Jyou Kido had more homework than anyone else in his class. It was possible that he had more than anyone else in his school, but he had never really bothered to check. It was enough for him that most of his free minutes were filled with worksheets and reports, constant rounds of research and studying. It wasn't because he was a bad student - on the contrary, he was a strict perfectionist, agonizing over every missed point. It was by his choice, one based partly on his love of learning, partly on the fact that he was expected to succeed, and partly because, as anyone who knew him would attest, he seemed to thrive on stress. As far as he was concerned, everything was either bad or about to get worse, and his room proved it.
He sat at his desk, surrounded by stacks of papers awaiting his attention, all sorted neatly from those that had already been dealt with and needed only to be checked over one last time before being sealed into binders to be handed in. To his left was a large textbook full of small print, which he was reading and marking with a yellow highlighter, jotting down the most important points in a battered notebook. On his right was an open appointment calender, which held lists of all his appointments and assignments. In front of him was a computer, waiting for him to type a paper or conduct research on the Internet. Resting on a corner of the table was a tray with various medicines, proof against headaches, allergies, and any number of other ailments that might distract him from his work. He was well settled in for a long night, and nothing would have made him depart from his work schedule, except...
Somewhere in the clutter of his room, there was a muffled sound of something ringing. Jyou's head jerked up, and his glasses, which had been slipping down his nose as he pored over his book, fell off and went tumbling to the floor. The telephone rang again, and Jyou groaned in frustration as he began fumbling around on the floor for his spectacles. The notebook fell off his lap, and he made a clumsy grab for it, succeeding only in knocking out several sheets of paper that had been stuffed loosely into it. They landed on the floor along with his glasses, covering them in a snowfall of homework. After the seventh ring, Jyou was finally able to recover his sight and dig his cell phone out of his school bag.
"Hello!" he snapped.
"Ouch!" said the voice on the other end. "Sorry, Jyou, I didn't know I was calling at a bad time. I'll call back, okay?"
"No, no, it's okay," said Jyou hurriedly, recognizing the voice of a friend. "I was just doing my homework, that's all."
"Oh, okay, I get it! Homework always puts me in a bad mood, too."
"That's not exactly what I meant," said Jyou, but he knew the person on the other end of the line wouldn't listen. He'd met this boy only once, but Daisuke Motomiya had left an impression in his mind, one of boundless energy and enthusiasm, someone who lived his life by emotion and inspiration.
*Why would he want to be talking to me?* Jyou wondered. *We've got nothing in common but being Digidestined. Does he need my help for something? What could I help him with that Miyako or Ken couldn't do for him? They're both smart, and closer to him than I am...*
"Anyway, if you're busy, I can call some other time. It wasn't very important, anyway," Daisuke replied.
"I wasn't that busy," Jyou assured him, curiosity piqued. Whatever Daisuke wanted to talk about, it was making him sound decidedly uncomfortable, dimming some of the fire Jyou had seen in him, and Jyou the worrier wouldn't rest easy until he knew what was going on. "What did you want?"
"Well, it's kind of silly..." said Daisuke reluctantly. "I just wanted to know if maybe... you could teach me how to play chess?"
"What?" asked Jyou, surprised.
"Chess," Daisuke repeated. "I want to learn how to play."
"Why?" It was the obvious question; Jyou hadn't pictured anyone as energetic as Daisuke wanting to play a game as slow and thoughtful as chess.
"Because Ken does," answered Daisuke, as if it were obvious. "This Jogress thing has helped, but he's still having a hard time getting it through his head that anyone would want to spend any time with him at all. I thought maybe if I could learn how to do something he likes to do, it would give us something, you know, to start from."
"Ah," said Jyou. It was all he could think of to say.
"So, will you?"
"I don't know," Jyou replied. "I really do have a lot to do tonight..."
"...and tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that," Daisuke finished. "You need a social life worse than Ken does."
"I do not!" said Jyou, indignant.
"What did he say?" asked Gomamon. Bored by homework, he had been dozing on Jyou's bed, but now he opened his sparkling green eyes and looked up with interest.
Jyou sighed. "I think I've just been told to get a life."
"I don't know why," said Gomamon impishly. "You're doing just fine without one."
"I am not!" Jyou shouted back. "Hey, wait a minute, that wasn't what I meant..."
Gomamon giggled, and Jyou could hear Daisuke doing much the same thing. He sighed again.
"All right, I know when I've been beaten," he replied. "When did you want to come over?"
