Something weird that initially came from reading the first volume of Bleach about a dozen times. I truly am addicted to manga…(sigh) It's just a shame they screwed up the manga adaptation of Digimon so badly…There won't be many chapters to this, probably one or two more, it's just something short and fun that's been bugging me lately. A little break between Lost In The Dusk and my next big project, you might say.

BTW, I love creating messengers of Death. The one which appears here was actually the prototype-goth-punk design for the male lead in my book, so I would appreciate it if you don't mess with him.

Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon. I just think too much.

Pay The Piper

Chapter 1: Accidents Happen

A blue-haired boy walked down the street, carrying a plastic grocery bag in each hand, both stuffed to the brim with a week's worth of your basic human needs. His clothes were a size too large for him and slightly tattered, hanging loosely over a thin frame, but he didn't seam to notice. Deep blue eyes were clouded slightly, not in concentration, but in a daydream, keeping only half his mind on the path he was taking. The sun was setting and he was the only pedestrian on the streets, but he wasn't lost enough to forget about the cars.

He paused, waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green again. Though he had no headphones like most boy his age, he was humming his own song quietly to himself, counting the seconds off in his head.

There was a small beep as the light changed green. The boy smiled just a little, starting across the white-painted path. Just a few more blocks and he'd be back home…

A horn suddenly blared in his ear, catching him off-guard. His head shot up just in time to see a bright red car slam on its breaks, but too late to keep from connecting…

There was a sickening noise and a splash of blood as the groceries scattered across the ground.

( - ) ( - ) ( - )

For a Japanese teenager, Saturday afternoons are some of the most relaxing times in the world. After all, school was only a half-day, so the afternoon was wide open for picnics, movies, and other activities with their friends.

Which was why it was one of these blissful, enjoyable Saturday afternoons that the six kids who had once entered the Digital World had chosen to be the time for one of their get-togethers.

The place? A pizza parlor, which was partially owned by Izumi's father.

The problem? They were one short.

"…Where's Kouichi?" Tomoki asked, reaching for a second piece of a large pepperoni. "He's not usually late."

"I'm sure he's fine." Junpei waved his hand nonchalantly, taking a fourth slice of a mushroom sausage mix.

Kouji swallowed, checking his watch. His brother was a good ten minutes late and, despite himself, he was starting to get more than a little worried…

Takuya sensed the new tenseness, and glanced around quickly to try and find someway to rectify this. His eyes lit up as they fell on the glass door. "Guys, he's right there!" he sighed, then stood to wave their friend over.

Kouichi hurried to the table, with his school bag still slung over his shoulder. He smiled tiredly. "Sorry I'm late." he sighed. "There was a bit of a crowd at the train station…"

"No probs." Takuya waved towards the empty chair, between himself and Kouji. "Sit down and eat, before it's gone."

Kouichi's smile widened as he took his place, dropping the bag on the floor and reaching for a slice of plain, extra cheese. For a moment the long, tattered sleeve of his dark red shirt was pulled back, and Izumi gasped.

"Kouichi!" she cried. "What happened to your arm?"

The boy snapped his hand back, but they'd all seen the layers of white gauze wrapped around his wrist. He lifted it slightly, pulling the sleeve back to show it better, including the light metal clasps holding it in place.

"What happened?" Kouji exclaimed, taking the arm so he could see it better.

"I…I just…" Kouichi's face flushed slightly as he pulled his arm away and covered it up again. "I…got hit…by a car…yesterday."

"Hit by a what?" Takuya, Izumi and Kouji shouted at once.

"It wasn't so bad, really." Kouichi flushed deeper, obviously more than a little uncomfortable. "I just…wasn't paying attention. They hit their breaks, just knocked me over, really. Sprained…wrist." He grinned awkwardly, looking at the floor. "You know…stupid me."

"Ouch." Junpei grimaced, swallowing.

"Doesn't it hurt?" Tomoki asked, wide-eyed.

"Just a little…" Kouichi sighed. "It's fine, guys, really."

Uneasily, they somehow managed to slip back into their normal conversation. Kouichi sighed, finally taking his slice and thanking the stars that he'd just changed the bandage and they hadn't noticed the blood.

It really had been a close call, the evening before, as the paramedics had told him repeatedly. If the driver had been a second slower with the breaks, he'd have been road kill. As it was, he jumped back just as the car slid to a stop in front of him, tripped and, in an attempt to catch himself, cut his right wrist wide open on the car's metal finishing.

He wasn't the only one thinking. Kouji, too, had his brow furled in concentration. It seamed that Kouichi was getting hurt more and more often lately…Falling down or off of things, tripping, hitting his head, and now this…Even if he'd always been this clumsy, it was only natural for him to be worried. Wasn't it barely three months ago that Kouichi had almost…?

He pushed that thought out of his mind and took a large bite of pizza. He was being stupid. Kouichi was his older brother, his nii-san…he could take care of himself.

( - ) ( - ) ( - )

Monday afternoon.

In the back of the classroom, Kouichi struggled to stay awake, but it was a loosing battle. It was almost summer, as such, living in Tokyo, it was hot…really hot. This inevitably made the classrooms, even those with air conditioning, rather stuffy, which was enhanced here by his teacher's love of strong-smelling scented candles. Added in with endless lectures on the Pythagorean Theorem, it all came to an intoxicating spell that was pulling his eyes closed at that very moment.

