A/N: Hey, we're back! Wow, winter has just flown by! Believe me when I say I've been busy. (I'm sorreeee!) In fact, I should be writing a paper right now. But I've been working hard on this chapter, and even actually like it a little. ;) It's a rare day that I am happy with the way I portray a character like Koushirou, or with Taichi's dialogue. In fact, it's my favorite chapter yet, although it might not be yours.

Thank you for all your awesome reviews! I hope this chapter is worth how long I made you wait.


Chapter Four

Of Rights and Privileges

"If there's one thing on this planet you don't look like, it's a bunch of good luck walkin' around."
- Cormac McCarthy,
No Country for Old Men

07.30.2006

SUN

Their trek took them deeper into the digital forest, following the north-bound trail indicated by Miyako's D3. As the trees thickened, the sky above became dark with the gray bellies of clouds, and a harsh wind picked up. Miyako couldn't help shivering, though it was more than the wind that bothered her. Something about this wood tickled her memory.

Coming to a small clearing, it dawned on her why that sense of déjà vu was so strong. She came to a sudden halt, glancing cautiously from her D3 screen to the foreboding sky. Behind her, Hikari collided with Iori and both tumbled to the ground.

"Are you okay?" Iori asked, rolling off of her and rising to his knees.

"What's the matter, Miyako-san?" Hikari pushed herself up and made her way to Miyako's side.

Miyako continued to squint at the treetops. "I've been here before," she said. She took a few steps into the center of the clearing. "Yeah, I'm sure of it – Hawkmon's temple."

"Hawkmon's what?" Daisuke threw an incredulous look at her. "Look, we all love our partners, but no one's about to start a religion based on –"

"Shut up, Daisuke," Miyako said impatiently. When did that become my mantra? "I mean the temple where I first met Hawkmon – when he and Armadillomon came out of the Digi-Eggs of Love and Knowledge."

"Are you sure?" Hikari asked. She craned her head uneasily. "It doesn't look familiar to me."

"It's not that it looks familiar," Miyako mused. "More like a feeling. Like an itch in my mind."

Daisuke tilted his nose into the air. "That's your conscience telling you not to snap at me and to give me nice presents."

He was ignored. Everyone's attention turned to Iori, who fumbled with his own D3, then walked around surveying the area. "I guess," he said doubtfully, "it could be the same place. No reason why it couldn't be at least."

"But don't you feel it? Like… just know it?"

Iori shrugged. Miyako's spirits sank for a moment, but she squared her shoulders and turned resolutely in the direction indicated by her D3. "We'll only know for sure if we keep going."

Not ten minutes later, their mystery solved itself when Miyako abruptly stopped again, this time at the foot of a broad set of stairs climbing high up a stone mound to the entrance of the temple. She glanced at her D3. The blinking red light pulsed steadily on the screen, like a glowing metronome.

"You were right," Hikari said, following Miyako as she ascended the stairs.

Ken raised a questioning eyebrow at Daisuke. "So this is where you found Hawkmon and Armadillomon?"

Shrugging, Daisuke clambered after the girls, swiftly overtaking them with his long strides. "I don't know. I wasn't actually here because Veemon –"

He cut himself off, but it was already too late. Miyako continued to climb, but sneaked glance at Ken coming up several steps behind her. His face, as usual, was unreadable. She wondered just how much unearthing long buried memories of his time as Emperor affected him these days.

The temple itself seemed as if it were barely able to keep from collapsing into itself. Although the four-year-old memory was hazy, Miyako was certain the temple hadn't been in such disarray back then. Stark red paint peeled off the tall wood columns, the floor was unswept, and as she approached the altar which had once held Iori's and her own Digi-Eggs, she saw that it was deeply cracked, as if it had been struck by a metal rod.

The others mounted the last of the steps after her and collapsed in the front hall. Miyako staggered the last few steps to the altar and bent over it with her hands splayed on its dented surface. Why had her D3 led her back to this place?

The bizarre little light on her screen started pulsating frantically, accompanied by a shrill whine. The wind picked up without warning, tossing Miyako's hair across her face and stinging her eyes. She felt someone's hand on her elbow – Iori's – lowering her to the ground, out of the worst of the gale.

Within seconds the gust dispersed, though its mournful howl continued to ring in their ears. Miyako and Iori exchanged a glance. Slowly he withdrew his arm from around her and raised his eyes to the ceiling.

"Miyako-san, look!" he gasped. "Up in the rafters!"

She followed his gaze to a small red-brown bundle cowering in a corner of the dilapidated ceiling. "Hawkmon," she breathed, striding towards him. She never doubted for a moment that it was him. Her partner.

