Disclaimer: See last chapter's. It all still applies.
That night Takeru dreamed. It wasn't a normal dream of nonsensical happenings. It was a dream with a purpose, that overwhelming purpose drowning out every sound he could have heard.
It was a dream of how things should have been.
He saw all seven children meet up and group together as they first entered the Digital World.
He saw Taichi, leading through danger and finding safety, always full of confidence, even when he and Yamato came to blows—which was often.
In his dream, Yamato was sullen and distant, though more trusting than the Yamato Takeru knew. He grieved for this loss, knowing, somehow, that this dream had little hope of being realized. After all, this dream was of what should be, not what would be.
Jyou was terrified of his partner, taking days instead of minutes to become completely comfortable around him. Somehow, in that time that should have been, the boy fussed over everyone and worried about everything even more than he did in this time.
Sora was loving and took care of everyone, especially Takeru, even when she looked more like she wanted to crack them all upside the head and leave them to their own devices. He knew she was here now, but he had no way to know what had changed.
It was the same with Koushiro and Mimi. Koushiro wanted to discover every tiny detail of the Digital World, often ignoring common sense to investigate something that had caught his attention. Thankfully, his partner was not quite so attached to the laptop and investigation and always pulled the boy genius out of danger.
Mimi whined a lot and was selfish, but Takeru could see her good side and just how sincere she was in every relationship she had and every word that she thought about before letting leave her mouth—which wasn't most of them. He believed she would outgrow the whining and selfishness so everyone could see her sincerity and growing passion to help.
Even seeing the other six together and knowing he was one of them, Takeru felt something missing. He wasn't sure that he wanted to know what it was because it would mean acknowledging the image that flashed into his mind nearly every scene change of the group members.
It was of a girl his own age, with brown hair and red, haunted eyes. She wore summer clothes, sensible sneakers, and a necklace Takeru couldn't make out but was nevertheless drawn to. The worst thing about her, it seemed to him—as though trying to look at her eyes without breaking into tears wasn't bad enough—was the fact that her arms, from the first joint on each finger all the way up to her armpits, were covered in fabric. He didn't know what had happened for her to cover herself in such a way, but he felt that some part of him did know.
He tried to ignore her while the dream lasted, focusing on the people he knew and had physically seen instead. It didn't make the longing to go to her and fix all her problems vanish, but he was able to see more and more of what should have happened, knowing he probably wouldn't remember when he awoke but trying anyway.
The last image he saw was himself a group of seven other children and eight digimon. Taichi, Sora, Yamato, Jyou, Mimi, Koushiro, and a strange girl his age who looked a lot like their leader were all there, the entire group seated together around a campfire, enjoying a rare, quiet evening. Taichi and Yamato were cooking dinner, arguing good-naturedly as the others just sat and talked.
Everything was perfect, just the way it was supposed to be.
The youngest knew what should have been and now could never be and he woke up crying for the loss of such an idyllic time. After he ran out of tears and his brother given all the comfort he could, Takeru lay in a drained daze, holding his partner that was so like a stuffed animal close. It was when he thought he was going to be able to sleep without nightmares that another, more horrible truth hit him. He knew what was and should never have been and he cried for what had been lost. He had a guess that was almost knowledge of what would be mixed in with this new truth and his throat, nose, and mouth burned with the abuse and loss of moisture he had put them through long before the tears and pain could be temporarily buried. Tokomon was quiet, soaked and mucus-splattered down through at least all his fur and a few layers of skin, willing to be the comfort Takeru needed to hold in his arms until the boy was willing to talk of what was so horrible.