"Is now okay?" Daisuke asked.
"Now?" Jyou repeated dubiously. "But Daisuke, it's dark outside?"
"What has that got to do with playing chess?"
"Nothing! It's just... never mind. Just never mind. Come on over - I'm not doing anything that can't wait until tomorrow anyway."
"All right!" Daisuke cheered. "Be right there!"
There was a click, and Jyou found himself listening to a dial tone. He stared at the telephone, his eyes as blank as the lenses of his glasses.
"How do I get myself into these messes?" he wondered. "Teaching chess to Daisuke Motomiya... I'd be better off with another Dark Master."
"Aw, don't worry, Jyou! It'll be fun!" said Gomamon, bouncing off the bed to clamber onto his partner's shoulders.
Jyou made a sour face.
"I'm allergic to fun," he said.
A quick bus ride brought Daisuke to Jyou's apartment, and it was just an elevator ride and a sprint down the hall that brought him skidding to a stop at Jyou's apartment door. There, panting a bit and trying to rearrange his ruffled hair, he reached up to push the doorbell. However, just before his finger found the button, the door popped open, making him jump.
"Yow!" he cried, nearly falling over backwards in surprise. Chibimon fell out of Daisuke's backpack and went somersaulting across the floor until he was stopped by the wall. He lay there propped upside-down, his eyes spinning.
"Quiet!" Jyou hissed. "My dad's already asleep, and you don't want to be around if he wakes up."
"What's he doing asleep this early?" Daisuke asked, bending down to collect Chibimon. "It's not even nine yet!"
"Dad's a doctor," Jyou explained, ushering his friend into the apartment. "He had to work all night last night, and he's wiped out. He just about fell asleep in his soup at dinner."
"Why would you want a job like that?" asked Daisuke. "Me, I'm gonna get a job where I can sleep in."
"What kind of job is that going to be?" Jyou asked.
"I dunno yet. Maybe I'll work in a restaurant somewhere. I like food."
"That won't work. People eat breakfast, you know."
"Then I'll serve something people don't eat... like soup. Nobody eats soup for breakfast, do they?"
"I guess not," Jyou agreed reluctantly.
"Besides," Daisuke continued, warming to his subject, "if I have a restaurant, it won't matter if I have good grades or not. Nobody will have to hire me - I'll just open my own place."
"You don't set very high goals for yourself," Jyou said.
"Who says?" Daisuke replied.
"Well, you ought to be a little more worried about your future. You can't just go around saying, 'Maybe I'll do this.' You need to have a plan."
"Well, how can you be sure of anything if you don't have a plan?"
"Who said I wanted to be sure?" Daisuke retorted. "It's more fun if you never know what's coming. I mean, sure, bad stuff happens sometimes, but it's going to happen anyway, right? If you don't know what's coming, you can't be afraid of it, can you?"
Jyou wanted to say that yes, you could, you could be afraid of just about anything, but somehow, the words didn't come out. They weren't true, anyway. Maybe he could be afraid, but not Daisuke. He didn't think Daisuke knew how to be afraid.
*Or maybe he just never learned how to worry. He just does things.*
Jyou led Daisuke into his room. While he'd been waiting for Daisuke to arrive, he'd taken the time to straighten things up a bit - something he'd been neglecting to do for the simple reason that he knew Gomamon wouldn't leave anything straight for very long. Nothing he could do could get his desk clean enough to play chess on, though, and at any rate, he only had one chair. He'd settled for laying out his battered old chess set in the center of the floor. Daisuke went over to look at it, dropping to his knees and examining it from all angles, looking at the pieces so closely that his nose was almost touching them. To Jyou, he looked like a very large cat encountering something it had never seen before.
"You know," Daisuke commented, picking up one of the bishops to look at it more closely, "I don't think I've ever actually been this close to one of these things before."
"Well, now you can get to know them," Jyou replied, "and the best way to learn is to play. What color do you want to be?"
"Hm? Oh, um... black, I think."
"All right. You sit over there, then, and I'll sit over here. Now, the object of the game is for you to try to trap my king, so there's nowhere for him to run to. All those pieces are your soldiers, and they all move around in different ways. Got it so far?"
"Yeah, I got it," said Daisuke, nodding.
"Okay, good," Jyou replied. "Now, these little ones here in front are the pawns. They can move two spaces forward on their first move, but after that, they only move one space. They move straight ahead, but they attack diagonally. Okay? And this is the rook - it moves straight ahead and sideways. This is the bishop..."