The others watched uncertainly as Miyako climbed over the altar and picked her way through the dust-strewn hall. Once she was directly beneath Hawkmon, she tilted her head back and looked up at him. With his beak tucked snugly under his wing, Hawkmon seemed to be dozing, perched completely still by a hole in the roof where the strong wind had ripped off the tiles. Reaching up with her torso stretched, Miyako was just able to flick his tail feathers with her fingertips.

One blue eye pried itself open and rolled toward her. But instead of joyfully launching himself at her as she had anticipated, Hawkmon's whole feather-covered body stiffened. Miyako stumbled a little trying to reach higher. "Hawkmon, it's me," she said, troubled. "Don't tell me you've forgotten me already."

That induced a response. Hawkmon shook himself, ruffling his feathers into a puffy ball, and teetered on the beam while stretching his wings. Then he streaked downward and hovered over her head for a moment before alighting carefully on her shoulder.

"Ridiculous," he huffed, and his crisp, prim voice had never been more welcome to her ears. He leaned in to nuzzle her cheek with the downy softness that traversed the region from his upper beak to the tip of his crown. "I could never be so foolhardy."

Happiness swelled in Miyako's chest. She ran her fingers through Hawkmon's feathers, slow strokes, just as she knew he liked. He made a contented noise and plucked at her lip, a gesture she had come to recognize as his version of a kiss.

"I don't mean to interrupt your touching reunion," Daisuke called out, "but we've got some questions that need answering some time before we're all old and arthritic."

Miyako rolled her eyes. She heard Daisuke let ouf an "oof!" and assumed someone had elbowed him on her behalf. Chuckling, she began to make her way back to the group. Hawkmon's additional weight threw her slightly off balance. She couldn't remember him ever roosting on her shoulder before. Maybe he was trying to get used to how much she'd grown over the years.

"Good to see you again, Hawkmon," Hikari said as they drew near.

Hawkmon dipped his head. "Hello, Hikari-san. How are you?"

"I would be better if I knew where Gatomon is."

"We've never had to walk so far to find you guys before," Iori added. The stern trenches in his brow reminded Miyako of his grandfather. Someone who didn't know him well might think he was annoyed, but Miyako could see the worry pooling in his eyes.

Hawkmon's reply surprised them all.

"They're with Gennai," he asserted. "As was I until recently. It was determined that someone needed to meet you when you came through the portal, as Gennai is trying to keep all Gates closed as much as possible. This temple is considered a safe haven, although for how much longer it shall remain so I couldn't say. I was hardly impressed with the hospitality during my stay here. At any rate, that meant Armadillomon and I were the only candidates to await you, and as flying is rather more efficient than Armadillomon's practical, but regrettably slow, penchant for burrowing –"

"Where is Gennai?" Hikari cried, at the same time that Ken asked, "Why would you need a 'safe haven'?"

"I cannot possibly tell you that," Hawkmon calmly, looking at Hikari. "You must understand. I cannot tell you for the same reason that it is necessary to have a safe haven."

"It's that dangerous if someone knows where you are?" Daisuke asked.

Hawkmon swiveled his head around and buried his beak in his feathers. Miyako wondered if he really felt the urge to clean himself right then and there, or if he just needed a reason to stop and collect himself before answering. His talons dug straight through her shirt.

"I have no desire to frighten you with vague allusions that give no concrete details," Hawkmon said, resurfacing.

Miyako's lips curved wryly. Teach that to Gennai, will you?

"You should be aware that there is a threat to us. But I wasn't sent here to explain anything, only to act as Gennai's messenger. Because of the risk of interception, he did not wish to write to you. He requested that I pass this message to you, and you in turn shall relay it to the other Chosen Children. His words are simple: Stick close together. Don't come to Digiworld if you can help it. Keep an eye on those with Dark Spores."

"The Dark Spores?" Ken's pitch jumped an octave. "But they're defunct! What do they have to do with anything?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know anything more." Hawkmon sounded perturbed at being challenged. He shook himself out again and held himself a little straighter. "I am supposed to send you back home, now, and then return myself to Gennai."

Ken's fingers threaded their way through his hair. Unable to keep her voice from trembling, Miyako said, "Wait – you mean he really doesn't want us coming here anymore?"

"But in his last email, he said we should meet soon," Hikari protested weakly. "He has to explain what's happening to my brother!"

Hawkmon's bird-like features softened, turning sympathetic eyes on Hikari, who had gone pale. "Please trust me," he said gently. "Gennai knows what he's doing. Wait for his instructions. He will contact you when the time is right. In the meantime –"

He broke off. The disheartened Chosen huddled together, bracing themselves against the wind as it picked up fiercely once again. Miyako's insides froze as the hollow shriek reverberated through the wood-and-stone temple, before dwindling away to a faint echo.

