WARNING : The following fanfic is YAOI and CITRUS. I don't know if it technically falls under the category of lemon or lime ... either way, it's pretty explicit (although I hope it's tastefully so). If you don't care for either of those things, don't bother going any further. If you don't even know what those things are, you probably shouldn't go any further either. I also just realized that I'm pretty mean to all the Zero Two DD's except for Ken and Daisuke. Oops!

AUTHOR'S NOTE : Once upon a time, Eve Psyche asked for lemon in her review of "Guilt", so here you are, darling. This is my gift to you, and also my entry for El Juno's "Random Fic" contest. Never let it be said I don't do anything for you people. I had to advance time a little bit ... it's kind of unrealistic to expect eleven-year-olds to engage in this sort of behavior. It's almost unreasonable for sixteen-year-olds, but Ken has always been precocious. This is completely unrelated to any other fic of mine - it takes place outside of "Lhail Canon." :)

--Irhista Scetare Lhail

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"It's true," breathed Daisuke. "My God, it's true."

Veemon pressed himself against Daisuke's leg, and he reached down to lay a hand on the Digimon's head for comfort. The two of them stood on a cliff overlooking a narrow defile, through which a tiny stream of water trickled down into a deep, wide valley. Against the backdrop of the green valley, several dozen Digimon labored. What they worked to build was already sketched out in metal supports, and fleshed in stone across the base of it. It was a duplicate of the fortress that Ken had built and used and destroyed almost five years earlier, and behind the fortress rose the black needle of a control spire.

"Why would he do something like this?" asked Daisuke, after staring at the sight for almost a full minute. There was no suspicion in his mind that someone other than Ken was responsible; it could be no other. "He's not like that anymore. He's ... been so nice."

"I don't know, Daisuke," said Veemon. "But I know who does."

Daisuke shook his head, trying to clear it. "Right. All right, let's go see what he has to say for himself."

He and Veemon skidded down the cliff into the defile, and walked alongside the stream out into the valley. As he watched the working Digimon, he recognized the stiff, almost mechanical way they moved, so that by the time he got close enough to spot the black rings and spirals on them, their presence was no shock. Grass turned to mud under his shoes, churned up in paths by the feet of the working Digimon, scarring the floor of the valley and irritating Daisuke every time one of his shoes got stuck. None of the Digimon took any notice of Daisuke or Veemon, until he reached the front door.

A Kuwagamon and a Monochromon stood guard. Neither of these would really put up much of a fight, but Daisuke wasn't here to start a fight. So he stopped and stared at them both, and they stared back. Both were silent until Daisuke moved again to approach the door.

"Who wishes to pass?" the Monochromon demanded, in a hate-filled, hissing tone.

"Motomiya Daisuke," said Daisuke. "And Veemon."

Both guards just looked at him a moment, then the Monochromon replied, "You may pass. The Veemon must remain outside. These are the Master's wishes."

Daisuke cast a sidelong look at the control spire. Ken was almost certainly watching him right now. He scowled. "My Digimon comes with me."

The guardian Digimon were silent for a long time, and Daisuke could imagine Ken tapping his fingers in annoyance. Finally, the Monochromon said, "The Veemon may accompany you inside, but he cannot accompany you to see the Master. You must leave him behind before you enter the control center. These are the Master's wishes."

"Come on, Ken!" said Daisuke, exasperated. "You know I'm not coming to kill you or anything, be reasonable!"

"The Master wishes you to enter the control center alone. If these terms are not acceptable to you, then you will not be permitted to enter the fortress. These are the Master's wishes."

"Fine," said Daisuke, more to get this over with than anything else. It was principle alone that made him want to have Veemon with him, anyway. He wasn't any more afraid of Ken than Ken was of him. "I agree, now let me in."

The two Digimon moved aside, and the door they watched slid open. Daisuke gave the Monochromon a glare as he walked by.

The interior of the place was dark and slightly chilly. Ken must have saved the plans for his original base, because this one was a dead ringer for the first. Daisuke and Veemon walked along black steel corridors, up staircases that seemed endless, and once they turned a corner and found themselves looking down at a half-finished catwalk leading to what had been, in the first one, the main power generator. Daisuke wondered what Ken was planning to use for power this time around, since golden digimentals didn't grow on trees as far as he was aware.