Jyou ran through the pieces one at a time, explaining each one's unique abilities. He half expected Daisuke to ask him to stop and repeat something, or to complain that it was all too complicated. Instead, the boy listened with rapt attention, his eyes intense, and Jyou got the eerie feeling of being tape-recorded.
*Of course, I forgot, he's a soccer player,* Jyou remembered. *A pretty good one, if what I've heard is right. He's used to memorizing playbooks; this probably isn't that much different. Take a lot of people with different abilities, put them on a field, and get them all moving towards the same goal. That's not too far from chess, I guess.*
Unlike so many Japanese children, Jyou had never cultivated an interest in soccer. He had never gone to any school games, aside from one super-important championship match, and that was more because he wanted to be there to support Taichi than because he'd wanted to watch the sport. He hadn't really paid a lot of attention to the game, but simply shouted halfheartedly when his friends shouted and kept his eye on the scoreboard to make sure his team was winning. Sports were not his friends; he disliked getting dirty and sweaty, he was not particularly strong or coordinated, and his fair skin burned in the sun. It was much easier to stay indoors and read. He wasn't even sure of the rules of soccer, other than having a vague notion that it involved kicking a ball into a net.
"So, do you think you understand everything?" asked Jyou, wrapping up his explanations of rooking and checking.
"I've got it," Daisuke answered, nodding. Chibimon nodded, too.
"Good," said Jyou, a little surprised by Daisuke's confidence. "Well, let's try playing a game, then. Don't feel bad if you don't win; most people lose their first few games. It takes a while to get the hang of it."
"Okay," said Daisuke. "You go first, right?"
"Right," Jyou replied. He pondered a moment, then scooted a pawn into place. "Your go."
Daisuke copied Jyou's example. For a moment, they played in silence, carefully rearranging the patterns of pieces. Jyou hated to admit it, but he was actually enjoying himself a bit. Despite his fears, Daisuke was turning out to be a good student, and besides, it had been a long time since Jyou had had anyone to play against. His older brothers had gone off to bigger and better things, and his parents were too busy for games. Most of the other Digidestined were unfamiliar with the game and didn't have any interest in learning. He'd played a few games via computer with Izzy, but it wasn't quite the same as having actual pieces in his hand and hearing the satisfying clink as he took one of his opponent's men...
Jyou looked down, drawn out of his thoughts, and realized that Daisuke had just made his first capture.
"Got one," said the boy smugly.
"You sure did," said Jyou, smiling a bit. "Congratulations. Only one problem."
Jyou slid one of his rooks across the board to take one of Daisuke's knights. Chibimon giggled, and Daisuke looked crestfallen.
"You've got to watch that," Jyou cautioned. "This isn't like checkers. You're not out to take my men, you're out to corner the king. That means you've got to plan ahead."
Daisuke frowned. "I don't like planning."
"Hey, you're the one who wanted to learn to play," said Jyou. "Of course, if it's too hard for you, you can always go home..."
The fire rekindled in Daisuke's eyes. "No way am I giving up!"
"Then play. It's your move."
Daisuke frowned, this time in concentration, and took several moments to chose his next move. When he finally made it, Jyou had to suppress a smile. He was going to have to rearrange his strategy now, but he couldn't help feeling proud that Daisuke was learning.
"So," said Daisuke, waiting for Jyou to move, "tell me about yourself."
"I've heard about you from some of the others, but I want to hear it from you. We've never exactly talked much before," Daisuke replied. "I want to know more about you. What do you like to do? Who do you hang out with? What's your school like?"
"Um... it's a school," said Jyou, feeling ill at ease. A conversationalist he was not. What did he have to say that Daisuke would be interested in? It wasn't as if they had a lot of common interests.
"You in any clubs?"
Jyou grinned a bit as he captured one of Daisuke's bishops. "Chess club."
"I'm on the soccer team," Daisuke replied proudly. "Captain."
"I'd heard. Taichi said you're good."
"Really?" asked Daisuke, eyes glowing.
Jyou nodded. "He told me Hikari brought him to one of your games. Showed me a few of the pictures she took, too."
"She keeps those?"
"Sure. She has pictures of all her friends," Jyou replied.
"Oh." Daisuke went back to studying the board. "Hey, Jyou, do you have a girlfriend?"
"Huh?" Jyou nearly knocked over his queen in surprise.
"I guess not," said Daisuke with a shrug.
"Well, of course not! I mean... Oh, never mind. What makes you think I should have a girlfriend?"