"In the meantime," Hawkmon began again, "do as he says. Stick together and watch out for trouble in your own world. As soon as it's safe enough, he'll call for you."

There was nothing they could do but nod and agree. They exited the temple and slowly descended the stairs, Hawkmon trailing at the rear. He flew in circles above them as they headed back the way they came, occasionally swooping down and brushing Miyako with his tail feathers before returning to the sky.

"What's he doing?" Daisuke asked as Hawkmon took off again.

"He's keeping a look-out," Miyako said. "Isn't it obvious?"

"Good. Even if he won't tell us what's going on, at least he's making use of that bird's eye view," Daisuke grumbled, stalking ahead.

She almost snapped at him for that, but caught herself. Pain and concern was written across each of her friends' faces. At least she had been able to reunite with her partner. She had that much to be grateful for.

At the portal, Hawkmon dove down to graze Miyako's face one last time. She blinked back tears, running her fingers down his spine and willing herself not to panic. In the end they always returned to their home worlds. This wasn't good-bye.

"I'm going to be sick," she choked out. "I don't want to leave you."

"It will be all right," her partner reassured her. "As long as you keep a cool head."

She managed to laugh at that.

Reluctant to go home, the others stood a respectful distance away, gathered around the portal, which was disguised in its usual form of a television. Miyako swallowed around the lump in her throat and gave Hawkmon a farewell pat.

"Say 'hi' to Gennai for me. However many of him there are."

Hawkmon, who hated pats, threw her a disgruntled look. "Take care, Miyako-san," he said, zipping around her and darting off.

She was stunned by the abruptness of his departure. But she didn't know how much longer she would have delayed there if he'd left it up to her. Until her legs fell asleep and she no longer felt like she hadn't yet seen enough of him.

Hikari touched her elbow as she joined her friends.

"Homeward bound?" Daisuke asked, D3 at the ready.

Miyako nodded wordlessly.


07.31.2006

MON

Takeru took his time climbing down the stairs, clutching to the rail until his knuckles turned white, and tested each step gingerly before shifting his weight. He could hear Nakata staggering along behind him, although he wouldn't risk a glance back when he would likely end up pitching forward. Three more of their mates, Kitamura Akashi, Sakamoto Shun, and Katou Kyouichi still hesitated at the top of the stairwell. Sakamoto was hunched over his knees.

"We shouldn't leave them there," Takeru said, more bravely than he felt. Just the thought of going anywhere but directly to bed was enough to make his stomach flip.

Nakata's reply was a derisive snort, accompanied by a groan. "You want to go back? Be my guest. But it'd be suicide."

"I won't die."

"No, but you definitely won't make it with your stomach intact."

Above them, someone – Sakamoto, probably – retched enormously on the floor. Takeru's hand flew to his mouth and, drawing on some untapped reserve of energy, bounded the last several steps in three strides. Once floor-level, Nakata's arms slid around his neck. He braced himself against the wall and half-dragged himself and Nakata to his dormitory.

Thankfully, the door was open. Takeru didn't feel up to scrounging for his key. He couldn't even remember where he'd stashed it.

"Your room mate's around?" Nakata asked, throwing himself on Takeru's bed.

Takeru took his trash can out from under his desk and brought it over to Nakata. "Dunno. Last I saw, he was still at Ogawa-senpai's…"

"But your door's open."

"I don't –" Takeru grimaced as the room resumed spinning. "Aah, stop making me think. I feel like I've been bashing my head into a wall all night."

"You lightweight," Nakata chuckled.

Takeru's only reply was to groan into his pillow. His face was warm from more than just the flush of alcohol. Of course he was a lightweight. This was his first time. Geez. Even Yamato didn't get flat out wasted until he was sixteen.

As it turned out, the definition of a scintillating weekend at Aomori covered not only investigating as many dorm parties as possible, but also extending them well into Monday. Alcohol was, of course, strictly forbidden, but none of the aides on duty seemed too interested in preventing the campers from indulging. Aomori was a university during the school term, and the aides were all students. And it wasn't as if the entire campus was caught up in drunken chaos. Takeru knew there were boys who chose to stay out of the whole thing, and also those who knew how to drink socially and gauge their limits. He hadn't considered joining in all weekend, until now, when his own circle of friends impulsively decided to give it a try –

Takeru didn't know what the criteria for drunkenness entailed, but he was sure he was pretty far gone. Strangely he couldn't remember having more than a couple of shots.

"What am I going to tell my mom?" His voice struck him as plaintive. Whiny. Like a kid.

Nakata made no answer, rolling over on his side and treating Takeru to a whiff of his putrid breath.

"How much did I drink?"

"More than I did."

"You just said I'm a lightweight!"