Bukamon looked on in worry, surprised that Jyou's exhaustion had caught up with him to the point that he wasn't even twitching at the very loud noise when he had been jerking up at a leaf falling off a branch. Bukamon knew he could do nothing for the smallest one and Yamato had gone to help Tsunomon keep watch and probably couldn't hear. Yamato had left after his brother had slipped into a semi-conscious state, wanting to be of some use and knowing he could no longer do anything for the one most precious to him. This didn't look like the earlier tears that the older blonde had been able to slow, though not stop, the tears that came from a dream. It was something worse than a dream, something that seemed to be worse than reality, if Bukamon wanted to guess. From Yamato's behavior, being pulled from their own world to another was not the first time he and his brother had encountered harsh reality, so the tears weren't from that or shock. What could be so heartbreaking to this eight-year-old then?
Coming to a difficult decision, Bukamon left his place at Jyou's side and glided over to the sniffling child. Tokomon looked up at him with profound relief. He wanted to help his Chosen, he really did, but Takeru was squeezing so tight and now he felt so nasty, covered in a mixture of dirt, grass, salt water, and clear mucus.
"Everything will work out, Takeru," the gray digimon murmured as he draped a fin over the boy's body and looked at the face that was still buried in Tokomon's fur. "Yamato will take care of you, Jyou will fix any bodily problem you may get,"—he couldn't quite keep his voice from showing how silly he thought Jyou's paranoia about germs and injuries and risks in general—"Tsunomon, Tokomon, and I will all do our best to take care of you and help out. If there's anything you want to talk about, no matter what it is, I'll listen. I won't make fun of you for being small or ignore you because you're the youngest or anything like that. I'm small and young too. I want to help. What can I do?" So steady, some part of the boy's mind noted. Just like Jyou should've been. I want him to make Jyou steady and solid again. This would have brought on a few more drops, except for the fact that he simply had none left.
"I'll help too, TK," Tokomon squeaked from his position in the boy's arms. "I'm a good listener. And I'm even smaller and younger than Bukamon." The boy sniffed, smiled, and slowly unlocked his hands and arms from his death grip on his newfound partner. Bukamon got off when he felt the boy begin to move. Takeru was too worn out for words. The youngest of the Chosen Children held up the arm that wasn't underneath his partner and the oldest Destined's partner moved into the open space, generating reliable comfort.
When Yamato got back from his round of the area with Tsunomon, he saw his baby brother curled up on his left side, facing Jyou who was still a few meters away, holding both Tokomon and Bukamon close as he had his stuffed animals at home to sleep when younger.
"Guess we've got an all-night watch," he murmured to his new partner that he didn't—quite—trust yet. Yamato didn't always adapt to change well and growing up in a shattering marriage made trusting difficult. It was especially difficult to trust anyone when there was something hurting his baby brother. The fact that this something seemed confined to the realms of dreams and subconsciousness just made things worse. Yamato couldn't protect his baby brother from the boy's own mind.
Tsunomon didn't even grumble at the enforced, continued wakefulness when his partner settled in at the base of a tree to watch over the group until dawn and the continuation of their journey. He could sleep in Yamato's arms as they walked. If it made trusting him a bit easier for the boy, he'd do anything. A little lack of sleep was nothing when compared to not being trusted by the one to whom his very existence was bound.
Mimi decided subconsciously that she was going to be as quiet and cooperative as possible while this journey lasted long before she realized that such a plan had been considered, let alone agreed to. It was while she and Palmon were picking breakfast off of bushes as the sun began to breech the horizon that she realized that she was making plans for the day around staying with the group but away from them. Yesterday had been emotionally painful and she didn't particularly want to remember it, let alone replicate it twice over today, considering that she had the whole day ahead of her and yesterday had been less than half.
The girl had woken up long before dawn due to the uncomfortable "bed" she had and uneasy slumber from the previous day's experiences had more than canceled out the benefits of going to bed and falling asleep early.
