Disclaimer: I. Don't. Own. It.
It took a while, but it's here. Please read the rewrite of chapter 18, if not the rewrite of the rest of the fic, before reading this one. It's mostly just name changes, but there are a few more major changes in the more recent chapters, so that the eventual end of the fic will make more sense...
Chapter 19 - Call of the Wild
A tribute to Jack London
A strange discomfort lay between Yamato and Sora in the early hours of the morning. Though had become very close since they first met - they were closer with each other than with anyone else, except, perhaps, for Taichi - they had never spent much time alone together. What private conversations they had were always on the phone or on the way home from school, and any serious talking they did was always with Taichi present. In a way, their relationship seemed to exist simply because they both had relationships with Tai. They were friends, certainly, very good friends, but their friendship had never been something that either had thought about much.
"So what do we do now?" Sora sat with her back against a rock face, cradling the sleepy Biyomon.
"I don't know." said Yamato, sitting down beside her. "We should go back down and find the others, but we could lose another day doing that, and there's only, what, twenty-four hours left. Seeing as we're a fair way up already, maybe we should just keep going. It's better to have two of us at the castle in time than all six of us being late."
"Would MetalGarurumon be enough, though?"
"Maybe, maybe not," Gabumon shrugged. "But if I can't fight Mordremon alone, I can at least hold her off until the others catch up. Want me to digivolve and carry you up, Yamato?"
"Nah, I think we're better off walking." the blonde shook his head, standing up. "You should save your strength for the battle at the top." He turned to help Sora up and looked pointedly at Biyomon. "Can you wake her up?"
The girl shook her head. "She's a wreck. I think we'd best let her sleep for a while."
"We'll take it in turns to carry her, then. Unless you don't trust me with her?" he raised an eyebrow, a mischievous little smile on his face. "I know how protective you get."
"Hey, just 'cause I wouldn't let you help when I was baking a few weeks back..."
"I'm a cook! I make edible meals of the stuff in my fridge, and that is no mean feat."
"Yeah, but after you managed to mangle the rice balls we were making to raise money for your band, I wasn't going to trust you with scones."
"I thought the Child of Love would know how to forgive and forget."
"Yamato, you ruined rice cakes. Rice. You're as Japanese, for goodness' sake, and you wrecked a simple bowl of rice!"
The two friends continued their gentle teasing as they made their way up the mountain, their earlier discomfort forgotten. And yet, although it may have been broken up with the laughter, that tension could easily piece itself back together. Yamato and Sora had never before had to face the fact that they were more than just two people with a mutual big-haired, soccer-playing friend - they had a relationship with each other, too. They had never had a chance to examine it, though, and now that they had one, their minds shrank from it without even knowing why.
The bespectacled boy looked up at the concern in Mimi's voice. For what must have been nearly an hour he had sat on the rough sand at the edge of the lake, his head in his hands. As hard as he tried to think of something to do, his thoughts just went on chasing each other, overflowing with energy but with nowhere to go.
"Jyou, are you okay?"
"I'll be fine." he mumbled, avoiding her eyes.
"No, you're not okay." Mimi answered her own question, sliding an arm around his shoulders and dropping to the ground next to him. "You can talk to me, you know."
"There's no time," he said, through gritted teeth. "There's no time, Mimi. Less than a day to go and Taichi's trapped, Sora and Yamato are missing, I've lost Gomamon..."
"Things are only going to get worse if you keep feeling panicked." Koushiro advised him.
"I'm not panicking!" Jyou cried, startling everyone. He got to his feet. "I just... I mean... I don't know what to do. What are we supposed to do?" He looked pleadingly at his friends. "None of us are leaders or decision-makers. We're running out of time and we're in the worst position we've been in for a long time, what with people being separated from their digimon as well as each other, so I don't... I can't... what do we do?"
"We'll manage," Palmon assured him. "Just calm down and think things through. There's me and Tentomon still here, so we at least have two mega digimon on our hands. Two flying mega digimon, no less. So we can reach the top of the mountain as quickly as we want to. The question is what we want to do first."
Jyou was about to nod, but noticed everyone looking at him expectantly.
"I'm not a leader." he said, quietly. "I'm not meant to be the one with the power."
"You shouldn't be afraid of mucking things up, Jyou." Agumon said. "It just shows that you care, and that means you'll do the job twice as well as you would otherwise."