"'Cause drunk people believe anything," Nakata admitted with a crooked grin. "I don't believe you've never had a drink before. You had enough to flood Takeshita Street."

"I don't want to hear that from you," Takeru groused. "You're no better off than I am."

He kept hearing his friends' voices in his head. What in the world do you think you are doing. Even your brother doesn't get this bad. That's a heck of a first time.

Hikari-chan.

She just wouldn't find out. He could keep it a secret. If he had to tell someone, he'd talk to Yamato, who would keep his mouth shut in brotherly confidence (doing otherwise would make him a hypocrite, anyway). It amused him that, in spite of the gulf of differences between them which had widened in recent years, the one predilection he seemed to share with his brother was this. Because, sick as he felt now, he'd liked the buzz. He'd even liked being drunk, at first. Before that carefree sensation blew away, and lethargy set in. It had taken supreme effort just to force himself off the common room couch and limp to his own room.

"Takewooo."

Takeru batted at Nakata's hand, which was hovering close enough to make him cross-eyed. "Sh'up."

"You fell asleep," Nakata yawned. "For like twenty minutes."

"And you couldn't have just let me sleep, why?"

"First, 'cause I can't sleep, and second, 'cause your roommate's back and says I can't stay here."

"Listen, I'm tired of people who don't belong here barging in on me!" Takeru's roommate, Kakitani Yuichi, paced the room in an agitated huff. From day one, Yuichi had made it clear he was far more stringent than any of the aides, and even some of the staff. At curfew, lights were out. If Takeru so much as sneezed towards his side of the room, he'd disinfect the whole area. Takeru wouldn't be surprised if Yuichi reported his "low life" roommate for drinking alcohol, but right now that didn't seem to be what had Yuichi so uptight.

"Who else has barged in on you?" Takeru asked, propping himself up on his elbows. For a moment his vision clouded with splotches of darkness. He squeezed the bridge of his nose and waited for it to pass.

"One of your friends," Yuichi said moodily. "Some bottle-blond kid who said he knew you. Name was Sei-something. Seisuke, maybe."

"Seiki…?" Awareness slowly filtered back into Takeru's brain. "Hosoda Seiki-kun came by earlier?"

"Yeah. He stopped by and started rummaging around in here around ten-ish. At the time he said you told him it was okay."

"I didn't." Takeru and Nakata exchanged a wary glance. "Yuichi-kun, did… you ask him what he was doing?"

"Duh." Yuichi rolled his eyes. "He said he lent you his cell phone, and you forgot to return it. So he took it from your stuff."

"And you didn't stop him?" Takeru cried. "Yuichi-kun, how do you know he didn't take my cell phone?"

"It's none of my business, is it?" Yuichi said testily. He shifted his attention back to Nakata. "But to avoid all that again – Nakata-kun. Out."

"Touché." Nakata crawled off Takeru's bed, gathering what few things he'd brought with him. Grumbling, Yuichi stalked off to the bathroom.

Ignoring them both, Takeru shot for his duffel bag and wrenched it open. The zipper snapped off and clattered at his feet. His hands dove through the disorganized mess of laundry and books until his fingers found the bottom. He turned the duffel over and let its contents spill out.

"Takeru, what's up?" Nakata was watching him with a funny smirk.

"Didn't you hear what he said?" Takeru brushed his iPod and Hikari's present aside. "Hosoda-kun may have stolen my cell phone."

"Then stop calling him 'Hosoda-kun.' Call him a jerk. Call him an asshole."

"You're not helping." Takeru froze as something shiny caught his eye. There. "It's still here." But then, what did he take?

"Oh, you found it? Good. 'Cause you were really going ballistic there for a second. I thought you would start to cry over a damn phone."

What if it wasn't a phone? Takeru's heart rate quickened, and he stretched his duffel wide. What if it was the right shape, the right color – but wasn't a phone?

No no no.

"It's gone."

Nakata rolled his eyes. "No, it's not. You're holding it. But you're gonna break it if you don't let up."

"It's gone. He took it."

And Nakata still wore that tolerant, slightly exasperated grin. "What's gone?"

Takeru peeled his eyes from all his personal effects scattered across the floor – all but one.

"My digivice."


08.01.2006

TUES

Anniversary

The phone ringing shook Taichi out of his doze on the couch. He turned his head groggily away from the flickering light of the TV and groped for his cell on the coffee table. As he flipped it open, the ringing died and a message flashed across the screen:

1 Missed Call from Izumi Koushirou at 12:06 A.M.

He let a couple minutes pass, in case Koushirou was wasting time leaving him a voice-mail, in spite of knowing very well that Taichi only thought to check his mailbox when there was nothing, literally nothing, else to do. Then he phoned him back.

"I don't know if I should be concerned or amazed that you aren't completely glued to the computer at this time of night," he yawned, stretching out on the couch.

