty of a romantic moment. It was too soon for the truth. So when he'd had the chance to clarify, to explain... he remained quiet, trying to distance himself. Seeing Yamato sprawled there, trying in vain to bring himself to completion... he'd been unable to stand the suffering etched in Yamato's face, knowing that he'd been the one to cause it.

The blond was dozing now, no doubt a combination of relief, release, and mental exhaustion. He hoped that there was also a part of Yamato aware of who was holding him... that the knowledge allowed the blond to relax and sleep securely.

This present experience, his new ability to savor another's intimate trust, was precious to Taichi. It would all change, of course, when Yamato woke, so he did nothing to disturb the other's sleep. Reality would break into their little world soon enough. No need to rush it.

For that reason, he remained awake, not wanting to waste the brief serene moment. And, eventually, as all things did in his life, it came to an end.

Lashes fluttered open and Yamato's hands sought his, lacing and unlacing rhythmically a few times before wandering to give attention to other parts of Taichi's body. Taichi closed his eyes and tried to focus on anything besides how insanely good Yamato's caresses felt.

Yamato shifted out of his arms into a position giving him better access to Taichi's entire body. He began kissing his way down Taichi's torso, his target unmistakable. Taichi caught his shoulders and opened his eyes, straining to concentrate. He could have sworn that he was seeing Yamato smirking slightly, as if he knew and enjoyed how much he was making Taichi squirm.

"I should be going," he said, not even twitching a muscle.

Yamato's lips quirked. "You still didn't get to play, lover."

He straddled Taichi, rocking enticingly and positioning himself so that Taichi, now teased back to attention, was once again at his entrance. Everything in Taichi was screaming to let the blond continue, but Yamato shivered. It might have been a sudden chill, uncertain nerves, or even a quiver of anticipation — but the reason didn't change the most important thing: what Taichi desperately wanted to do was wrong.

Maybe afterwards some other man could brush the lies aside and look past the utter falseness of their first union, but Taichi couldn't and he doubted Yamato would be able to either. Taichi had waited too long for this. Loving Yamato wasn't wrong, but doing it like this would be. If he went ahead and found his pleasure in Yamato, he would be no better than the monster Yamato believed Yagami.

Reluctantly, Taichi rolled aside. "And I'm not going to," he said firmly, speaking to the earlier tease. "Feel however you like about it, but I have no right to claim you like that."

The slim body tensed. "Even if you want to? Even if I want you to?"

Something dark flickered in Yamato's eyes, but Taichi missed it, seeing them only as wide and innocent. Yamato looked much younger than Taichi knew him to be and it made it easier to calm his libido. He couldn't... Yamato deserved the truth, needed to know the person loving him.

Despite the wrongness of it, he was unable to stop himself from engaging Yamato in another long kiss. He drew away unwillingly, but forced himself to focus. "Even then," he said, smoothing down tousled gold locks. "It doesn't mean that I don't care about you, though."

It had been the wrong thing to say. "So," Yamato bristled. "Is this where you say you want us to be friends now?"

The remark cut. "I thought we already were," he said quietly.

Yamato's lips thinned in anger and he refused to acknowledge the statement. "This is about Yagami, isn't it?" he demanded finally. "Did he tell you to warm me up, but to let him be the one to split me open? Was that it? Nibble all you want, but don't take the full meal? If you're just going to turn me over to him, why bother being kind? You know he'll destroy me. Or maybe it's that you get off on watching me break," he said, bitterness lacing his voice heavily.

Heart-weary, Taichi looked up and shook his head sadly. "I want to see you happy. You deserve kindness, Yamato, with no strings attached. I know it's hard to believe, but you won't be harmed, I swear it."

Before it had even begun, their relationship was being destroyed. With the threat of Yagami's torture hanging over him, none of Yamato's feelings could be considered genuine. He'd reveal the truth to Yamato tomorrow as Yagami. Yamato would understand then. He'd hate Taichi, but at least he'd finally understand.

"Things will make more sense in the morning. Please, just let it go." To his intense surprise, he was embraced. "Yamato?" he questioned, voice trembling with hope.

Yamato snuggled closer. "I'm tired. I don't want to fight about that sadistic bastard right now." Taichi winced at his explanation, but couldn't say anything productive. Maybe it would be enough just to hold Yamato. The blond rested quietly against him for a while before saying, "Can I ask you something, Taichi?"

"Yes." He stroked soothingly along Yamato's spine. "And I'll let you ask something else as a freebie and as further proof of my magnanimous greatness." His delivery was a bit off, but a little humor was what they both needed with the uncertainty of tomorrow looming overhead.

Yamato snorted, but sounded amused. His hand reached up to cradle Taichi's cheek. "The door to my room was left open. Did you mean for me to escape? If you did... would you do it again? For real, this time, with some sort of clue for which way I should go?"

Oh, gods...

"Of all the things you could have asked me right now, Yamato, why did you have to ask that?"

Yamato looked at him levelly. "Because you're my only hope of getting out of here."

I'm such a fool. He was... he offered himself just to have a better chance at escape. Kami-sama, oh how I've fucked up.

"Taichi, help me." Yamato moved closer.

"No!" He slapped the hand reaching for him away. "Don't ask me that any more! I'm doing what I can. I care for you, and I would if I could, but I can't just let you leave. Yagami —"

"Shut the hell up! And I told you to watch who you hit," Yamato snarled, eyes cold and hard in a mask Taichi knew all too well. "I don't want to hear your excuses. Who the hell is Yagami to you that he affects everything you do?"

Taichi sighed. If he told him the truth now, Yamato would probably try to kill him with his bare hands. If he could wait until morning... give them both space and time to recover in... "You don't want an answer to that right now."

"Don't tell me what I fucking want!" Taichi just barely managed to fend off the blow. He was tired, in mind, heart, and body. "Yagami's not just your master," Yamato continued. "He's got his hand so far up your ass he's making your lips move with his lies! You're just his personal little puppet, aren't you? More of a ningyou than I will ever be!" A glob of spit hit Taichi's face. It hadn't been an accident. "So answer me, Doll-Face, why do you follow him? Did he tell you what to say about that?"

Taichi stood and wiped off the liquid. At last he said, "Because he has my soul."

For one moment, Yamato froze as if he had understood. Then, the tenor of the blond's anger swiftly morphed into a rage that made his eyes burn. "Who is that bastard to you?"

Taichi turned away. "It's better this way." Taichi was getting no more than he deserved. It would be unfair to get angry at Yamato for something that was his own fault. Hopefully, in the morning he could set things right.

When he moved away, Yamato stood and took up an aggressive stance. "Better for who?" the blond challenged.

Ignoring him, Taichi bent and collected his scattered clothing, not pausing to put on more than his underwear. The remainder was wadded into a ball and tucked beneath his arm. "It's late. Get some sleep."

Yamato flew at him. "Dammit, Taichi, that's your response to everything, isn't it?!" he yelled, arm swinging high toward Taichi's face. "I'm not a fucking baby you can put down for a nap!"

Taichi managed to deflect the first two strikes, but the third connected at his jaw with enough force to split the skin and bruise the bone. Yamato licked the blood from his knuckles and smiled insanely at Taichi's horror. "What else do you expect? I've barely eaten at all today," he snarled. "You're not treating your slave very well, oh Benevolent One."

Taichi shoved him away as hard as he could. Spinning on his heel, he bolted for the door. A sob escaped his lips as he shut it behind him and his hands trembled as he turned out the light.

Yamato's curses could be heard through the door.


Kami-sama, what have I done?

He dropped to the floor. The cooler air of the hallway made his skin prickle. He shivered, not just from the cold.

Focus on the basics, he reminded himself numbly.

Taichi had managed to tug on all of his clothes by the time the warning ding of the elevator sounded in the distance.

Someone had spectacularly horrible timing.

Taichi headed to the lift. He wanted to get far away from Yamato's room.

The sight that greeted him nearly stopped his heart in panic. "Hikari!" He quickly glanced over himself to make sure no evidence remained. There was nothing he could do about his face, though. Hopefully he'd wiped all the blood off in the corridor and it didn't look as black and blue as it felt. Empty of other defenses, he pulled out the 'disapproving older brother' frown. "I told you not to come to this floor. It's dangerous. I don't want to change the code, but if..." Hikari's 'concerned younger sister' pout stopped him.

"Awww, Nii-chan, I was worried about you." She stepped away from the cart beside her and darted out to hug him. Her scent was clean and crisp. He held her tightly. "Taichi?" she asked, worry apparent in her voice. She looked up at him and her hand was immediately drawn to the mark on his face. She fingered it carefully. "What happened? I heard yelling."

Taichi released her and shook his head. "It's nothing. Just a small argument. It's over with now."

"Well, I came up here to make sure you were okay... I brought you and your guest dinner, too. Although," she looked up at his face again and frowned. "I can take his food back down."

"No, it's all right." He managed a smile. "Thanks for the dinner. We both appreciate it." He touched his jaw. "This was just an accident. And, you know me. I piss Koushiro off all the time," he joked. "Now I'm with someone who hasn't learned how futile it is to hit back. And after all, I probably deserved it, ne?"

Hikari giggled. "You're such a goof." A gleam of suspicion still remained in her eyes, some sort of sister's intuition, but hopefully she'd forget her doubts soon enough. If he could just play it cool until she left, he could have the whole night to fall apart and put himself back together.

She leaned closer and sniffed his shirt. "You're stinky," she observed tactlessly.

"You saw me earlier this afternoon in the training room," he reminded her, fighting his flush and refusing to acknowledge what else he'd been doing since then. She arched a brow at him and Taichi had to revise his earlier opinion. She wasn't tactless; she was cunning. His sister was no idiot... that position in the family had been reserved solely for him. He gave her a mock bow. "Well, I'm sorry I offend your delicate sensibilities, my Lady. Let me retire to the bathing chamber at once!"

Hikari rolled her eyes. "Goof." Her eyes narrowed. "Koushiro wanted to speak with you, so be sure you go down to talk to him tonight. It sounded important."

Taichi had no desire to talk to Koushiro. He didn't need anyone else telling him how he'd screwed up. If the genius really needed to speak with him, he could contact him directly. Taichi had no intention of leaving his floor, but for his sister, he smiled. "Sure. Let me deliver the food, eat, and freshen up a bit first."

She coughed politely. "A bit?" she asked impishly.

He mussed her hair. "Okay, a lot. That better?"

She reached up to return the favor, then drew back. "If I messed with your hair any more than it has been already, I'd start putting it back into order. What have you been up to, brother mine?" He only hesitated a second, but it was all the confirmation she apparently needed. Hikari eyed his jaw again, gleam returning and a grin spreading across her features. "A lover's quarrel?" She patted him on his good cheek affectionately, even as he tried to deny it. "You're always so careful, it's good to see you happy again," she pronounced.

"Hikari," he sputtered, both embarrassed and (although she certainly didn't intend it) hurt by the irony of her words.

She fixed him with her best glare, the one the sixteen-year old reserved for special occasions. "Tell him if he hurts you again, I'll whack him."

He rubbed his forehead. It was useless to chide her. Despite their age difference, they each took turns looking out for the other. He'd always taken care of her, but with their father away, he knew she made it her responsibility to watch out for him. Normally, Taichi didn't need it and he felt like he wasn't doing his duty when he did, but he wasn't handling being an adult very well at the moment. He managed a genuine smile, grateful for his sister's love. "Actually," he told her, grinning even more at the thought. "If you really wanted to get back at him, all you'd have to do is set Miko on him."

