A/N: Gigantic APOLOGIES for taking so long to get this out. I swear I did not intend for it to turn out this way. Just ask Ken. *winks*

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never was. Probably never will be. *grins*

Better Angels of Our Nature

Chapter 5 - Death


"Keys, catch." Yamato did not have time to react before the objects in question landed with a crash on the keyboard in front of him. He picked them up, shooting a scowl over his shoulder at Minamoto, the man who had thrown them.

"I'm leaving," Minamoto offered in answer to Yamato's ugly look, continuing, "I've locked the room, but I thought you might need to get back in later."

Yamato frowned. Locked? Did that mean that everyone else had already taken off? Again?

"What time is it?" Yamato asked, unable to hide his annoyance with the other taskforce members.

Minamoto smiled, allowing Yamato a moment to enjoy his little fit of pique before answering, "About twenty after ten." He was unable to keep from snickering at Yamato's shock.

Yamato squinted at this watch in the dim light of the media room, sighing when he realized that the hands were clearly pointing to the six and three, not unlike they had been the last time he checked. He pulled the watch off his wrist, giving it a good shake then tapping it once, twice, then three times and twisting the little knob before bringing it close to his ear to listen for the tell-tale ticking. Nothing.

Yamato frowned, tossing the watch on to the table with a disgusted grunt before finally admitting, "It's dead," much to Minamoto's amusement.

"Well, now. That's some Class A detective work there, boss," the younger man smirked, teasing, "Or, rather, I would say that, if I had even the slightest idea if you were actually talking about your watch or your social life."

Yamato rolled his eyes. "Oh, har-har-har," he intoned, shaking his head. He turned back to his work, but not before flipping Minamoto off, which only made the younger man laugh that much harder.

In spite of Minamoto's tendency to be sarcastic, Yamato found that he really liked the younger man.

If asked, Yamato might even admit that, while the distinct lack of any filter between Minamoto's brain and his mouth had, at first, been something of a shock after nearly six years of working amongst the ambition-driven career-minded set, Yamato had come to find his blunt honesty refreshing. It did not hurt Yamato's opinion of the man that he had shown, repeatedly, that he had the intelligence and the wherewithal necessary to cash any check his mouth might write, smart-ass or otherwise.

It may not have been official, but Yamato considered Minamoto his second in command.

He trusted him.

"Who's on surveillance tonight?" Yamato asked, not sparing Minamoto so much as a glance over his shoulder as he did so. Not that they younger man had expected that he would.

"Ando and Iseki are out there now," Minamoto informed Yamato, his voice business-like, almost bordering on curt, "Kimio and Fukuda are set to relieve them in a few hours." Yamato nodded to show he was listening but, otherwise, did not respond. Minamoto watched as Yamato rewound the lobby surveillance tape from that morning for what he figured was probably the one thousandth time that day before stopping it and then pressing play, yet again.

Minamoto sighed, finding himself inexplicably frustrated by the blond man's strange persistence. "You don't actually think he's stupid enough to risk doing something right now, do you?" he asked, his voice automatically taking on the hard edge of a dubious interrogator.

But despite the disrespectful intonation, Yamato found himself more amused than annoyed by the younger officer's frank insubordination. It reminded him of his early days in the Digital World, when he and Taichi had often found themselves disagreeing loudly, even violently, on just about everything.

Hell, in his darker moments, Yamato sometimes wondered if his brain was even capable of functioning properly without someone, anyone, throwing at least a smidgen of antagonism his way.

Besides, if he were trying to be honest, Yamato might admit that it was his own tendency towards disproportionate defensiveness that could have been at the root of some of those childhood fights, even if Yamato still believed that many of them were due entirely to Taichi's naturally unhinged impetuousness.

Many, most. Same difference.

Nevertheless, after years of hard work and practice, Yamato was largely able to consider Minamoto's question calmly and carefully, searching deep within his mind for the words necessary to reassure Minamoto, while still explaining to his most trusted officer what it was that he was trying to accomplish and why, it seemed, that he felt it was so important.

After all, there was a method to this madness. Yamato knew it, could feel it, deep within his gut, even if he found himself struggling to define it.

But Yamato also knew that there was just cause for Minamoto's concern. They had been at this for more than a year now and the longer and longer things kept on this way, without resolution, the tighter and tighter their budget became and the less and less Yamato's superiors seemed to want to trust his judgment. Even now, Yamato found himself having to fight, tooth and nail, for resources, opportunities, approvals that, three, four months earlier, would have been a given.