"This is an emergency," Koushirou said sternly. "Takeru-kun's lost his D3."

"He what?" Taichi bolted upright. He swiveled his head toward Hikari's room and lowered his voice. "How did he manage that?"

"It appears to have been stolen by a fellow camper, Hosoda Seiki, who has since disappeared from campus."

"Are you sure? He didn't just misplace it?"

"I don't know, Taichi-san." Koushirou sighed, sounding harassed. "But Takeru-kun's usually very responsible. And none of us have ever misplaced a Digivice before – not even for a few minutes."

Taichi had to concede that much. His own Digivice had become such a part of him that being without it felt like going out half-dressed.

"Who else have you called?" he asked, and eased himself off the couch to commence the hunt for his sneakers, which tended to show up in all sorts of unbelievable places. Like the bathtub, and even once, when he was much younger and had smaller feet, inside his father's shoes.

"You're the first, but we need to organize a search party of our own. Takeru-kun wanted to look, but I asked him to stay put. He probably won't be able to get past security, especially now that it's been increased during the search for Hosoda. With the help of our Digivices, we may have better luck finding him than the police. I was going to leave it up to you to decide who to call…"

"Get Yamato for certain. Let Sora sleep; she has to drive to the airport tomorrow. I guess I'll round up Daisuke and Hikari too. We can meet at the station and catch a late bus." Taichi frowned in thought. "… How's Takeru coping?" he asked quietly. Memories of an epic struggle between an angel and a demon pushed to the forefront of his thoughts.

"He's…" Koushirou paused uncertainly. "Taichi-san, I'm going to be honest about my observations, but understand that I don't know this for sure… he sounded like he might be drunk."

Drunk? Our Takeru? Taichi shook his head in disbelief and groaned. "Perfect. You stick a bunch of adolescent boys in a room together and of course it turns into Happy Hour."

"Are you speaking from experience, or will you be looking into retirement homes prematurely, Oyaji?"

"Okay, I hear you," Taichi chuckled. He spotted his shoes staring at him from the genkan – in the right place for once. "I'm just surprised at Takeru. Don't know if I can let him near my sister after this."

"Speaking of whom, he asked that we don't tell Hikari-san what's happened."

Taichi quirked an eyebrow. "He doesn't want to worry her," he guessed as he paused outside his sister's room, debating what to do. "Or he doesn't want her to see him drunk."

He hear Koushirou sigh again. "If that's the case, well, it's not exactly a noble notion, but I can see where he's coming from."

"Yeah," Taichi said, abashed. As quickly as it sparked, his annoyance seeped away. Why should he assume the worst about Takeru, whom he'd known for years, and who was already more mature than he himself had been at fourteen? "You're right. He's a good kid."

"Even good kids make mistakes."

"Hint-hint, nudge-nudge. I get it. I'm taking off the overprotective big brother gloves now. Geez, why do you have to be so smart?"

He could hear the smile in Koushirou's voice as he replied that it was just because he was an unbiased party. After scribbling a quick note for his parents, Taichi locked the door behind him and headed to Daisuke's apartment.

"So it's just gonna be us guys, then. We've got a drunk minor, a missing D3, and a thief we know nothing about –"

"That's not true, actually," Koushirou interrupted. "When I heard that name, Hosoda Seiki – it sounded familiar to me. So I looked through a bunch of old files until I found him. Hosoda Seiki, middle school third year, tall, hazel eyes, brown hair – although Takeru-kun tells me he's bleached it – blood type A, plays for Odaiba Jr. High boys' volleyball."

"… Volleyball? But he's at a basketball camp?"

"I thought that was suspicious too. He might have gone there for the sole sake of stalking Takeru-kun."

"Why would he –"

"The location of his record is also interesting. He's listed among the children who were rescued from Oikawa's van in late December, 2002.

"Taichi-san, Hosoda has a Dark Spore."


Taichi had forgotten how dark it got when the sun was on the wrong side of the Earth. Although nights in Odaiba were well-illuminated by streetlights, neon restaurant signs and the iridescent arch of the Rainbow Bridge, the parts of town he didn't know particularly well seemed skewed and disorienting.

Luckily, he had Ken, whose directional intuition earned him the role of human GPS. And Ken didn't even live in this town (although somehow he always managed to be wherever Daisuke was, like a satellite caught in orbit).

He hoped Sora at least was making good use of what night was actually for – sleeping. The intolerable heat sapped the strength right out of him, even though he'd been about as active as his cat today. Actually, even Miko worked harder than him, if it was true that a cat's heart beats well over 100 times per minute.

"Ten bucks says Sora's gonna be pissed I didn't call her," Taichi groaned as he and Daisuke flanked Ken towards the bus station.