"I don't like this, Daisuke," said Veemon, as they approached the corridor that led to the control center. "Maybe we should forget about this. I shouldn't let you go anywhere by yourself."

Daisuke patted the blue Digimon on the head again. "It'll be fine. What's he going to do, murder me? I've seen him cry over cut flowers. I don't know what he's up to, but I like to think I know Ken."

"We all thought we knew Ken. But maybe we didn't. Let's go home."

"Not until I get an explanation." And that was the end of that. "Wait here for me. I'll be back as soon as I find out what Ken's doing. Okay?" He grinned at his Digimon, who for once didn't grin back.

"Okay. But I still don't like it." Veemon plunked himself down with folded arms, right outside the closed door that read Primary Control Center. Daisuke opened the door and walked in.

It was dark. Pitch black, in fact. Daisuke, who loved nothing better than to listen to Ken talk, had gotten the idea that the control center should have a lot of monitors in it. Either Ken had made a major alteration in the design, or they were all off, which probably meant that Ken wasn't here. Daisuke voted for the second possibility, and turned to leave.

The door shut before he could reach it. Clawed hands grabbed his arms, and before he could protest he felt something closing over each wrist. When he tried to rip free, he found that his hands were now bound behind his back.

"What the hell ... Ken, what the hell are you doing?" Daisuke looked around himself, seeing two pairs of glowing red eyes just before he was shoved forward into the room. He braced himself against the motion, but whatever Digimon were in here, they were stronger than he was, and he was skidded across the floor.

"Taking precautions," came Ken's soft voice from the darkness off to Daisuke's left. A switch was switched, and a brilliant light flooded down into a circle in the center of the room. Daisuke was pushed into this light, and the still-unseen Digimon fastened chains around Daisuke's ankles, trapping him there. The light raining down on Daisuke was so bright he had to squint a bit to let his eyes adjust, and the rest of the room remained in darkness, invisible to him. The fringes of the light touched the arm of a chair, that was all he could see.

"Leave us," said Ken, and Daisuke could hear the Digimon obeying, shuffling off through the blackness and through a door that closed behind them.

Looking down, Daisuke tested the chains around his ankles. The ends were fastened to the floor, giving him well under a meter of slack. Nowhere near enough to get anywhere, or leave this circle of light that revealed his every motion yet blinded him utterly. He could hear the clicking of bootheels on the floor as Ken paced.

"What the hell is this, Ken?" said Daisuke, his first flare of righteous fury gone. "I came here to talk to you. I thought I knew you, but this isn't you. Building control spires, taking prisoners, I mean come on. You're supposed to start high school next month."

"And I will start high school next month." It was almost scary, how calm Ken sounded. Daisuke would have expected him to have suffered some kind of mental collapse, for him to start this up again, but he sounded so ... normal.

"I thought we were over this sort of thing. What are you doing out here? Talk to me."

"What's it look like I'm doing?" Ken's voice was coming from Daisuke's right now, and still the slow click of Ken's steps paced around the circle of light. Daisuke lost his temper again.

"It looks like you're being a damned idiot and playing Kaizer again! It was cute when you were eleven, Ken, but you know better now. You're practically an adult now, you should act like one."

"An ironic statement, coming from you. Let's play a game, shall we? Let's pretend that I am going to pick up my whip again and work to conquer the digital world. What do you think will happen?"

Daisuke twisted his wrists. He couldn't see what was holding them, but it felt like broad cloth or leather cuffs of some kind, and he could hear the clink of chain linking them. "We'll fight you. We'll all get together again and come kick your ass again. You lost once, you know. But you can't be serious, I mean ... Ken, we're your friends."

"No, you're my friend. The rest of them merely tolerate me." He almost sounded like he would laugh about this, but he didn't. His slow pacing took him around behind Daisuke. "Miyako never forgave me for not falling in love with her, you know. Takeru and Iori have been giving me strange looks ever since they found out I don't like girls. Hikari ... Ahh, Hikari, so kind to everyone, except the holder of the Crest of Kindness, whom she pretends not to hear, or remember. Perhaps she thinks I've all the kindness I need, and don't require any more from her. And then there's you. Daisuke. Forgiving, beautiful Daisuke. I knew you'd come to find out what was happening. I'm so happy I was right."