So sure, Yamato understood Minamoto's apprehension. He could see better than anyone that, with nothing definitive to show for their effort, hell, with nothing he could point to to even the suggest a modicum of progress, paying officers overtime just to sit around outside an apartment building all night and all day didn't seem like it made a lot of sense. Still…

"It's not about stupidity," Yamato finally admitted, more to himself than to the still listening Minamoto. "It's never been about stupidity with Ichijouji Ken."

Yamato sighed, stopping the tape with a shake of his head only to restart it, almost subconsciously, a few seconds later, his eyes narrowing as they resumed tracking the thin figure back and forth across the monitor. It was only after several long minutes, when Minamoto had all but made up his mind to leave, that Yamato spoke up again.

"No," He continued, his grey-lit frown ghosting back at Minamoto via the unused monitor on his left, "What'll mess Ichijouji up, what has always messed Ichijouji up," Yamato insisted, "even when we were kids, is his anger." Yamato turned and offered Minamoto a thin, wincing smile and a small nod as clarification before turning back to his surveillance footage, "Ichijouji is too much of a thinker, a planner to just do something stupid. But his anger-"

"You knew him," Minamoto surmised, correctly, if only now for the first time, "before this."

Outwardly, Yamato's face was blank, but inwardly, the image of the Digimon Kaiser rose, unbidden, in his mind. Strange how, even now, so many years later, just thinking of the spiky haired pre-teen left Yamato feeling unnerved and exposed.


The fact of the matter was, when the Digital World had called up its chosen children the second time, this time not to fight another evil digimon or Dark Master, but rather, a flesh and blood child, nothing less than a partnered digidestined, Yamato had found himself shocked, horrified, even sickened by Ichijouji's aptitude for viciousness and depravity.

And yet, he had been confused, his resolve damaged by his own innate, if immature, trust for a fellow human being.

Ken's cruelty had been more than Yamato's then-young mind had been capable of completely understanding, at least in any concrete way. And Yamato had been as happy as any of the other digidestined to believe that friendship, that Daisuke, had cured Ichijouji of all his inhumanity.

But had it?

"Hm," Yamato grunted in affirmation before clarifying, "In a way." Yamato watched as the Ken on the video raised his fist, striking the wall beside the front desk with plaster-cracking force before resuming, once again, his agitated pacing back and forth across the NPA lobby. Yamato knew from hours of watching this very tape that Ken's movement would only stop when the door on the far right side of the image opened and Daisuke came rushing out.

"It was a long time ago," Yamato continued, "I guess I thought, or hoped, we'd both become different people." Yamato shrugged, turning off the surveillance tape for a second time, this time ejecting it before turning in his chair to hand it up to Minamoto.

"And now?" Minamoto asked, accepting the tape and tucking it under an arm with an open air of casual indifference.

"Now?" Yamato stood up, cringing at the way his shoulders cracked loudly after a long day spent hunched in a darkened room. "Now, I'm going home." He offered the younger man a small, self-depreciating smile before grabbing the keys and his watch from the desk with a shake of his head.

"Call me if anything happens."

"Digi-port open." The insistence in Daisuke's voice cut all the way through their small apartment. It made Ken flinch even as he found himself mouthing softly, almost silently to the darkened room in which he lay, "Two thirty six."

Ken scowled. He did not know how much more of this he could take without screaming. His always somewhat tenuous grip on his sanity felt like it was slipping further and further with each tick of his wristwatch's second hand.

"Digi-port open." Daisuke had been at it more than two hours now, leaving only his disembodied voice and the faint light that managed to spill down the hallway and into the darkened living room as proof that Ken had not been totally abandoned in the world.

"Two thirty seven," Ken quietly informed the cracked screen of their television before looking away again. The television had been a housewarming present from his parents when he and Daisuke had first purchased the apartment five, almost six years earlier. Ken found himself hard pressed now to recall how, exactly, it had become damaged, but, remembering the look of horror on Daisuke's face when he had heard the tell-tale sound glass fracturing, Ken knew, somehow, that it was himself who must have been to blame.

Daisuke must have understood too because it had been shortly after that that he had retreated into the back room that had once doubled as both their guest room and Ken's home office to begin his irrational quest.

