Author's Note: I know that many had to reread the story to find their way to the events in the latest chapters (myself included, don't worry) so I want to thank everyone for taking the time to do so – for old readers and newcomers.
I've missed Digimon, and its fandom.
Ken and Daisuke lingered within the store for a few minutes longer, largely due to Ken's reluctance to leave; Daisuke walked out twice before realizing that his friend wasn't behind him. The third time, he rapped on the window, glaring at the two of them through the glass. Miyako flushed.
"I think Daisuke's getting impatient," she said unnecessarily.
"I think so too," Ken said, blushing – although when he thought about it, he didn't understand why. She smiled, and they said their goodbyes, promising that there was always tomorrow. For what, though, he wasn't entirely sure. He felt like there was a plan, but he didn't know what it was. Tomorrow, though. He supposed they were all going to see each other tomorrow.
"The two of you," Daisuke said, wrinkling his nose in disgust as the door swung shut behind Ken. "Seriously."
"What about the two of us?"
Daisuke clicked his tongue impatiently. "She did the same thing. 'I don't know what you're talking about. You're a pain in the ass.' I'm the pain in the ass," Daisuke said, mimicking Miyako in a high pitched voice. He grumbled with irritation. "I don't even know why I bother."
"Well," Ken said cautiously, not wanting to spur Daisuke's temper further without even knowing what he supposedly did wrong. "What are you talking about?"
"You!" Daisuke exploded. "You and Miyako! And your… flirting… thing," Daisuke said. "Don't you think it's gone on long enough?"
"I don't – we – what are you talking about," Ken repeated lamely. Daisuke punched his arm, and Ken couldn't exactly blame him. He winced and rubbed his arm. Did he have to hit so hard though?
"You're gonna miss your chance if you don't speak up," Daisuke warned him. "She's all for old-fashioned manners. You don't ask her out, she'll never say a word to the contrary. She'll say everything under the sun except that she wants to date you."
"You'd know from experience, ne," Ken asked quietly. Daisuke let out a puff of breath, and Ken wondered if he'd stepped out of line – this 'best friend' thing was still weird, even after a few years. He'd never had one before. "Sorry, I—"
"No, you're right. That's exactly right," Daisuke said easily, lacing his hands behind his head again. "But you're way into her than I was. So you should definitely go for it and don't hold back."
"I…we'll see," Ken allowed hesitantly, his face burning bright red. "The timing just seems… bad."
Daisuke gave him an incredulous look. "The timing is bad?" Daisuke snorted. "Okay."
"Well, with Hikari-chan and Taichi-san," Ken said delicately.
"You heard Miyako before," Daisuke said. "We still need to live. We haven't died."
"No, but…" Ken frowned. "That's a bit harsh, isn't it?"
"Mrs. Yagami's – was a lot like Hikari," Daisuke said. His tone was so serious that Ken was a little bit alarmed. He was sure this time that he had crossed that invisible line. He was beginning to apologize when Daisuke cut over him saying, "She do—didn't like people going out of their way. She liked to help." He grinned, embarrassed. "She liked playing match maker too. With everybody. And she'd forget who she said you'd look cute with, and try pair you up with someone else – one of Hikari's friends that came over a lot, or something. Especially if you were visiting at the same time. She'd call it Destiny."
"You know," Ken said apologetically, "I didn't even think… You knew the Yagamis really well, didn't you?"
"Hikari and I've been friends since we were little. We were always in the same classes."
"You must miss them."
"They were nice," Daisuke said shortly, and Ken understood that he didn't want to talk about it any further. He'd prefer to talk about the living: Hikari and Taichi, and the others. And him. "Just…" Daisuke sighed and ran his hands through his hair. It had been sticking up in a methodical sort of chaos, but now it was all over the place. "Just think about it, 'kay?"
"Yeah," Ken said, nodding. "Okay."
"D'you wanna come over for dinner or something," Daisuke asked, more cheerful now. He didn't handle very serious conversations well; they never lasted very long with Daisuke, which was why he and Ken worked so well together. Ken thought too much. Sometimes he thought Daisuke didn't think enough.
