Disclaimer: The cast of Frontier does not belong to me.
Author's Note: This fic was written for my very good friend Cynthia, Ruby of the Rose. Happy holidays, Cyn. :-)
Deep in the night, something was moving, bringing with it a light that pushed the darkness aside and cast its rays on every part of the Digital World that it touched. Little night-moving Digimon paused in their activities as they felt its approach as a rumble beneath their feet. They looked up, staring expectantly toward the source of the vibration, a vibration that became a sound of rushing wheels and engines, and then the brightness of headlights that burst above a hill or through a stand of trees, and a wind would rush by. Then the Trailmon would pass by, roaring out of sight.
The Trailmon had only once passenger, but a strange one: a human boy, something that had been spoken of in the Digital World, but seen by few. This one was nothing special to look at, by Digimon standards, being young, pale, and slender. He had hair the color of night and eyes the color of evening, the more so because they were fixed on the night sky outside. Only one who could look past the surface would see the surety and grace of his movements and the intensity of his gaze. Just now, he leaned casually back in his seat, still and quiet, passive as a bomb just waiting to explode.
*What am I doing here?*
Kouji Minomoto sighed softly and shifted position, turning his back on the darkness outside and looking instead at his hands. They were folded in his lap, holding gently to the small strange object that had appeared to him today - a Digivice, or so the mysterious voice in it had told him. He wasn't sure yet that he trusted the woman who spoke to him through it, whoever or whatever she might be. There were very few people he did trust, and people who whisked him off to strange new worlds without consulting with him, and lured him onwards with riddles and hints, without even giving him a name or face to go by, ranked low at the bottom of the list of people he was likely to listen to. Still, her choice of names for mysterious objects wasn't a bad one, and since he couldn't think of a better one, he thought it would suffice.
"I wish you'd explain a few things to me," he said, addressing the Digivice, for lack of anything better. "Like why I'm bothering to listen to you at all. As a matter of fact, I'd like to know why all of this is happening."
The device, predictably, remained still and silent. Kouji closed his eyes. As usual, he would have to answer his riddles for himself.
*I've never been able to count on anyone but myself. Why change now?* Then he thought, *Why am I changing?*
All his life, as long as he could remember, Kouji had known the feeling of being alone. He suspected, in a dim way, that he must have been close to his mother, when he was a tiny child and his parents were still together, but that time was so long ago that he had no memory of it. All he knew was that he had always felt, not just alone, but disconnected, as if he was of some other species of being altogether, as if he didn't even speak the same language. Because of that, he had drawn into himself, and the more he retreated, the more alone he felt. Because he spoke to no one, he turned to talking to himself inside his mind, watching everything people did, absorbing it, mulling it over and drawing his conclusions, as if by studying people long enough, he might learn how to be like them. Now he turned to analyzing his own situation, hoping to make some sense of it.
*Who knows? Maybe that's what this is all about. Maybe I was meant to be more Digimon than human.*
He looked down at the Digivice, smiling wryly at it.
"So, you think I'm a wolf, do you?" he asked it. "I think you're wrong. Wolves are pack animals. They like being with their own kind. The only company I like is my own." Then came a thought unbidden: "And wolves are cruel to outsiders."
The Trailmon was rolling over rougher terrain now; its cars swayed gently as they passed over the rocky ground. It made the lights shift on the Digivice, making it seem to sparkle. Kouji got the feeling that someone out there was laughing at him, at his foolishness. He was hardly kind to outsiders - which meant anyone other than himself. He seldom bestirred himself to help anyone who wasn't able to take care of themselves. Why should they matter to him? He doubted anyone would try to take care of him if he was in trouble.
*So how do you explain what happened today?* he asked himself.
He closed his eyes again, trying to recall the incident. He had begun this adventure in his usual form, taking the Trailmon that had seemed least crowded, finding a car to himself. As soon as he had arrived, he had slipped away from the main crowd of children and gone off on his own. It was only by accident that he had stumbled on another group of travelers. What it had been that had made him follow them was something he couldn't explain.
Maybe it was only curiosity, or perhaps just a vague desire for some sense of familiarity in this strange new world. He had recognized one of the children he'd found as the same boy who'd tried to talk to him on the elevator, the one who had locked eyes with him just before they had passed into the darkness of the Trailmon tunnels. He even remembered the boy's name: Takuya. On reflection, he supposed it made sense that he might be inclined to trail after the only person in the world he knew, if you could call their ten-second half conversation knowing.
*But it wasn't him that you bothered with. It was those others, the ones you don't even know at all.*
Well, he had watched them for a bit - it was the only reason he had been there to protect them in the first place. He supposed he sympathized with them, just a bit. The heavyset boy and the small child seemed to be the only ones in the group with any sense, and he had to give them some credit for that. They weren't messing around with things they didn't understand, or playing at being great adventurers and heroes. They just wanted to go home. Maybe they even had a home to go to, and not a stepmother they barely knew and a father who hauled them from place to place like so much luggage. If they had someplace and someone to go home to, he wouldn't begrudge them.