"It's not that." the boy sighed, looking down at his shoes. "It's just... I'm afraid of what I'll do with power if I have it. I'm afraid of being corrupted by it. You should trust me with that sort of responsibility. I'm..." he blushed briefly. "I was even afraid of Plesiomon yesterday. I thought that if I could convince him to abuse that power, I probably would..."
"We're here, too, you know." Koushiro clapped a hand to his shoulder. "You won't do everything on your own. I won't let you use your powers for evil, trust me on that one. It's just that... well... I'm a brain, but that doesn't mean I know what decisions we should make. And Mimi..."
He broke off, unsure of how to say what he meant without insulting the pink-haired girl, but he shouldn't have worried. She laughed at the expression on his face and said it all for him.
"I just want a chance to go home and wash my hair. I've got no idea about priorities. I mean, really, my top priority right now is a new outfit and a chance to cut my nails. You think I can decide what we should do?"
Jyou turned helplessly to Agumon, Palmon and Tentomon, but he knew it wasn't going to be any use.
"You're the brains, we're the brawn." Tentomon said. "That's the way this Digidestined gig works."
With a huge sigh, Jyou straightened his back and turned to Koushiro. "Okay, so we've got Taichi and Gomamon in one place, everyone else in another. Yamato and Sora can probably take care of themselves for the time being as they both have their digimon, but Taichi and I don't. So the first thing to do would be to correct that so that we're back at optimum fighting strength."
"They're being held in a cave about a hundred metres up." the red head had his laptop out already. "There's no obvious entrance and they seem to be quite deep in. I'm guessing the entrance is probably hidden. It could take us quite a while to find."
"Well, I guess we'd better get started then," Jyou said, lightly. "We'll split up to search the hillside. Koushiro and Mimi, you take your digimon, and Agumon, you can come with me."
"Why not just split up completely?" Mimi asked. "We'd cover more ground with six parties than we will with three."
Jyou shook his head. "True, but it won't work. Firstly, we'll need to meet up again every hour or so, and the digimon aren't wearing watches. Secondly, if we find anything we'll need to be able to signal to the others, and we don't have flares or anything, so the digimon are the only ones who can attract attention like that. And lastly, if Megadramon, Gigadramon or even Banemon shows up, we won't be able to fight."
As he finished speaking, the bespectacled boy realised that the rest of the group were all watching him and he blushed deeply. "Erm... meet back here in an hour?" he offered, sheepishly.
The others all agreed and they split up; Koushiro and Tentomon in the direction that Taichi and Gomamon had been taken, Mimi and Palmon the way that Yamato and Sora had last been seen. Jyou looked through the trees, straight up the mountain, the way that they had all come on that first day, a whole fortnight ago.
"Know what, Jyou?" Agumon asked.
"I think you can be just as good a leader as Taichi if you put your heart into it."
"I don't think so." the boy mumbled. "I'd look terrible in goggles."
Agumon laughed out loud at that, and Jyou couldn't help but smile at his own unintentional joke.
"But you know it's not just about the goggles, right?" said Agumon, once he had calmed down and they started tackling the first steep rise. "You've got the brains, the sense and the... the..." he broke off, struggling to find the right word.
"Morality?" Jyou suggested.
"No, you just know what's right and wrong." said the dinosaur earnestly. "You care what happens to people and stuff. You've got everything that Taichi does. The only difference is that you don't throw yourself into it the way he does. You won't accept the fact that you can lead, and so you don't even try."
Jyou paused to pull Agumon up a particularly steep rise. "We'll see how good a leader I am, Agumon. We'll just see."
"Is it lunch time yet?"
Yamato was so startled when the pink bundle in his arms spoke that he nearly dropped her. Not that it would have mattered; Sora wrenched her digimon from his unresisting hands as soon as the words left her beak.
"Biyomon! How do you feel? Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm okay, but could you stop squishing me, please?"
"Oh, of course, of course!" The flustered red-head held the bird out at arm's length and regarded her with a slightly silly grin. "I'm just glad you're awake. Sorry."
"No, don't be sorryyy..." Biyomon's words trailed off as her beak stretched into a yawn entirely against her will. "I'm still a bit sleepy... hey, do you think we could have something to eat?"