"Think she'll be a tight-ass because you let her sleep?" Daisuke asked, glancing back. The back of his shirt was damp with sweat from the heat, relentless even at night.

"Nah… I dunno. I just think I should've called her, but oh well. Anyway, watch that you never call her 'tight-ass' to her face."

"Well, she didn't have to snap at me so much on the way to the campsite."

"You were kind of provoking her." Poking a well-aimed elbow into Daisuke's side, Taichi quickened his pace to match Ken's. Daisuke made an indignant noise and rushed to catch up so he could pout where people would notice him.

Taichi was impressed that Daisuke and Ken were up for a hunt when they'd been so exhausted from Sunday's hike through the Digital World (although, compared to other dive-ins, this one had been leisurely). But they'd slept through most of Monday, finally getting up at three p.m., and spent the rest playing video games. They didn't have any plans of going to bed before dawn today either.

Ken leaned to inspect the bus schedule. "This is the bus that will take us closest to Aomori, but it's still going to drop us off a good way downtown. Besides that, I doubt we'll even be allowed on campus to talk to Takeru-kun…"

"Don't worry, we have a plan," said a new voice, Koushirou's, as he appeared among them. Yamato came up beside him as if on a leash, sullen and brooding.

"We're going to split up," Koushirou went on once everyone had circled up. "Some of us will go to Aomori and try to track down Hosoda there. The others will head to Nerima."

"To Nerima?" Taichi echoed. "You mean to Shiroike Campgrounds? That's pretty far from Aomori – isn't Aomori in Shinagawa-ku?"

Koushirou nodded. "Yeah, we'll have to change buses. It's true that it would take Hosoda a while to get to Shiroike, if his intent is to go there. But Takeru-kun says his D3 could have been stolen any time since dinner, which ended at seven. His guess is that it was probably stolen around ten, when his roommate reports Hosoda coming by to pick up his borrowed 'cell phone.' Allowing room for sneaking off campus and finding a way into town, he's still got a few hours on us."

"But why Shiroike?" Taichi asked.

"I've got a theory," Koushirou said, a familiar gleam in his eye. Taichi knew that look far too well. Now Koushirou was about to embark on a lengthy explanation which would not only fly above Taichi's head, but turn somersaults in the air above him before zipping into the stratosphere.

"It's based primarily on conjecture, and a lot of little facts we've discovered only recently, but that's all the information we really have. Gennai's already informed us that things aren't going the way they're supposed to in Digiworld. The Gates have been behaving erratically, which counts in part for why Taichi-san started experiencing his… digitization… so out of the blue," he added with an apologetic note.

Taichi only gestured for him to go on, determined to be chill. Nothing else had happened since that one instance on Wednesday. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't disturbed, but there was no reason to let it shadow his summer break. Besides, Gennai had a propensity to exaggerate.

But then he noticed Daisuke wavering at his side, and shifting to look at him, saw him ball his fists and a muscle jerk in his jaw. His eyes were narrowed and the expression on his face, directed at Koushirou, was similar to how he looked when he was fired up for a soccer match against a particularly annoying opposing team. The brash look didn't do much for his features, but at the same time somehow suited him.

Was this in his defense? The thought almost made him laugh. Taichi considered himself on level with Daisuke most days, though a three year age gap still sometimes made a difference. But amusing as it was, he didn't need his kouhai to protect him from bad thoughts.

With a large pitcher's swing, he slung his arm around Daisuke's shoulder and used the other to thump his chest. "What else is there to it, Koushirou?" he asked, grinning broadly. "Maybe I'm just thick, but I still don't see why you want us to go to Shiroike as well."

"Well, I hadn't even thought of this until I realized Hosoda was one of the children who received a Dark Spore from Oikawa," Koushirou said after a thoughtful pause. "Even then I might not have put much weight on that without the news Daisuke-kun and the others brought from Hawkmon the other day. We were actually advised – or more accurately, instructed to keep a close watch on everyone who was implanted with a Spore. It struck me that this can't be coincidence. So I thought, what would Hosoda plan to do with a stolen D3?

"Remember how all those kids received D3s and Digimon partners? And after returning to our world, were unable to reenter Digiworld or communicate with their partners at all? Naturally, they would want to return to Digiworld no matter what. So I hypothesized that Hosoda intends to use Takeru-kun's D3 to open the Gate."

"Would that work?" Yamato asked. Everyone turned to look at him. He'd been so silent that Taichi had forgotten he was there.

"I would say no. The digivice acts not only as a key to Digiworld, but also fetters us to our partners. I couldn't use Taichi-san's digivice to evolve Tentomon any more than he could use mine for a Jogress evolution with Yamato-san. If that won't work, possibly it won't allow the wrong user access to Digiworld either."