*Yes, but I didn't have to risk my neck jumping in to save them. It was their own fault for messing around with monsters and wandering off on their own. They deserved to get into trouble.*
But did they really deserve to be eaten alive by something that looked like it had been scraped from the bottom of the world's largest dumpster? As punishment, that seemed a trifle extreme for simple naivety.
*I didn't have to fight with it. I could have left it for the other boy, that Takuya. He can become a Digimon, too. He could have saved them if you hadn't shown up. He probably could have done a better job as a Digimon than you did beating the thing with a pole.*
The insidious inner voice replied, But Takuya couldn't seem to evolve, then. What guarantee is there that he could have done it in time? Even if he could have figured out how to do it, the other two could have been in that monster's stomach by then. Or at least reduced to ugly smudges.
"So why do I care?" he demanded, annoyed into speaking aloud. "Why do I care what happens to some stupid fat kid and a baby boy and a snobby foreign girl and - and - and some nutcase named Takuya who thinks he wants to be friends with me?"
He hauled back on his own reins. Wanted to be friends with him? What gave him that idea? He paused and reflected. Three times, now, he had crossed paths with the boy Takuya. Once on the elevator, when he'd introduced himself. Once again when they looked at each other across the Trailmon tracks. And once more a few hours ago, after the battle, when Takuya had come to thank him. The boy was not scornful or suspicious or any of the things Kouji was used to getting from strangers. Rather, he was outgoing and friendly, warm as the element he'd claimed.
*I guess some people are just naturally friendly,* he thought with an uneasy shrug. *Maybe there are people who will try to make friends with anybody, no matter how unsuitable they are. I hope he doesn't keep at it. It could get annoying.*
He turned over the Digivice in his hands. He had claimed an element, too, the element of Light. The thought puzzled him. He would have thought that the one who claimed such an element would be, well... something not like himself, certainly. It would be someone gentle and wise, even angelic. Not someone cool and distant and analytical as himself.
*My element should have been Ice,* he mused. He stared back out the window. *Or Darkness. I've always been the one who lurks in the shadows. The more I stay here, it seems, the more I feel drawn to the darkness... Maybe that's my answer. Maybe it's the Spirit of Light that moved me to save them. That would explain it.*
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. It had been a long day, and he was tired in body and spirit. He wanted to sleep. Dimly he was beginning to wonder if he really wanted to play this stressful, confusing game any longer. He'd heard tell that the Trailmons could bring him back the way he came. He thought that he might, if he wanted, be able to go to the front and convince the Trailmon to turn around at the next switchyard and take him back where he came from.
Through his half-dreams he heard the sound of the Trailmon's wheels rattling on the tracks: clickity-clack, clickity-clack, never go back, never go back...
*All right, all right,* he thought sleepily. *I'll hang around a while longer. If only just long enough to get some answers. But if I can think of one good reason to drop all this and go home, I will.*
That was as far as his conscious thoughts went. He dropped off to sleep, and the Trailmon politely turned off his inside lights, leaving nothing for light but the three moons that peered through his windows. In uneasy dreams, Kouji thought that he sat in the light of three full moons, and he was slowly turning into a wolf.
Daylight dawned bright and cheerful, with a gentle breeze blowing from the south. Kouji could feel it tugging on his long hair as he walked. He had disembarked from the Trailmon at sunrise, and since then he had been walking the way he was born to walk: alone, in the shadows. Not that there were many shadows to walk in at the moment. The sun was strong here, pushing even through the boughs of the trees above him to fill the world with shafts of sunlight, and even the leaves glowed like emeralds. He walked slowly, cautiously savoring the feel of the sun on his shoulders. Despite his uneasy dreams, he felt refreshed, and his senses seemed sharpened, so that he noticed every blade of grass, every leaf, how the grain of each tree's bark was different from any other. The ground beneath his feet gave off a heady aroma of dark fallow earth mixed with the green scent of growing things. He noticed every change of temperature as he walked from sunlight to shade and back again, and felt the change as the wind picked up from a tiny zephyr to a respectable breeze. His ears heard the sound of his footsteps on the spongy ground, the sound of the wind blowing gently in the trees, the rustle made by his movement and breathing... and, in the distance, the sound of battle.
*Oh, no, not again,* was his only thought. Then he moved into a sprint, rushing like the wind itself through the trees.
At length, he came to a small glade, where stood a mighty tree that had grown to the size of a building, large enough that a human could walk in its branches as easily as down a sidewalk, and whole families could have been housed in its trunk. He couldn't see anyone there now, though. Everyone seemed to be outside. A collection of flower-like Digimon huddled in fright off to one side, while two of the other children he'd seen before - the girl and the heavyset boy - stood between them and what appeared at first to be another tree. Then Kouji realized that the tree was moving against the wind - moving of its own will, glaring at the rest of the group with malevolence in its eyes.
