Creepy, huh? Well, I guess it works. Now if only I could get that chapter done for Harry Potter and the Digimon Frontier…(sigh)

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

Pay The Piper

Chapter 3: Victory

Kouji raised his wooden weapon with a hiss, trying to ignore the sounds of a small glass room slowly filling itself up behind him. For the first time, he noticed several sickly green lines that were glowing lightly in the darkness…like glow-in-the-dark paint, forming a sort of ring about thirty feet in diameter.

"Let me guess…Boundaries." he growled.

"Naturally." Death laughed. He wasn't in any hurry…he was waiting. If time ran out, he won. If Kouji fell out of bounds, he won. If…dammit, he couldn't think of the possibilities at a time like this!

Quickly switching his grip, Kouji rushed towards the beast pretending to be a man, raising his wooden blade high to bring it down on Death's shoulder. The black-haired fiend blocked the strike, knocking the boy back with a powerful blow of his own.

Though Kouji raised his weapon in time to block the blow, he was surprised at the force as it knocked him backwards several feet. He steadied himself, barely recovering from the attack before he had to block again.

"You see, boy?" Death laughed, holding them in equilibrium with each other. "Did you think I'd actually let you pick something you had an advantage at? Swordplay's been around for over three thousand years…and I've been around for every last one of them."

Kouji growled, pushing away and gripping his blade with both hands. A slight glance over his shoulder saw that his brother was already up to his waist in the hot, boiling red substance. Kouichi was still struggling, pulling at the bonds futilely.

"Pay attention to the fight, boy!" Kouji barely whirled around in time to block the next attack, knocking it away with one of his own.

The void was filled with the sounds of wood against wood as the two crashed forward. It was apparent within the first few minutes that one of them was outmatched… Kouji was breathing hard and dripping with sweat, almost gasping for each breath, while Death was fresh as that new car scent.

"Having a little trouble?" he cooed mockingly.

Kouji growled, shoving him away. He slammed the staff down, only to be parried. He jumped back, bouncing on the balls of his feet, then lunged forward to strike again.

He was annoyed, real annoyed. He was the head of the Kendo club at his school, second only to the sensei himself, yet here he was almost helpless…and he was risking not only his own life, but his brother's too, dammit!

Death slashed with the fake blade, hitting Kouji on the shoulder. The boy hissed as a shallow cut appeared, as though from a real weapon, made of metal, not wood. There was no blood…at least, none that he could see.

"Careful…" Death laughed, raising his weapon. "The more you loose, the faster it fills on your dear brother…"

Kouji snarled savagely, lunging. He'd barely attacked once before he was under his own barrage, barely being able to block as he was forced backwards several scrambling steps.

For a moment he found himself pressed against the edge of the ring, barely keeping his balance. A few more inches and he would fall…

With a sudden movement, he ducked under his opponent's blade and broke free, spinning around just in time to block the next assault.

With an almighty crash, Death brought his weapon down with both hands. Kouji raised his own to block, barely in time, but the strength of both attacks held them in another stalemate.

"Ready to give up, boy?" Death hissed, pressing down hard to force Kouji back. The boy growled, struggling to pull himself up…

A scream suddenly went off in Kouji's head…It wasn't a vocal cry, more of a feeling that echoed through his mind. He craned his head back to peer over Death's shoulder, pass the gleaming glass into the tiny room.

Said room was almost completely full now. Kouichi had strained to the limit of his bonds, fighting to keep his head above surface. He was gasping for air as the level rose, pushing out the air more and more before, with one last strangled gasp, he disappeared underneath the stormy red…

"Kouichi!" Kouji shouted, mind racing.

Death grinned at him. "Two minutes."

Kouji felt the rage boil up inside of him. Letting out an almost animal-like shout, he snapped his blade up suddenly and brought it down hard on his opponent's shoulder. Though it didn't cut the way own wound had, it did knock him back fiercely, slamming the grim reaper into a stunned semi-balance.