"Digi-port open."

"Two thirty eight," Ken counted, flinching.

He refused to allow his voice to rise above any but the barest breath. Somehow Ken knew that if it did, if he let down his guard for even one second, it would destroy what little control he still managed to wield over the insanity boiling deep inside of him.

"Digi-port open!" Daisuke continued.

"Two thirty nine," Ken sighed.

No, all it would take was one seemingly inconsequential misstep and Ken was sure that he would find himself unable to keep from screaming and screaming and screaming until their neighbors cowered in their own homes, fearful of the monster. Unable to keep from screaming and screaming until the sound of his voice drowned out all others in the city. Ken was certain that he could, that he would, scream until the very world itself cracked apart, almost as broken, as fragmented, as he was.

Or perhaps, just until Daisuke was forced to give up on this ridiculous farce and come back to sit with Ken, to squeeze his hand tightly, to smile and say that everything was going to be alright, that they would fix it. Or, rather, that this could be fixed.

"Digi-port open."

"Two hundred forty." Fixed. As if that was an option. As if it ever had been. Ken shook his head at his own idiocy, a small, self-depreciating smile twisting his lips.

Only a fool would lie here and hope that there was a chance that that this, or, more importantly, that he, Ken, could be fixed. Ken rolled over, turning his back to the broken television in favor of studying the weave of the couch's fabric.

"Digiport open!"

"Two forty one," he whispered, his fingers running back and forth across the nubbly upholstery fabric, distracted. No. This time he had finally managed to ruin things completely. Even Daisuke would have to admit now that he knew Ken was crazy. Damaged beyond repair.

"Digi-port open." Ken could hear the edges of Daisuke's voice starting to fray. It gave him slim hope that Daisuke's little bout of optimism-induced insanity could not last for that much longer. Never mind through the night.

"Two forty two," he closed his eyes, unable to keep himself from muttering the words.

There was no denying that there had been a part of Ken that urged him to follow Daisuke, to take up his D3 and, just once more, beg, plead, demand entrance to the Digital World.

"Digi-port open!"

"Two forty three." But no. Ken knew better than anyone else what a waste of what little time they likely had left that would be. After all, Ichijouji Ken was nothing if not a realist. In fact, he had always prided himself on his ability to see the truth even in so-called-reality.

And the truth was that the Digital World had turned its back on the Digi-destined years earlier. It certainly would not reach out to them now.

Never mind their need.

Never mind Daisuke's determination. Willpower alone had never possessed much in the way of power outside of the overwrought imaginations of a handful of anime producers, manga artists and movie directors. Ken put about as much stock in willpower as he did karma or positivity.

"Digi-port open."

"Two forty four." Still, Ken found himself strangely impressed by the unsullied frankness of Daisuke's plan. Or rather, by what he understood of it, anyway.

Was it irrational? Sure. Illogical? Indisputably.

But for a Daisuke plan, it was surprisingly complete, even in its simplicity.

It went like this: when the man you love, and despite everything, Ken was certain that Daisuke loved him, manages to fuck both of your lives beyond all recognition, just escape to another fucking world. Fucking brilliant.

"Digi-port open."

"Two forty five." Brilliant, and entirely, emphatically, undeniably impossible.

But Daisuke had never been the sort that allowed impossible to stop him. Daisuke was a believer. A believer in earnestness, in hard work, in the power of optimism and friendship and love. Hell, Daisuke was even a believer in the power of belief.

If Ken had ever needed any proof of how utterly pointless such thoughts were, he certainly had it now.

"Digi-port open!"

"Two forty six," Ken sighed.

He had never meant for things to go as far as they did. He had intended for it to be a thought exercise, nothing more. It was just something to keep him from going crazy with boredom when work, life, even Daisuke started pressing in too closely.

But then, at some point, planning had ceased to be enough. It did not matter that his plans seemed flawless, mapped out as they were within his own mind. He wanted to test them, in the real world. He wanted to know how they stood up against reality, against the tides of humanity.

He wanted to know if he still retained power to control, to subjugate. If it was hidden, protected, deep within himself, or if too many years spent standing next to the light of Motomiya Daisuke had corrupted even the darkness at the very core of his existence.

"Digi-port open."