Daisuke frowned. "I didn't know you kept up with the others at all." He wasn't sure he liked the implications of Ken calling him beautiful, so he chose to focus on a different point. He supposed it was possible that Ken was attracted to him, a possibility that made him slightly uncomfortable, but which also kind of excited him. Ken was very quietly and discreetly homosexual, making no secret of it but making no issue of it either - Daisuke had found him rather attractive for years, but he wasn't ready quite yet to let that be known. His cheeks still burned whenever he remembered the regrettable incident with Takeru, when the blond boy had teased him mercilessly just for being friends with someone who was gay.

"Of course you didn't. You are courageous and beautiful and forgiving, Daisuke, but observant you are not. Tell me, do you recall the party Koushiro threw last year?"

"Sure." It would be hard to forget that one ... someone had brought liquor, a lot of it, and several of them had gotten drunk. Most of the Digi-Destined had been there, since it had been a kind of semi-reunion, but they hadn't been the only ones present, and Daisuke had ended up cringing through a loud, animated and very public argument about which was better, WarGreymon or MetalGarurumon. He couldn't remember which side won.

"Do you remember what happened after things settled down? Everyone started reminiscing about how nice things were, way back when you were all Chosen Children together. Back when the evil Digimon Kaizer was around, and you were all a team. Ahh, nostalgia."

Daisuke blinked. Ken had been one of the ones to get drunk, but he'd been so quiet through the entire party that Daisuke couldn't accurately remember where he'd been and when. "You heard that?"

"You were hoping I hadn't?" The click of Ken's steps ceased, directly behind Daisuke.

"Erm ... Ken, you know they didn't mean it. Not like that." He twisted his wrists, wishing he could see Ken's face, or at least that Ken hadn't displayed a really shocking level of paranoia in having him bound and blinded in the first place.

"Of course they did. That was when I knew that Hikari didn't care for me at all. I already knew about the others, but Hikari ... she had me fooled for years."

"You're taking it the wrong way. Dammit, Ken, you're being too sensitive."

"On the contrary. I'm being very considerate. Think, Daisuke. There is no such thing as a one-sided coin. Everything is defined by its opposing force. That's why I left. That's why I'm doing this."

"So you're going to act like a complete jerk for ... what? So the Digi-Destined can get together and fight you again? You have to be kidding me!" That was the most insane thing Daisuke had ever heard in his life. Well, at least the most insane thing he'd heard this week. "Are you on drugs?"

"Yes, but they're all prescription. Furthermore, Daisuke ... this time, I want you to be with me."

"What?" Daisuke peered into the blackness surrounding him, suspicious. "Wait, slow down a second."

"All right." Ken began pacing again. "I've always loved you, Daisuke. Always. I left you alone, though, because at first you liked Hikari, and then you were going out with that exchange student whose name I can never remember."

"Annette," Daisuke supplied. "She's from France."

"Right, right. I always assumed you were a hundred percent straight, so I left you alone. But after you broke up with Annette, you started watching me. I noticed."

Daisuke cursed the bright light on him; he was certain Ken could see him blushing. He opened his mouth to say something, but words escaped him. It was true, after all, he just didn't want to admit it.

"I know you thought I didn't, but I did," Ken continued. "I gave you time to figure things out on your own. But here you are, and I'm afraid I don't have any more time to offer you."

"What do you want me to say?" asked Daisuke, laughing a little, although he wasn't sure what was funny about this.

"The truth." Having completed another slow circle around Daisuke, Ken's steps halted behind him again. "Are you bisexual, Daisuke? Even a little bit?"

Shifting his weight, Daisuke said quickly, "No."

"Are you sure?"

There was such hope in Ken's voice that Daisuke bit down further, too-swift denial. What had he said? I've always loved you, Daisuke. Always. Daisuke swallowed, uncomfortable, wanting to deny that he felt anything other than friendship for Ken. But it would be a lie, and could he lie in the face of such hope? He cleared his throat. "No. No, I'm not sure. But even if I am, and that's still an if, what makes you think that I'll stand beside the Digimon Kaizer and help him out? Hmmm?"

"I know you, Daisuke. You'll come to me because you think I'm addled in the head, and you want to help me. Me, not the Kaizer."

"Oh, Ken," said Daisuke, "I do want to help you. That's why I came here today! This isn't you, it isn't you at all!"

