The Binding of Free Radicals
Part II (Osamu-side)
by Ajora Fravashi

Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon.

- 4 -

A person of his considerable intellect could do anything. Osamu was as certain of this as he was of his own name. If he played his cards right, he could get away with anything that came to mind. It was probably just as well that he didn't particularly care. All that mattered to him was devouring the contents of more and more books. Physics, anatomy, astronomy, biology, chemistry. The subject didn't matter so long as his knowledge of the workings of the universe expanded. He wanted to know everything, because it was all so fascinating. The games of children never interested him nearly so much, but that didn't matter when he had a new subject to master.

Manipulating adults was a necessity, even when he preferred to keep social contact to a minimum. They provided for him what other children could not. Thus, he limited his contact to family and adults who may yet prove useful. But, despite himself, sometimes he did feel lonely for someone his age to talk to about what he learned. Someone who didn't care about his status and wasn't going to use him. He had always quashed that bit of useless wistfulness, for a genius had no need of friends.

Then fate had granted his overshadowed little brother with a friend. Osamu monitored his brother's correspondences with a critical eye. At first it was just to make sure his little brother's friend wasn't one of those disgusting stalkers he'd heard so much about, but over time it all came to amuse him. This person, "Liao," was good with computers and videogames, but not much else. Osamu suspected this person fell under the category of strategic intelligence; and his suspicions were confirmed when he watched Ken play online with this guy. "Liao," who mastered any gaming system quickly, was just as quick to abuse the system or play around with it in a manner that, to others, would be considered eccentric. Osamu, once he figured out the game they were playing, would have defined Liao's gaming eccentricities as creative.

For the first time in his life, Osamu was intrigued by a living person in his own age range. Oh, he was still smarter than this guy, but here was someone who might just be able to keep up with him. Then Liao mentioned that he had to move again, and soon enough there was a new student in a year ahead of Osamu. This new student kept staring at him, and Osamu performed his own surveillance through less obvious means. He soon found out that this boy was Akiyama Ryo, son of a Russian immigrant and a mathematician. The mother worked as a translator, the father as a number theories professor. While Osamu was suitably impressed by Akiyama Taiju's work in creative algorithms for Bernoulli numbers, that level of mathematics were still a bit beyond him. Nonetheless, the new kid fascinated him. It wasn't long before Osamu figured out that Akiyama Ryo was Liao, and the latest e-mail from Liao confirmed it.

This, of course, also brought up the interesting dilemma of physical attraction. Osamu never really thought about it before. Human sexuality, while a fascinating subject of its own, was something he never thought he'd have an opportunity to explore first-hand. All he knew was that the thought of doing that with girls nauseated him, but then "Liao" mentioned liking guys too. Perturbed by his lack of education on the subject, Osamu lured his little brother away from the computer long enough to do his own research. The internet, despite the pornographic content he had to bypass once he cracked their parents' monitoring program, was quite edifying on the subject. Some things he couldn't do even if he wanted to, for both of them were too young, but others...

He would have to perform a series of experiments, and he was sure Ryo wouldn't object. That his future test subject had fallen so easily into his trap was just icing on the cake. That Ryo was fairly cute and didn't seem aware of his own intelligence helped, too. So Osamu made it clear that he knew of Ryo's attraction to him, extended the invitation, and here they were.

Ken, at least, was thrilled to finally meet his e-mail buddy in person. Their parents were relieved to know that Osamu had a friend to bring home. They talked about the same things they did online as Osamu watched on in silence. It was interesting to find that his test subject's attention switched from him to his brother the moment Ken demanded it. Osamu's eyes narrowed at this observation, but he said nothing. Part of him wanted all that attention to himself, but the other part had to admit that Ken did need a friend.

Nonetheless, he had to figure a time and place to perform his experiments, preferably where Ryo couldn't be distracted. It would be his pet project for that night.

- 5 -

The morning passed with little event. Didn't they always? There were the lectures, then his fellow students would ask questions, and he spent all that time reading ahead or contemplating some koan or puzzle he had found online. His teachers had long since stopped asking questions of him during lectures in an attempt to give the other children a chance to understand the material. It wasn't fair to them if he answered everything, a teacher had said to him once. He wondered if they thought he actually cared.

Nevertheless, the hour passed soon enough and gave him enough time to formulate a plan. He settled everything into a neatly organized outline, with allowances made for variables in the upcoming experiment, just as he followed along with the farewell bows to the departing teacher. Lunch would follow along soon enough, and he was glad to be out of there. The lunch hour was, frankly, headache-inducing. Everyone was too loud, the scraping of desk legs against the floor raked across his eardrums, and the girls... He sneered in disgust. The girls in his class, with only a few exceptions, spent so much of their time doing their hair or invading his personal space to get a peek at what he was having for lunch and judge the bento presentation by level of "cuteness" that he was tempted to snap and chew them out. The falsettos they affected to make themselves come across as cuter than they really were didn't help either. The boys weren't much better, and the arguments that erupted over such stupid things as cards made him wonder why he even put up with it all.