"Two forty seven." Ken had felt so strange, after that first one. He'd felt a completeness he had not felt in years, a completeness he was not even sure he had ever felt before. The Kaiser had had power, yes, but no Daisuke. Ichijouji Ken had Daisuke, but found himself powerless in the face of others' expectations.

But now, and for the first time, Ken had both. He had been damn near giddy, or rather, as giddy as he was capable of being. Even Daisuke had remarked on his lighter than usual mood.

"Digi-port open."

"Two forty eight." But it did not last.

Before long, it was gnawing away at him once again, the idea that this feeling of power was an illusion, predicated on false assumptions. Nothing more than a fool's self-aggrandizing dream. After all, what was so damned difficult about doing something when no one else was looking? Hadn't that been the way it was in the Digital World? Dark towers, dark rings, slave digimon, had it meant anything before Daisuke had landed in his little pet garden, intent on stopping him?

"Digi-port open!"

"Two forty nine." No. The Kaiser's power had been in his ability to do these things, even in the face of Daisuke and the other digi-destined's antagonism. Conquering a new piece of the Digital World, ringing a new digimon, only mattered when they were there to fight back. Otherwise, what was the point?

That had been why he had taken care to make sure the second one looked just like the first. Hell, he would have taken out a full page ad in a major Tokyo newspaper if he thought the police were paying that much attention. It probably would have been easier. Not that he did not appreciate the extra challenge.

As it was, it wasn't until after the fourth that someone had started putting the pieces together. Never mind the irony behind that someone being Ishida Yamato. That's just how the universe liked to function.

If Ken had been the sort to believe in destiny, he might have stopped right then and there. But then Ichijouji Ken had never believed in anything as self-indulgent as destiny.

"Digi-port open!"

"Two fifty." His first real mistake had been Ichijouji Rika. He was certain that that had not been planned or even really considered.

Or, to be more precise, Ken was certain that what he remembered of it had not. Ken had been telling the truth when he said that he had no real recollection of that morning beyond stepping off the commuter train two stations early with the intention of stopping by his mother's home.

The closest he had ever been able to come to remembering was when he dreamed. Sometimes he could almost recall their conversation from that day, could almost remember what it was she had said to him that had jarred him so, infuriated him, but, always, by the time he awoke, the words were gone, leaving behind only a slow burning anger in their wake. It had gotten to the point where he had all but given up sleeping any night through in any semblance of peace.

Still, despite the sleep deprivation and the police questions or their thinly veiled insinuations, Ken could not bring himself to regret his actions. If anything, his mother's death and the resulting attention had made the game more interesting.

And, really, that's all he'd ever wanted, as willfully self-destructive as that might seem.

The sound of running water made Ken sit up. He watched, arms wrapped tight around his middle, chin resting against the back of the couch, as Daisuke rinsed out a glass before pouring himself a drink, turning to stare back at Ken as he drank.

"Don't look at me like that," Daisuke demanded, frowning. He set the glass back on the kitchen counter with a heavy thump. He was trying to sound angry but something in the rough edge of his voice left Ken believing it was more act than fact. Nevertheless, Ken turned away, unable to keep a small sigh from escaping. He lay back down, frowning at his own image reflecting back at him from the broken television screen before closing his eyes, feigning sleep.

After all, Ken knew better than anyone what anger from Daisuke really meant.


Always, only fear.

It had been that way when they had been kids, trapped, as they were, in the roles the Digital World had deigned to thrust upon them. It had been that way years later when Ken had told Daisuke that he was considering moving out, proposing to Miyako, and starting a family. And it was that way now, as Daisuke struggled to come to terms with the villain masquerading as someone he loved.

Ken felt more than saw the kitchen light come on. He could hear Daisuke opening and closing the various cabinets, no doubt looking for something, anything really, to occupy his mind, to distract himself from the ugly truths he had learned earlier that afternoon. After all, Daisuke had never been the sort of person who valued prolonged stillness or the complex thoughts that often came with it.

It was something of a surprise to Ken then when, moments later, the noise stopped, only to be followed by the tips of Daisuke's warm fingers brushing away the hair hanging limp over Ken's face.

"Hey," the strain in Daisuke's voice was even more noticeable when he spoke softly. "Sorry," he apologized, "I didn't mean that the way it sounded," Daisuke promised, "Really."

Ken bit back a sigh. He was supposed to believe that Daisuke was the one who was sorry? Really?