Kouichi leaned his head against the wall, trying to remain conscious. Eventually, though, he closed his eyes and let his mind slip peacefully away…

And found himself standing in what seamed to be the bank of a wide river, shrouded in a heavy mist, but there were a few problems. One, the sand he was standing on was ash-black and glowed slightly in different places, as though a volcano had only recently spat it out. Two, the few trees around them also looked as though they had survived a volcano, being black and charred and barely standing out from the swirling, purple-and-black storm above him. Oh, and there was the little fact that the river seamed to be flowing with blood instead of water.

Kouichi blinked, and blinked again. This place was…familiar, somehow. That is, it was familiar in a literary sense, seeing as any bozo in 6th-grade literature knew the Sanzu, but it was also familiar. As in, deja-vu. As in, he'd been here before, and he got the feeling it might have been more than once.

"Twice, actually." someone spoke from behind him, and Kouichi jumped a foot.

He spun around to find a young man, several years older than him and many centimeters taller, dressed in a black shirt, black slacks, and knee-length black coat, with several silver chains scattered in various different places. His skin was pale, almost sickly so, but his eyes were such an amazingly dark brown that they were almost black and stood out fiercely. His hair was about the length and color of Kouji's, but it was undone, scraggily, and obviously not as well taken care of.

"Didn't you hear me?" the man asked, though it came out as more of a taunt. "You have been here before. Twice."

Kouichi took a step back. "H-How'd you…?"

"I know everything.." the man sniffed cockily. "Besides, your thoughts might as well be over a loudspeaker when talking to me."

Kouichi gulped and took another step back. The man shrugged, still speaking. "As I said, of course it's familiar. It's recognizable after even one visit, but two…and now a third? You're one sneaky little rat."

"I don't…"

"Remember? Of course you don't." the man sniffed. "The first time, I could understand…after all, I don't mind lending out fresh souls if they've got a purpose to fulfill, though that stupid rabbit didn't handle it particularly well if I do say so myself. And you were returned in due time, as promised, but…"

His cold, dark brown eyes locked onto Kouichi's soft blues. "That second time… was not supposed to happen."

"W-What're you talking about?" For some reason, this man terrified Kouichi and he stumbled further back. "W-Who are you!"

"You haven't figured that out yet?" the man laughed a bit under his breath. He came up close to the boy, who shuddered as he placed a hand on his shoulder and leaned forward to whisper, right by his ear. "I am Death."

Kouichi let out a startled gasp and yanked back, but Death held firm, digging his fingers into the boy's shoulder. "You were on my list three months ago. Head injury." he hissed dangerously. "But you left early. You didn't cross. You cheated me, Kimura. No one cheats Death."

Kouichi struggled again to get out of his grip. His mind raced for an escape route, an opening…anything!

"I've been after my dues since then." the man growled at him. "But your infernal luck, if you can call it that, keeps interfering. As such…" he grinned viciously, suddenly releasing the boy from his grip. "I've decided that I'm willing to make you a deal."

Kouichi blinked, surprised. This was not what he had been expecting. "…W-What kind of deal?"

"A simple one." Death chuckled to himself, checking a small, black book. "I'm getting tired of coming after you…cars, stairs, random kitchen accidents…Whattya say we put this behind and just wait until you're really ready to go?"

Kouichi blinked. Somehow, this seamed too easy. "…What do I have to do?"

"Nothing at all." Death said brightly, snapping his book shut and turning around "There are a…few arrangements…to be made, but all you have to do is shake on it and I won't bother you again."

He held out his hand, long fingers ending in manicured nails that looked almost like claws. "Do we have a deal?"

Kouichi hesitated a moment, then reached forward slowly and shook his hand.

Death's grin widened to show rows and rows of glistening white teeth. "Perfect."

He broke the shake smartly, opening his book again and writing something with a black quill. "Yes sir, it's all taken care of. Just have to make the necessary arrangements…"

"What kind of arrangements?" Kouichi asked, not liking his contented tone.

"Oh…perhaps I forgot to mention." Death closed his book and turned back slightly. "I have to bring a soul in to fill my quota. So, if I can't get a hold of you, I have to take someone else…"

Kouichi's blood ran cold. "W-Who?"

"Care to see?" Death asked coyly. Before Kouichi could respond he'd placed two fingers right between the boy's blue eyes, and there was something that seamed like a small electric shock…

Images danced before his eyes: A pile of thick, metal beams, lying in the shallow crevice they had made in the sidewalk…A boy's body being pulled from under the rubble, dark red blood clashing horribly against the dark blue of his outfit…long, black hair falling into dark blue eyes, frozen wide in the shock at the moment of death…a broken watch dangling off a limp wrist, stopped exactly at 5:27...

"No!" Kouichi burst out of the visions, not noticing he had been brought to his knees and he turned wild eyes to the man standing next to him. "No…You can't! Not Kouji…"

"We made a deal." Death said smugly, beginning to walk away. "I have to take one of you…Either you die, or he dies…"

There was a loud ringing as the dark bank vanished beneath him…

Kouichi burst awake as the class bell rang out from the speaker above him. His classmates were gathering their bags, chattering with one another, and laughing, glad to have the school day over with. The clock on the wall read 4:30...

"Kouji…" Kouichi gasped, then snatched up his things and raced out the door.


The Sanzu - in Japanese mythology, this is the river the dead cross over to enter the underworld. There are parallels in other cultures…the Styx to the Greeks, and the Jordan to some fractions of Christianity. It's a very common Japanese near-death experience. Some people have shown it as a river of blood, so I just…decided to use it.