She gaped. "I thought you were kidding when you said he was afraid of her."

Taichi chuckled. "Hard to imagine a grown man afraid of a slightly-larger than average cat, isn't it?"

Brown eyes looked at him speculatively. "Oh, I don't know," she drawled. "I seem to recall a certain someone who refused to clean under his bed because he was afraid of the dust mites."

And that was just last year, too. "Why you..." he began in mock-anger, a smile already forming. Taichi wasn't afraid of bugs... blood-sucking things were just creepy. It was a reasonable aversion. Besides, Hikari was afraid of ghosts, and they didn't even exist. He made to grab her and mess up her hair more, but she startled him by giving another hug.

"Good night, Taichi," Hikari said sweetly. The syrupy smile faded as she searched his face, looking for something. "Don't forget to stop by Koushiro's, all right?" The concern was back, hidden, but still there.

"Right," he replied, with still no intention to do so. "Good night, sis."

She waved until the lift's doors blocked her from view.


In the elevator, Hikari paced back and forth and missed the feel of Miko's fur beneath her fingers. She knew her brother wouldn't tell her what was truly going on out of some misguided notion of protection. She could tell he was happy... of a different sort than his normal cheerfulness. And she knew what those noises had been, even if Taichi wouldn't admit to it. Although, the blush he'd been sporting was confirmation enough.

She had heard yelling, though, too, and while Taichi didn't seem upset about his injury, he was hurting over something. She was glad she'd been able to distract him, cheer him up even momentarily. Koushiro would have to do the rest.

Once in her rooms, Hikari could call Koushiro and ask him to make sure Taichi was all right. The bruise on Taichi's face didn't look too bad, but she had no way of knowing how fresh it was, or if it had developed its full color. Her brother's friend would forgive and support her lie. And for all she knew, Koushiro probably did want to speak with Taichi. At least... he certainly would after she was finished talking to him.


Taichi let out a long sigh, then smiled to himself. No matter what happened, he would always have Hikari. If anything happened to her... No, nothing ever would. He wouldn't let it. He would protect his baby sister to his last breath.

Because of her, the ache in his heart weighed less heavily on him.

Thinking about Yamato still caused him overwhelming anguish, so, in probably what was his wisest decision of the night, he refused to think about the man any more. Lovely food smells drifted up from the cart Hikari had left behind. Two covered trays sat atop it.

Okay, so I can't get rid of him quite so easily, but after this I'm going straight to bed.

He marched back to Yamato's room and shoved the plate through the flap. The light-switch on the wall he left untouched. Taichi snorted and headed back to his chambers.

He can eat it in the dark.


From behind her, there was the quiet sound of the door whooshing open. Light footsteps, moving carefully. "Lord Sora?" a girl's voice questioned.

Sora continued reading to the bottom of the document before lifting her head and turning to face the waiting slave. The youth bowed, expertly balancing the tray she was holding during the sharp movement.

"The food you requested, Lord."

Sora turned her attention to the lighted map displaying on the viewscreen. "Set it down," she commanded without making eye-contact.

When there was no sound of the girl's retreat, Sora shifted once more and gazed at the slave through narrowed eyes, her face carefully not displaying the irritation she was experiencing. The restraint was not for the sake of sparing the girl's feelings. Expressing emotions revealed one's own weaknesses — not that this fragile slip of a child would ever be a danger to her. Her mother's slaves were well-treated and extremely loyal.


To her credit, the only discomfort the girl showed at the harsh order was a slight quaver in her voice. "Lady Kalisto wished me to inform you of the late hour." Her posture remained firm and upright. She will make a fine soldier once she's grown. The lithe body would be well-suited to acrobatics. A nimble fighter makes for swifter kills. Sora made a mental note to assign the girl for training. It was best to begin young.

Meanwhile, displeasure coursed through her at Kalisto's presumption. Sora was not a child to be sent to her bed merely because the hour was late. Yet Kalisto, who had been a close friend to Sora's deceased maternal grandmother, was irreproachable and frequently excused her indiscretions by announcing her concern for Sora's well-being. Put simply, the woman was an annoying nag.

"Will you be wishing to retire soon, Lord?" the slave asked hesitantly.

Sora's mind tracked to the barely-touched datapad on the floor in the corner — a message from her mother. There was still much work to be done. "No."

The girl almost took a step back, but caught herself. "Lady Kalisto bade me remind you of your promise to her."

Sora's lips tightened in disapproval, despite her inner battle to remain calm. Damn nosy old hag. "Inform the Lady Kalisto that I will seek my bed only after my tasks are completed," she answered tightly.

An alarm quietly beeped on the console behind her. She whirled at the sound, eyes already scanning the screen for the threat.

Not for the first time, Sora wished her mother had kept her father around. If a man were present, she doubted the other young Lords would try so frequently to usurp their land. The High Lords knew better — the Takenouchi military kept the seat unshakably in the family's hands — but many a grasping young idiot challenged her family's rule and was subsequently taught a harsh lesson.

The present attack came from the north-eastern quadrant. Most likely some juvenile upstart from Osamu's land, then. Through coded signals, Sora dispatched two units to deal with the fleet of attackers. No more would be needed — her soldiers were well-trained and well-armed. Their military technology was the best in Japan.

She felt a prickling at her shoulder and turned. The girl was still standing there.

"I gave you an order, slave," she ground out, straining to be civil.

"Yes, Lord." The girl bowed, but stood her ground.

Sensing that there was a reason for the disobedience, Sora studied her face. "You have a question. Speak."

"I was wondering, Lord, if you had any news of my sister. She is my only family."

Sora took up the datapad resting on the counter behind her. "Name?"

The girl breathed out her sister's name so softly and with such reverence, Sora had to strain to hear it, but she entered the name into the military database. KILLED IN ACTION, it read. Three weeks past. The girl should have received notice a long time ago. Sora made another note to speak with her commanders about delivering notices promptly. With any luck, the lesson could be applied to improve overall timeliness.

The girl was still waiting, her blue eyes wide.

"Your sister is dead." The girl's brows arched and crinkled in pain, but Sora continued. "Relay my message to Lady Kalisto." A soft lower lip trembled and tears were forming in the cerulean eyes. "You may go now." It was more of an order than permission.

The girl fled without bowing. Sora forgave the oversight and let her leave, watching until the door shut and locked behind her sobs, then she turned back to the console.

A moment of heavy silence filled the room.

"You could have been nicer, Sora," spoke the soft voice of her partner from her perch in the near corner.

Conscience twisted inside her and in response, pain gouged at her heart. Sora brushed it all away and shrugged. "No sense in cushioning the girl from reality. I merely spoke the truth." She had made the same announcement numerous times. Death was always close at hand in times of war... and Takenouchi women were always participants in war. It was their destiny.

"She was only a child, Sora," Piyomon persisted.

The young Lord glanced over at the creature that resembled the near-extinct rose-breasted cockatoo. "Youth is no guarantee against pain and sorrow," Sora said quietly. "A lie would have been more cruel."


Piyomon let her feathers fluff in agitation, but decided to say nothing further on the matter. Her Chosen was speaking from a place of hurt that could not be mended with mere words. Instead, she nodded her beak at the discarded datapad, picking a battle of a different sort.

"You shouldn't avoid it any longer."

Eyes focused on something invisible, Sora nodded mutely.

Sensing that her Chosen needed a helping push, Piyomon flew to the opposite corner where the datapad had been flung in a rare fit of temper, and snatched it up in her talons. She dropped her burden in Sora's lap before landing on the woman's shoulder.

Beneath her, Sora straightened in order to more comfortably bear her weight. Piyomon gripped the aged, yet thick, leather shoulder pad as her Chosen shifted. Once Sora was still, Piyomon scooted along the pad, gave the woman's ear a nibble, then set to running her beak soothingly through the short auburn hair.

Sora sighed and reached up to scratch at Piyomon's blue-feathered crest.

"What's wrong, Sora? What did she write?" The digimon maneuvered so that she could see the datapad better. She knew Sora had been upset by her mother's latest letter (not an uncommon reaction), but she didn't yet know why.

"It's nothing new. I shouldn't be so upset. It's just that, again, Mother took time out of her war campaign to relay her displeasure at my recent purchases at the masque. Apparently, not enough of them were capable of learning productive skills," she said, her voice tight with restrained anger. "It's not my fault that the majority of slaves offered were pleasure slaves. And that perverted fuck, Yagami, snapped up most of the ones that looked like they'd show some spirit in battle. With the money that she allotted for purchasing new slaves this season, I couldn't afford to outbid him."

She sank wearily back into the seat. "I hate it when she does this... just picking at me for no reason, or reasons beyond my control. Valid criticism I can take, but this..." she waved the datapad, "It's just crap."

Piyomon nestled closer and resumed grooming her Chosen. Sometimes when Sora was upset like this, she would nibble on a spot near Sora's ear to make the woman giggle, but in this instance, she doubted Sora would appreciate, or even register, the attempt.

"I'm no longer just a Lady. I've won the title of 'Lord'," Sora continued softly. "Mother expects me to take her place at Council meetings when she can't make them. I have command of several thousand slaves for purposes military or otherwise. And yet, she still takes time out of her busy schedule of conquering foreign lands to nit-pick my decisions."

The woman leaned her head to the side, obviously forgetting her companion, and Piyomon had to take a quick step away to avoid being knocked into. Her talons must have gripped more tightly than usual for Sora turned to look at her.

"Sorry," Sora murmured, offering a scratch beneath the soft pink feathers where Piyomon couldn't reach. The digimon trilled in pleasure, then tilted her head to allow her Chosen better access. "I don't understand her. She expects me to rule when she's gone, and yet she always finds fault with whatever I do, and..." the words trailed off into a sigh, every possible complaint already voiced at some point in time or another.

Piyomon rubbed back against Sora's fingers. There wasn't much else she could do or say. Sora wasn't often like this. The young woman usually hated indecision and self-pity, but there never was an easy or satisfactory answer for her troubles with her mother. Partially, though, Piyomon felt that it had always had something to do with Sora being Chosen — not Piyomon's fault, but something for which Lord Takenouchi had always blamed Piyomon for... as if her daughter never acquiring a digimon partner would somehow negate her Chosen status. No... all that would have accomplished would have been to put Sora in danger of attack.

Sora was lucky that, of the numerous species of endangered birds the Takenouchi's raised, a few were in fact digimon. The people of this world commonly thought that they were mutant breeds, created in laboratory experiments, but the truth was that they came from another plane of existence entirely... or so some of the older digimon had told Piyomon when she was younger. Of those digimon still living in the eyrie, none were clear on what being Chosen meant, but they had agreed that Sora should be protected at any cost. The older digimon had also told her tales of how Sora's grandmother was Chosen, and consequently, had died at a young age.

Sora's mother was raised by her grandmother's friend, Lady Kalisto, and Piyomon had always wondered how the same woman could raise both Lord Takenouchi and Sora and produce two such different humans.

But are they really so different? Piyomon mused.

Surely, being a female meant that Sora had to work ten times as hard to win her place in the world than a male, but her mother expected a hundred-fold effort. She thought back over Sora's response to the slave-girl.

Treating her roughly to strengthen her against a harsh world...

But was that the best way? Was that the only solution?

What other way is there?

