Disclaimer and Author's Notes: Digimon belongs to Saban and stuff, not me. This fic takes place
in the future, when Ken is in college.

Lessons in Oil Paint
By: SilvorMoon

"I'm never going to do that again," Ken muttered, as he rolled over to shut off his alarm
clock. The sound mercifully stopped, and the young man rubbed at his aching head and blurry
eyes. "Never, ever, ever, ever."

With the alarm quiet, it was tempting to just lie there, close his eyes, and maybe sleep for a
few more years. After everything that had happened the night before, he hadn't gotten nearly
enough rest. He considered the merits of calling in sick. Then again, he was beginning to think he
didn't want to stay where he was, either. In an angry gesture, he got up, ripped the coverings off
the bed, and shoved them all in the laundry hamper, shutting the closet door on the sight. The
mattress looked bare and forlorn without its blankets, but not nearly as forlorn as the picture that
hung on the wall next to it.

Ken stared at that picture a moment, overcome as always by the intensity of the look in
the subject's eyes. It was nothing like his other work, being only a pencil sketch done on a stray
sheet of paper, but he had caught the image so completely and naturally that he hadn't the heart to
throw it away. His other artwork adorned the walls, beautiful dreamscapes painted on canvas, but
the picture of the caterpillar with the soulful eyes was the only one that rested next to his bed.
Normally he stared at it until he fell asleep, but last night had been an exception. Now he was
glaring at it with an expression that bordered on hostile. His hands moved as if to rip the picture
off the wall, but he stopped halfway there and slumped dejectedly. He could work no violence on
the owner of those eyes. With a sigh, he turned his back on the sight and began preparing for
class.

The first class of the day was art. It was a good way for him to begin his days, usually
giving him something he really wanted to get up for. As everyone had expected, he had been
accepted to an exclusive private university, where he majored in computer programming, which
was also expected. What had not been expected was that he would choose to minor in studio art.
He told everyone placidly that it was his way of coping with the stresses of his competitive
academic life, and that seemed to satisfy everyone. Who would have understood how much
satisfaction he got out of an activity that allowed him to create something beautiful, that was
peaceful and did no harm, that forced him to pay attention to something outside of himself, and
most of all, something that allowed him to develop his own style without copying someone else?
They couldn't, of course. They could accept that he was a super-genius who liked to play with oil
paints when he had nothing better to do, but not that Ken Ichijouji wanted to be an artist.

Today, however, he arrived in class with something a bit less than eagerness. Despite
splashing some cold water on his face, his eyes still felt dry and sticky, and his throat felt slightly
sore. He was in no mood to spend the next two hours staring at something and trying to get its
last nuance down on canvas. Of course, that would be the day when his teacher decided to have
her pupils practice still life painting, and there was a dismaying array of fruits and vegetables laid
out on a table in the center of the room. Ken gave a soft moan as he dropped onto his stool and
got his paints and brushes laid out.

*This is not what I need today,* he told himself. *I don't want to do anything.
I want to curl up and die, maybe, but not this.*

However, as the other students began their work, Ken lifted his brush and joined in.
Eyeing an orange that was resting near to him, he painted a round shape on his canvas. He studied
the shape critically. Then, with a bit more enthusiasm, he added a second shape to match the first,
then a whole series of other curving lines. As he worked, his problems slipped to the back of his
mind as he became fully occupied with lines, shapes, shades, and shadows. Suddenly, he realized
that the instructor had begun making her rounds, checking on the progress of her students,
making comments as she passed by.

"Very nice work.... A bit more yellow there; make it brighter... Remember, shadows don't
go all the way to the edge on a round shape. There ought to be just a trace of brightness right
there... Excellent job on that banana! ... Dear, don't spend all morning trying to get that onion
perfect. I don't want you to hand in a canvas with one perfect onion and nothing else."

Listening to his professor come ever closer to him, Ken began to get nervous. He had a
great deal of respect for his teacher, as she was one of the few people who could see him as
"Ken" and not "Ken the genius." She was interested in him as an artist only, and since he was only
moderately skilled, she was willing to scold and advise him when other teachers would simply tell
him how wonderful he was. This morning, though, he wasn't feeling up to any scolding, and what
he was painting...

"Ken, dear, we are doing still-lifes today," she informed him, looking over his shoulder.
"This is a very nice painting, but it is not a still life."