"What if it is? What if this is who I've always been? What if I've been in denial for the past five years? What then?"

"What did you say you were on again, Ken?"

"What drugs you mean? Ritalin and Prozac."

Daisuke stared into the blackness. "You were serious about that?"

"Very. You keep saying you know me, Daisuke, but do you really?"

"Isn't Ritalin what they give hyperactive children?"

"Sometimes. Not in this case, though. The Prozac makes me drowsy, Ritalin wakes me up. Strange, ne?" He sounded so unruffled, as if discussing what he'd had for dinner the night before. Daisuke was quite sure he wouldn't, himself, be able to admit it to one of his friends if he'd been deemed abnormal enough to be put on medication for it. There was just something about that ... it wasn't a subject one talked about freely.

"Yeah, strange that you have so much power and you can't even wake yourself. You been ... um ... on those long?"

"Almost four years now. After the group broke up, I tried to kill myself, and my mother sent me to a psychiatrist. Turns out I'm clinically depressed, and probably have been my whole life. How funny is that? It explained a lot of why I was so irritable all the time."

"Really?" Maybe Daisuke didn't know Ken as well as he'd thought. "I didn't know." He tried not to think about how awful he would have felt if Ken had succeeded in killing himself, or why.

"Why should you? I didn't exactly pour out my heart to you."

"Yeah, but I said I'd be there for you, and I obviously wasn't."

"There wouldn't have been anything you could do anyway. It's all chemical. I needed drugs, and I got them. I've been unhappy my whole life, at least now the unhappiness is manageable." He chuckled a bit, and said, "Now you're going to think I'm really out of my mind. But we've gotten off the subject."

It took a moment for Daisuke to remember what they'd been talking about before the drug tangent. "I still can't tell you whether or not I'm ... like that." He gave himself a mental smack for not being able to say the word. Coward.

"All right," accepted Ken. "Tell me this, then. How do you feel, standing where I can see you perfectly, and you can't see me? Helpless, so I can do anything I like to you, and you can't do a damned thing to stop me?"

Daisuke shifted, immediately uncomfortable again, although not for the same reason now. Ken's voice had shifted into low gear, almost a purr, and all of Daisuke's half-formed, suppressed fantasies kicked themselves back up into his mind.

"Well?" asked Ken, when Daisuke let the pause go on too long. "How do you like being at my mercy?"

"Why do we have to do this, Ken?" said Daisuke finally.

"Because I want to do this. And because I can. Are you going to answer me?"

Something hit the floor, softly, behind Daisuke where Ken stood, and then dragged a little. Daisuke remained silent, unwilling to either lie to Ken or give voice to feelings he didn't want to have in the first place, and he concentrated on identifying that sound to take his mind off ... other things. Unfortunately, this distraction didn't last long, as Ken identified it for him.

Daisuke twitched to the left, letting out a startled yelp, as a whip cracked less than a meter to his right. Catching his breath, he demanded, "What'd you do that for? My God, Ken, there is something seriously wrong with you!"

"Maybe. Just tell me how you like it, Daisuke. That's all. I'm not asking for much, just a little information."

"Let me go, Ken, and we can go home, and talk about this in a sane environment ..."

The light suddenly snapped off. Daisuke broke off as darkness fell over him, and silence descended as well, until the click of Ken's bootheels approached from behind.

"You may or may not know me, Daisuke," said Ken softly, "but I know you. If you weren't enjoying this, you would have said so already." Daisuke flinched when cool, gloved fingers lightly touched the side of his neck, and a warm presence stepped up immediately behind him in a rustle of fabric.

"Maybe you only think you know me." The words came out a little breathless, and Daisuke told himself it was fear. He had a hard time lying to himself, however; fear didn't usually tighten in his jeans the way this emotion did.

"Maybe," said Ken, and Daisuke felt the breath of the word across his ear. Then arms went around him from behind, warmth against his back and the drape of cloth over his bound hands, and Ken's chin rested a moment on his shoulder. He went still as Ken whispered, "God, I've wanted to hold you for so long ..."

If Daisuke were to be honest with himself, he would have to admit that it felt good, very good, to have Ken's arms around him. He considered himself lucky that he wasn't being honest with himself right now, because this situation was difficult enough as it was. He was here to find out what Ken was doing, and to get Ken to come back to his senses. He was not here to get seduced, not by anyone and certainly not by Ken.