On the one wing, it was possible to help one person at a time, giving them the skills and materials needed for survival. It was the plan started by Sora's grandmother and continued grudgingly by Lord Takenouchi — although Sora's mother was more interested in expanding her power overseas than in day-to-day life here. And Sora, for her part, and from what Piyomon had been told of the older woman, took after her grandmother, hiding away her softer emotions. Although she might not seem to care, it was the depth of her feeling that made her come across so harsh. She pushed everyone around her and herself until they were perfect, then pushed them some more. That way, they had a fighting chance at survival. But was it the best way?

With all the pain that still occurred, Piyomon refused to believe that there were no other options. But short of changing the entire system, of completely removing the threat, of erasing the slavery that kept people from challenging those in power... she could see no other way.

In the silence that followed her thoughts circling to a conclusion without finding a solution, Piyomon realized that Sora had remained quiet for far too long. Next to her, her Chosen sat unmoving, her face frighteningly devoid of expression.

Piyomon scooted closer and bit down on the flesh of her ear.

There was a sudden rush of air into the body beneath her. It was forced out with equal swiftness as Sora let loose a short sigh.

"Right," she said quietly. "Enough moping out of me. Back to work." Piyomon nipped at the earlobe again. "OW!" The cry of pain was muffled quickly. "Piyomon," Sora said in warning.

"Sora, there's nothing more you can do tonight. Let's just go to bed... please?"

Her Chosen's gray eyes darkened to the color of storm clouds. "You're siding with Kalisto now?"

Piyomon fluffed her feathers in exasperation. "I'm not taking sides. I've been thinking and meanwhile, you've been staring off into space."

"I've been thinking too," Sora snapped.

Piyomon said nothing for a moment, then asked gently, "Did it help?"

Her Chosen said nothing and the fight slowly melted from her eyes.

"Get some rest, Sora. It's nearly dawn. Whatever you've got here can wait until tomorrow afternoon." When Sora did not stir, Piyomon moved her head menacingly close to the woman's ear. "Do I have to bite you again?"

It was a gentle threat — she had never drawn blood with her beak and besides, Sora was considerably bigger and could knock her off her perch with the same speed that Piyomon could strike. But the caring emotion behind the words was enough.

Sora set her mother's message aside. Reaching out with her hand, the woman hit a few last buttons on the control panel then stood slowly, allowing Piyomon enough time to balance. They left as soon as the relief watch arrived, and with only a nod of the head on Sora's part. In the halls, one of the guards they passed suffered the misfortune of being caught in the act of napping. All things considered, Sora let him off lightly, only assigning a month on the labor crew as punishment. Normally she also delivered a long, scathing lecture on responsibility and the dangers of leaving his post unguarded, so Piyomon took the leniency as a sign of how truly tired the woman was. Thankfully, the remainder of the trip to Sora's bedchambers went smoothly and both human and digimon wasted no time in getting settled into their places of rest.

Although she herself was tired, Piyomon stayed awake, watching as her Chosen tossed and turned fitfully before finally managing to find the comfort of slumber. And Piyomon watched, still, as her Chosen began crying in her sleep. For short of going to war against the world, there was nothing the digimon could do.


There was no way of knowing how Taichi's brain would translate Koushiro's touch in the dream-world he was wrapped in.

Beneath Koushiro's fingers, his friend's body surged upright. The thin coverlet pooled in his lap and Koushiro felt his face warm when he noticed the unbroken line of skin running from Taichi's waist to his thigh. Since when does Taichi sleep in the nude? He shook his head, focusing. The dim glow from the hallway outside provided just enough illumination to see that brown eyes were open and unfocused. Taichi's breath came in heavy pants. Koushiro backed off the bed, remembering other times he had tried to wake Taichi. The man didn't have nightmares often, but for the first few seconds after them he had a tendency to be violent.


A fist shot out in his direction with enough force to leave a bruise if it had connected. The action was no more than Koushiro expected and he neatly swayed to the side in avoidance.

"Taichi, you're awake, so start acting like it," he snapped, putting the force of his frustration behind it.

Taichi took in a shaky breath. "Koushiro?" His body sagged and he flopped back to his pillows.

With the threat of bodily injury over, Koushiro edged closer and wiped some of the sweaty hair from Taichi's face. "Moron."

Taichi turned his head away. "Why are you here?"

Koushiro scowled. Hikari had asked him to check up on her brother, hinting that there were not-so-platonic activities going on between the Lord and his guest. Koushiro wasn't sure how he felt about that news. He'd decided to leave the matter until morning, but at Hikari's insistence, he fed the surveillance images of Taichi's room to his laptop and kept watch. During the complex process of dissecting his own feelings, the nightmare began. He didn't want to bring his confused emotions up tonight, so it was best to stick to the simpler truth.

"Hikari wanted me to check on you."

Taichi looked over at him, puzzled. "She told me you wanted to talk to me about something important." Koushiro couldn't school his expression quickly enough and Taichi sighed when he guessed the truth. "I wouldn't go to you, so she sent you to me."

"Something like that," Koushiro admitted. "You know how she is." That won a smile from Taichi. "I was going to leave it until morning, but it didn't look like the rest was doing you any good."

"What are you doing still up?" Taichi asked curiously. He looked at the clock. "It's really late. Or should that be early?"

"The Kaizer tried to get at our accounts earlier today. I was beefing up the levels of encryption and transferred funds out of areas that were no longer as secure." He'd also been working on additional security measures for the fortress, thanks to the fiasco earlier with Yamato, but now wasn't the time to point that out. "Want to talk about the dream?"

"No. All it means is that I'm an idiot... no new information there." The tension in Taichi's voice could have been from fatigue, but Koushiro suspected he was lying as well.

"This was worse than some of your others."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine, then start talking about what went on tonight with Yamato. You were supposed to talk to him, not fuck him." He winced at his own words — they were rougher than he normally used. Yamato brought out the worst in him. Already, Taichi was shaking his head in denial and that sparked enough anger to help him continue without questioning his own motives. "You did, didn't you." Statement, not question.

"No... yes... sort of." He hung his head. "Talking didn't exactly work."

Koushiro snorted. "Obviously. That's a lovely bruise you're sporting. Did you at least learn anything worthwhile from the encounter? Did he kill them?"

"I don't think he did. I'm not sure what happened, but I know he didn't intend for people to die. Other than that, nothing's definite. I still can't tell for certain if he's been planted here or not. He wants to leave, though. He hates Yagami and he's... confused... about me. I tried telling him the truth, subtly, and he missed my point." Taichi worried the corner of the blanket between his fingers. "I don't want to lie to him anymore. There's nothing to be gained from it."

If Yamato was told the truth, he could never be allowed to leave. Taichi's feelings wouldn't go away. If Yamato stayed, Taichi would find a way to bring the two of them together. Or else Taichi would end up very hurt. That means... Koushiro pushed his feelings down. He had no right to feel jealousy. He had no claim to Taichi other than friendship, and until Yamato came into the picture, that hadn't even been an issue.

Koushiro wondered if one could feel themselves going crazy.

These feelings aren't for Taichi, he told himself fiercely. They're caused by him making me aware that I don't have anyone. It's a normal hormonal reaction and Taichi's just convenient. I'm happy with our friendship... or at least the way it was before Yamato started taking over Taichi's mind.

Koushiro sighed. There was little chance of Yamato leaving. Koushiro had a feeling the manipulating ex-Lord was going to be a pain in his side for a good long while. Taichi's going to want him to stay.

"I guess the question now becomes, do you keep Yamato here for the rest of his life, or do you let him go free? You could let him go... before he learns anything more about us."

"If I let him go, he'd never come back." Taichi stretched an arm out then tucked it beneath his head. "I want him to stay, he wants to leave, and the right thing... I want to be able to make this decision myself, but there are more lives at stake than just my own. Two people are already dead... I don't want any one else to suffer from my mistakes."

It wasn't just Taichi's fault, Koushiro knew. His hands were just as stained and it was his earlier advice that had brought them here. He looked down, then hastily tugged the coverlet up several inches. Taichi didn't seem to notice. His eyes were locked on the ceiling, searching out patterns in the texture as if they were constellations in a star-spreckled sky. Their indecision didn't suit either of them.

Koushiro took a deep breath. If Yamato really was here as a spy, they were screwed. "I think..." he began, resting a hand carefully on Taichi's arm, "I think you should do what you want." Taichi jerked upward, but he settled back down at Koushiro's light pressure. "You love him, right?" The words cost them both. A war of emotions flickered across Taichi's face before the man nodded and agreed with more motion than sound. "Then follow your gut. Tell him the truth. He won't be able to leave, but then you don't really want to let him go, anyway."

"He's going to hate me when he learns the truth."

That possibility didn't bother Koushiro as much as it did Taichi, but he managed to say something supportive. He was here tonight for Taichi's sake alone. "You've always been able to charm your way out of your other problems. Yamato shouldn't be too different. If he's as special as you believe, he'll come around."

"And if I can't? If he isn't? If he doesn't?"

Am I worth nothing, then? You'll always have me. Koushiro clamped down on the mushy thought. That's just nonsense, he chided himself and resolutely ignored the urge to hug Taichi with an edge of self-disgust. I'm getting as hormone-driven as Taichi. Next I'll be complaining I need to get laid... His eyes drifted over Taichi's sprawled form. Oh... The blanket had slipped dangerously low again. He wrenched his eyes back to Taichi's face and was eternally thankful that the other man was still too wrapped up in his own troubles to notice Koushiro's. Get it together, genius-boy.

They were best friends. It made sense that Koushiro would be jealous of any lover that Taichi wanted to take. The fact that Taichi wanted that brat of an ex-Lord made it all the worse, but Koushiro couldn't control Taichi's heart. He doubted even his best friend could do that. Either way, Koushiro couldn't say that loving Yamato was an absolute mistake... and without that conviction, being anything other than cautiously supportive would just be needlessly hurtful.

Koushiro sighed softly. "If Yamato doesn't realize he's got a good thing going here, then you'll find a way to make him see it. Truthfully, Taichi, I don't trust him at all, but I do trust you. We've had this discussion before. I'll always back you up unless you're making an obvious mistake. And now... there's no way to tell what the future holds. So, whatever you decide to do, I support you."

Taichi was silent. Koushiro hoped he was thinking, and not just staring off into space as he appeared to be. "I'll tell him tomorrow," he said at last. "I'll have to dress up as Yagami. He won't believe it any other way. I want to speak to him alone, but will you watch from the security room?"

"I will. I'll set up the cameras in there tonight. Get some rest." He gave a comforting squeeze on Taichi's arm, then stood. "You've had a busy day today and I doubt tomorrow will be any easier. Good night."

Taichi smiled up at him, his first since the nightmare. "Night, Kou." Brown eyes shone gently. "Thank you."

Koushiro nodded with an answering smile and softly closed the door behind him. His duty complete, he returned to his room. Exhaustion descended swiftly then and Koushiro welcomed it as a mercy, even though he normally wouldn't go to bed for several hours yet and he had several dozen things to do, including setting the cameras in Taichi's false throne-room. I can do that tomorrow morning, he decided wearily. If Yamato rejected Taichi, the day would be hell for everybody. Koushiro needed all the sleep he could get.


Yamato's memories were hazy when he first awoke — like a long, bad dream. He could remember escaping, meeting up with strange men who had given him a transmitter, waking in darkness, Taichi's anger, Taichi's love, Taichi's lies.