"Um..." Sora looked up at the trees around her. They were making their way along the side of one of the many spurs leading up to the peak, and it was hard enough to keep from sliding down it without trying to climb trees for food as well. As for what they had packed...
"Well, there's some stale bread," Gabumon told her, rifling through Yamato's pack, which he had been wearing whilst his companion carried the bird. "A limp carrot, soy sauce, honey and a packet of uncooked rice."
"Rice sounds good!" Biyomon suggested, but Yamato shook his head.
"Not here. Let's get back up to the top of the ridge. This is not a good place to stop and rest."
"Well, let's hurry up then!" In her eagerness, Biyomon seemed to have forgotten the battered and bruised state she was in. No sooner had she wriggled out of Sora's arms and taken to the air than the flopped to the ground.
"You silly thing." Yamato grinned, picking her up again. "You're not going anywhere on your own, you know."
Biyomon just sighed and settled for a long ride.
"Thanks," Sora said, once the bird had dozed off again. She was at the top of a particularly steep and rocky rise, ready to help Yamato after her.
"Well, it wouldn't have been fair for you to carry her the whole way." the boy replied, squeezing between two boulders.
"No not just for that." she slipped out of her pack and dumped it on the ground next to her so she could reach further down the space. "For calming her down. I might be Biyomon's partner, but I'm not always too good at getting her to listen to me."
"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense." Yamato shifted the bird to his left arm so that he could grab Sora's proffered one with his right.
"Well..." she paused to grip Yamato's forearm with her other hand. "She's the most immature of all our digimon, really. When we first met I mothered her a lot; I had to. But Bee wasn't too confident, so she tended to not question anything I said. But when she started growing up a bit and realised how much I got things wrong, she started to disagree with me at every opportunity."
"Another rebellious teenager, eh?" the blonde grinned. "Here, maybe I should pass her up to you. I can't very well climb this with one hand."
"Good idea." she relaxed her grip once he had found a new foothold and took a step down to take her digimon into her own hands. "As I was saying, thanks for being so firm with her. You've gotten a lot better like that. Playing with the Teenage Wolves has done wonders for your self-confidence."
"You think I've changed that much?" Sora had her back turned to him as she set Biyomon down next to her pack, but she heard the surprise in his voice.
"Sure you have. You don't have so many second thoughts and you're not so hard on yourself anymore. For a moment back there I almost thought I was talking to Taichi."
Yamato didn't reply. The brief surge of pride at Sora's first comment dissolved as soon as she mentioned Taichi. What, she thought Tai was the only one who could be sensible and responsible? She had to compare the two of them? Couldn't she just take Yamato's behaviour for what it was? When she offered a hand to help him up, he yanked on it roughly, harder than he'd intended to and caught her off guard, pulling the girl towards him and propelling himself further than he needed to go.
Just beginning to make his ascent, Gabumon's eyebrows rose comically at the sight above him. Neither of the humans were laughing, though; they didn't even look at him. Sora's bewildered gaze was trapped by Yamato's steely one, his hand still clamped firmly around her forearm. There were too many emotions crowded onto Sora's face; confusion, a creeping apprehension and something else, too, something Gabumon couldn't quite put a name to. That open face, with its emotions clear for all to see, was never going to be any match for Yamato's unfeeling one. Sora finally looked down, blushing, and the boy released her arm with an expression even more obscure than the previous one. He turned away from her with a muttered apology and went to pick up Biyomon. And there they stayed, neither of the two daring to look in the other's general direction, let alone face.
Gabumon blinked owlishly a few times, then shook his head. He had no idea what was going on between those two, but he knew they were both trying to ignore it. And more than anything, he knew that that wouldn't work. Presently, though he had another problem.
"Could someone give me a hand here?"
Both humans started towards the stone stairway, but before they could be of any help they caught each other's eyes. Sora blushed again and Yamato's eyes narrowed, but they both shrank away from each other and from Gabumon, who sighed and reached for the first handhold.
It was well into the afternoon when Koushiro and Tentomon accidentally stumbled upon Taichi and Gomamon's prison. Stumbled is an understatement, really; Koushiro tripped and happened to land by a fissure in the rocks which carried the marine digimon's voice from the cave to his ears. When he began shouting with excitement, Gomamon replied delightedly and then immediately began scolding the human for being so loud.