Ken wondered if there was anyone in the world who could, after learning what Daisuke now knew, actually be capable of still giving a shit about his feelings.

Maybe, he concluded. If there was, Ken supposed that it would be, maybe even had always been, Daisuke.

Still, it wasn't relief that Ken felt.

Instead, Ken found that he was oddly displeased by the curly headed man's reaction. Perhaps a part of Ken had always thought that Daisuke would not stoop to forgiving such horrors. That Daisuke, all light and righteousness, should never have allowed something as sentimental as personal feelings to ride roughshod over his sense of truth or honor.

But then it certainly would not be the first time that Ken had been wrong about the red-headed man, or that Daisuke had managed to surprise him.

Not the first, Ken mused silently, but possibly the last? The thought burned, heavy within his chest.

Still, there was no denying that Ken found comfort in Daisuke's touch. He opened his eyes, looking deep into Daisuke's wounded ones before offering the younger man a small nod of acknowledgement. Daisuke smiled down on him in return from where he stood, leaning over the back of the couch.

"Your hair's getting long again," Daisuke told Ken, his fingers threading lightly though the dark strands, his voice striving yet failing to strike a tone of gentle nonchalance, "I was trying to remember the other night when the last time it was that it had been this long."

Ken offered a soft hum, but did not bother with more of an answer. It seemed so pointless when they both already knew the truth.

The last time that Ken had worn his hair this long was when they had been kids.

Before they had lost the Digital World.

Before the Digital World had stolen a full half of everything Ken knew himself to be.

Before the Digital World had decided the Digi-destined were no longer worth its empyreal consideration.

"You were right," Daisuke continued once it became painfully apparent that Ken did not intend to answer, "I couldn't get the Digital Gate to open."

The truth in Daisuke's words hurt Ken more than he cared to admit. He sighed, rolling over to his side, away from Daisuke, opting instead to stare, eyes empty, at their broken television. In the nearly fifteen years that they had known each other, Daisuke had yet to outgrow this, his most exasperating of habits: his insistence on always, needlessly stating the obvious, oblivious of how utterly pointless, how distasteful, such remarks might be.

Daisuke must have sensed Ken's annoyance because he, too, sighed, before pushing himself up and away from the couch, returning to the relative safety of his kitchen.

The apartment descended into an almost deafening silence, broken only when Daisuke, ever the creature of habit, began prepping their evening meal. Despite everything that had been said that afternoon, or perhaps, in spite of everything that hadn't been said but, nevertheless, had been heard, Ken found himself unable to keep from smiling at the inescapable certainty of Daisuke's all too predictable domesticity.

Ken allowed himself to roll back over, shrugging, almost in defiance, at the apartment's fluorescent lighting before sitting up and turning to watch Daisuke work.

Ken loved watching Daisuke work. He always had. There was something about the single-minded determination that the curly headed man threw into every task, never mind how menial, that fascinated Ken.

It was that same way now, with Daisuke chopping away at a carrot with focused resolve. He did not even look up when Ken rose from the couch, walking over to lean against the far side of the kitchen counter so as to more closely observe the process.

In fact, Daisuke seemed so attentive to his task, so oblivious to Ken's movement, that it caught Ken completely off his guard when, despite never faltering or even pausing in his actions, Daisuke addressed him.

"I want you to tell me." Daisuke insisted, his eyes never leaving the cutting board even as he reached into the bowl of vegetables behind him, this time for a cucumber, or perhaps it was a zucchini. Ken had never been entirely confident in his ability to tell the two apart. "I know you're planning something," Daisuke continued, "So just tell me."

Ken watched, silent, as the red-headed man immediately began deftly peeling the vegetable in question, his thumb resting oh-so-casually against the blade of the paring knife as he stripped away the dark green skin with what seemed like almost no effort at all.

Cucumber, Ken decided before changing his mind with a slight shake of his head. No, it was a zucchini.

"Ken…" Daisuke's voice warned when the dark-haired man failed to answer.

Ken's eyes shifted away from Daisuke's hands, studying the mound of julienned carrots that Daisuke had left sitting on the edge of the cutting board for a half second before flitting up to the top of Daisuke's bent head.

What was it that Daisuke wanted again? Oh yes. He wanted to talk plans. Ken sighed. Just more hashing and then, no doubt, rehashing of the inevitable. Ken couldn't say he saw the point.