He didn't know what to trust anymore. When he thought about it... and Taichi had left him with plenty of time to think about it... everything had probably been a lie. Or some sort of game.

Like me. Trust me. Love me.

Taichi had been sending the messages, and Yamato had foolishly allowed himself to hope that the young Lord's desire to help was genuine. And he'd stooped so low as to beg for sex from his jailer. Taichi was probably sitting with Yagami now, just laughing.

In a normal situation, the frustration would have led him to flop backwards on the mattress with a sigh... but his muscles were twitching for action, so he stood and began pacing.

Taichi's desire had felt real at first. And maybe it had been, but something had changed. Something in Taichi had made him stop. If Taichi's desire had been genuine, why then make it seem as if that desire was morally wrong? Yagami had to be behind Taichi's strange reluctance. It was the only explanation.

The Lord had said they were the same, but Taichi and Yagami seemed hardly alike. Yamato certainly couldn't see Yagami letting a physical attack slide without punishment. The Lord hadn't fought back and later, although the lights were never turned on, a tray of food had been shoved through the door.

As the lights were still off, Yamato supposed he was being punished, in a way. The room he was in — his first one, the one he was brought to after losing consciousness elsewhere in the fortress — was bare and lacked control over things as basic as light. The situation had probably been constructed to specifically emphasize Yamato's lack of control and therefore his dependence on Taichi.

It had to be a game, then. One where Taichi steals his trust and then betrays him in the end.

And damn my foolishness, but there's still a part of me that wants to believe in him.

He couldn't allow himself to be weak, though. Not now. Not in a situation as dangerous as this.

He was tired of waking up and not knowing what was going on. He assumed it was morning, but he had no real way of telling, and he was tired of that too. Most of all, he was tired of wondering what Taichi was thinking. Being hostile hadn't worked. Being seductive and accommodating hadn't either. There was the rare possibility that Taichi didn't know what he wanted. In that event, it would be impossible to guess and attempt to satisfy his desires. If, on the other hand, the brunet knew exactly what game he was playing, his fate was already decided no matter what actions he took. Either way, Taichi and Yagami had placed him in a situation of zero control... or so they thought.

Yamato had learned all too well such mind tricks at his father's side. He would not fall to the machinations of another bastard-Lord so easily.

No, playing their game would never do. He had more self-respect than that.

If he was being played, he'd have to start a game of his own — one with his own rules.

In the darkness, his fingers found the thin transmitter. As he held it, his redoubling body heat made the metal transform into a lovely, burning feather-weight against his palm.


The doctor's eyes lit up when Hikari entered the medical ward. Then his gaze traveled from her wrist and down the leash to the harness that Miko wore.

Hikari gave the man a chagrined look. After Miko's last disappearing stunt Hikari had wanted to take a few precautions to ensure it wouldn't happen again. The leash wasn't her first choice, but Miko had almost escaped from Hikari's rooms on several occasions. Now Hikari found it easiest to keep her cat with her. Miko, docile as ever, didn't protest wearing the harness and seemed to enjoy being out of Hikari's rooms and trotting alongside her owner.

Though his eyes were still fixed questioningly on the harness, the doctor politely refrained from commenting. Instead, he held a clipboard out to her.

"If you finish your usual morning rounds and still feel like lending a hand, come find me. There was a drilling accident at the Miyazaki site yesterday and the nurses have more than they can handle."

She looked at him in surprise. Although she could assist in checking vitals and recording them on the charts, she didn't have the training necessary to care for a wounded patient. If the doctor was asking for her help on non-clerical duties, it was a needful situation indeed.

"Are they really that bad off?"

He grimaced and nodded. "We could use an extra pair of gentle hands. The burn victims are in a lot of pain."

She winced in sympathy and took the board from him. "I'll finish these, then do my best to help you wherever I can."

"If you do come, be sure to go through decontamination first, and your pet will have to stay out. Their immune systems can't handle any more stress." His hand reached out and squeezed her shoulder in thanks, then Hikari was watching his back as he hurried at not quite a run back to the critical care ward.

The first room she had to check on was off to her left, but Miko's attention was fixed on something to their right. She jiggled the handle to the leash, not really tugging on it, but moving it enough to catch the cat's attention.

"Come on, Miko. This way." Hikari took a step away. Three steps away, at the point where the leash would begin tugging on the harness, Miko finally turned and moved to walk beside Hikari's heels.

"What's with you, Miko?"

Not receiving an answer, she opened the first door.

The cat moved restlessly while Hikari checked on the patients in the room, almost pacing within the confines of the leash. A few of the women were awake and one asked her in a hushed voice to help her sit up. Not seeing any restrictions in the woman's chart, Hikari supported her and fluffed the pillows before leaning the patient back. She filled the bedside glasses with water, made a few last notations on her board and moved on to the next room to repeat the process.

Some people, usually those not too severely injured, were placed in larger rooms with more patients. Those in more serious conditions had rooms of their own where they could recover their strength in peace. In the larger rooms, Miko was a welcome distraction. The few children present were delighted to have a furry playmate, even if only for ten minutes. Yet Miko, who usually enjoyed herself as much as the children, kept twitching to look at the door of whatever room they were in. Hikari began to fear that the cat would bolt and she gripped the loop of the leash tighter. Miko stayed put... even when the youngsters became overly fascinated with her tail... but the looks at the door somehow took on more desperation.

About an hour later, Hikari had worked her way over to the other side of the ward. She began to enter one room, but Miko began pulling against the harness toward a door across the hall. Curious about her pet's behavior and a little surprised at the cat's strength, Hikari let herself be dragged.

Now that she was closer, she frowned. This was the same room Miko had disappeared from before. She'd left her napping next to the old man and had later returned to find her missing, the door standing wide open. While she hesitated, Miko meowed and scratched at the metal.

Gathering up the leash so that it became shorter, she opened the door, uncertain of what she'd find. Hikari peered in cautiously, then let out an irritated huff and stepped in the rest of the way when everything looked exactly the way it should.

"There's nothing here, Miko. See?"

Miko bolted to the end of the leash, aiming for the bed.

"No," Hikari told her firmly, walking instead to the holder on the far wall and picking up the elderly man's chart. Miko tolerated the confinement, but as soon as she was leaning over to change the setting on his IV, her cat leapt to the top of the bed.

"Down now, Miko." Blue eyes gazed at her before swinging to focus on the man's face. "Miko, get down."

Ignoring her commands, the cat continued to walk slowly toward the head of the bed. Stepping closer, Hikari moved to pick up the misbehaving feline, but the second her hands touched fur, Miko twisted around and closed her teeth on Hikari's finger. It wasn't a true bite — the teeth exerted only the gentlest of pressures — but Hikari was completely flummoxed by her pet's behavior.

"Okay..." she said slowly. "You want to stay here?"

Eyes that had been staring unblinkingly at her closed, then opened.

Now what was she supposed to do? She'd asked a question to her cat and had received some sort response. And still, Miko gripped her finger. Hikari had been holding it motionless since the instant she'd felt teeth. Now she was torn between continuing to wait and trying to pry her hand free.

Miko continued to stare at her. With her free hand, Hikari smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture. Quickly, though, she brought that hand over her mouth to cover a gasp of surprise.

Miko's eyes were glowing.

And Hikari felt tears build in her own. Why didn't I see it before?

Why had none of them realized that Miko was so much more than what she'd seemed? Hikari wasn't sure exactly what Miko was. Her overprotective brother would never have allowed a potential danger near her, so she doubted that the cat was one of the mutants. But then again, as far as Hikari knew, normal cats didn't have luminescent blue eyes that could light up a dim room.

"You're not a cat, are you?" she whispered, already knowing the answer. The glowing eyes blinked once, then the light faded. The pressure on her finger increased ever so slightly.

Miko seemed to be waiting for something.

"So, you're not letting me go until I promise to let you do whatever you want?"


Blue eyes — the same ones that greeted her when she woke up, the same ones that closed in contentment whenever Hikari scratched beneath her chin, the same ones that had called to her through the bars of a cage in a room that had held more than a hundred rare animals. Miko had always been gentle with her.

She licked dry lips and her words came out tenderly formal. "The Miko that I know and love wouldn't hurt someone without good reason. So, I promise I won't try to stop you." She wasn't entirely sure that would fix the problem, but before she could get too nervous, Miko released her finger.

Out of habit, she reached to stroke the soft fur for comfort... an assurance that things were well between them. Miko avoided her hand with a hiss.

Heartbroken, Hikari let the arm hang at her side. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have."

How many times had she submitted the creature to unwanted caresses? Intelligence blazed in elliptical irises. Although not human, Miko was a person. Hikari tried to imagine being picked up by something more than five times her size, then being molested by giant hands. She shivered. "I'm sorry. I never even stopped to think if you enjoyed being petted."

Despite her misery, something about the tilt to Miko's head made Hikari feel as if she'd said something incredibly foolish. It only cheered her slightly. Miko's head swivelled to look at the old man, then she cautiously walked over his body and sprang up to place her two forepaws on Hikari's chest.

There was a flash of wet roughness against her cheek and then Miko was once again making her way with care to stand beside the old man's pillow. It took Hikari a few seconds to register what happened.

She licked me.

Miko didn't hate her. Everything would be all right.

Because of that trust... when the pink fog started pouring out of her one-time-pet's mouth, Hikari only backed up two small steps.


The transmitter had already been hidden in the crevice of Yamato's cheek for a long while when Taichi chose to make an appearance.

This time, the Lord only opened the door wide enough to stick his head through and give Yamato a sweeping glance.

"Come on. Put your shirt on and follow me," he ordered.

The Lord hadn't been in the room long enough for Yamato to properly gauge his emotions, but his absence in the room was a clue in itself. The door was still open a crack, Taichi waiting for him on the other side.

Why is he out there? Why does he care how I'm dressed?

Reflexively, his tongue strayed to brush against the transmitter.

"The shirt, Yamato," Taichi spoke from beyond the door.

"And if I refuse?"

"Then you get dragged to see Yagami without one."

No... He stiffened. Not again.

He quelled his fear with a long breath and picked up the shirt. One of the buttons was gone, but the rest still closed properly — not perfect, but still functional... just like this situation. As much as he dreaded Yagami's sadistic tendencies, it would mean he would be close. Close enough to finally take back control.

"So." Yamato appeared at the door. "No collar today?" he asked, keeping his voice light and conversational.

"No. You don't need one. This way." Taichi stepped to the side, allowing Yamato freedom to follow the hallway down to the left.

The blond paused in the doorway. "And if I decide to run?"

"There's nowhere for you to go."

Taichi still hadn't smiled. He hadn't tried to reassure Yamato. He wasn't his usual exuberant self. He wasn't faking anything this time. Yamato felt a shiver ripple up his spine. Something big had changed.

Yagami wants to see me. This can't be good.

Yamato walked. "What's this about? "

"Lord Yagami wishes to speak with you," Taichi said stiffly.

"Am I in trouble?" Yagami had probably heard about the guards' deaths.

There was a pause. "What, for the sex last night? No." It was said too casually.

Probably regrets it. After the way he stormed out of here... at least he slid some food in.

Most suspected accessories to murder didn't get dinner. Of course, most interrogators didn't suck off their suspects either.

Wait... yesterday night... he went from upset about the men dying to nearly fucking me... and he didn't get anything out of it. Did he? Or was it just another layer to the game?

Yamato went over his memories of what had been said and done. Once the worry over possible punishment had passed, and until Taichi stormed out, the whole encounter had been very pleasurable.