He remembered that he had a teacher wrapped around his little finger. It hadn't taken much, really. The teacher was young, inexperienced, and had a passion for chemistry. Hearing a little boy talk like an upper level student had enchanted the man, and it had only taken a few conversations on the subject to get that particular teacher to loan him use of the lab during lunch. With luck, he'd have use of the lab for as long as he wanted. It was ever so useful.

Osamu took his time to get to the lab. He had told Ryo to meet him there regularly, which was almost necessary if he wanted to be away from prying eyes for his experiments. That it was quiet and Ryo wasn't loud had been a bonus. Ryo was waiting for him with one hand tucked into a pocket and the other carrying a red bundle that must have been his lunch. Upon seeing him, the older boy's bored expression brightened considerably. Osamu wondered why he found that rather charming, when on anyone else it was just an irritant. Well, Ken was the exception, but Ken was his brother.

Ugh. Why did he have to think about things like that now? Ryo was an unwitting experimental subject made pliable to his whims by a silly crush. That was all.

There must have been a frown on his face, for Ryo took notice and the nervous half-smile disappeared. "Hey, uhm, you know... If you don't want to do this, we can reschedule for later..." Ryo's voice trailed off, leaving the unvoiced disappointment hanging in the air. It wouldn't have been apparent to most people, but-

Osamu sighed as he nudged his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "No. Sorry, it's been a bad day. Let's go inside."

When Ryo opened the door for him and waited for him to pass through before following him inside, Osamu should have been at least a little put off. But then, Ryo's body language didn't read like it was anything but a completely natural gesture. Ryo wasn't out to impress him... not with the intent of idolization, anyway.

They settled at the table that was probably going to end up being theirs for as long as they were going to be there. Ryo sat across from him, as before, and put more concentration into undoing the knot of his lunch bundle than was necessary. Osamu wasn't all that surprised to notice that the bento box didn't contain the traditional Japanese fare. As he unwrapped his own bento box, he noticed with some resignation that it was the same thing his mother had been making for the past few weeks. He took another glimpse at Ryo's box and decided that it was time to start the experiment.

"Interesting selection."

Ryo blinked at him and glanced down at the box. "Er, I guess. I'm kinda used to it, though."

"Hm. Western?"

"Russian," Ryo offered helpfully. "My mother's family is from St. Petersburg."

Osamu eyed the dumplings, fritters, and slice of home-baked dark bread with an almost calculating manner. "What does she call them?"

"'Zakuska' is the whole thing. It's not normally a full meal, but Mom thought it'd help me fit in better." Ryo shrugged, and then gestured to the browned dumplings in a manner that suggested that he didn't know the Japanese word for them. "Those are pelmeni. She changes the fillings on me on a whim, so I never know for sure what's in them. These," he said, pointing at the fritters this time, "are alad'i. The bread is just khleb."

A quick glance at his own unappetizing rice lunch reminded him that he might as well start the experiment. How far could he push Ryo? "Want to trade? I've never tried Russian before."

"Sure!" Ryo grinned at him and pushed the box across the table. "I haven't had much Japanese food myself. Mom insists on keeping touch with her cultural identity. Or something like that. I think she just does it because Dad likes it."

It unnerved Osamu how easily the older boy gave in, but he said nothing as he switched his lunch for Ryo's. While he nibbled on an apple fritter, he pondered his checklist. The experiment? How far would his subject be willing to go for him? How much can he ask before Ryo balked?

And what if the subject would never hesitate?

- 6 -

Osamu, having finished with Ryo's lunch, watched the subject with what he hoped could be read as bland disinterest. The experiment was off to a good start so far, but he wasn't sure how to proceed with it. This sort of thing needed to be taken slowly. But first...

"Ryo, would you go and get something for us to drink? I'm parched."

The subject looked up from an onigiri. "Sure. What do you want?"

"I prefer tea, but anything will do so long as there's no milk in it," he murmured from behind laced fingers. "Nothing too sweet. Don't take too long."

Ryo flashed him a quick smile. "Got it. I'll be right back."

Osamu simply nodded as the subject stepped quietly out the door. His mind wandered as he waited. He had never really had a friend. Lackeys, yes. Lackeys hung around him only when they wanted to share his fame and hoped it rubbed off on them, and they only approached him when they wanted to compare their marks to him or ask for homework advice. He tired of it a couple of years ago, and after a rather spectacular explosion never mentioned because it wasn't public, the lackeys kept quiet. He had no need for lackeys. But what does one do with a friend? Could Ryo be one, or something else? Or should he just settle on the fact that he was using Ryo and shouldn't get attached? Ryo would move away soon enough anyway, and real life friendships tend to fizzle out after that kind of thing even with the use of e-mail.

He sighed and closed his eyes. There was no easy solution. There was his want for a close friend who could keep up with him intellectually, and there was the reality that he was alone, mostly through his own designs. The chasm between these anomalies was such that he really couldn't expect to bring them together. His only real chance, now that he had effectively alienated his classmates over the years with his own arrogance, would be with Ryo. Maybe it would be better to let things proceed naturally, as they mean to go on. Keep to the experiment, but realize that he was dealing with a boy who could be more than just a subject.