Hands drifted over his chest and shoulders as Ken moved around in front of him. Fingertips lifted his chin, and he could have drawn back when something touched his lips. He could have ... but he didn't. Because it felt incredibly good to be kissed, to feel soft lips nibbling on his, to allow a hesitant tongue to draw him deeper, to have gloved hands tangle roughly in his hair, to be clung to as if he were the last hope for salvation, to be devoured. Somehow, in the darkness, chained like this, it wasn't quite real, and that made it all right. And this wasn't really Ken kissing him, it was a different person entirely. The Digimon Kaizer. He wouldn't have to face Ken later, with awkward words and embarrassed muttering, because Ken wasn't even here.

The Kaizer's hands disengaged from his hair and went around his shoulders; an instant later, Daisuke's feet were hooked out from under him and he would have fallen except that the Kaizer held him up. Not for long though. He was lowered to the floor, the Kaizer following him down, their lips never leaving each other. Daisuke experienced a moment of fear ... the Kaizer was cruel and ruthless, and he was helpless. He moaned against the lips smothering him, and they drifted away, down his chin to his throat. Clever fingers at his collar began to unbutton his shirt.

"Don't," he whispered, gasping for air. This couldn't happen. This shouldn't happen. Not with Ken, not with the Kaizer. He looked upward and saw only unbroken darkness while the front of his shirt was opened and laid to either side. Gloved hands, smooth on the palms and rough at the fingertips, ran over his chest and down his sides to his waist, then over the small of his back as the Kaizer pulled him closer. The length of his body pressed against Daisuke's, warm, strong, and slender. Daisuke squirmed, trying to get his hands free, although what he would do if he managed it wasn't a question he was willing to answer. The Kaizer clasped his own hands over Daisuke's, his arms around Daisuke's waist, his lips covering Daisuke's throat and shoulders with tender kisses.

"Shhh," he said, sending a shiver up Daisuke's spine.

"Ken," whispered Daisuke, although he had trouble forming the words. "Kaizer ... don't."

One of the Kaizer's hands left Daisuke's, running languidly up his chest. "Do you really want me to stop?" One fingertip, the leather rough there with wear, circled Daisuke's nipple, and a moment later soft lips closed over the flesh and a velvet tongue flicked. Daisuke drew in a sharp breath, and yanked at one of the chains holding his ankles on instinct. "No, you can't escape me," whispered the Kaizer, "although I love it when you try. But tell me again that you want me to stop, and I will." The Kaizer's free hand drifted lower, brushing lightly over the zipper of Daisuke's jeans, drawing a gasping groan and an involuntary motion from Daisuke's hips.

When the sensations from this teasing contact became bearable again, Daisuke panted, "Why ... would you stop?"

"I don't want to rape you. I love you." The Kaizer's hand tilted Daisuke's head to one side, and it never occurred to him to do anything but allow this. Gentle teeth nipped his earlobe, and the feel of breath in his ear was so sensual as to be nearly intolerable. "But," whispered the Kaizer with a soft lick, "I can make you suffer. And you'll love every moment of it."

With an inarticulate cry, Daisuke twisted feverishly at the cuffs binding his wrists. He wanted loose, and he wanted loose now. He wanted to take hold of the Kaizer and kiss him, bite him, sink into him until it was impossible to tell where one left off and the other began. His ineffective struggles seemed to amuse his tormenter, though, and the Kaizer's soft, delighted laughter rang out around the lightless room as the Kaizer's warm body held him down and slowly rubbed against him. One knee pressed down against the inside of Daisuke's thigh, a hand held his own, an arm around his waist, and he was completely controlled. Finally, he gave up again, and simply lay gasping for breath on the floor, more aroused than he had ever been before, so much so it was almost painful.

"Kaizer," he whispered, desperate. "Please."

"I've barely started and you're already begging? Daisuke," he cooed. "You're spoiled, love. We'll have to do something about that." Words and tone both promised long hours of torment for Daisuke before he got the release he craved, and he couldn't suppress a wordless whimper at the prospect.

------======*======------

"I can't believe it," said Takeru. "Will you look at that thing?"

Rumors traveled fast in the digital world. Digimon who hadn't yet been enslaved had booked out of the area upon noticing the ones who were, and had, of course, spread the news of the cause of their migration. And, just as naturally, once one of the Digi-Destined Digimon heard the tales, the Digi-Destined themselves were caught up on the news almost immediately.