The recollection of Taichi's talented tongue brought warmth to Yamato's cheeks, but he squashed the feeling, knowing that Taichi's response hadn't affirmed or denied his danger. Senses peaked, Yamato pressed on, structuring his question, searching for answers. "Well, there is that, but I was thinking more about the men that were killed. Even you seemed upset with me yesterday," he ventured carefully.

"No, he's not angry with you," the Lord said in a clipped tone. "You'll be safe. He just wants to talk."

Another shiver, anger and fear all muddled. "Are you going to be there?"

There was quiet behind Yamato. He looked back. Taichi's expression was hardened, but his voice was softer than before when he finally spoke. "Yeah, I'll be nearby."

These words made him shiver most of all.


Yamato was directed by Taichi along a new and winding route leading to a room that was small and cramped, as if it had been designed for something else and later converted into a waiting area. The decor was in line with Yagami's enjoyment of keeping people uneasy. With only two steel chairs and a low stone table, the room held the bare minimum in furniture. Two doors were set into the walls — one leading back out into the hallway, the other presumably opening to where Yagami would receive him. On the table, fruit, bread, and cheeses were arranged on a platter next to a plastic pitcher of water.

"Cozy place," Yamato quipped, settling in one of the uncomfortable chairs. The metal mesh that served as seat and back support always left pressure marks on his skin.

Taichi made an off-hand nod, not really listening. Like before, he remained paused in the doorway.

"What, too high and mighty to sit next to me while we wait, Lordling?" Yamato jibed, expecting a negative reaction from Taichi. At this point, he was willing to say anything to clear that awful neutral look from the normally cheerful face. If this was Taichi's true face, Yamato was beginning to prefer the mask.

But if anything, the brunet's expression became even more bland after the jibe. It seemed the Lord preferred an unsubtle 'faking it' to revealing his actual feelings.

"Wait here," Taichi instructed.

"But you said you'd —" Yamato shut his mouth before he further made himself appear sickeningly dependent on Taichi's presence. "You aren't coming in with me?" Yamato asked, with less emotion.

"No. I make my reports to Yagami in private. You'll go in to talk after I'm through."

The implications of Taichi's absence pointed towards the meeting being unpleasant.

"What's he going to do to me?"

Taichi dismissed his questions with a shake of the head. "I'll be close by. Nothing will happen to you," he said, still carefully neutral. "You have nothing to fear."

"I'm not afraid," Yamato snarled. "Hating someone and wishing them dead doesn't mean you fear them."

Taichi blinked and the modicum of compassion that twinkled in his eye also melted the tenseness of his jaw. "It's okay. All you'll be doing is talking, Yamato."

Yamato wasn't about to let the now-soothing tone affect him. He knew now how well Taichi could twist the truth. "We'll be talking about my 'training' then, I suppose?" he asked, letting the annoyance break free in his voice. He'd had enough of Yagami's sadistic crap and Taichi's lies.

Taichi was looking strained now. "Honestly, it's not like that. He just wants to talk to you. It's a good thing. For both of us."

"Why? You like the near-fuck you almost got last night and ask your Master for more? Is he giving his ningyou to you instead?"

A look of pain tightened the features of Taichi's face. He took a step closer to Yamato, but halted still a few paces away. "Yamato, I'm sorry I lost my self-control with you last night. I... Don't you see? I'm not that much different from Yagami."

It would be easier to manipulate Taichi than Yagami. There was a chance of Taichi cracking, if his soft heart weren't completely faked. "There's a difference. If it was a choice between you and him —" Yamato began.

"Forget it," Taichi said, breaking in. "You're not being offered a choice right now." In his next breath, he gentled. "Everything will work out, though. I'll be near. Just hang in there a little longer."

Ah. Bye-bye resolute indifference.

Strange. Perhaps Taichi did care for Yamato. Maybe honesty would crack the man where hatred and seduction had failed.

"Taichi, I want to be free of him. I'm going to do whatever I have to in order to achieve that. If there's a way that you can help me... please," he finished, making as formal a bow as possible from a sitting position.

Taichi closed the distance between them. "I've given you all the freedom I can."

He snorted and tried to turn away. "Whatever."

"Yamato, it's not 'whatever,'" Taichi said, guiding Yamato's face upwards with a tender hand. "Tell me. Do you really feel as if I own you? Could you ever be truly owned by anyone?"

For all that the words had sounded like light teasing, they both knew it wasn't the joke he was trying to make it. The question hung heavy in the air and Yamato found himself unable to make a response although he knew he should have jerked away from Taichi's touch long ago. Governed by a more instinctual portion of his brain, Yamato's skin tingled as the Lord stroked along his cheek.

Taichi accepted his silence and kissed him.

It felt like goodbye...

Yamato kissed back, a traitorous part of his heart focusing only on the pleasure of the dance of lips and tongue. The rest of his heart and mind were poised motionless between anger and fear.

He won't help and he's feeling guilty. So much for him helping me get away from Yagami, then.

Passion begged him to give in, but he eventually broke away to hold Taichi at arm's length, the two darker emotions taking control. Taichi couldn't just kiss it all better.

"What's going to happen?"

Taichi smiled sadly and shook his head. "You'll see. You don't have to worry. I swear."

Taichi's meaningless repetition of platitudes pushed him away from fear and towards fury.

"Why? Because Yagami just wants to sit and have tea with me?" The scene was impossible to imagine. "More likely he'll sip a cup while swinging his whip and watching me writhe in pain."

"No. Yamato, it's not like..."

"Don't tell me no!" He hated the careful calmness Taichi was fronting. There was nothing to be calm about. "It's true. He's a murdering bastard and you're better than him." Taichi flinched. "Better than this!" Yamato's hands moved to encompass the room, then dropped limply to his sides. "I don't know what you're trying to do, but I can tell that you're attempting to manipulate me. That's the one thing, above all else, that I can't forgive." He bit his lip. "I'll be honest with you, Taichi. I... I don't want to see Yagami again. I... don't want to handle it," he finished, uncomfortably close to admitting fear.

So much for taking back control, he berated himself. But he knew, he knew what Yagami was capable of. In his last audience, he'd almost been strangled to death. Whatever the bastard had planned for this session, Yamato doubted that it would be as quick or painless. He stared into the Lord's eyes.

Please, Taichi. Help me.

It worked, but only a little. With the neutrality gone, Taichi instead looked weary and subdued. "He... This meeting... It's only —"

Not enough.

"Only what?" Yamato cut him off. "He's going to let me go? Because that's the only thing I want to hear from you."

Taichi's face hardened with resolve. "I'm doing what I can. But you will need to meet with him."

"No." Yamato glared, with enough force to make up for his lack in height.

"You don't have a choice, Yamato. Please, he's really not as bad as you think," Taichi said, reaching for Yamato's hand.

Yamato jerked it away, unable to believe how brainwashed Taichi was. The fool just kept on defending his master.

I'll just have to re-educate him.

"He's not so bad? Then I guess you don't care that Yagami tortures children to death?"


Slaves died all the time — murder, torture, overwork... Yamato didn't like it, but children being hurt had always produced a stronger reaction in him. It was easier to work up the righteous fury.

"Fact. You want a name? Iori. A slave boy in my father's fortress."

"What? Who's that?" Taichi's face went white. "No," he said, but he didn't look certain.

Yamato felt a burst of satisfaction. It was strange that one name had such an effect but at least it had gotten his attention. It was a stronger reaction than Yamato had hoped. Maybe Iori's death would be something more than a sad tally-mark in a record of Masaharu's slaves. Or maybe... Taichi had known.

He rose and took a menacing step closer to Taichi, expecting the man to hold his ground, but instead the other backed away to the wall. "Do you know how your master acquired me? Yagami got the chance to demonstrate his 'skills' on a little slave boy before my bastard of a father would agree to sell me to him."

Taichi looked down, face empty of surprise. The guilt that was there struck Yamato with the strength of betrayal.

He already knows... and he still follows Yagami willingly?!

Taichi was as bad as his master. No matter that Masaharu and Yamato himself were also responsible for the boy's death.

"The child's dead," he said sharply, hoping to pain Taichi into accepting the truth. "An innocent little boy — dead because of Yagami. Your Lord is a monster. And if you try to tell me otherwise... You are too."

The words had the desired effect. Any remaining color in Taichi's face drained away as he shook his head in denial, eyes wide and pained. "No. No, that can't be true. He was alive... I..." his voice trailed off helplessly.

"It is true, Taichi. Why would I lie?"

"Because..." He shook his head in distress, raking fingers through disarrayed brown strands. "You're..." The Lord was dangerously close to tears. "Damn," he said through clenched teeth. "You're just trying to get free. Using whatever emotional tactics you can to get to me — seduction last night, guilt now."

Yamato felt disinclined to mention that last night hadn't been entirely about getting free... or at least not in the sense Taichi meant.

"Kami-sama," Taichi continued, swearing softly under his breath. "How is it that I have this all planned out before I see you and yet I'm still..."

So His Highness is trying to manipulate me.

Yamato hated feeling naïve and stupid.

"...Still a coward," Yamato finished for him. He couldn't back down. This was his honor and self-respect on the line. "It may take me a while, but I am a person who can tell when he's being lied to. I don't know what your mission is in talking to me, but I do know some part of you cares about me. If you were honest with yourself, you'd help me escape, and you know it. That's why you can't talk to me properly."

Taichi had slumped into the remaining chair, head bowed and eyes averted from Yamato's direction.

"Why do you choose to follow a monster?" Yamato asked again, this time softly, with the full intention of listening to Taichi's answer.

Taichi twitched, coming back to himself. He stood and headed for the door. "Yagami can't be a monster. That's all there is to it."

And... they were back to square one. Yamato sprang from the chair, growling, and caught hold of Taichi's arm. He used the limb and the surprise of his sudden movement to shove the Lord against the wall.

"He was alive," Yamato continued, "for precisely the amount of time it took him to regain consciousness. Then he was terminated."

"So Yagami didn't kill the boy," Taichi said, a little of his ghost-like pallor fading. His obvious relief was nauseating.

"You make me sick," Yamato hissed. "Just because Yagami didn't deal the final blow it's all okay? Never mind that thanks to your precious Yagami, the boy's last few hours of life were filled with pain? Why the hell do you keep defending that bastard's humanity?"

Taichi broke free and didn't stop until he reached the door. He stood there, hands clenched tightly into fists at his side, his face expressionless once more.

"I'm sorry," he said. "This isn't going the way I'd planned at all."

"Why, because I actually think for myself?"

Taichi took a controlled breath. "Believe what you want, but you have nothing to fear. I'm going to leave you here, then in a little while, that door will open and you'll talk with Yagami. He'll explain things to you since I haven't been able to."

Perfect. Exactly who I've been wanting to see.

He hadn't wanted to trust the unknown Lord's men, but Taichi left him no choice. "So Yagami's receiving chamber is right through these doors?"

Taichi nodded. "It'll be okay. Just wait to see him." He left with a bittersweet smile and wave.

Yamato smiled as well, but it had nothing to do with Taichi.

"Oh, I'll wait, all right," he said to the empty room.

He had a pretty good idea of what Yagami would be explaining and he had no desire to be around long enough for things to get painful. The group had to have some way of breaching the fortress' defenses, so if they homed in on his present location instead of the throne room, one flimsy little door shouldn't negatively affect the attack. Yamato didn't trust them to help him directly, but he trusted that they'd take care of Yagami if given the chance. That alone would benefit Yamato.

