I'll Stand By You
By: Lady Iapetus
"I heard she's a freak."
"I heard that she hurt her classmates in her old school, and pretended that she didn't remember doing it."
"Well I heard that her dad blew up his own school for the insurance money, even though she was inside at the time. His lab assistant got killed and he got hurt really bad too, but she didn't have a scratch on her!"
"Yeah. It was that old Mugen Academy over in Juuban."
Hotaru walked through the hallway of Tamachi Academy, pretending that she didn't hear the vicious whispers of her new classmates. She kept her head bent towards the ground, pretending that she couldn't see their suspicious stares.
And so that they couldn't see her tears.
It hadn't been much of a surprise to Hotaru when her father announced that they were moving. With Mugen Gakuen gone he needed a job, and not many schools in Juuban would hire him. But Tamachi High School had either not heard of the "Mugen Disaster," or chose to ignore it, because they accepted Souchi's application to teach there without hesitation.
The worst part of moving for Hotaru was leaving the Senshi. They were the only friends she had, and for a time Michiru, Setsuna and Haruka had been the only family she had. Leaving them behind, she felt as lonely and void as she had before meeting Chibiusa for the first time.
Unfortunately avoiding the faces of her fellow students also meant that Hotaru couldn't see where she was going very well, so she didn't see the foot until it was too late. With a cry of surprise Hotaru went sprawling, her books flying out of her arms in all directions. She knelt on the floor looking at her scattered texts, listening to the snickers of those that had witnessed her fall, feeling the tears welling up in her eyes, and broke.
Then, through her tears, Hotaru heard someone ask, "Are you all right?" She looked up and found herself looking into the most intense pair of blue eyes that she had ever seen.
The eyes belonged to a boy who was about one year older than she. He had dark blue hair cut to his chin and was dressed in the boy's Academy uniform. Hotaru recognized him immediately. It was Ichijouji Ken, the boy-genius whose face had been all over Tokyo up until a few months ago.
And right now he was looking down at her in what appeared to be genuine concern.
"I-I'm fine," Hotaru answered when Ken repeated his question. He crouched down beside her and began gathering up the textbooks that she had dropped.
"Here," Ken said gently, offering her a tissue. "Dry your eyes." By the time Hotaru had wiped away her tears Ken had collected her books, stood and was now offering her a hand up.
"Arigato, Ichijouji-san," Hotaru said once she was upright again.
Ken smiled. "Gomen nasai, uh..." His voice trailed off as he realized that he didn't know her name.
"Tomoe Hotaru," she supplied, grinning a little. Ken chuckled.
"Gomen nasai, Hotaru," he answered. "And it's all right if you call me Ken. All my friends do."
Hotaru looked into his eyes again, finding friendship and kindness instead of suspicion, fear or outright hatred. For the first time since she'd gotten to school that day, Hotaru felt her spirits lifting.
"All right...Ken," she said.
After that, Hotaru didn't expect to see Ken again. Even though they were in the same grade (Hotaru had been able to skip one), they weren't in any of the same classes. That was before lunchtime, however. At lunch Hotaru found herself sitting at a table, alone. The other students had made it clear that there was no room at their tables for her.
"Hi. Mind if I sit here?" a familiar voice asked. Hotaru looked up from her noodles and saw Ken standing there with his own tray of barely-identifiable food products.
"Uh, sure," Hotaru agreed, and he sat down across from her. The two of them ate in silence for a few minutes before Ken put his fork down.
"So how's your day been going?" the bluenette asked her.
Hotaru was tempted to lie, but couldn't bring herself to do so. "Not so great," she admitted. "It seems like just about everyone here has been avoiding me, and I don't blame them."
Ken shot her a puzzled look. "Why would they be avoiding you?"
"Because of the rumors that have been floating around, about my dad and my old school in Juuban," Hotaru answered. "They say that I hurt people and then would pretend not to remember it. But the truth was I really didn't remember! It was like I was possessed or something; like something inside of me was making me do these things to my friends. Everyone avoided me for it."
"Hotaru, if they said things like that I wouldn't call them your friends," Ken told her. Just then the bell rang, signifying the end of lunch. "Back to class," he said with a slight grimace. "You've got Mr. Noboyuki for History, right?" She nodded. "Well since you're new Noboyuki-san might let you off the hook with that test we've got coming up, but knowing him I doubt it. Tell you what, Hotaru. I've got something after school today, but how about you and I get together and study for that thing later this week?"
"Sure!" she accepted. Ken grinned, and jotted down something on a piece of paper.
"That's my phone number. Call me when you'll be able to come over," he said, handing it to her. Then he hurried into the crowd of students that were leaving the cafeteria. Hotaru looked down at the piece of paper in her hand and smiled.
Murphy's Law stipulates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, in the worst possible way in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. Apparently this applied to school computer labs. Some wise-ass upperclassman at Tamachi Academy had thought it a good idea to introduce a virus to the school's computer system, shutting down the whole works for the better part of the week. To make matters worse, Ken had accidentally introduced the virus to his own computer.
Which explained perfectly well why Ken was catching the bus to Odaiba so he could meet up with his fellow Digidestined.
"Well, someone looks happy," Daisuke commented as Ken came up to them with a smile on his face. "What's up, Ken? Why so cheerful?"
"What?" asked the former Kaizer. "A guy can't go around smiling without people asking a million questions about it?"
TK nodded. "Darn right. Now what's up?" When Ken replied that nothing was up, the Child of Hope folded his arms across his chest and answered, "Bull. C'mon Ichijouji, spill."