She had spoken quietly, so that only he could hear her, but his mortification was so deep
that she might as well have advertised it to the whole school. He turned a stricken expression on
her, silently begging her not to scold him, not to advertise his failing, and most of all, not to take
his picture away. She looked back at his still-reddened and puffy eyes, his drawn expression, and
uncharacteristically casual clothing, and her expression softened.

"I see," she said. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you. You just do whatever you want,
all right?"

"Thank you, Ms. Kiyoshi," Ken replied. "You don't know how much I appreciate it."

"You look like you've got something bothering you," she replied. "Is it something you
want to talk about? If you need a listening ear, my office is open."

"I couldn't bother you..."

"No bother, Ken! It's a teacher's responsibility to look after her students," Ms. Kiyoshi
replied. "If you need help, I'd be only too happy to help you."

"Well... I guess it wouldn't hurt. I really miss having someone to talk to," Ken sighed.

"You can always talk to me," Ms. Kiyoshi. "Come - and take your picture. I'd like to see
you finish it." She raised her voice. "Class, Ken's having a little problem, and I need to go work
with him a bit. The rest of you just keep painting! I want to see some progress when we get back.
And remember, bell peppers are not cylindrical! They are curved, and I want to see you draw
those curves! Pretend it's your girlfriend."

There were a few giggles from the students, and they went back to their work without
paying any more attention to their classmate. Ken picked up his things and followed Ms. Kiyoshi
into the next room.

He was a bit surprised by her office; it looked a lot like his own room. There was a desk
and several padded chairs, even a worn old sofa. Art books shared spaces on shelves with a
collection of odd objects, the kind of things an artist would pick up just to admire their shapes,
everything from rocks to broken machinery. Pictures adorned the walls - some signed by Ms.
Kiyoshi herself, others left behind by students. Ken recognized one of his own, an image of a boy
looking down on a sunset-red plain dotted by shiny black spikes. He had given it to her when he'd
decided he couldn't bear to have that picture in his room. The air smelled faintly of dust, flowers,
and turpentine. He and Ms. Kiyoshi dropped into chairs, and Ken set up his easel between them.
It relieved him of having to look her in the eye as they talked. As soon as he picked up his brush,
however, she stood up and came to look over his shoulder.

"You aren't mad at me, are you?" asked Ken.

"No, Ken. You are an artist, and there are times when a true artist gets an image fixed so
firmly in his mind that he can't help but draw it. Besides, it's a lovely caterpillar. He has such sad
eyes." She paused to linger over the image a bit. "I'm quite amazed that you've drawn him in such
detail without a picture to work from. It's as if the image was burned into your heart."

There was a strangled sob from Ken, and Ms. Kiyoshi looked down in alarm.

"Ken, dear, what's wrong?" she asked.

"I've... I've done a horrible thing," Ken blurted. "I thought I was all done with doing
horrible things, but I did something last night. It was all wrong. Everything in my life is all wrong!
I'm... I'm so... miserable!" He was sniffling, trying desperately to keep tears at bay. Ms.
Kiyoshi put her hand on his shoulder.

"It's all right dear. Just let it out. It's okay to cry."

Ken shook his head. "I cried all night. It didn't do any good."

"Then tell me what's wrong. Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked. "And what
has this picture got to do with it all? It means something to you, doesn't it?"

"It means everything," Ken replied. He paused a moment, gathering his resources, before
finally asking, "Ms. Kiyoshi, do you believe that there could be other worlds? I don't mean like
other planets, I mean whole other worlds. Worlds that you couldn't get to by walking, but places
that exist in another space entirely?"

"I believe there are a great many things that are beyond human understanding," Ms.
Kiyoshi answered. "I suppose other worlds are a possibility."

"I've been to one," said Ken.

Ms. Kiyoshi was silent.

"You don't believe me, do you?" he asked. "I knew you wouldn't; no one would."

"I never said that," Ms. Kiyoshi. "I'm going to reserve judgement until I've heard what
you have to say about it."

"Well, whether you believe it or not, there is another world, the Digital World, and I've
been there," Ken replied. "It's a world protected by children, and I was one of them. Each of
these children had special partners, creatures called Digimon that protected them. The child and
their Digimon became the best of friends - it was wonderful to see. The Digimon could change
shape to protect their partner. This caterpillar was my Digimon, Wormmon. He was my best
friend, the best I've ever had. We would have lived and died for each other."

