The Binding of Free Radicals
Part I (Ryo-side)
by Ajora Fravashi

Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon.
Note: This is a for-fun fic for the 30kisses challenge community on LJ. As far as timeline goes, it is pre-Anode Tamer and before Osamu's death. At this point, Ryo has not yet entered the Digimon Tamers universe and won't for a long time yet.

- 1 -

Akiyama Ryo was in something of a dilemma. Not that this was unusual, especially with his family moving around as much as they did, but still. Those other schools blurred together after a while, neither impressive or important in his mind's eye. There would always be another few schools to hop through in his parents' perpetual wanderlust. But this time, something was different.

With a family that was primarily low-key and usually frowned down upon the notion of making a scene about anything, Ryo was well trained in the art of acting completely unimpressed. His mother stressed constantly that revealing too much about one's emotional state made it easier for other people to exploit it. Of course, he had also been raised to be more scared of KGB agents and spies than monsters under beds and in closets, so he took everything with a grain of salt. If there were gulags and Stalin's ghost involved, he ended up taking it all with a giant pillar of salt.

The problem with having an ex-Soviet Russian for a mother was that much of her childhood upbringing ended up being passed on to him. As such, he tended to use stratification to deal with life. Authority figures had to be obeyed but distrusted, peers regarded with caution, and strangers with suspicion. Friends, if his family ever settled down long enough for him to meet them anywhere other than the Internet, would be the only people besides family he could really trust.

Unfortunately, his mother never said anything about how one went about making friends with people who impressed him. It was usually assumed that he was entirely too busy with classwork and getting lost in the local parks to socialize with people in a school that he was bound to leave in a few months anyway. He normally didn't even bother trying, but there was one boy he noticed. Couldn't help but notice. Really, now it was just getting ludicrous. Every time he saw the boy, every thought of behaving properly fled him completely. A member of his mother's family did not stare at people, even if they did have the most striking pair of blue-violet eyes in the world. More to the point, one did not entertain fantasies of trying to get those eyes to look at them. And fantasies of wanting to kiss another boy? Right out of the question. In Soviet Russia, his mother said, such things were to be kept secret and not acted upon. But, as ridiculous as the notion of following the social mindset of a government that collapsed many years ago was, it was better to not act on his impulses when other people were involved. Made it easier to not come across as a complete idiot.

Not that he could manage that for long.

Ryo groused under his breath as he fumbled with the IDE cables in the computer he was trying to upgrade for the computer club. Pointless, really. Why was he even trying? That boy was way out of his league. This computer was put together back in the '80's. He should just give up.

"What's wrong," asked a voice behind him. It was probably one of the members of the computer club he hadn't met yet.

Ryo straightened just enough to allow whoever it was to get a look at the more tangible and less personal of his current problems. "It's a lost cause."

"What are you trying to do with it?"

"The teacher wants an upgrade, but the kinds of upgrades she wants is too much for this kind of build." A slight grimace crossed his face. "She'd be better off getting a new computer."

"Please elaborate," the voice requested.

He shifted a bit to let the other person look at the motherboard. "See this? It's built for a specific chassis shape. The motherboard upgrade she wants would require a larger chassis. Now, what she wanted was a few more sticks of RAM, but this motherboard is too old for the amount of RAM she wants. And then, here," he paused for a moment to detach the cable connected to the hard drive, "notice the broken pins? This cable needs to be replaced too. It's a miracle the operating system still boots up. She also wants a new monitor, but to get the best resolution out of it, she needs a video card upgrade. And all her drivers are outdated so-"

The voice behind him gave a rather nice, low chuckle at that. "It's been awhile since I've met someone who knows what he's doing. You're the new kid, aren't you?"

Ryo shrugged. He was the new kid everywhere he went. "Guess so."

"Could I pry you away from the ever so fascinating ancient computer and get you to look over here," the voice asked with just a hint of amusement. "I'm rather perturbed that a dust-covered piece of junk is more interesting than me."

Rather reluctant to peel his eyes from the tangled cables he was sure he'd have sort out again later, he did as he was ordered. Watching him with the world's most striking blue-violet eyes framed by gold-rimmed glasses was Ichijouji Osamu: boy genius extraordinaire and subject of insipid adolescent fantasies. His grip on the screwdriver hovering over the motherboard loosened enough for it to fall with a clatter. He didn't pay this much attention.

A slight smile tugged at the corners of Osamu's lips. "You intrigue me. Not many people do. Want to partner up for the next big computer club project?"

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could just faintly remember his mother's voice telling him not to be too obvious, too desperate. That was promptly chased away by something else that suggested that the worst that could happen was that he'd come across as an idiot and he would be on the move again soon enough. He attempted to find something to say, but-

"You see, the teacher insists on all of us partnering up, including me. I would rather work with you than some idiot who can't tell a power adaptor from an IDE cable." Osamu regarded him with a rather owlish expression. "That is, if you don't have anyone else lined up."