He'd had enough of dealing with Taichi's lies and Yagami's threats.

A smile was on his face as he bit down on the transmitter, sending the signal.

He hoped the whole fortress burned to the ground.


Channeling so much power continuously was a strain. Salamon never before had to perform a full healing. If Gennai were a wounded human, he would've long since been dead... but because whatever illness that was attacking Gennai was doing so in a slow manner, she was able to make steady progress.

The first and most difficult portion of the healing had been Gennai's face. It had rejuvenated much slower than his little finger had, but eventually, the delicate facial skin became pink and smoothed of the deep wrinkles that had creased it. His hair changed from dull white to a silky brown, and as she blew the healing fog over his chest, his breathing grew less strained. With a bit of attention paid to his arms, Salamon had succeeded in healing her old companion from the waist up.

Although satisfied with her progress, she was out of breath from breathing the fog and an angry headache pounded inside her skull. She knew she was pushing herself past her limit, but with her untrained mind, the stress and the reservoir of energy that had been contained for far too long wouldn't allow her to stop. The power surged and she felt herself changing. She tried to pull it back, but she... couldn't... stop...

White light blossomed around her and she had just enough presence of mind to leap off the bed before it collapsed under her increasing weight. Hikari, her brave little Chosen who had watched the healing with quiet fascination, stepped forward. Unable to hold back the transformation any longer, Salamon hoped Hikari would have the sense to back away. The power she'd taken from the blond man surged in her, unwilling to patiently await its use in healing. Strength poured through her — limbs lengthened, her whole body tingled as it grew to nearly ten times its original size. The harness encircling her shredded. Wings with feathers of dark gray sprouted from her back. The tips of her ears brushed the ceiling.

It was strange... to feel this much power and to still have a four-legged form. She lifted her massive white paw and unsheathed silver claws. Claws had destroyed Jeri's flesh. What did it matter that they had not been hers? The feathers, dark and tainted, didn't lie. Her body proved her guilt. No longer Angewomon, Nefertimon keened in pain. For her failure, an angel had been turned into a beast.

Hikari was flattened against the far wall, a look of terror on her face that was not unlike what had been on the naked man's face.

She tried to step toward her Chosen, but her legs trembled. The power in her was still too much. She'd held it for too long. The transformation, even without the aid of her Chosen or a digivice, hadn't used enough energy. Power still strained to be unleashed.

She searched inside herself, finding several attacks open to her, but there was nothing in the room that wouldn't be missed if it were destroyed. And, never having used the attacks before, she wasn't certain what the results would be. But one path tugged on her and a piece of her soul whispered: Ask me no riddles, I'll tell you no lies. Words became a conduit of power.


A spherical burble of sound and light burst around her and filled the room. The force of it staggered Hikari and Gennai, but it passed through them, leaving the two unscathed. The light and sound leached into the walls, then was gone. After a few moments, shouts could be heard outside the room, but inside silence reigned.

Nefertimon could move now and she took a step closer to her Chosen. "Are you harmed, Hikari?" Feline digimon and girl both blinked in surprise. It hadn't even occurred to her to try speaking to the naked man. Nor had she given this form any other attention, instead, focusing on transforming back to Salamon as quickly as possible. She could speak in this body! It had been years since she had heard her own voice. She spoke again. She needed to know that her Chosen was safe. "Are you okay?"

"I - I'm... scared," the girl said, as if the words had to be dragged from her.

Nefertimon knew she shouldn't feel hurt. The girl's unease over her smaller form was sufficiently shocking enough to warrant panic and adding this larger form on top could only have one expected result. But still, it hurt.

"You don't have to be frightened." She tried to sound reassuring, but it was difficult when her voice boomed with each word. She tried again, softer. "You are my Chosen and it is my duty to protect you."

Hikari cocked her head to the side, considering, and took a step away from the wall. "Chosen for what?"

To die, like Jeri.

But she couldn't say that, so she batted the memories away and offered the kinder truth. "Chosen to help save the world."

Hikari's head jerked upwards to look at her and curiosity chased the last of the fear from her expression. A moan came from the bed and the girl's hazel eyes tracked over to the injured form. "What about him?"

Nefertimon looked down at the humanoid digimon. "He is Gennai, an old friend and mentor."

He was stirring more now and they watched his eyes open, blinking against the light. He looked in Nefertimon's direction and she felt his gaze rake over her darkened wings. The disdain she saw twisting his face made her feel sick. With effort, he shifted to a more upright and defensive position.

"Who are you?" he rasped. "Do I know you? Where am I?"

She bowed her head. "I am Nefertimon, evolved from Salamon, once-guardian of Jeri and, now, protector of Hikari. This place is the fortress of Yagami. No one here will harm you."

Sadness blossomed in his eyes as recognition and understanding came. The pity hurt more than the loathing. "You guard this girl?" he asked gently.

"Yes. And there are three others like her here in the safety of the fortress. They do not have partners."

"Four Chosen in one place?" Shock paused him only briefly before he spoke with determination. "Then we must hurry. I do not know how long I have been under this illness. Myotismon is plotting again. If the Chosen are truly gathering without assistance, the circumstances must be dire. Who are the other three? Do they hold any power or influence that can help us?"

The blond man. Koushiro. Taichi.

"There is a stranger, kept like a prisoner. He arrived only recently. I do not know him."

Hikari raised her hand and Nefertimon paused in her report. "Um, his name is Yamato. My brother says he's a good man. I think they're um... Taichi might be biased."

Gennai nodded to her in thanks, then raised a discrete eyebrow at Nefertimon.

"Hikari's elder brother, Taichi, is Chosen. He's also the Lord in charge of the Yagami fortress and lands."

"A Lord?" Gennai asked, the same instant Hikari asked, "A Chosen?"

Nefertimon nodded. "He is both a good man and leader. We can trust his judgement."

Gennai's eyes darkened. Nefertimon couldn't blame him. The Lords had caused her older group of Chosen trouble in the past. The man heaved a sigh, then winced and wrapped one arm about his ribs.

"The last?" he inquired.

"His name is Koushiro. He works well with computers and is familiar with the more antique technologies."

"Koushiro too?!" Hikari interposed herself between them. "What's going on?" she demanded with a stomp of her foot.

Gennai looked at Hikari then pinned Nefertimon with a disapproving glare. "The girl's life is in danger and you have told her nothing?"

Pointed ears flattened back in annoyance. "There hasn't been an opportunity before. Something here is blocking my telepathy. I haven't had a voice to do any explaining with."

Gennai frowned, but it was more in contemplation than in disapproval. Then his expression became grave as he turned his gaze to Hikari. "For more than two hundred years, the Chosen and their digimon partners have been fighting a losing battle against Myotismon and his Dark Masters." He waved off her question when she tried to speak. "It is better to tell the story once rather than four separate times."

His shaky arm reached out and captured one of Hikari's hands. She flinched at his touch, but let him draw her closer.

"Lady, will you trust us and allow us to explain once the four of you are gathered?"

Hikari stood there, looking as if she'd like to have her hand back to herself, but Gennai wasn't letting go and Nefertimon knew Hikari was too polite and caring to be anything but gentle with a recovering patient. Instead, the girl brushed her other hand against the fur at Nefertimon's chest, tangling her fingers in the long strands.

"You're really Miko?"

Nefertimon leaned into the touch. "Yes, Hikari, I am. And I would give my life before I'd let you come to harm," she told her Chosen solemnly. "The spell I cast prevents lies from being told. I cannot lie to you." Seeing the girl's skeptical glance, she offered, "If you doubt me, try lying."

Gennai raised an eyebrow and let Hikari's hand go. He settled back against the pillows and waited expectantly.

Nefertimon watched with growing amusement as Hikari was quiet, her brow furrowed in thought. She knew that the girl was having difficulty finding something to lie about since she normally was honest to a fault. "My name is K-K-Hikari," her Chosen finally said, stumbling over the name with a look of surprise.

"You're magic, Miko," she said softly, staring up in wonder. Nefertimon felt the girl's arms wrap about one of her forelegs. "And I still love you, no matter what you look like."

The girl's pure emotions were too much.

Magic? I'm a monster who let everyone I loved be destroyed. I'm horrible.

Hikari hugged her tighter. "You're wonderful. Promise you'll stay with me forever?"

Nefertimon couldn't say anything immediately. Her throat was painfully tight. With her body so big in a room so small, there wasn't much she could do in the way of reassuring touches, but she returned the embrace as best she could and one monstrous white paw briefly rested on the girl's shoulder. "I promise, child."

Nefertimon could just imagine the teen's eyes flashing in annoyance for the appellation, but Hikari would never be old enough for the war she would be forced to fight.

It was Gennai who spoke, though, filling the quiet. "You have bonded with a fine Chosen, Nefertimon. You will be good for each other." He gave a pained cough. "But now I need to reiterate our need to inform the Chosen of the current situation. Every moment is precious. It's a miracle you're all still alive."

Hikari pulled back, her worried expression returning as she focused on Gennai.

"Nefertimon," Gennai continued, "If you would revert to Salamon we'd have an easier time navigating around."

She smiled at the thought of what the other residents of the fortress would say to seeing a giant feline roaming the halls. But she wouldn't be able to roam very far in this form. She would have to change back if she was to fit through the narrower corridors. Nefertimon tried centering herself — tried to recapture the feeling that she had when she'd been Angewomon and returning to her smaller form. But each safe place she sought in her mind clamored with energy. The peace she searched for jittered and shimmied away. She shook her head.

"I can't. I don't know how any more. I took in a lot of power in order to heal you." She couldn't bring herself to say how or where she got the power from. But seeing him glance at her wings again, she suspected Gennai knew. "I can't control it. I'm afraid I'll hurt you on accident." She hadn't meant to say that. "When is this truth spell going to wear off?" she growled softly.

Gennai gave her a kindly smile, but worry tinged his eyes. "The spell should collapse once you are in your smaller form. It takes a very powerful mind and a lot of skill to maintain spells past a transformation. So let's concentrate on getting you back to Salamon, shall we?"

Nefertimon nodded and settled back on her haunches.

Hikari was petting her as best as she could reach and Nefertimon felt fingers fall upon her darkened wings. "They're so soft," the girl murmured, burying her face into them.

Gennai was quiet. He'd been there when Jeri died, when Angewomon had taken in the girl's blood as her duty insisted, when her wings had turned black. He understood her pain.

Hikari was oblivious, or perhaps not.

"Is this okay?" she asked, pausing her strokes. "Does it bother you if I touch them? It's just that they're so beautiful. Can I, please?"

Nefertimon closed her eyes and felt a warmth wrap around her heart. "It..." She couldn't lie. "It's all right. Go ahead." The chilling memories weren't gone, but a blanket of love protected her from them.

Hikari's touch upon her wings resumed, her strokes sure and gentle. Staying like that, Nefertimon let Gennai guide her through the meditation.

It was good to hear his voice again. His words swirled around her, soothing, straining out the harsh sounds coming from outside the sickroom. Hikari's presence at her side relaxed her further and as soon as she shrank, Salamon was immediately gathered up into her Chosen's arms and the girl pressed kisses into her fur.

"Well done, Salamon," Gennai said. She made a contented purr and burrowed deeper into her Chosen's embrace. The girl still loved her and Gennai was awake, if not fully healed.