*I knew it - they've gone and wandered off and gotten themselves in trouble again. Well, this time, I'm not helping them! They can get themselves out of trouble this time.*
He stood and waited confidently for them to do just that. There was no reason why they shouldn't - they weren't trapped, as two boys had been before. There was plenty of room for them to dodge the monster and escape into the trees, where the monster wouldn't be able to follow through the underbrush, or where they could hide in the shadows. He fully expected for the boy, at least, to run for cover. He had done it before, hadn't he? He'd tried to run away from the Digital World and its dangers, which was how Kouji had encountered him in the first place. Now, surely, he would do something of the same thing.
But he didn't. As Kouji stood and watched, it dawned on him that neither boy nor girl looked like they had the slightest inclination to run away. On the contrary, they seemed determined to stand and protect each other and the floral Digimon. Kouji stared. What had gotten into them? They had only known each other for a day, barely twenty-four hours. How could they care enough to risk their lives in a fight like this? Why did it matter to them what happened to a bunch of talking daisies? He stood in puzzlement, hardly noticing the flare of light as the Spirit of Wind appeared.
*What do they know that I don't?* he thought, as the newly appeared Fairymon flew into battle. *Or are they just crazy?*
The battle continued - both Fairymon's fight and Kouji's inner turmoil. He still half-expected the boy to turn tail and let this new Digimon handle things. Instead, the boy seemed more intent on the fight than ever, and Kouji could only conclude that the boy was desperate to see her win the fight, and wishing with all his might that he could be joining her there. For reasons passing Kouji's understanding, he cared about her, cared about her more than he cared about his own life... and she cared about him, and the flower Digimon, and everything else that was threatened by this monster being there.
*I can't imagine caring about anything that much...*
And then it occurred to him that he had cared that much. He had done exactly what they were doing. Just yesterday he had put his life on the line for people he barely knew, just because...
*Because what? Because they didn't deserve to die? Because they're human... just like me?*
He wasn't aware of deciding to transform. He was only aware of an influx of pure white light surrounding him, burning away, for the moment, all his doubts and questions. Only one sure thought was left in his mind: it was time for him to stop lurking in the shadows and fight back, to defend these people who perhaps were more brave and loyal than he had yet learned how to be. He dove into the fray of battle, and for the first time since arriving in the Digital World, and maybe since before then, he felt a measure of peace.
But the feeling of surety only lasted as long as the battle did. Once the monster was gone, he was left only with those things with which he had the most trouble handling: human beings. He was left with a choice. He had saved them twice, now. If he wanted to, he could go with them. They would accept him. They owed him their lives - at least one of them owed twice over. All he had to do was walk over to them and offer his friendship, or even just his service, and they would be more than happy to take him in.
But that was where his courage failed, because he wasn't entirely sure yet whether he would be able to take to them. He might look like a wolf on the outside, but on the inside, he was still a human boy who knew more about being alone than any wolf ever had, because an animal could never know what it was to feel truly lonely. At that moment of choice, he chose to turn his back and walk silently away.
But not completely away. He halted in the shade of the trees, out of their sight, and he continued to lurk and watch, somehow unable to completely abandon these people who seemed to keep needing his help. He had heard that if you took care of something long enough, you would eventually come to care about it. Now he had saved these odd people twice, and he was starting to feel like he would be somehow bereft if he let anything else happen to them now. Without realizing it, he had claimed them.
*My stepmother looked after me for a year... Does she care about me by now? Even if I wasn't grateful to her?*
He shook his head, and for the first time, felt overcome with the desire to turn around and go back to the Real World and finish his errand there. The flower shop and his stepmother and his home felt very far away now, and he wondered if he'd ever get to see any of it again. But that feeling passed. For one thing, he wasn't sure he could get back to the Trailmon again, much less convince it to give him a ride home. For another thing, he was needed here.
He turned his attention back to the other children. Their companions had returned - Takuya and the little boy. He expected harsh words for them, for leaving their companions alone and in danger, knowing that they were unable to evolve to Digimon and protect themselves. He was surprised that what they got was more along the lines of banter rather than anger; the tone was more like someone teasing a friend for being late for the umpteenth time, rather than someone who had been left in mortal danger in a strange land.
*They like each other,* Kouji thought in quiet amazement. *All of them like each other. They've only known each other a day, and already they're friends. I always thought it was something difficult, to find a friend, but they make it look so easy...*
The group began moving on again. They did not realize that someone was following them. Kouji trailed along behind, out of sight but close at hand.
*Maybe I am becoming like a wolf, a little,* he thought, and smiled slightly. *A wolf needs to be with his pack, after all.*
So, gliding silently along, Kouji trailed the rest of the group as they plodded steadily through the forest, passing through its fringes and stepping from its shadows to the light.