"What is that?" Ken heard himself ask instead, "A zucchini?" Cucumbers always seemed to have that fresh, almost watery scent. Ken couldn't smell anything.

For a moment it did not seem as if Daisuke planed on acknowledging Ken's question, his hands continuing their work as if Ken had not spoken. But, after full, long, minute, he set the knife on the counter top, pursing his lips into a thin line of frustration before answering simply, "Yeah."

It was clear to Ken that Daisuke wanted to say more but was fighting very hard with himself to keep from doing so.

Instead, Daisuke picked up a larger knife and began slicing the zucchini in question into small rounds before quartering them and then using the back edge of the knife to scrape them into a pile next to his carrots before reaching back to the bowl behind him again, this time for an eggplant.

Daisuke's knife hovered over the neck of the eggplant, his hand trembling ever so slightly for a moment or two before something inside of him finally seemed to give. Instead of cutting into the vegetable, Daisuke set the knife down, letting go of the eggplant and turning so that his back was to Ken before asking plaintively, "Can we talk just about this? Please? We need to talk about this."

Daisuke's hands were up, rubbing at his temples and Ken could tell by the electric crackle running under his voice that he was fighting hard to keep his emotions in check. He was trying. Because he knew how much Ken hated that sort of thing, he really was trying. And Ken appreciated Daisuke's effort.

And, as much as it disturbed Ken to admit it, even to only himself, Daisuke was not the only one hurting. It also hurt Ken to see Daisuke this way. Seeing him this confused, this frustrated, this wounded. This overwhelmed.

It hurt almost as much as loosing Wormmon had hurt Ken. Maybe even more than loosing Wormmon had hurt Ken. And that thought terrified the ex-Kaiser.

So Ken refused to think about it. It wouldn't do to dwell.

After all, nothing had ever been solved with hesitation.

Ken sighed. "Daisuke…" he began carefully, his voice soft, pleading. Daisuke was weak against Ken's pain. He always had been. And Ken fully expected that the younger man would fold yet again when he realized the damage he was doing.

But this time, Daisuke did not respond, refusing to even turn back around. So instead, Ken, too, turned away from his lover. He cast a long look around their apartment, remembering how sure Daisuke had been that this would make a perfect home for the two of them, remembering how unsure he'd been about buying an apartment when they could have just as easily continued renting one without difficulty.

Remembering how strangely happy it had made him that first time Daisuke had welcomed him home, to their home. He had not expected that. Finally Ken asked, "What do you think I'm planning on doing?"

Surely not even Daisuke would require him to actually say it out loud. Doing so would just be so damned unnecessary. So pointless. The facts were the facts. What had happened, had happened. There was no way to change the past. No do-over. No keeping Daisuke from learning the truth.

It was done.

If Ken had only had to worry about Ken, it wouldn't be an issue. But that wasn't how this worked. At least, not any more. Because, as much as it might frustrate Ken to admit it, he had ceased being "just" Ken more than fifteen years earlier. And nothing he could say or do or wish could change that.

Ken was not even sure that if, given the chance to start again, he would.

Their options were simple. Ken could confess. He would be tried, convicted of multiple murders, and then spend years in solitary confinement before being put to death.

After all, Japanese law was pretty cut and dry when it came to serial homicide.

Or, Ken could continue to stonewall the police. He could continue to live his life with Daisuke, and possibly, eventually, move somewhere else, start over, and try again.

Maybe the third time really would be the charm.

Of course that would mean watching the truth of what he had done slowly gnaw away at Daisuke, eating him alive from the inside out, extinguishing his light while destroying everything that made him wonderful and good.

So… Not really an option either.

Which meant that there was really only one option left. And while Ken knew that Daisuke would not like it, he hoped Daisuke would at least be able to forgive him for it.

Eventually, anyway.

Ken would die. By his own hand, on his own terms, and at his own time. He would not sit calmly while others passed judgment on him, called him monster, decreed him something less than human. Nor would he drag Daisuke down into the dark depths of his own personal oblivion.

No. It only made sense that he would die. And if Daisuke, anyone, misjudged his actions as some kind of atonement, then so much the better.

Ken was not frightened of death. At least, not his own. He never had been. Even if it had not been the only reasonable option left from the moment Daisuke had come bursting out into the NPA lobby, his eyes wide with the horror of the truth he had discovered, Ken knew, somehow, he'd end up right back in the same situation again, probably sooner rather than later. Ken had always seen his life's trajectory clearly. He accepted it. He had even embraced it.