The only real mysteries here were Why on earth was Ken doing this again? and Where on earth was Daisuke? Since Daisuke was one of Ken's best friends ... in fact, one of Ken's only friends ... it would have made sense for him to be here with the other four of the younger group. But his mother said he was out, and none of Daisuke's other friends knew where he was, and Hikari had finally suggested they just leave without him.

"Believe it," said Iori. He'd long since outgrown his perch on Digmon's shoulder, considering it beneath his dignity, and in order to let him walk from the gate exit point while the other three rode their Digimon, the entire group had been slowed down. It had taken them hours to get to the location of the new spire and the rebuilding of the base, and it was past dark. Takeru was just a little peeved by this, but Ken had considerately provided floodlights for the valley floor, presumably so the slave Digimon could continue working after sundown.

"So what's the plan?" he said, after the four humans and four Digimon had spent a good three minutes just staring at the scene.

"Are you asking me?" said Iori. "Nobody told me I had to come up with a plan."

"What's there to plan?" said Miyako. "We just go down there, demolish the spire, free the Digimon, and rattle Ken around some. Badda-bing, badda-boom. If we hurry, I can still be home in time for supper."

Pegasusmon stamped a hoof. "Am I the only one who distrusts plans that contain the words 'Badda-bing, badda-boom?'"

"Nope," said Hikari.

"Nope," said Nefertimon.

"Nope," said Takeru.

"Fine, someone else can come up with a plan," said Miyako. "Or better yet, why don't I just go on home right now?"

Takeru shook his head. "Don't pout, Miyako. We need you. Pegasusmon is sorry, aren't you, Pegasusmon?"

"Not really," said Pegasusmon. "But I'll concede that sometimes the simplest plans are the best plans."

"Like it or not," said Hikari, "Miyako is the smartest person here. And that thought makes me so depressed that I think I'm going to go and cry."

Miyako hmphed and folded her arms. Digmon waved a drill-claw in an attention-getting gesture and said, "Let's at least try to focus here."

"Digmon's right," said Iori. "You're all acting like children. Remember how we used to force ourselves to get along with each other, for the sake of defeating the Kaizer? Then we even forced ourselves to get along with Ken of all people, in order to defeat Arachemon. We have to do that again. I don't care how much you like to pick on each other, we need to focus."

Takeru just stared at Iori, as did Hikari and Miyako. Finally, Miyako said, "You're just no fun anymore."

"I never was any fun in the first place."

Miyako considered that, and then shrugged and said, "You're right. Okay, who wants a pre-battle snack?"

All of the Digimon did, to nobody's surprise, so Miyako broke out the picnic basket she'd been hauling around all afternoon and started to pass around snacks and candy. Takeru took one of the peppermint cookies, perplexed.

"What'd you bring these for?"

"They're good. And full of sugar, just what a growing Digimon needs. Try it."

He did, and fed the rest to Pegasusmon, who was more than happy to eat it for him. "We'll die, but at least we'll have minty-fresh breath? Is that the idea?"

"You really have become a grump, haven't you?" Miyako scowled and fed the rest of the peppermint cookies to Halsemon. "Halsemon likes them."

"Okay, whatever," said Takeru. "Let's go demolish a spire, shall we?"

"If we remember how," said Iori sourly.

------======*======------

Daisuke's wrists had finally been freed, although he was so worn out all he could do was lie on the cool floor and breathe. The farthest Annette had ever let him go had been some kissing and heavy petting on the couch while her parents were out, and at the time Daisuke had thought he'd enjoyed it.

Compared to what he'd just experienced, those evenings with Annette might just as well have been spent doing homework.

If he hadn't felt so sticky and yucky, covered as he was in sweat and semen, he would have been very inclined to fall asleep, on the floor or otherwise. The Kaizer lay beside him, propped up on one elbow and idly tracing the lines of his lips and cheekbones as if memorizing them; the gloves had, not surprisingly, been eventually discarded. Daisuke was deliciously tired and deliriously happy. Never in his life had he felt so cherished as in this moment.

"How do you feel?" asked the Kaizer softly. Or was he Ken again? Perhaps he had been all along.