"Why shouldn't you?" Daisuke replied. "You're plenty old enough to have a girlfriend by now. You're smart, you're from a good family, you're not exactly ugly... no reason why you shouldn't have a girl."
"I'm too busy for that kind of thing," said Jyou.
"Too busy doing what? Playing chess? I can't see why that would take up that much time."
"Homework, mostly," Jyou replied. "I do a lot of outside studying."
"You're more interested in homework than girls?" Daisuke exclaimed. "Man, you are weird!"
Jyou blushed a painful red. "No! It's not like that! I just have to keep my grades up if I'm going to be in med school. They only take the very best. My family will be really disappointed if I don't make it."
"You really must want to be a doctor, if you're willing to do all that," Daisuke remarked. "Check, by the way."
"Huh? Oh." Jyou maneuvered his king out of the way.
"So, are you going to answer, or what?"
"Why do you want to be a doctor so bad?"
"Um... well... I dunno," Jyou replied. "It's just always been expected of me, you know? I don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter."
"Sure you do! You could sell balloons on the street corner if you wanted to. Nobody's going to stop you."
"My dad would," answered Jyou, making a face.
"Forget him, then. He's not doing you any good. If you want to be a doctor, fine, be a doctor, but don't let people push you around."
"Um," said Jyou. He stared down at the board a bit, then moved his queen. "Check! Let's see you get out of that."
Daisuke moved his knight and took the queen. "That works... So, isn't there any girl you like? There's gotta be someone out there."
"Well... there was somebody," said Jyou. His blush returned. "She moved, though. She didn't go to my school, either, so I didn't really get to spend a lot of time with her after we were done with the whole Digidestined thing-" His mouth snapped shut, but it was too late.
"Let me guess," said Daisuke. "Mimi?"
Jyou nodded, clearly embarrassed.
"What's wrong with that? Mimi's cute," Daisuke replied. "She's tough. She'd be good for you."
"You think?" asked Jyou hopefully.
"Sure. You should talk to her."
"Oh, I couldn't..."
"Why not?" asked Daisuke. "You know what I think? I think half of this homework of yours is just so you don't have to talk to people. You should talk to more people. It doesn't hurt."
"That's what you think," Jyou muttered.
"That's what I think," answered Daisuke sternly. "And I should know. You know how Hikari treats me. And you know what? It's not that bad. If you don't get what you want the first time, you just keep on trying. What would happen if you gave up the first time someone got you in check? You'd never win, would you? What would have happened if you gave up and hid the first time you ran into a monster? You'd still be stuck in the Digital World now, or worse yet, you'd be dead. After everything you've already done, how can you be afraid of anything?"
"Good question," Jyou replied. "Habit, I guess."
"Oh," said Daisuke. "Well, think about it, okay? Oh, yeah, and one other thing."
"What's that?" asked Jyou suspiciously.
"What?" Jyou looked down and saw that his king was neatly surround. "No fair! You distracted me!"
"Distraction is a good strategy," answered Daisuke with a grin. "You know, that was kinda fun. I can see why you like this game. It's easy to talk to someone like this."
"That's not really why I started playing," said Jyou, but he wasn't sure Daisuke was listening. He didn't think it would have mattered if he was.
"Well, thanks for the lesson," said Daisuke. "I've gotta go now. I told Mom and Dad I'd be in before bedtime, and it's getting late."
"Yeah, and I've got school in the morning. Goodnight, Daisuke."
"Night! See ya!"
Daisuke ambled out of the room, leaving Jyou to collect his chessmen... and think.
Jyou came home from school and looked around his room. He felt restless; the idea of more schoolwork just made him feel dull and depressed. Most of his usual activities didn't interest him right now; he needed something new to challenge him. He turned on the computer more out of habit than anything, and briefly considered writing an e-mail, maybe sending Mimi a letter to ask how she'd been... but something held him back. Despite what Daisuke had told him, he still wasn't sure he had the courage to make such a step. Daisuke had been born with that courage, but for Jyou it was hard. Perhaps, though, it could be learned, like chess. Just then, Jyou realized what it was he wanted to do. He reached for the phone and dialed a number. Nervously, he waited for an answer.
"Hello?" answered a voice.
"Hey, Daisuke," said Jyou, trying to hide his embarrassment. "I was wondering... could you do me a favor?"
"Sure, Jyou!" answered Daisuke. "What's up?"
"Well," Jyou replied, "this is going to sound kind of stupid, but... could you teach me how to play soccer?"