"No!" The word stumbled rather alarmingly out of his mouth. He paused to gather what calm he had in the face of the boy he had a crush on before trying to make a bigger idiot of himself. "I- I'd like that. Really!"

The smile became more certain now. "Good. I'll expect you to meet me for lunch to discuss the project tomorrow. Chemistry lab on the third floor. If a teacher asks anything, say you're with me."

There was a rather warm sensation threatening to display itself on his face at the notion of being alone with Osamu. "Okay! I'll be there."

"See you then," Osamu said. He turned to leave, but at the last second he shot Ryo an unreadable look. "I don't bite, Ryo."

As the boy genius of Tamachi left the computer club room, Ryo wondered at what that was supposed to mean.

- 2 -

A single verticle line blinked up at him with a monotonous rhythm, waiting for him to type up something that wasn't completely inane. Not that Ken minded his inanity. Still, he had to do better than his last few attempts.

Why was it so hard to write an e-mail? Chat was one thing; he could just blurt out whatever he wanted and no one really minded if he was less than articulate at the time. He still remembered his last attempt at chatting on a public chatroom while drowsy with cold medication, which resulted in something completely incoherent. It was easier to ignore a kid in a chatroom than it was to ignore e-mails, which should have been reasonably written. And he was thinking entirely too much about it.

Hey, Ken! How's life been treating you?

He winced inwardly at that and deleted the line for what was sure to be the thousandth time that night. Ken had been his friend for a year now, he'd know better than to forget that his best friend was usually ignored in favor of his brother. Ryo never really asked about Ken's brother, believing that the last thing Ken needed was for someone else to fawn over whoever his brother was. Ken befriended him because he never asked or cared. So, time to try again.

Hey, Ken! Mind if I offload on you? If you do, I totally understand and you can delete the rest of this letter. If not, uhm...

Okay, that was better. He took a deep breath and attempted to write the rest.

So, you know how older people like to be around people of the opposite sex and kiss them? There's other stuff involved too, but you're smart enough to figure it out. Anyway! I, uh... You'd think I'd like girls, but then I saw this boy in my new school and I have a crush on him. Which is weird, 'cause I never liked anyone like that. Not that I don't like you! You know you're the little brother I always wanted, right? I should send this before I make myself look like more of a moron. Oh, there's this online role-playing game I've been toying with, wanna try it sometime? I think you'd be perfect as a wizard, and then I can protect you with my knight until you're strong enough to solo. Anyway, let me know!

He signed off with one of several screen names, which at this point would be either "Water Caltrop" or "Liao," depending on his mood. There had been a time when he was going under the name of some Final Fantasy character. It had something to do with a tonberry, but he rather hoped he'd never run into someone he knew from way back then. Newbies to the internet were usually complete idiots, and he had been no exception.

The next morning, he wondered why Ken never responded.

- 3 -

Time inched along sluggishly as Ryo watched the classroom clock. The lecture bored him to death and he had long since exhausted his supply of insipid daydreams. Even factoring in a few new variables to the daydreams hadn't helped. The long, spindly hand on the clock ticked off another second. Just a few more minutes and it would be lunch time and he could run up to the chemistry lab and try not to muck up his time with Osamu too much.

Another second.

He wasn't sure why Osamu knew his name or wanted to partner with him for the computer club project. It was due before winter break and Osamu was too intelligent to need someone like him for help, despite pretty much implying that this whole thing was for show. Wouldn't Osamu be able to convince the teacher that he not only didn't need help, but that any of the other students would be a hindrance? Not that he minded. He had been watching Osamu since he moved here... which probably was a bit creepy, in retrospect. The only thing that had been in his favor was that other people watched Osamu too, and he could get away with the excuse of "curiosity." Which was true, up to a point.

Another second. Time was certainly not his ally.

Revising another daydream took off a couple of minutes. The teacher still droned on and on about the book of the month that he should have read earlier, but didn't because it was boring and old Japanese court life was way less interesting than his videogame of the moment. He sighed and let his mind wander even more-

"Mr. Akiyama!"

Ryo started at the teacher's sudden bark and looked up to see the rotund little woman glare at him.

"I assume you've covered this material in one of your other schools. For what purpose did Genji invite Murasaki to stay with him?"

He blinked blankly as he raked his mind for an appropriate response. The unpleasant smirk on the teacher's face really wasn't helping. Unfortunately, the one response that came to mind certainly was not something he could say in class without having to stay after school and clean the entire building. "Uhm... he wanted to marry her?" Well, it sounded better than "He was a creep and had a thing for nine-year- old girls."