Daisuke took a little while to collect his thoughts before answering. The silence was comfortable while he considered. "Loved," he said finally.

Ken's lips touched his. "You are."

Daisuke tilted his head to return the kiss. All of the passion had been wrung out of him, and his lips lingered on Ken's not out of desire or need, but simply because it felt right. When they broke apart, Ken settled back where he'd been before, and resumed his gentle tracing of Daisuke's features. The feeling of his lover's fingers on his face was soothing, and Daisuke sighed, content.

"Will you stay with me?" asked Ken.

"I don't know. I want to. I want to be with you forever."

"What's stopping you?"

Daisuke frowned a little at the darkness above him. "I don't know if I can stand to watch you enslave Digimon."

"You don't have to see it."

"But I'd know you were doing it."

"It's who I am. It's what I am."

"It's not who you were four years ago."

Ken sighed. "Daisuke ... some of the best times of your life were when you were fighting me with your friends. Isn't that what you said once?"

"Yeah. Sad to say it, but they were. It all went downhill from there."

Ken's fingertip traced the curves of his nose. "Did it ever occur to you that they were some of the best times of my life as well?"

"So you want to go back? Turn back the clock?"

"In a sense. The digital world was my way of coping. I lost that when I gave up my identity as the Kaizer. In a way, I lost a vital part of myself. It took me a long time and a very expensive psychiatrist to figure that out."

"Your shrink didn't tell you to start torturing innocent creatures again, did he?"

"It was a she, and no, of course she didn't. And I'm not torturing them anymore, Daisuke. I couldn't stand to do that, I'm too soft-hearted now. Actually, I always have been."

"Then what are you doing?" Daisuke shifted a little, and sat up. From the sounds in the darkness, Ken was doing likewise.

"I'm conquering the digital world. Not all conquerors are opposed by the conquered, you know."

------======*======------

The spire proved to be a difficult target. Not because of any innate defensive characteristics, but because the Digi-Destined couldn't get near it.

Almost immediately upon entering the valley, the Digi-Destined and their Digimon were beset on all sides by black-ringed Digimon slaves. This was really no shock to any of them, and they had methodically begun cracking the rings and spirals, fully expecting that the newly-freed Digimon would turn and aid them. That was, to the best of any of their recollections, the way things had always gone.

This time, however, the freed Digimon exhibited some very unexpected characteristics. Some of them stood there blinking in confusion. Some continued to fight. Others shouted in fury at their rescuers and plodded off toward the fortress. Iori was stunned when he recognized a freshly de-ringed Geckomon as one Digmon had already freed ten minutes before, and pointed this fact out to the rest of the group. None of the slaves turned to help the Digi-Destined. It was baffling.

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"Sometimes it's just easier to have someone else do the thinking for you."

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"Retreat!" yelled Takeru, when he saw Nefertimon devolve back to Gatomon, spilling Hikari on the ground. He swooped down on Pegasusmon to pick up the Digimon, while Miyako and Halsemon retrieved Hikari. Iori, throwing dignity to the wind, leaped up on Digmon's back and rode back out of the valley, post haste, while the rest of the group soared to safety overhead.

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"I guess that's something you might have a hard time understanding."

"No. No, actually I understand it perfectly."

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"I don't get it," said Iori, glaring down into the valley where the disturbed Digimon slaves were returning to their routine beneath the floodlights. "Why didn't any of them help us once we freed them?"

Hikari, leaning against Halsemon's shoulder, wiped sweat and splattered mud off her forehead. "I don't know. Maybe they're under some kind of evil spell of Ken's. One that sticks even when the rings are taken off."

"Since when is Ken a sorcerer?" asked Miyako.

"Here, he practically is one, since he can just reprogram the Digiworld as he goes along. Maybe he's got some insidious new trick that he's been working on for the past five years while the rest of us were goofing off."

"I wasn't goofing off," said Iori. "I was studying."

"Maybe they're not real Digimon," said Miyako.

"I didn't see anything to make me believe that," said Takeru. "Besides, if they're not real Digimon, why should we care if Ken keeps them as pets?"

"Good point. Let's go home and talk about this before we try again. Hopefully we'll find Daisuke by then."

"Right."

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"So will you stay with me?"

Daisuke reached out with one hand to find Ken's shoulder, and used that as a guide. He kissed his friend, his lover, and said, "Sure. I'll stay with you."