Releasing her, Hikari helped the old digimon into a moving chair and with his permission, Salamon curled up in his lap. The relief of the moment lulled her to sleep and her last coherent thought, as Hikari pushed them along to presumably find Taichi, was that finally her powers were no longer a curse, but a blessing.

She awoke at the sound of an explosion.


Okay, focus, Taichi told himself. You need to convince him that you're Yagami before you reveal yourself as Taichi. Otherwise, he might just think you're playing dress-up.

Taichi sighed. Not that he wasn't playing dress-up already. He'd gone all-out for this confrontation with the truth, having donned both the mask and the full-body suit that went with it. At least if Yamato took the news badly and decided to express his displeasure violently, he'd be physically protected. If Yamato hated him, though, there was nothing that could protect his heart from that. Taichi hoped he hadn't waited too long to reveal his secret. The man's behavior in the waiting room had done nothing to reassure him on that point.

On the dais, Taichi pressed a hidden button and the door to Yamato's room slid open. He double-checked that the voice modifier was set correctly, then commanded, "Enter."

Yamato obeyed, looking much less nervous than his previous confrontation with Yagami. His steps were brisk, determined and he stopped a mere three paces from the dais.

"Why am I here?"

Taichi had anticipated that question and had formulated a response that revealed his own feelings as a reminder.

"Whether you mean in my fortress or in this room, the answer remains the same. You are here because Taichi loves you."

"Well, I hate him, so you can just keep on fucking him yourself."

Inside the mask, Taichi sighed. He'd guessed that Yamato would react that way, but he'd hoped he wouldn't. "That is not an option," he told the angry blond. "In the short time you've been here, he's forgotten his purpose. He was supposed to be helping you fit in. Instead of forcing you to obey, he's dealt with you softly, tried to befriend you. Unusual, don't you think?"

"It's only strange if you expect everyone to be a twisted fuck like you."

Taichi stood, his hand going for the whip at his side. It was the opening he needed. "Is it now?" he asked silkily.

There was a small table off to the side. On top of it rested a crystal vase containing a rose on a thin stem. Taichi took his mark and, with careful aim from years of practice, snapped the cusp so that blood red petals showered down upon the table top. A quick glance at Yamato showed that he was suitably impressed, the man's lips flattening to a thin line.

Taichi set the whip on the table and canted over the edge of the dais. He drew nearer to Yamato, but the blond did not back away. "You hate me very much, don't you," he said, reaching out a gloved hand to caress the man's cheek.

Yamato's eyes blazed and he held steady against 'Yagami's' touch. "If you ever take me to your bed, you won't wake up the following morning."

Fear. He's afraid, but fighting it. Another few pushes, to make him remember Taichi hasn't hurt him... If he hates me...

"Your words are very bold for someone in your position. You seem hardly trained at all. Should I punish Taichi for being too soft with you? Would you like that?"


A knot in Taichi's stomach eased as Yamato became noticeably alarmed at the suggestion.

"You are obviously not trained as a proper slave after all this time. But the fault is not yours alone. I'm asking you: Will you accept the punishment for your failure, or would you like Taichi to receive it since he is equally to blame?"

"Leave him out of this." Then he smirked. "If you want to blame someone, blame yourself. He's your protégé, right? If he can't sufficiently break me to your standards, that reflects badly on your training of him, now doesn't it?"

Behind the mask, Taichi smiled. "So you wish to spare him. Why? You don't hate him, yet you do. You want to protect him, yet you don't trust his words. Which is it, Yamato?"

The slip was deliberate, a test. Yamato didn't disappoint. Blue eyes widened. "My name..."

Why did you beg me, Yamato? Was it all in the desire to escape? To protect yourself? Were those the only reasons?

"You begged him, Yamato. You needed him to fuck you last night. I want to know why."

Yamato stiffened. "That's none of your business, Yagami."

"Oh, but it is. I know everything that Taichi does." He brushed a gloved fingertip over Yamato's shoulder, faultlessly tracing the purplish mark hidden beneath the fabric. Yamato was sensitive there, Taichi had discovered, and now he made it appear to Yamato that Yagami knew as well. Pale cheeks colored prettily, just as he'd hoped. "Everything," Taichi repeated. "He is my business. And so are you."

Before Yamato could respond, a distant rumble demanded their attention.

The noise grew and a lacework wall of light arcing from ceiling to floor raced toward them. It passed through Taichi's body with a burning tingle. Seeing the thing coming had given him time to brace himself, but Yamato stumbled sideways with the force and Taichi grabbed his arm to steady him. A cacophony of murmuring voices filled the air, but soon the sound receded along with the glow. An energy pulse, maybe? But Koushiro would have alerted him of any attack. Taichi glanced around. The building's structure didn't seem to be damaged and he felt fine.

"Are you okay?" Taichi asked. Yamato was shaking slightly.

The blond straightened. "I'm —" Distaste chased away the vulnerable expression and he jerked his arm out of Taichi's grip. "I don't see why you should care," he said tartly. "What was that? A pathetic attempt to make me cling to you?"

Taichi wasn't about to let their conversation get sidetracked. "I have no need to scare you into my arms. I do not know what that was, and I intend to find that out as soon as you answer my question. Why did you seduce Taichi last night?"

"What does it matter?"

I need to know... But he couldn't tell Yamato that.

"I need to know." The words had slipped out. He shook his head, focusing. He had to know. Before anything else happened. "Did you want to escape? Did you think to cloud his mind with lust such that he'd do anything for you?"

"I did it because I wanted him!" Yamato's hands flew to cover his mouth. "No! I h—" While his hands slipped downwards to scrabble at his neck, his mouth worked soundlessly. Before Taichi could intervene, Yamato recovered and his face twisted with rage. "You! What did you do to me?"

"Nothing, recently," he said, relieved that at least Yamato wasn't choking.

"Well, you've done something to me," the man snarled. "I can't say what I want. I —" More silent words. His eyes narrowed. "Was there some sort of truth serum slipped into that food? Did you drug me?"

"No." Taichi had prepared it himself, not wanting to trouble the kitchen staff.

"And how do I know you're telling the truth?"

Unlike previous interactions with Yamato, the track of conversation was a tangible, controllable object. Taichi was back in his element. The words flowed into his mind. Because as much trouble as you've caused me, I'd sooner kill you than bother with lying.

It was the sort of thing Yagami would say, so Taichi went with it. "Because —" His throat worked without effect.

Oh, that's weird. The words wouldn't come. He stood gaping like a fish until he finally accepted that he couldn't speak and shut his mouth. Thankfully, the event had been covered by the mask. "What the hell?" Well, that came out just fine... Just like Yamato... 'Truth serum,' Yamato had said. ...He'd tried to say something that wasn't true. The light, maybe? Whatever it is... we can't say things we know to be false? ...This should be interesting.

Taichi spoke the truth. "If I was going to drug you, I would have done so a long time ago."

"I'm not saying anything more until this wears off," Yamato said with a glare.

Taichi tongued the switch for a short laugh. "What are you afraid of saying?"

Yamato's eyes dropped to the carpet.

Now? Might as well...

Taichi went back onto the dais and retrieved the album from behind the throne. With admirable feigned aloofness, Yamato didn't follow his actions, but the man tensed at Taichi's return.

"Here." He thrust the album at Yamato. "If you're going to stare at something, it might as well be interesting."

Frozen blue eyes flickered in recognition. It was the same album from his father's dusty room that Yamato had tried peeking at before.

Taichi received a hard look, but finally Yamato took the album from him and flipped it open to the center. While Yamato was busy, Taichi took the time to contact Koushiro. He didn't really want to watch Yamato look at the pictures... for if, by chance, Taichi glimpsed the old family photos of happier times... He needed to touch-base with his friend.


The genius responded instantly. "Yes, Taichi? Things going well with Yamato?"

"I suppose. Look, there was a strange energy flash a few minutes ago. I think it somehow affected our ability to tell lies."

"Heh, you're definitely in trouble with Yamato, then." When Taichi didn't allow this to provoke a response, Koushiro continued. "Hmm... I didn't detect anything here, but several guards reported seeing something similar. Aside from a few minor arguments starting, nothing else is out of the ordinary. I doubt whatever you saw was an attack. None of the security systems are affected."

"Well, do me a favor. Try lying."

"The square root of 222 is 16."


A sigh came over the comm line. "Taichi?"

"Uh, is the square root of 222, sixteen?"

To his credit, Koushiro remained polite. "No, Taichi."

"So you can lie?" He was expecting a simple , if perhaps scathing, 'yes,' but instead...

"Well, I'm working on a current theory in which there are several planes of existence within our universe. Events that happen in one plane may not occur in another. So it is possible, that even if I were to say something factually incorrect to our point of view, it may indeed be accurate elsewhere. This would cause a state in which everything is true. However, now that I think about it, it would be inconceivable for the laws of mathematics to change, regardless of other differences or factors."

"Huh? In a vocabulary I can understand, Koushiro, please?"

"For this present question: yes, I am able to tell falsehoods."

Taichi smiled in spite of himself, because simply saying 'yes, I can lie' was too easy for the genius. "Great. Thanks for that. If you find out what caused that flash a few minutes back, let me know."

"That's what I had been doing until you interrupted me."

There was a burst of static, then nothing. "Koushiro?" Still silence. "Ugh. That touchy nerd has no social niceties," he muttered into the privacy of the mask, before reminding himself that he had Yamato to deal with.

The man's eyes were cast down at a picture of the three of them. As if Yamato could feel the weight of Taichi's regard, the blond looked up, hand still poised over the page.

"What is this supposed to be?"

"It's a family picture album, Yamato. My family. A father and his two children."

Yamato's finger stroked the surface of the photo. "The boy looks like a younger version of your protégé and Taichi told me he had a sister. Your son is supposed to be dead, Yagami."

"You have questions, I realize," he said, putting a hand on Yamato's shoulder. The blond flinched away, but he didn't move very far. Taichi let him go. "I'll answer your questions, if you'll answer mine."

"Why should I trust you?"

"Do you want answers or not?"

Yamato made a vague shrug. "There's not much I can tell you."

"It'll be enough."

He felt a bit strange, casting aside his prepared words in order to ask direct questions that he'd only hedged at in his notes... but wasn't it for the best? He'd not wanted to drug Yamato into telling him the truth, preferring instead to win his trust as Taichi.

The truth-inducing effect was definitely on the creepy side, but Koushiro was checking into it and it was a gift he could use — a pain-free way of seeing into Yamato's heart. And if the man refused to speak, it was just as good as an answer. It was a perfect, simple solution to his problem. Wasn't it?

Taichi removed the album from Yamato's hands and placed it on the dais, then turned back to face the man he'd purchased for a heavy price. "Why are you here, Yamato?" He held up a gloved hand to forestall the insolent words building. "Just the truth, as best as you know."

"My father didn't like the man that I've become. He wanted to be rid of me."

"Are you spying on me or this fortress?"

"No," Yamato answered with a roll of his eyes.

"Have you ever attempted, or will you ever deliberately try to injure a person under the protection of this fortress."

"I wouldn't mind it if you, the Slavemaster, or the red-head were harmed, but I have no quarrel with the common inhabitants here."

"And Taichi?"

"Taichi is a special case." His face darkened. "Look, can we cut through this touchy-feeley crap? What the hell are you trying to do with me?"

"One last question, please."

"Can I stop you?" Yamato huffed.

Taichi paused. "Perhaps." Another pause. "Yes. I will not harm you if you refuse to speak."