Now all he had to do was convince Daisuke to do the same.

When Ken finally worked up the courage to glance back over his shoulder he saw that Daisuke had turned around again and was staring at him with raw, open agony. He offered the younger man a small smile, shaking his head slightly in the hopes of warding off any potential arguments. Not surprisingly, Daisuke wasn't looking to cooperate.

"Don't," Daisuke began, unable to control the tremor of fear in his voice, "Don't even joke about that. It's not funny."

"I wasn't trying to be funny," Ken sighed before continuing, "You have to think about this realistically."

Daisuke instantly recognized the distant, pedantic tone that Ken always took with him when he thought that Daisuke was being particularly dense. Usually it left Daisuke feeling vaguely idiotic. Today it incensed him.

"I am thinking realistically," he insisted, slapping his knife on the kitchen countertop with frustration, "Realistically there has to be some other option! You have to think about this!"

Ken only shook his head in the negative again, reaching over to pick up a piece of zucchini and bringing it to his nose for a curious sniff before tossing it back into the pile with a frown.

"Ken—" Daisuke began, only to have the man in question cut him off with nothing more than a single raised finger.

"I have thought about it," Ken assured Daisuke, continuing, "I think you know that I've thought about it for longer than you'd probably like to admit." Something about the way Daisuke growled at that last bit told Ken he had touched a delicate nerve. Still, it did not stop him from driving home his point. "I think we both know it would be for the best," the dark haired man softly whispered.

Daisuke wanted to be sick. He could feel his stomach churning and spasming, but not having eaten all day, there was little it could do besides threaten and complain. Daisuke took several deep breaths, focusing on calming his nerves, understanding instinctively that any emotion-based plea he might make would fall on deaf ears. No. Daisuke had to be logical about this. It was the only way Ken would condescend to listening.

So instead, Daisuke stopped and thought. He thought and thought and thought, running over scenarios in his mind, trying various rationales, allowing the near-perfect Ken within his head his best rebuttal, debating each point to its completion, looking for a way out. It was only after Daisuke was sure that he had thought of everything, every argument and every counter-argument, every possible option that they had open to them, that he took the eggplant from where it lay on his cutting board and, after giving it a long, hard stare, walked over and threw it in the combustibles bin.

At Ken's vaguely inquisitive look, Daisuke explained simply, "I hate eggplant."

Despite himself, Ken smiled. Wasting perfectly good food was such an un-Daisuke-like thing to do, and yet, finishing such a long silence with so absurd an act was so very like Daisuke. Ken found it strangely thrilling.

"Oh?" Ken heard himself question, "I never knew." Daisuke only shrugged in response, unable to completely restrain the vaguely defensive gesture. "Did you know that I hate zucchini?" Ken could not help but ask. Daisuke did not answer, but instead used both hands to scrape together the pile of zucchini quarters before walking over and dumping them in the bin on top of the eggplant.

"Tut-tut," Ken chided sarcastically, "So wasteful. Whatever will we eat?" Ken's tone almost seemed to amuse Daisuke. The red-head never ceased to fascinate.

"I guess I'm not very hungry," Daisuke admitted, "You?" Ken shook his head in response. "Good." Daisuke answered. He picked up the cutting board, dumping the carrots into the combustibles bin with the eggplant and the zucchini before setting both it and his knives on the edge of the kitchen sink.

It was wasteful, and part of Daisuke frowned at the idea. Still, Daisuke thought, he couldn't really bring himself to cook anything even resembling a last meal in the kitchen in which he'd spent so many of his nights happily working.

It wouldn't be right.

Because Daisuke had already come to a decision. A decision he found himself strangely at peace with. A decision he did not intend to share with anyone, least of all, Ken. Because Daisuke knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the ex-Kaiser had even the slightest inkling of what he was considering, all hell would break loose and somehow, some way, Ken would find a way to keep him from doing what he knew needed to be done.

And Daisuke wasn't about to let that happen.

Instead, he opened the freezer, and, pulling out a plain brown paper bag stamped with YANAKA COFFEE, held it up in Ken's direction, suggesting only, "Coffee?"

Ken couldn't have known how his gentle smile only further convinced the younger man of the rightness of his plan.

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