A pensive frown tugged at Ken's lips. "It… could," he said. "My brother was able to use my digivice to enter Digiworld. But I was with him at the time, even if I wasn't holding it myself. I don't know if he ever tried to dive in when I wasn't there…"

"So there's at least a chance that Hosoda could be wandering Digiworld even now," Taichi said grimly.

"That sucks! He can't abuse our right to Digiworld like that!" Daisuke cried. "I'm gonna introduce him to my mean left hook as soon as I get a glimpse of his sorry mug."

"It's interesting that you use the word 'right', Daisuke-kun," Koushirou continued as if he were calmly discussing Newton's laws with his physics teacher. "Although by now we all feel entitled to visiting our friends in the Digital World, the fact of the matter is the world doesn't always allow us entrance, whether we have a model 1 digivice or a D3. Diving is more of a privilege than a right. Perhaps Hosoda doesn't have that privilege, and won't be allowed in."

"But you think he'll try, at least?" asked Yamato.

"Yes, and I think he'll make his attempt at Shiroike."

"Why?"

"Because that's the only place those kids know for sure has a permanent Gate. Oikawa brought them to the Wishing World through use of the Dark Spores, but couldn't open Digiworld from there – he needed a power source proportional to MaloMyotismon's. None of the Spore children entered Digiworld from Earth, with the exception of one."

Taichi's eyes widened. "The girl Oikawa left behind – Kawada Noriko!"

Koushirou nodded. "I spoke with Noriko-san on the phone after talking with Taichi-san. She is currently a second year at an all-girl's middle school. She's kept in touch with the other Spore children, it seems, and told me rather reluctantly that she had shared with them her experience entering Digiworld through the Gate at Shiroike camp four years ago."

"I see, so if Hosoda wanted to open a Gate, the place he'd think to go is Shiroike," Taichi said. "But – I don't get why he'd stalk Takeru to basketball camp just to steal his D3. Don't you have to sign up for those things weeks in advance? Do they even know each other?"

Koushirou shook his head, spreading his hands. "I don't know why he did it. This is the best theory I can offer, I'm sorry."

"No, it's a good theory," Taichi assured him hastily. "We can't expect to know everything. But you've given us a lot to go on."

"Shouldn't we get started?" Yamato said with a note of impatience. He brushed his bangs out of his face and looked at the digital clock mounted on the wall. "It's already almost one."

"Right, we need to split up."

"I'm going where Takeru is," Yamato declared.

"No, you're not," Koushirou said. At Yamato's look of rebellion, he elaborated: "Someone older has to go with Daisuke-kun and Ken-kun to Shiroike. Taichi-san can't, because he's not supposed to –"

"– be near any Digital Gates, I know," Taichi grumbled.

Daisuke crossed his arms, looking annoyed. "Taichi-senpai could come with us. We just wouldn't let him past the cabins."

"Are we talking about the same person? Do you really think Taichi-san would obediently stay out of the way if there's trouble?"

"I'm standing right here, you know."

"Fine, so Taichi and I go to Aomori, you go with the kids to Shiroike, what's the problem?" Yamato demanded.

"The problem is I have to go to Aomori," Koushirou said. "I'm small enough to pass for a junior high student." In fact, Daisuke, Ken and Takeru had all far exceeded him in height. "Aside from that, you're a rock star, Yamato-san. Even if you aren't making the Oricon chart, locally you're a well-known face. If you show up at Aomori, it will only cause a fuss, and possibly let on to Hosoda or any confederates he might have that we're coming after them."

"The fact that I'm Takeru's brother could get us inside quicker," Yamato countered tersely.

"Not unless you're his authorized guardian and have clearance to pick him up. They're not taking any chances."

Yamato swiveled on his heel and stalked towards the ticket machine. The others traded uneasy looks and followed him.

The first bus arrived promptly on the hour, driven by a balding middle-aged man who blinked at Taichi and Koushirou through smeared glasses as they boarded. Daisuke and Ken waved at them through the windows. Yamato continued to mope until the bus started to pull out. Then he rapped on the glass of Taichi's window and pressed his hand to the glass. Taichi grinned and pretended to swipe a high-five.

"We'll look after Takeru," he promised.

A half-moon smile tugged at Yamato's lips. The bus picked up speed down the sleepy street, and they lost sight of each other.


Sitting in the gymnasium with his arms curled around his legs, Takeru flipped his cell phone open and closed, open and closed. The air was thick with body heat and the din of rowdy, pajama-clad teenagers. He was a member of Group F, one of the two ninth grade clusters. Once news of Hosoda Seiki's disappearance reached the camp coordinator, all the campers were ushered into the gym and separated into their groups for a head count. They'd been there for two hours already while the school and grounds were searched. Every now and then a counselor came in, wearing a frustrated scowl that made Takeru's heart sink. Not long ago he'd heard them call the town police department.