"And you miss him?" asked Ms. Kiyoshi.

Ken shook his head sadly. "So much. It never stops aching."

"What happened to him?"

"Oh, nothing happened, really," Ken replied. "We went our ways. All of us did, really - the
other children and their Digimon. We were all one big team, back then. But then I came here, and
I never get to see my old friends anymore. I never get to go to DigiWorld. I'm all alone."

"Can't you make new friends?" asked Ms. Kiyoshi. "It shouldn't be that hard. You're a
good-looking boy, you're smart, you're talented, you're athletic..."

"It's not the same," said Ken. "There's no one here who can really understand me." He
frowned. "That sounds like something I would have said when I was a kid. I used to think I was
better than everyone else, and that no one could ever understand what I was thinking about. Now
I know better. I know I'm not better - in fact, I'm probably worse - but that doesn't make any
difference. What's important now is that I'm different, and there's no one here who can
relate to me, not like Wormmon or the Digidestined could."

"Isn't that a little extreme?" she asked. "I'm sure there must be someone..."

"You don't understand," said Ken. "No one here has been through what I have. Maybe
the lucky ones were on the very edges of it. But none of them have ever felt the wind of another
world and looked up at other stars. None of them have had to fight for their lives and the lives of
the people they care about. They've never had someone lay down their life for them. They've
never seen a Pegasus or ridden a dragon. They've never known that there's a part of them that
crawls the dirt like an insect, and a part that can soar to the sky. They've never seen the side of
themselves that can be an angel or a demon. I've seen too much. I've changed too much. I don't
fit with them anymore."

"I'm beginning to believe you're right," said Ms. Kiyoshi, "and that you're telling the
truth. To be honest, Ken, I saw there was something strange about you from the moment I first
saw you. I think it's your eyes. There's a kind of glow in them. I really can believe they've seen
the sun of another world. There's hurt in them, though. What is it that happened to you? You say
you've done something horrible, and call yourself a demon. What did you do?"

"Too much," Ken replied. "I can't even begin to tell you all of it, but... about last night. I
did something I wasn't supposed to do."

"A lot of college boys do that," said Ms. Kiyoshi gently. "It happens when you grow up
and start trying to find yourself. You test authority a little."

"I did it because I was lonely," said Ken. "I didn't mean to do anything wrong - I just
wanted the hurt to stop a while. A few of the guys on the soccer team were having a party, and
they told me to come. They said I could have fun there, maybe meet some people. I thought I
could forget things for a while. Then when I got there, they started drinking, and I was dumb and
went along with it. It made me feel warmer inside, made it harder to think about what had been
bothering me, so I just sort of went with it." He dropped his gaze, beginning to flush a bit with
shame. "There was this girl at the party - she'd been following me around a lot. Most of the time I
just avoid her, but I wasn't thinking straight last night. I let her come back to my room with me."
He turned his gaze back to his teacher, a little of his old defiance back in his eyes. "Do you see? It
wasn't because I felt anything for her. I was just so lonely and empty inside, and I wanted
something to fill up that hole. I needed someone close to me, and she was willing... I don't want
to talk about it."

"I'm afraid you've lost me," said Ms. Kiyoshi. "Maybe you used bad judgement, but I
wouldn't say it was horrible. After all, you said she didn't mind..."

"That's not it!" said Ken angrily. "It was all wrong. I didn't like her - I barely even know
her name. When it was all over and I was alone, I just felt wrecked inside. There's this picture on
the wall of Wormmon, right next to the bed, with his eyes so lonely and sad looking in the dark...
I felt like he'd been watching me the whole time, and I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like I'd
betrayed him, somehow."

"Why would you feel that way?" she asked.

"I don't know, exactly," said Ken. "Back when we were partners, he used to sleep next to
me at night, like a cat or a stuffed animal. One night we sneaked up on the roof with a sleeping
bag and some milk and cookies. Kids weren't allowed up on the roof, and they always kept the
door locked, but he just turned into Stingmon and flew me up. We camped out up there all night,
watching the constellations and talking to each other, counting stars until we both fell asleep. He
woke me up at sunrise to carry me over the city. You have no idea what it's like - an airplane
doesn't come close. There's nothing between you and the whole sky, and the wind tosses your
hair, and you look down and see the sun turning everything golden, bit by bit. You think about all
the sleeping people down there, and you think maybe you're the only one awake. It was just me
and him, with the whole sky to ourselves. You see? I got more happiness and more real pleasure
out of that than from anything a girl could do for me."