"No, I promised my mother I'd be home tonight. I've been late to dinner every night this week," Ken said with an apologetic smile. Daisuke shrugged.
"No problem. This is where we split then, ne?"
"Yeah," Ken confirmed with a nod. They bumped fists in farewell – Ken found it weird, but Daisuke insisted it was 'cool', so he went along with it – and went their separate ways. Daisuke turned right. Ken kept walking straight, towards a bus stop. He usually took the train – it was faster – but today he wanted a few extra minutes to himself to close his eyes and think before being thrown into the familial scene.
Him and Miyako… He'd thought about it before, of course. He'd thought about it a lot. But at first, there had been the feeling of inferiority – she'd never want a guy like him – and the occupation with atoning for his actions as Kaiser. And then there had been school – they were all busier than ever now between school work and club activities – and she had work where he had soccer practice, and it never seemed to have time to fall into place properly.
He boarded the bus and paid his fare with the others who had been waiting at the stop, and then claimed a window seat to himself and rested his head against the pane as the bus rumbled off. He had a long time till his stop, so he allowed himself to close his eyes – not to fall asleep so much as to block out everyone else on the bus. There had been a couple who boarded with him, and they sat across the aisle, cuddled against one another and talking too quietly for anyone else to hear. The girl kept smiling and stifling her laughter. Ken closed his eyes again. They were just making things harder for him.
It wasn't like he didn't want to date Miyako. He wondered if she thought that. But he did. Does. Want to date her, he means. You know, go out to movies, to dinner, be one of those couples that walked around the city parks holding hands and giggling to themselves, in a world of their own. They could go to a world of their own; they still had the digital world, and their friends there. So what was stopping him? Were circumstances really getting in his way? Or was he just afraid?
Maybe he was being a coward.
The bus ride took longer than usual. He should have glanced at the time on his cell phone before he boarded. Maybe he should have gone to Daisuke's after all, killed some time, and taken the train like he usually did. But it was too late to worry about that now. When it became clear that the entire way would be marked by stop-and-start traffic (not including the stops made for other passengers as they went along), Ken pulled out his mp3 player and put in his headphones. He didn't know a lot of bands. Most of the songs he had were from bands that Daisuke, Yamato, and Miyako recommended – although he didn't tell her that he had removed the girlier songs before they even reached the chorus. But while he could escape the sappier proclamations, he could not escape the love songs.
He sighed, wishing he had a book with him to pass the time a little quicker. As it was, he had nearly fallen asleep by the time the bus entered his district, and he was still wiping sleep from his eyes with his knuckles as he slipped his mp3 player and headphones back into his pocket and stepped off the bus alone. It was a short walk from there to the apartment building where he lived with his parents, and he doesn't remember much of it; his mind was still on the short but very direct conversation he'd had with Daisuke… Or rather, Daisuke had been very direct, and he had been failingly evasive.
"Ken," his mother called from the kitchen as he shut the door behind him and slipped off his shoes, "is that you?"
"Yeah," he called back. He nudged his shoes to the side of the door and peered into the kitchen. "Sorry, am I late?"
"I was just starting to make dinner. Are you hungry? You can have a little snack while it's cooking," she offered, but he shook his head.
"I'm not that hungry," he assured her. "I can wait for dinner."
"Alright then, dear. Your father's watching TV, although I doubt you'll want to join him. It's one of those silly crime sitcoms." She wrinkled his nose. "As if the news isn't bad enough, we need to make murders and things entertainment?"
Ken smiled. "Okay. Thanks Mom."
"Mhm," she said absently. Her attention had already returned to her cooking. Her lips were pursed, thinking about the kinds of shows his father – and Ken, although he never admitted it to her – most enjoyed.
"Hey there Tiger," his father said as he came into the living room. He patted the cushion next to him. "Too old to spend a few minutes with your old man?"
Ken grinned and joined his father on the couch. He didn't know what show was on – it wasn't one he usually watched – but he stared at the screen for a few minutes to indulge his dad. He wasn't really seeing it, though. Something had occurred to him.
It had been a long time since he'd gone to visit Sam.