"I know," Kari spoke up. "You met a girl, didn't you?" At Ken's surprised look she laughed and said, "That's the exact same way Tai looked when he first hooked up with Jun. So who is she?"
Figuring that he wasn't going to win this battle Ken replied, "Her name's Tomoe Hotaru, and she's a new student at Tamachi. The other kids avoid her like the plague, but she's really a sweet and kind girl once you get to know her."
"Why do the other kids avoid her?" asked Miyako, brow furrowing. Ken said that it was mostly rumors that had followed Hotaru over from the schools she had attended while living in Juuban. He acted as if he didn't care one way or the other about what his classmates were saying, but the others could tell that it bothered him.
Daisuke, therefore, decided to change the subject. "So guys, what's on the agenda for today?"
"We're meeting up with the French and Mexican teams today," replied Kari. "They're going to be helping with the rebuilding of some place called…Little Italy.
Miyako added, with a sly glance at Iori, "Or as Rosa calls it, Italia Pequenita." The youngest Digidestined blushed. Once BelialMyotismon had been defeated that December night, the various Chosen Children had gone around introducing themselves. Rosa Chichos, one of the Mexican Chosen, had latched onto Ken the minute she saw him, but then six minutes later had spotted Iori and thought him a better catch, as he was closer in age. Ken was relieved, the others amused and Iori embarressed.
"Great," TK said. "Let's get going then. Ken, would you like to do the honors?"
Ken nodded. "Sure!" Aiming his D-3 at the computer monitor he called, "Digi-port, open!" The portal opened and sucked him in, then brought the rest of the younger six along for the ride.
"Mom, I'm home!" Ken called as he stepped into the apartment. The Digidestined had spent about three hours working in Little Italy, after which Ken had caught the last bus back to Tamachi.
"How was your day, Ken?" Mrs. Ichijouji asked as she kissed her son on the cheek. He told her of what he and his friends had done in the Digiworld while she fixed dinner and he set the table. "Oh before I forget, somebody called for you while you were gone."
Ken paused in his chore, glancing over his shoulder at his mother. "Really? Who was it?"
"Some girl, she said she goes to your school," answered his mother. "I can't remember her name right now. I think it started with an H… Hana… Hanako… Haruka… Haru-ku?"
"Hotaru?" Ken interrupted.
Mrs. Ichijouji nodded. "Yes, that was it! She mentioned something about studying for for an upcoming exam." She rattled on a bit about how nice it was that Ken was making some female friends, but her son paid her no attention. He was already scrambling for the telephone. He had picked it up when he realized that he didn't know what Hotaru's telephone number was.
"Mom?" he called. "Did she leave her phone number?" His mother rattled off a telephone number which he quickly dialed. It rang two or three times before someone finally picked up, and a male answered on the other end. "Um, hello," Ken said, his mouth suddenly made of cotton. "Is Hotaru at home?"
"Yes she is," the man replied. "May I ask who's calling please?"
"Ichijouji Ken. We met at school today, and I offered to help her study for a history test."
"Ah! You must be that nice boy she kept telling me about. I'm her father. Hang on a minute, and I'll get her."
On the other end Ken could faintly hear Mr. Tomoe calling for his daughter. Then there was a click like someone picked up on another phone and Hotaru saying, "Hello?"
"Hi Hotaru," Ken greeted her. "My mom said you called earlier."
"Yeah, I did," Hotaru replied. "Where were you at, anyway?"
The young genius was at a loss for an answer. "My…group thing ran over," he replied. Geez, that sounded so lame! "So, what days are you free to study this week?"
Hotaru twirled the phone cord in her fingers. "Doesn't really matter; I'm not involved in anything after school yet."
"I see," Ken replied. "Are you planning on joining any extra-curriculars?"
"Maybe," she hedged. "I've never really done well in physical activities. I tire kind of easily. What's the name of the club that you're in?"
Oh, crap. Think fast, Ichijouji."Um, it's not a club. I just get together with some friends from Odaiba and we hang out for a while. Hopefully sometime I'll be able to introduce you."
"That'd be nice," agreed Hotaru "but after this test is over. I can come over the day after tomorrow, if that's all right with you. My father and I are still unpacking."
"That works for me," Ken agreed. "I'll see you in school tomorrow, then. Save me a seat at lunch, okay?"
Hotaru was momentarily taken aback by the offer. "Uh- sure! Bye, Ken!" She hung up the phone just as her father entered her bedroom.
"New boyfriend?" Tomoe Souchi teased his daughter.
"Daa-ddy!" Hotaru exclaimed, blushing.
Souchi laughed as he walked over and sat next to her on the bed, ruffling her black hair. "You know I'm teasing you, Sweet Pea. I'm just glad you've been able to make a friend so quickly."
Hotaru smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, me too Daddy."
Later that night as Ken prepared himself for bed, Wormmon noticed that he seemed a bit preoccupied. "Ken, is something the matter?" he asked.
The bluenette's head snapped up at the sound of his Digimon's voice. "Huh? Oh, nothing Wormmon. I was just…thinking about someone."
Ken smiled. "Her name's Hotaru, and she's a new girl at school. I kinda helped her out today a little, and I think that we can become good friends."
"Like you are with the other Digidestined, or friends like you tried being with Miyako for a while?" asked the digi-caterpillar, referring to the month after BelialMyotismon's defeat where Ken and Miyako had tried going out. In the end they had mutually agreed to scaling back to just being friends, which worked out far better.
The bluenette turned and looked at his partner. "You know, I really don't know Wormmon," he said as he climbed into bed. Wormmon hopped up on the pillow beside him. As Ken closed his eyes Hotaru's face came to his mind.
I don't know,Ken repeated to himself but I hope I find out soon.