Ms. Kiyoshi knew when to stay silent.

"And you know what makes it even worse?" Ken replied. "I'm not far from graduation,
you know. I'm almost guaranteed a good job anywhere I want to work, so I'll be able to support
myself, and my parents are starting to hint that I should get married. They want me to pass on the
family name. They want grandchildren. They want me to let someone come into my life and live in my home
and know everything that goes on in my life down to the last hole in my socks! I don't want that.
I want to stay up counting stars. Show me a girl who really knows me - all the terrible, evil stuff I
did, and not just my scholarship and soccer scores - and who loves me anyway. Show me
someone willing to lay down her life for me, no matter what. Then I'll talk about getting married."
He sighed, staring down at his painting. "All Wormmon ever wanted from me was a little
kindness."

"Have you told your parents about this?" asked Ms. Kiyoshi.

"What? That I'd rather spend my time with a digital caterpillar than a human being?"

"The whole story - everything," Ms. Kiyoshi replied. "How much do they know?"

"Not much. I never wanted to tell all of it. There are parts that I don't like to think about,
much less talk about."

"Ah," said Ms. Kiyoshi. "Well, I don't know what happened to you that you're not telling
me, and I'm not going to ask. I don't know much about Digimon and other worlds, but I do know
something about college students. I think I know what your problem is."

"What?" asked Ken eagerly.

"You're homesick," she stated.

"Homesick?" Ken repeated. "That's not right. I don't miss home at all, and I visit my
parents once a month..."

"A house is not a home, dear," said Ms. Kiyoshi. "You've told me quite plainly that you
don't feel at home in this world and these people. You've told me just as plainly that you love a
blue-eyed caterpillar. Maybe it isn't the sort of love your parents would expect you to feel for a
wife, but that doesn't make it any less strong or less real. Now, some people would say this is not
right, and that pining away for someone is a sign of weakness. I say that there are some people
who are so devoted to each other that they can't and shouldn't be apart. That's why they get
married, isn't it? It's because they're partners, and because they're stronger together than they
would be apart. You need to go back to your other world, your home, and find your partner
again."

"But I can't!" said Ken. "The portal has to be open for a human to get into the Digital
World, and it only opens if the world needs the Digidestined."

"What if the Digidestined needs the world?" asked Ms. Kiyoshi gently.

Ken thought about that one a while. Then a slow, wistful smile crept across his face.

"I can try, can't I?" he asked. "I will. I think you're right. I don't think I can live here any
longer."

"Good luck to you," said Ms. Kiyoshi.

"Thanks," Ken replied. He stood up and made a move to collect his things. He tossed the
paints and brushes back into his art box, but stopped as he came to the painting. "Keep this.
Wherever I'm going, I don't think I'll be needing it."

With that, he turned and hurried out the door.

******************************

Word got out shortly afterwards that Ken Ichijouji, boy genius, had vanished. Chaos broke
out on campus as people began questioning each other, wondering where their classmate had
gone. Rumors were many and varied - he'd been kidnaped, he'd been murdered, he'd committed
suicide, he'd run away to France, he'd eloped. Questioning his parents revealed no answers; they
insisted that he still visited once a month, and that he was well and happy, yet he was never seen
leaving or entering the building. Questioning his friends got no better results. Daisuke, who'd
been known as his best friend in high school, had only grinned and said his friend had been
recruited by the army for a secret mission to Mars. Some people believed him.

As for Ms. Kiyoshi, she never did hear another word from her student. However, she did
arrive in her office one morning to find that the picture of the sunset and the spires had been
replaced by a portrait of Ken himself, beaming as he hugged a large green caterpillar who stared
up at him with a blissful look in his blue eyes. She kept the painting as a showpiece, the last
known work of the lost boy genius, and people always stared at it in wonder - not just for its
novelty, but because of the quality. The painter had been a genius, they all agreed, for everyone
who looked at the painting swore they saw the light of another world reflected in the boy's eyes.