"Megadramon and Gigadramon take it in turns to sleep," he told them, "so we'll have to be careful not to make too much noise, or they'll know what's going on."
"Okay. Well, that's something. What more can you tell us about your position. Gomamon?"
"There's not much room." There was a pause for a while. "Neither of them are planning to leave the cave before sunset, and they probably won't come out while the rest of you are anywhere nearby, either. Too scared."
"Hasn't it occurred to them that we could just come in?" Tentomon asked.
"There's not much room to get in. Lillymon or Rosemon could fit, but otherwise you'd have to come as rookies, and you wouldn't be able to do much that way."
"So we'll send Rosemon in."
"Erm... that might not be a very good idea. You know how I said it was small in here?"
"Yeah, so?" Koushiro was getting impatient.
"By small, I mean there's just enough room for Megadramon and Gigadramon to curl up in a ball together, with Taichi and I crammed into the corners. If Rosemon lands one strike on either of them, they'll both start thrashing around and Tai 'n' I will be dead before you know it."
"We do have a problem then. So we have to find a way to get them out, eh?"
"Yup. Normally I'd advise insulting them, but I'm the only one who's any good at that."
"Very true, very true." Koushiro agreed. "Well, Tentomon and I will meet back with Mimi and Jyou, and we'll see what we can come up with. Don't worry, Gomamon, we're gunna get you out. But tell me, is Tai there? Can I speak to him?"
It's lucky that Koushiro wasn't a people person, because otherwise he would have picked up on Gomamon's hesitation and noticed the slight uncertainty in his voice. He would have known that Gomamon was lying when he said, "No, uh, Tai's asleep right now." He would have felt even more uneasy that he already did when he walked away to find his friends and to tell them the good news. And he would never have guessed that as he drifted off to plan, Gomamon was worriedly watching their cheerful leader sit alone in the corner, staring blankly into empty space.
It wasn't much of a cave. Just a split in the rock, almost invisible, that widened out a little as you walked down it. There had probably been other digimon that had lived in it over the years, wearing in a comfortable niche, but it was deserted when Gabumon stumbled across it. The day was getting old and Gabumon thought it would be a good idea if they got a few hours sleep each, at least.
The little hollow was probably quite roomy for one digimon, but was decidedly cramped when it contained two of them and two humans to boot. Sora was pressed up against the far edge of the crack, hugging Biyomon to her body. Gabumon was worn out, dozing in a ball in the widest part of the shelter. Yamato stood by the entrance, trying to look cool and aloof but finding both body and style were cramped by the lack of head space. The humans hadn't spoken a word to one another in hours.
"Not long now, eh?" Yamato said, at last.
"Until what?" Sora replied.
"Until Mordremon's curse strikes us down, of course."
"Oh, that. No, probably not. I didn't bring a watch with me, so I don't know exactly what time it is, but it should be some time around dawn."
"Do you think we should have pressed on?"
Sora thought about that one for a moment.
"No, not really. This time yesterday I would have said yes, but this time yesterday Biyomon was perfectly healthy. I think we're better off getting some rest, even if it is only an hour or two."
"You're not worried, then?"
By now, Sora was faintly amused. Yamato seemed to be doing his utmost to look like he didn't have a worry in the world, and for once he was doing it singularly badly.
"What, you're getting last minute jitters?" she teased.
"No!" was he huffy retort. "I'm just... well, two of us, one healthy digimon, out of the whole team? I hate being split up like this. What if you and I aren't enough?"
"I know what you mean." Sora knew when to take him seriously. "I have thought about it and I agree, I'd much rather we were all together. This way we don't know if they'll be there, and they don't know if we will. I'm sure we'll manage, though. We've never been given anything we couldn't handle before."
"No, I suppose not."
She went on in earnest. "Besides which, I'm sure we can trust the others to come through. I doubt they're having any more trouble travelling than we are. All their digimon can reach the mega level now, after all."
Yamato nodded in agreement.
"And if nothing else, you can always count on Taichi to pull through."
She'd done it now. Once more, her blithe mention of their leader ignited that strange irritation lying just under Yamato's skin. He could feel his emotions shutting down almost before she said it, leaving only a peculiar sort of anger. When he spoke, he didn't look at her, but fixed his gaze coldly and insolently on the wall, as if it was somehow responsible, too.