"I can't lie either, remember?"

"So you say." Yamato rolled his eyes and waved a white hand with mock grandeur. "Carry on."

Taichi took a moment to switch from the Yagami voice to his own, and adjusted the volume so that it projected softly.

"What do you want?"

In the empty moment that followed, Taichi returned to the louder, deeper voice. It took that long for Yamato to react, bridging the distance to Taichi as he moved.

"Who are you? What's got you dropping the sadistic Lordship routine?" The blond's fingers clenched into Taichi's arm. Without the suit, they would have been bruising. "Is this another one of your tricks, another way to hurt me?"

With care, Taichi removed Yamato's hand from the shoulder of his cloak. "Nothing of the sort, although I'm gratified to hear that you've noticed the change in persona. I won't promise that I'll carry out your desires, but if you tell them to me, I vow not to use them against you in any way."

"I —" Yamato's words choked off and Taichi was subjected to an evil glare. "Bastard."

"You don't have to speak. I will not force you. But I'm offering you a chance to tell me of your preferences. It's hard to ignore that you yearn for your freedom, yet I wonder where it is that you wish to be." A pause to adjust the helmet's settings, then softer, "Where is it that you want to rest your head, Yamato? What do you want?"

Yamato resumed his gaze at the carpet and just before Taichi gave up, he spoke, his voice holding a matching softness that warmed Taichi's heart.

"I don't know what I want, really, aside from the freedom that you've already mentioned. There's nothing for me at home; although, I worry about my brother, wonder about him. I want a quiet place to live — somewhere that doesn't necessitate a struggle to get through daily life." He looked up, as if seeing through the reflective lenses of the mask and into Taichi's eyes. "I want a peaceful existence, without people hurting."

Taichi swallowed, unable to speak... this time for a completely different reason.

"Is that it?" the blond inquired.

No, Taichi thought. Do you love me?

"Yes," he said finally. But... Taichi forced himself to continue and encountered no more difficulty than usually was present in lying. "Thank you. That's all I wanted to know." He could lie. As long as Yamato also didn't try to tell a lie, the man might never even know that the wave's effects had worn off.

It would be so simple to ask him... to learn the answer whether by Yamato's words or his silence.

No, Yamato deserved to answer honestly of his own free will. After all Taichi had put him through, and all the anguish Yamato had endured, Taichi owed it to him.

Yamato straightened. "My questions now. What's going on?"

Taichi nodded his acceptance and began speaking. "Four years ago, a Lord disappeared. Rather than let his empire go to ruin and be destroyed by his enemies, another took his place and prevented the world from learning of his disappearance."

Taichi's faith in Yamato's intelligence was not misplaced. The blond grabbed hold of his robes again. "Who are you?"

Taichi let his own voice sound. "I told you when we first met that I was there to help you fit in here. That's the most truth I could give you back then. The full truth is that I... bonded ... with you... years ago. I know you don't remember me, but the past few weeks haven't done anything to my feelings, save for making them stronger. You have a sharp mind, a caring heart, you stand up for what you believe in. I love you, Yamato. Taichi loves you."

Yamato's fingers unclenched and he stepped back, head shaking in disbelief. "Get away from me."

Taichi didn't follow, but he continued to beg. "Yamato, please try to understand. That album — that's me, my sister, and my father. We're good people, playing a very dangerous acting game. I wanted to tell you. I've been trying to tell you. But we had to be sure you wouldn't betray us first."

Yamato laughed at that, sounding more than slightly crazed. "And you're sure now?"

"No, but I don't want to lie to you anymore. You deserve the truth. I'm sor----."

An explosion overpowered the rest of the word.

Even through his helmet, the blast was near-deafening. Yamato's ears had to be ringing. Smoke and debris spilled into the room from one of the side walls. He steered Yamato to the opposite wall and forced him down. "Cover your head!"

Yamato glared at him. "Let go of me, you sick fuck!"

Of course, hating me takes precedence over protecting his own neck.

Taichi roughly moved Yamato's arms for him, then spun to survey the damage. Thick smoke filled most of the room, limiting his visibility. Behind him, Yamato began coughing. Taichi, grateful for the air filter on the mask, felt for Yamato's shoulder and shoved him down to the floor where the air would be clearer. He heard Yamato growl something again, but ignored it, his mind staying focused on analyzing the threat.

With a wall being down and there being more smoke than dust in the air, there had to be a fire someplace nearby. Mentally, Taichi spun the room around, trying to figure out where the hole in the wall led... a guest room, and then... outside.

He tongued the comm switch. "Koushiro! We're under attack here! What's going on?" Silence. "Koushiro! You there? Come on, buddy, answer me!" Nothing.

Dammit! How long have we been out of contact?

It had to be an attack. He hoped Koushiro was all right, but it was a brief thought. Human voices were wafting closer through the billowing smoke. He needed a weapon... the whip was on the table on the dais — too far away to reach... the rest of the room was purposefully bare, in case Yamato had tried to harm Taichi or himself. He'd left the weapons his suit concealed behind for the same reason.

We need to get out of here.

There was a secure room in his chambers. If they could get to it...

He grabbed Yamato by the elbow and hauled him toward the door. When they had nearly reached it, Yamato pulled away.

"Who are you?"

Taichi didn't dare remove his helmet, not with a threat so close, but he pushed up the sleeve of one arm, keyed in the unlocking code, and folded back the top of his glove. The synthflesh of the suit parted and the dark scratches on his inner wrist were revealed — the first syllable of Yamato's name was marked in dried blood.

"No." Yamato took a step away. "You can't be him."

He locked the suit back in place. "Yamato..." Taichi reached out to just carry the stubborn man. They had to get out of there.

It was too late.

"Freeze, or we'll shoot."

Taichi stilled. He had the benefit of body armor built into the Yagami suit, but Yamato's clothes offered no such protection. He turned to face the invaders, shielding Yamato in the process, but the arrogant blond stepped to the side, away from his cover.

There were five men — each carrying enough weaponry to stop an entire squadron of guards. Two of them he recognized as men he had purchased. They were good men... had been good... Damn. Yet the thought lacked emphasis. Taichi had known it was only a matter of time before the fortress was infiltrated by enemies posing as slaves. But why now, of all times? Gods, I was so close to finally getting through to him!

He held his arms out to his sides, hands raised, and stepped again between Yamato and the men.

"What do you want?"

One of the men he recognized lowered his weapon and performed an elaborate, mocking bow. "Our Lord requests your company at our earliest convenience. That would be now and we should be going before your guards arrive. A bleeding-heart like you wouldn't want any more deaths than necessary, now would you?"

Taichi looked back at Yamato. The man's face, once more, was unreadable. At least he was staying in a protected position. He faced his kidnappers then tongued the comm switch. "Koushiro... Anyone?"

"Start moving. Our Lord requested you alive. He didn't give any instructions as to your condition."

Taichi's flicked off the comm. Listening to static wasn't helping him keep calm. The way he figured, he had three options. One: Try and make a run for it. Two: Try and stall and hope help arrived soon. Three: Go with them and hope for a rescue.

"Tick-tock, your Lordship. Your transport awaits."

Taichi hesitated.

The man shrugged. "Execute extraction plan Epsilon."

The squad advanced.

"Wait." He needed time to think. "Whatever you're getting paid, I'll triple it."

The leader shook his head. "No waiting, no negotiating, no stalling for security to find us. Move now or begin bleeding."

Yamato... It's my fault he's in this mess.

Taichi strode forward. "All right. I'll come." He angled his head at the blond who was remaining admirably calm. Yamato was probably realizing that the less attention he called to himself, the longer he would stay alive. Taichi didn't have that luxury, but he could make sure that Yamato remained safe. "He stays, unharmed, or I'll set my mask to self-destruct."

Taichi had no intention of carrying through with his threat. The tongued code was complex and he'd never bothered to learn more than the first five commands so he wouldn't inadvertently trigger the procedure, but that didn't matter. All he needed was for the leader to believe his bluff.

"He's lying," the closest invader said. The leader glared at him for speaking out of turn.

"Maybe so," Taichi answered. "But then again... there's also the chance that I'm not. I don't like sharing what is mine. Either he stays here, or none of us leave this room."

"Fine." The leader, Taichi was certain now that he was one of the men Taichi had bought, shrugged, then said to Yamato, "Sorry, kid, but you're on your own."

The other man Taichi recognized smiled at the blond. "Don't worry too much. I've seen enough as a guard to know that the rest of the saps who run this place will make sure you're well-treated."

Taichi nearly groaned at the threat that knowledge implied. Here he and Koushiro had been worrying about what Yamato might do if he learned the truth, and already his enemies knew.

While he was distracted by watching Yamato, two men came and grabbed his arms. Since it appeared Yamato would be left alone, Taichi didn't struggle when they pulled him along.

Over his shoulder, he could see that Yamato looked pissed, fists clenched at his sides.

He switched from Yagami's voice to his own, increasing the volume to counteract distance and distraction. "It's not your fault." Yamato's expression didn't change.

The leader's fist knocked against the side of Taichi's mask. He leaned in conspiratorially. "Hmm... thinking he's upset at us taking you, your Lordship? Think again. It is his fault. He's the one who led us right to you."

Taichi didn't want to believe it. It would have been easy for the man to lie, but he looked back at Yamato one last time and knew it was true. Tears streaked paths down his explosion-grimed cheeks, but the blue eyes were filled with hate.

He knows. He knows I'm me and he's letting them take me. He hates me.

Yamato darted forward suddenly, heedless of the danger, and Taichi's heart leapt in fear and hope.

The leader smirked and motioned for the men not to shoot. "Make your goodbye short and sweet, boy."

Yamato leaned close to Taichi and his tone was quiet, softly spoken for only they two to hear. It made his rage, the words, cut all the deeper. "You. Sick. Lying. Bastard. You deserve everything that's about to happen to you." He drew away, then spoke an ancient, damning oath loud enough for all to hear. "May the ghosts of your ancestors help you, for no one else will."

The man at his left knocked him roughly in the ribs, grinning. "Pissed him off, did you?"

Taichi slumped in his captors' grips, missing the glare the other man he recognized directed at his assaulter. He didn't have the strength to keep himself upright. Like good underlings, they hauled him along.

He knew he should be furious with Yamato, but all he felt was guilt. His lies had brought them to this. If he had simply forced Yamato to see the truth... even a day earlier...

If he had simply told the truth...

His arms were bound behind his back and Taichi let himself be herded into the helicopter hovering outside the destroyed exterior wall. He made no effort to escape. The suit enhanced his strength and could safeguard him from several direct shots, but with so many enemies around him and no help in sight, it was pointless.

Yamato hated him, so it was pointless. Koushiro wasn't answering, so it was pointless. Hikari... Hikari would be all alone. The people he was supposed to protect... He had failed. And now everyone would suffer for his mistakes.

I'm sorry, everyone. This is all my fault.



Added Chapter 5: 01-03-05

Since my updates are sporadic, if you want to know when this story is updated, send me an email at ice (underscore) is (underscore) blue (at) hotmail (dot) com and I'll drop you a note when I post new stuff. Otherwise, if you're just wanting to know how I'm doing on the fic, check the ice(us)is(us)blue LiveJournal. (Anyone else annoyed by the fact that they can no longer use a single asterisk or underscore in their writing? ::rages:: The keys on a keyboard are there for a reason. People use them when they write! ::gnashes teeth::)

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