"Palmon," she asked, so softly it was barely audible to her own ears, "what am I doing wrong? When I realized I wasn't going to get my way, I didn't whine about it. I want to go home more than anything else I've ever wanted, but I figured out yesterday that it won't happen just because I want it and say something. I've stopped complaining as much as I can. Doesn't that count for something? How do I make them like me? I don't know what I'm doing out here in the wilderness, but if they keep treating me the way they did yesterday, I think eventually being on my own and not having a knife or be able to start fires would be better than being with three kids that don't like me and get worse because I'm dead weight. How do I fix this?" The girl looked so miserable that Palmon's heart went out to her. She set her scavenges down at the entrance to the cave where all six others still slept and did the same with Mimi's pile. Koromon opened one eye, ready to defend his vulnerable partner, saw who it was, and went back to sleep.
Then Palmon took one of Mimi's hands and sat her down by the smothered fire. "Try to think of others," she whispered, not wanting to wake those in the cave. "Talk to them, watch whatever body language you know. If you think they want you to be quiet, unless it's very important, be quiet. Keep up your not-complaining. They're as upset at being pulled here as you are. Try to understand them. Watch. Keep quiet like you were planning. Try to help out. Ask questions if you're curious about something they're doing, but take a break if they start to get annoyed." The digimon smiled and hugged her partner. "Learning body language gets easier with time," she promised. "Once you know how they feel by watching their bodies, it'll be easier to keep them from getting mad at you. Unless it's something you've said," she added. "Knowing body language won't help that. But knowing how they feel will keep you from getting on dangerous ground if you don't have to."
The girl was quiet for a long time, loosely holding her partner in her lap, thinking over this bit of wisdom. "You're right. I'll do my best," she finally admitted, having examined the words from every possible angle and learning the truths Palmon spoke. She had accepted her partner's words as truth. Palmon knew the exact instant it happened. The acceptance had put Palmon a little more into Mimi's heart and increased the cobweb-thin connection between the digimon and her Destined another cobweb's width. Even this tiny connection would make it easier for Palmon to protect her partner and find the human girl if they were separated. She knew it was through Mimi that she would be able to digivolve and that couldn't happen without a real connection. She also knew that this increasing connection tied her very existence tighter and tighter to Mimi's. If something were to happen to Mimi—permanently, that is—, Palmon would vanish too. She didn't think it worked the other way. After all, Mimi wasn't from this world, so she didn't think this world would affect Mimi the way it would her partner.
"I'm glad," she whispered into her partner's dress. Mimi laid a careful kiss on one of her petals, following a feeling that she should do so. The feeling that it helped the digimon she was coming to think of as a friend was all she needed to know it had been the right thing to do.
The peaceful time for the two was slowly pulled apart by noises from the cave, signifying that the other three were now awake and would be out soon.
"Time to practice," Mimi whispered to herself as she got up to face the cave, her partner Palmon by her side.
Jyou was very wary about this plan. This wasn't safe. This wasn't sanitary. There was no way he would take any part, despite the fact that the others were all in favor and had put the plan in motion. There had to be a better way. There just had to be. This couldn't be the best way out.
"Jyou," Bukamon growled from the top of the ledge, just barely visible in the growing darkness, "you are going to grab that vine, ignore the slime the way we all did, climb like your life depends on it, and get up here. You are not going to spend so much as another minute being indecisive and voicing your doubts. We know you have a lot. We can all recite them back at you. We don't care. Get up here. Now." Crashing in the underbrush, suddenly sounding terribly near, combined with his partner's words and tone, had Jyou reaching for the nasty vine. He wasn't going to think about what this might be covered with. He wasn't going to remember how horrible he'd always been at physical things. He wasn't going to remember how he'd always failed the rope climb in gym. He was going to—A howl of something shook the forest and the crashes intensified, cutting off his thoughts and implanting a new one in their place. Oh, Kami-sama, he was getting out of here!