The teacher stared for a moment, frowned slightly, then stepped away. "That will do." Her voice rose to announce lunch break for the class. Like automatons, the class rose to their feet to give a formal bow, thank the teacher for their lesson, and began gathering their lunches.

Ever so thankful that he wouldn't have to deal with that particular class again that day, Ryo grabbed his own boxed lunch and darted out of the room.

The chemistry lab was in an upper level of the building, where upperclassmen were usually stationed. Because of its specialized nature, no one class occupied it for the entire day. However, he was fairly sure that it was usually locked during lunch. How would Osamu get into it in the first place?

When Ryo actually got there, though, his question was quickly answered. One of the science teachers was practically fawning over Osamu as he explained, in as charming a manner as possible, that he wanted to conduct some private experiments and he just couldn't do that with his own classmates gawking at him. Sharp blue-violet pinned Ryo under a quick, unreadable look before returning to play the teacher like a marionette.

"My assistant is here now." Osamu, he noticed, was very good at dealing with adults. "Thank you for making the lab available."

The teacher beamed at Osamu. "Anything for the boy genius of Tamachi! You do us proud, Ichijouji. Will we be expecting anything from these experiments?"

"Maybe. Perhaps you should go now," Osamu said in a tone that wasn't nearly as dismissive as it could have been, but there was just enough impatience in it to convince Ryo that it was a fairly good act.

With an noticeably enthralled glaze in his eyes, the teacher excused himself and walked away. The moment the teacher disappeared into a classroom, Osamu grimaced and stalked into the lab.

Ryo was confused. Should he follow or-

"Don't dawdle," Osamu snapped from somewhere within the lab. Then, as if something changed, his voice softened when he spoke again. "Come in and close the door behind you."

With a mix of confusion and curiosity that was entirely too common for him, Ryo stepped into the lab to get a good look around. It was like any other chemistry lab, with tables topped by some sort of black epoxy resin, Bunsen burners, and various odds and ends that were the norm in such an environment. Osamu was settling down at the lab table situated at a spot where someone outside would really have to strain to peer through the plexiglass window in the door and notice them. "Well," Osamu began, "pull up a stool and let's review."

Obediently, Ryo did as he was told. He sat across from Osamu and blithely ignored his inner critic's suggestion that situating himself to stare so openly was improper and an Akiyama did not do "improper." Before he could speak, though, Osamu spared him the task of making an idiot of himself and resumed.

"Now then, I have it on good authority that the project will be to write a program that will generate workable child processes, and no zombie processes are allowed. They are evidence of bad coding."

"Shouldn't be a problem," he responded. When one of Osamu's eyebrows arched at him, he fought to keep the blood from rising to his face. "I mean, you could probably pull that off in your sleep." Osamu remained silent, making him wonder just what the hell he did. Maybe he should just return to the topic at hand. "What programming language?"

Osamu's nose wrinkled in an expression of slight disgust. "BASIC."

"Well, it's better than COBOL, right?" While he wasn't a programmer, Ryo did at least try to make an effort to understand what all the hackers online were talking about. COBOL was systematically mocked and seemed like as safe a topic to hate (or at least strongly dislike) as any. When the disgust on Osamu's face was replaced with something that looked to be amusement, he was fairly sure he did well in looking like less of a moron than he was. "Can't you petition for a more practical language? Like-" ... what was it those codemonkeys were frequently singing praises of? "-Perl? Or C?"

Osamu blinked and looked thoughtfully at him. "I suppose I could. Would it be a problem for you?"

"Not really. I mean, I'm more into hardware than coding, but I can try," Ryo said with what might have been a little too much optimism. The closest he came to playing with software was mounting hard drives, but if something more advanced made Osamu happy, he was willing to struggle along. He was used to it, anyway. The struggling, not-

"You're staring," Osamu seemed to feel the need to point out in as casual a manner as possible. "You have been doing it since you arrived at this school. Why?"

This stopped Ryo short. Wait, how did-, what the- ... Oh, hell. The flush could no longer be stopped and his face suddenly felt hot. "Er, well... uh..."

Something approaching a smirk appeared to tug at the corners of Osamu's lips. "One could come to the conclusion that you like other boys, Liao. Or is that 'Water Caltrop' now?"

Oh. Hell.

Ken never gave his brother's name. Ken said that sometimes his brother would read his e-mail, claiming to make sure no online creeps were stalking him or something. Why didn't earthquakes ever hit when you really needed them?

"You should come to our apartment for supper," Osamu said, smooth as a serpent and just as dangerous. It was just the tone of voice that left little to imagination. "Ken should be happy to meet you."

Oh hell.

Note: As a for-fun fic, this won't be updated as often as I'd like (I am still working on SN). There will be at least three themes per chapter, for a total of ten chapters.