The older boy returned soon enough, taking care to knock on the door before entering. Osamu didn't bother to move. It was enough to hear the aluminium can placed carefully on the tabletop; he was sure Ryo had no intention of disturbing him. For several moments he remained still, waiting for some other noise or sign of impatience from the subject, but when none were forthcoming, he opened his eyes at last.

Ryo simply watched him, though Osamu was unsure whether it was out of concern or because he was awaiting further orders. Rather than address it immediately, Osamu waited.

"Green tea, unsweetened," Ryo said, voice toned down to a whisper. It was almost as if he was talking to someone with a migraine. The gesture was almost touching, really.

He didn't bother to look at the can's label to be sure. It was enough that the subject followed orders to the letter, then came back to him as unobtrusively as possible. He was almost tempted to remain silent, but politesse was hard to shake. "Thank you."

Ryo was quick to smile, he thought, even when worried. "You're quite welcome. But," and here the smile faltered, "do you have a headache? Should I try to find some aspirin or something?"

Osamu blinked in surprise at the offer. That would mean Ryo would have to go to the nurse's office, which was often too much of a hassle to even consider. It involved running to the other side of the building, signing in, and faking a symptom to get the school nurse to even consider giving someone a pill. "No. I was just thinking."

"Oh, then I shouldn't have to worry when you do that?"

It was hard to frown at that, especially when it was said with that charming, if nervous, smile of Ryo's. "You only need to worry if you're being particularly noisy."

"So I'm safe," Ryo said. "I'm not so keen on noise either."

Harder still was it to keep a straight face when Ryo was being cute and attempting to commiserate. Osamu said nothing as he busied himself with opening the can, which popped a bit loud for his tastes, but it was over soon enough. He took a sip from it with the intent of drawing down a gulp, but paused when he realized Ryo didn't bring his own drink.

"Why don't you have something to drink," he asked, though he was beginning to suspect what the answer might be.

Ryo shrugged nonchalantly. "I used my money on that. But I took a detour at the water fountain, so it's not a big deal."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I didn't really think," the older boy said, somewhat thoughtfully. "I mean, you wanted something and I only had enough money for that can. I'd be just fine with water, so it wasn't like I mind. Not if it means you'll be happy."

Osamu was at a loss of how to respond to that. On one hand, the lack of money was a bit short-sighted and it was his own fault for not offering some as compensation, but it was nice that Ryo did that kind of thing for him without even thinking about it. Perhaps...

He drank what he estimated to be half of the can, then set it in front of Ryo. Ryo looked at it, clearly confused.

Osamu sighed. "It's only fair. The rest is yours."

Dawning comprehension was soon followed by the start of a flush on Ryo's face. "Er, well, it was intended to be yours, but-"

"Is there a problem," he asked.

"No! No, it's not that. It's..." Ryo trailed off as the flush deepened.

Then it hit. Ryo's last letter to Ken, just before finding out Ken's real identify, mentioning the crush and kisses and-- Osamu couldn't stop himself from snickering once he realized what the hesitation was about, which soon turned into laughter the moment Ryo shot him a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look. It was funny, and even though his sides were beginning to hurt from the effort of laughing so much with so little practice, it was worth it.

Aware that he was the subject of a joke, Ryo stood in the process of retreating, muttering something Osamu couldn't catch.

The laughter abruptly died as he realized Ryo was going to back out. Osamu stood in turn, reached out to grab Ryo's wrist, and pulled. The older boy turned to say something, but Osamu refused to allow him enough leeway to do so.

All things considered, it was one of the most impulsive things he'd ever done. He had been lucky that he didn't somehow miss and screw things up with clumsiness, that the sharp yank didn't end up throwing Ryo off balance and make him fall instead of bend to his height, that so many things that could have gone wrong never had a chance. The kiss that was meant to keep Ryo from abandoning him completely had been better than it had any right to be. But then, it had just been a peck on the lips, nothing deep and involved like what was usually mentioned online.

Still, it had the desired effect of throwing Ryo mentally off-balance and unlikely to run quite yet. When they parted, Osamu took note of the pleasantly dazed look on Ryo's face and mentally chalked it up as a successful side-experiment.

"I trust you won't have any problems sharing a drink with me from now on," he asked dryly as the dazed look faded. "You have to admit, it was a bit ludicrous."

Ryo still looked somewhat out of sorts. "Anything you say," he murmured, breath still shallow. "Anything at all."

"Good. Then finish that off and meet me here again tomorrow." Osamu gave a small, brief smile that was rare in its honesty. "I'd like to continue with our project."

Still utterly flabbergasted, the older boy could only nod.

Shortly afterwards, Osamu counted himself fairly lucky that Ryo snapped out of it a few minutes before the bell calling the students back to class rang. While the first part of the experiment was a success, he had no intention of being caught doing this sort of thing with anyone. Not just yet, anyway.

Note: Don't worry, I'm still working on SN.