"Hey, um, Dad," he asked hesitantly. His father looked at him, an eyebrow raised inquisitively.
"I was just uh, wondering." Ken shifted uncomfortably. His brother was always a very sensitive subject with his parents. They never discussed him, not ever. They did sometimes after… after it had first happened, but when Ken didn't answer, they eventually stopped. He'd never brought him up, to his parents or anybody else. "Where's Sam again?"
His father frowned. Ken resisted the urge to squirm under his dad's stare. He looked… mostly confused, a lot concerned, and a little sad. Finally, he said, "You never wanted to visit Sam before. You used to throw tantrums when your mother suggested it."
Ken shrugged. He didn't have an explanation. He just wanted to visit his brother.
His father waited, but when it became clear Ken wasn't going to say anything, he sighed. "There's an old cemetery just outside town. You remember it?"
"Family plot's there," his father said gruffly. "It's not too hard to find. It's a small place." That went without saying. There was a reason 99 percent of Japanese were cremated, Ken thought. It was a small island. There wasn't room for caskets and large plots of land dedicated to the deceased.
Ken clapped his dad on the shoulder. "Thanks," he said.
"Are you going now," his father asked, sounding surprised. "You just got home."
"No. But final exams are coming up. I'm going to study until dinner's ready."
"We can have your mother bring your food to your room, if you need to study," his father said. The sadness was slowly fading away, although the concern didn't. Ken felt something strangely like relief; his grades were something tangible his parents could focus on, something that reminded them that he was still alive. As long as they had something in the future to think about, they didn't look weighed down by grief – even after all these years. Ken understood. The grief still shook him sometimes too. But it wasn't grief that drove him to visit Sam after so many years. He just wanted to talk to his brother again, the way he used to… before. When Sam still blew bubbles and played soccer with him, helped Ken with his homework, and smiled. Before.
"That's okay," Ken said, shaking his head. His mother always used to bring his food to his room. He rarely ate it. That had been when he was the Kaiser. He didn't welcome reminders of that time. "I'll come out and eat with you guys. I think I'm well-prepared. I'm just doing a little review."
"Study like you're in danger of failing," his father reminded him. "Too much confidence makes you suffer."
Ken smiled. "I know."
The next day, he took the bus out to the part of the district that his father had described to him. It wasn't a place that he went very often; he didn't usually need to leave Tokyo for very much, and when he did it was usually on the train, which was cheaper and faster for long-distance travel. But he needed time to collect himself.
It was his first time visiting his brother's grave since the burial.
The bus ride took far too long and was over far too quickly. He hesitated before getting up and making his way to the front before the bus driver decided to close the door and move along to the next stop. His knees were shaking and his breath felt caught in his throat, but it wasn't exactly like he was afraid. What was there to be afraid of? But he was anxious. It had been a long time since he'd forced himself to confront his brother's death. The closest he came was a photograph in a frame on his desk. But he'd spent so much of his life trying to replace his brother, and then trying to atone for trying to replace his brother.
He found the plot after a few minutes of wandering around. There was nobody else there, which suited him just fine. He'd spent much too much time on the television for a few years; people still approached him from time to time, and he had no desire to deal with that while he was visiting Sam.
"You never expected that, did you," Ken asked out loud. "Everyone was always looking at you."
He used to resent that. It had been the driving force in creating the Kaiser, in helping the dark spore foster. Now, he smiled ruefully as he stood in front of the family plot. It was a large obelisk with the names and dates of every Ichijouji family member buried there, along with some of their spouses. The area around it was fenced off with a short, one-rung black iron fence. There weren't many more spaces available. Sam's name was close to the end of the obelisk. There was a space above him for their parents, not yet gone, and below. Ken supposed that was for him. It was lucky his dad didn't have any brothers.
He knelt down before the obelisk. He reached out a hand to trace the outline of Sam's name with his fingertips, but he hesitated, as though an invisible barrier protected the obelisk from his touch. He lowered his hand to his lap again, breathing in deeply. He released it slowly, and then said quietly, "Hello Sam. It's been a while, ne? …I missed – I miss you."