"Wow, Jyou-kun, you took less time to get up here than any of us," Takeru laughed quietly from the back of the downward-sloping ledge, pressed up against the rock wall and his protective brother. The danger didn't seem quite real to him, being on a high ledge hidden from almost all sides and with his brother protecting him. He seemed more worried about the pebbles in the concave vertex of the jutting mountain where he sat, but even that barely bothered him. It was only when one noticed that he was very carefully and quietly removing the rocks from beneath him and placing them just to the side, far from the edge, that one could see how this danger was affecting him. All the digimon noticed, even if his brother didn't and Jyou hadn't had a chance.
"Once Bukamon got mean," Yamato cut in. "Now get over here and hunker down. We can't risk getting seen by whatever-that-is. Tsunomon, cut the vine or get Bukamon to haul it up here for you. I don't care which, so long as you pick the faster option that won't get us caught. I don't want that vine in view of whatever's chasing us." The three obeyed, Bukamon holding the vine tense so Tsunomon could cut it and making sure it fell to the far-away ground and the end that still hung from the overhanging tree was wrapped around a branch where it looked natural and undisturbed.
The three boys flinched every time there was a crash or howl, no matter how close. Bukamon and Tsunomon arrayed themselves in front of the children, making sure that they themselves were still hidden from sight from all angles of enemies. Tokomon wanted to help and watch, but Takeru was still holding him so tightly and he didn't have the heart to ask his partner to let go. If they were found, he would manage to get away from TK's terrified grip and fight. The boys had all agreed that if the worst happened—though none specified what "the worst" was—, they would move up the cliff as fast as they could to the next overhang and hide there when possible, moving upwards when necessary. They had left the forest itself behind many meters below. It was no longer a place where they could hide.
Jyou carefully handed out five of the granola bars they had found in the bottom of Takeru's backpack the night before and then took one for himself. Yamato looked at the bespectacled boy like he was crazy, but took the bar when it was shoved at him. There hadn't been a chance to slow down to eat even something this small since almost dawn. Adrenline kept the hunger at bay, but the older boys and digimon recognized the need to eat now that they had a bit of breathing room, even if none of them felt even the tiniest hunger pains. All six of them cringed at the loud ripping of the wrapper, though they knew intellectually that it couldn't be heard by anyone not on their ledge. Takeru ate one and fed another to Tokomon as Jyou crawled forward to unwrap one for Tsunomon and help him be able to eat it. Bukamon grew even more watchful and alert as his watch-partner was occupied. Then Tsunomon had finished his and Jyou did the same for Bukamon as Tsunomon took the other digimon's place. That was when the tallest boy took out a water bottle, half-full, and passed it around, making sure everyone drank something. Adrenline could only do so much and they needed some nourishment, having been on the run for hours, only ever able to slow slightly, never able to stop until they'd found this ledge.
Once everyone had partaken of the meager rations, Jyou took all the wrappers and shoved them into his shorts pocket on his right side. If they had to run, his bag, if nothing else, would smash the wrappers so flat that they would not be making any noise. The crinkling of wrappers because he shifted his leg while they were in hiding was not how he wanted to be found! He was the oldest and Yamato was so protective of Takeru that the elder blond was likely to forget his own safety in his efforts to protect his baby brother. Jyou had to trust the digimon to protect the group and if the worst was to happen, it would be his responsibility to keep the other children from danger. Yamato was likely to run right into danger to keep it from Takeru, but Jyou could tell that Takeru would not be able to manage at all if he lost his brother. So it would be up to Jyou would have to be careful and cautious and keep the group alive, acting rationally, and away from those things hunting for them in the forest below. He fought the urge to sigh, not wanting even the slight sound of exhalation of breath to lead their mysterious enemies to the utterly silent group.
Running for their lives had made the day very long and the night was looking to be even longer.