"Oh, yes, there's always Tai," he drawled, sounding more sarcastic than he'd meant to. Sora was noticeably shocked.
"W-what... what's wrong?"
"Just guarantees victory, doesn't it, so long as we have Tai."
"Yamato, why are you -"
"Hardly need the rest of us to even come along, do we, so long as Tai is around."
"Now, really!" said Sora, getting annoyed now. "I thought you wanted reassurance. You're the one who was worried, after all."
"I never said I was worried!"
"Oh, please. It's written all over you."
"Well, look, that's... that's not the point! Why do you need him to fall back on, anyhow? Aren't I just as good as he is? Don't you think I can pull you through?"
"Oh, so that's what this is all about." Sora had had enough. She cast aside the caring friend immediately. She could play the pain-in-the-bum as well. "You didn't want me to reassure your safety, just your ego."
That got his attention. At this point Yamato forgot himself and actually looked at his sparring partner - for that's what she had become. Before, the honesty of Sora's face had forced her to succumb to Yamato, but now its honest annoyance was an even match. The sight of this quiet girl so openly challenging him just drove his anger to even greater heights, and into territory he knew full well was forbidden.
"No, Sora, it's not about my ego, it's about him. Or rather, it's about the two of you."
The red-head's eyes narrowed dangerously. The sun was nearing the horizon now and the few rays of light that crept into their hideaway were a golden colour that made the fury in the room all the more potent. She'd never come close to proving all those stories about red-heads with tempers, but Yamato was coming close to changing all that. The girl didn't say a word, but dared him to go on all the same.
"I've been wondering, Sora, why you have such faith in our good Taichi. You always just know that you can rely on one another."
"We're friends. We have been for a long time now. And you know that, because you're our friend too." she said, challenging and warning all at once.
"But such unconditional praise! I wonder what he did to earn as much from you, Sora. Or is it you who went out of your way to be honoured by him?"
Taichi himself, with his crest of courage, would have quailed under Sora's glare.
"How long have you two been carrying on behind our backs, eh? All these long, long years you've been friends. You can't honestly tell me that's all you've been, can you?"
Even Daisuke would have had enough sense not to continue if he saw the naked fury Sora was wearing now.
"For all I know, the two of you have been screwing around behind our backs even in the last few -"
Yamato had stopped then because Sora had stood up, dumping Biyomon on top of Gabumon, and thrown her pack at Yamato. He caught it just in time and stared at her, trying to mask his surprise. Belatedly, he realised he had overstepped the mark by a long shot. Sure, he'd been annoyed, but to call her a... well, that was almost unforgivable. And what had he been so angry about, anyway? She was saying nice things about Taichi. Why had that made him so angry? This was all so unreasonable.
He'd been on the brink of apologising when Sora ruined any chance of it by unleashing a string of words that Yamato was surprised she knew. Some of them he'd never even heard before, though they sounded fairly unpleasant. If he hadn't known better, he'd have thought she was making up expletives on the spot. But nevertheless, Sora was wholly successful in morphing Yamato's near-apology into a colder, harder anger.
"I'll take first guard." he said, in a dull voice, before dumping her pack on the ground and stalking outside.
As soon as he was gone, Sora slumped on the ground. Now she remembered why she avoided arguing - it was so draining. Jeez, she was even shaking! Trying to collect herself, she pulled Biyomon into her arms and leaned her head back against the rock.
"Was it really that bad - all the stuff he was saying?" the bird asked.
Of course, you don't understand. Oh, so innocent. Sora thought. "Yes, Bee, it was. That's about the worst things anyone can say to a girl."
"Is it really so bad you have to throw things at him?"
"Oh, Bee!" Sora laughed. "Not really, I suppose. But it made me so angry, because that really stung. It would hurt coming from anyone, but from Yamato it hurts ten times more."
"Well... that's a good question." She didn't have an answer for it. Even having Tai insult her wouldn't have hurt that much. She couldn't really think more of Yamato than she did of Taichi, did she? But then, what did she think of Yamato? For several long, long minutes Sora sat and contemplated the question, growing more and more confused as the minutes passed.
The blonde was sitting outside and staring up at the first stars appearing in the wake of the now-orange sun. Curiously, he was thinking similar thoughts. He never would have expected Sora to react the way she had... but what would he have expected? What did he really know of her? And why did its annoy him so much when she talked about Tai?