The dark-haired man hissed slightly, but still reacted quickly to block his advances. But Kouji's attacks were so fast and fierce, coming down one after another in the blind rush of desperation, it was all the creature of bereavement could do to defend himself.

"How…in hell…"

"I…won't…let you…take him!" Kouji growled between his blows. "I don't care… who you are…you won't…take him!"

With one last inborn roar, Kouji suddenly switched his grip so that his blade was point towards the ground. He brought it up with a mighty strike, snapping it under his opponent's chin to send him flying…

…Right out of bounds.

Death landed with a crash, slide a few feet, then stopped with a groan and didn't get up. For a moment Kouji just stood there, holding his blade loosely and gasping for breath, then he dropped the weapon and ran for the glass wall.

"Kouichi!" he exclaimed, pressing his hands to the glass and gazing in desperately. There wasn't a single glimpse of movement anywhere amongst the deep, savage red. "Kouichi! Where are you!"


Kouji spun around at the quiet voice from behind him. Death pulled himself to his feet with a sigh, picking up both of the wooden blades. "What do you mean, gone?"

"He's gone. Back where he belongs." Death sighed, shaking his head. "Damn… How am I ever gonna explain this to the boss?"

"Back…" Kouji faltered. "Back…home? He's…alive?"

"Of course. A deal's a deal." Death turned his head slightly to look back at him dully. "You beat me, kid. I never go back on my word. I won't bother either of you again until your time comes…but when that time comes, you can't do anything. Got it?"

Kouji hesitated a moment, then smirked, slipping back into his usual persona. "Got it."

Death sighed again, turning his back on him. "Now get lost, kid…I'm tired…"

And the darkness around them started to fade as a voice seamed to call to him. "Wake up…Wake up…"

( - ) ( - ) ( - )

"…Mr. Minamoto? Mr. Minamoto, wake up."

Kouji started suddenly, to find himself staring into the brown eyes of a smiling young nurse. He blinked at her dumbly. "Wha…?"

"You've been asleep for a while." She smiled warmly. "It's perfectly understandable…so much stress, I'd want to sleep it off, too."

For a moment Kouji's mind scrambled for a foothold, then he sat up in the plastic chair of the hospital waiting room. "K-Kouichi…"

"Your brother's doing just fine." the nurse helped him to his feet shakily. "Would you like to see him?"

( - ) ( - ) ( - )

Kouichi was lying in a slightly-raised hospital bed, eyes closed in a peaceful slumber. His left arm was in a thick cast, as were his legs, while there was heavy white gauze wrapped around his head and chest, showing past an unbuttoned shirt. The machines next to him beeped steadily, monitoring him carefully.

Kouji hesitated in the door, breath catching in his throat excitedly. Despite his best efforts, he felt the very edges of minuscule tears beginning to prick at his eyes.

"It's really rather remarkable." the doctor was saying behind him. "We thought we'd lost him there for a second, stopped breathing, lost all pulse, should've been a goner…but he bounced back, started breathing on his own and everything. 'Course he didn't come out completely unscathed…he might never be able to use that arm again, and it'll take a lot of therapy for him to be able to walk again, but he didn't suffer any brain damage and should be…"

Kouji wasn't listening. He rushed forward and took the seat in the chair next to the bed, reaching for his brother's less-injured right hand with both of his own.

The boy in the bed stirred slightly, blue eyes fluttering open in slight confusion. He turned his head slightly and smiled a very soft smile. "Kou…ji…"

"Yeah. I'm here." Kouji gripped his hand, the few tears breaking loose from their bonds.

The older twin's eyes glistened with tears. "You…You saved me…" he whispered, closing his eyes and setting them free. "I…I was so scared…I thought I'd never see you again…"

Kouji reached up and gently rubbed the trails of saltwater off the pale cheeks. "Don't worry." he said softly, leaning forward to put an arm around his brother. "We're not going anywhere…"