Gennai observed his ever-changing map of the Digital World, a bit regretful that the File Island portion was roughly a day behind the actual happenings. He would have to update that portion of his technology again. This time lapse could make problems. Then he sighed in relief as the File Island sector underwent a world-shattering change. All seven bright lights appeared there, so close to each other that the man had to use the colors to count and separate them. Yes, originally there would've been eight, but Light had died, or as good as. He was vaguely sorry he could not have saved her, but they could manage without. They would have to. Sending Light's Bearer a digivice had never worked and no one he had communicated with had sent one between worlds since the last group. She was dead. There was no other reason for the sending to not work. A few evil digimon had, in the past, gotten control of digivices that had yet to be recovered, but all of them were alive and well, which meant they still had the digivices. Neither the locked-away Dark Masters nor Myotismon would have ever let a digivice out of their sight and it would be over their dead bodies that one was taken by a human child.
The Bearer of Light was dead. The new, younger one simply had been unable to receive a digivice and come, whether from illness or age.
The DigiDestined were cut down from eight to seven, and had lost a significant amount of power in that loss, but they would manage. The DigiDestined would banish the encroaching evil and learn what true power without corruption was.
His plans must change, but all would be right in the end.
No, wait… The seven were splitting into two groups! The man found himself being filled with shock and unreasonable anger. Why would they be doing such a thing? They had all been brought together to the same area; they should have all gathered together! Did they not know how their power would come from their unity? If nothing else, their partners should have told them of this! The seven had to bound together to even begin to make up for the absence of Light! Separated the way the Children now were, neither group had any chance of winning against the evil!
The ancient man had to close his eyes to the horrid repercussions the small dots on his map would bring about if things continued as they were. He focused on his breathing and waited for his heart to stop racing. Then he looked again, willing his mind to begin alterations of his ancient plans.
There was something to be salvaged, at least. The Bearers of Hope, Friendship, and Reliability were together. Good. The blood bond between Hope and Friendship would strengthen both and keep Friendship from faltering and Reliability would help Friendship when Hope could not. Hope and Reliability would feed off each other as Hope would always be there, bright as the rising sun. This was not without salvage. The first group could manage, so long as they didn't run into any powerful evils, such as Devimon. Not even the awesome power of Hope would be able to stop him without the backing of the four other Children and their Crests. The bond wasn't strong enough yet. Stay away from things more powerful than you, Children, Gennai begged those represented by the three dots that kept together in one place. Then he turned to the other group.
This was not good.
Courage, Love, Knowledge, and Sincerity were all grouped together. That in itself was not such a problem, but the light of Courage was so weak… Knowledge and Love were as brightly burning as they were supposed to be and stronger than those of the past, but Courage and Sincerity… Had the years since the Choosing worked away at those traits or was it simply something in the relationships between the DigiDestined?
Courage was flickering and so dim as to almost be extinguished and in just the few minutes of watching the map, Gennai had seen Sincerity's vibrant gleam dim just a tad.
Would a group with such problems be able to fight off anything stronger than a single Rookie?
Then that group began to move in the opposite direction of the other, motionless one. Gennai closed his eyes and resisted the urge to swear, long and creatively.
Once the man had shoved his emotions to the side, he returned to stoically observing his map, thankful he didn't need much sleep. These first few days would set the tone for the rest of the Destined's time in the Digital World and things couldn't get worse. He just had to alter his machinations to deal with these problems. He could do that. His ancient plans had plenty of flexibility, so long as none of these seven Crests died out.
When, after several hours, Love nearly went out and Sincerity dimmed yet again, the ancient observer and planner gave in to the urge to curse until the air turned blue and and break a few of the expandable items in his home. Even after, he was seething. The strongest of the former group had been weaker than Hope was now, with nothing to support him, but the last group had never given Gennai such problems in all their time as this group was within the first day!
All would be right in the end, no matter how he had to fix things to get that result. He would not allow it to be otherwise.
The Chosen Children would save the Digital World.
AN: Yay for fast updates! Okay, less action (sorta), but there is character development! Tell me if you think someone's OOC, okay? I need to know so I can fix it! I'm thinking Yamato and Koushiro are the only ones who haven't been hit by the ripple effect of Hikari's kidnapping now…