Well, he knew the answer to the last question, at least. The heat rising in his cheeks was evidence enough of that. And after some of the stuff he said back there, she probably did, too. She was the perceptive one, after all. So she either knew the truth, or... thought he was in love with Tai.
No, scratch that. She knew the truth. The alternative was too stupid to contemplate.
He was just thinking that he was exceptionally glad no-one was around to see him blushing, when he sensed something in the bushes somewhere to his left. Or was there? He heard something rustle now, and stared intensely at the area... yes. A flash of blue-grey fur. The wolf had returned to the scene of the crime.
Banemon could smell the bird now. It filled him with both fear and hunger. He was slightly disappointed that it was injured; there would be no chase, and he loved it when he had a chase. But then again, a chase would be a risk, and he couldn't afford to risk anything. Much less his life. He knew somehow, in the way that wolves do, that he was going to be dead before the sun rose the next morning, but he'd be damned if it was at the hands of that bird.
He could see the hiding place now, and smell all four of the little group. All he had to do now was sit and wait for her to come out, and then it would be all over with. Not a very interesting way to spend the night, but it was necessary. There was a smell, though, a tempting one... fear. He could smell fear. The most exciting thing in the world for a hunter to smell.
It was the boy who was afraid. The one sitting outside, 'keeping watch' as they called it. He didn't look scared, just kept looking through the bushes; but then, what could you tell about a human by looking at him? And then the boy saw. He looked through the bushes and suddenly he was looking straight at Banemon.
The smell of fear grew stronger.
Some people think animals - or digimon - have no imagination. That wasn't the case with Banemon. He could imagine in exquisite detail the way that boy could run, clumsy with panic. He imagined the deep thrill of stalking, knowing that he could catch his mark at any moment, but letting him run all the same. He savoured the dream of that glorious moment when the power overcame his restraint and he would streak forth and crunch the boy in his jaws and under his feet, then raising all three muzzles to the sky and howling his victory for all the mountain to hear...
NO! Focus. The hunter must be focused. It was the bird that he must hunt tonight. Not the boy. The boy was irrelevant. No, more than that, he was a distraction, a deliberate distraction. (In fact, at that very moment, Yamato was trying to think of a way to draw Banemon away from Gabumon, Biyomon and Sora.) Killing the bird was the only way to survive. To hunt the boy would mean chasing him right into the gates of Hell, gates which he, the image of Cerberus, was born to protect.
Yet he knew that he was destined to pass through that gate tonight. His entire life he had guarded it, but he had also been drawn to it. Over the last few days, the Fates had grasped the scruff of his necks and positively dragged him to it. To kill the bird was to survive, but it was also to deny Fate, and Banemon knew that he could never, ever resist Fate.
He had wanted to go out with a bang, hadn't he? What better way for a hunter to die than in the hunt? It would be a bitter glory, for certain, but a glory none the less. Despite the doom that hung in the air, Banemon gave a shiver at the thought of what was to come.
This had to be played right. He looked straight at the boy with all three heads and smelt the fear rise another notch. Oh, this was almost too much! Then he turned and crept stealthily towards the hideaway. Had to play it right...
That was enough. The boy reacted with the same instinct that Banemon would have had their positions been reversed. If you can't eliminate the danger, then draw it away from the pack. Yamato broke and ran, hoping that he could run far enough. And even if Banemon had not resigned himself to the hands of Fate, he could not have resisted the call to hunt that drew him after that boy.
Biyomon heard the slightest of sounds outside and nudged Sora to awake her from her thoughts. The two of them then called to Yamato, asking what was happening. Quickly they roused Gabumon, though this was difficult as the light was fading and not much could get into their niche anyway. The three of them scrambled outside, squinting in the burnt-orange light of the setting sun, which obscured more than it revealed. No Yamato, and no sign of where he had been.
Until a howl rent the air, in stunning three-part harmony. The three of them raised their eyes to the slope above them and saw the last thing they had expected, or wanted, to see. By those last orange rays of daylight, they saw Yamato, alive but defenceless, and Banemon standing over him, howling like he would never howl again.
I was beginning to hate this fic, until I wrote that last chapter. It may have been a load of crap, but ye Gods, that was fun!