His rear was sore from the hardwood floor and he had kinks in his knees and shoulders. Plus he had the headache to end all headaches. Which he knew was his own fault, but he still felt like grumbling.

Huddled nearby were his friends, Nakata and Kitamura and the rest. Katou was trying to sleep with his forehead pressed against the wall. Sakamoto sprawled haphazardly on the ground, faking heat stroke. Igarashi Makoto produced a deck of cards from nowhere and asked Takeru if he wanted to play.

He didn't want to do anything. He just wanted his D3 found.

The supervisor's assistant, Waku, raised his arm, calling all the group leaders to him. Takeru lifted his head and strained to catch their words. A few minutes later, Group F's leader hurried back and told the boys to stand up.

"We're going back to bed at last," he said, rolling his shoulders.

Everyone but Takeru let out a cheer. He watched miserably as Group G filed out before them and passed a security guard marking the front door. Lamp posts and dash lights bathed the campus grounds. Two coaches and the camp coordinator conversed with a pair of officers under an elm tree.

"I wonder if they'll find him," Nakata whispered in Takeru's ear. "What was the point in running away?"

Takeru nodded mutely. He forced a small smile as they separated in the dormitory hall. Yuichi beat him to their room and lunged at his bed. His eyes flickered around nervously as lights and voices from outside filtered through their first floor window.

Takeru knelt by his duffel bag. Maybe, just maybe… Turning it clean inside-out, he rummaged through his belongings for what had to be the hundredth time. There were his trading cards. The laces he'd broken on the first day. His notebook, his mp3 player and earpods.

But no D3.

Well, it wasn't like he had honestly expected to find it. With a sigh, he started replacing each item into the bag. Then he heard his cell phone vibrating against the surface of his desk.

He snatched it up. One message waited for him, a text from his brother:

On my way to the camp. Taichi and Koushirou coming to you.

Don't worry. We'll find it.

Niisan

Camp? Why were they heading to the… oh.

The vortex.

What else would Seiki want a D3 for?

He wobbled on the balls of his feet, caught in an internal debate. But his resolve was already set. Nobody, nobody but him could use that D3. It was the only link between him and Patamon. It was his responsibility to keep it safe – and he had failed. But he would get it back.

If Seiki could sneak off campus unnoticed, then so could he. Even if the campus was crawling with police. Takeru grabbed his wallet and tied his sneakers. Locking the door behind him, he crept down the hall as quietly as he could manage before coming to a side door.

He couldn't believe his luck. It was unguarded.

But the officer who was supposed to be stationed there had just stepped out of the bathroom. Thinking quietly, Takeru darted outside and flung himself into the shrubs which lined the entire residence hall. Oblivious, the officer halted at the entrance and stared down the hall.

Takeru pressed his body against the building and shimmied between it and the shrubs, for once grateful that he was so skinny. The muffled rustling noise he made as he crawled went unheard beneath the competing clamor of voices. At the other end of the building he would be right across the street from freedom. No one would take him for more than a pedestrian returning late from a bar.

"Hey, kid!"

Takeru froze mere inches from the road. An officer stood several feet behind him, whistle poised at his lips. "I don't know how you got out," he said as he approached, "but come back without giving me any trouble and there won't be any for you."

Takeru only took a second to decide. He split.

He made it to the opposite strip of sidewalk by the time the officer blew his whistle. The shrill sound sent a bolt of pain through his head, but his long legs took him quickly into the darkness. He was younger and more athletic; he could outrun them. His heart beat wildly at the thought that he was breaking the law. Or at least camp rules. Wow. His mother would ground him so long, he'd forget what his own face looked like.

Then again, since he'd readily carve out his liver in return for that one little device, he figured he could take whatever punishment was in store for him.


Chapter Notes:

1.] Takeshita Street: Popular shopping area in Harajuku, Shibuya.

2.] Oyaji: Rudish way to refer to your father. I've seen it equated to "my old man." I'm sure Koushirou would never use that term to describe his father, but since he's only teasing Taichi… ;)

3.] Shinagawa-ku: A ward in Tokyo in which I've located Aomori. I have no idea if buses run this late or if you can get to Shinagawa-ku by bus. In our make-believe Odaiba, though, we can.

4.] Kawada Noriko: The same Noriko Takeru and Iori stalked in season two – the girl with the face mask, and out of whose head Oikawa made a flower blossom, if that helps. Huzzah for the return of forgettable minor characters.

5.] Oricon chart: Oricon, Inc., which publishes statistics on the sales of music, etc. in their magazine and on their website.

Be kind to Takeru, and to Sora... we'll see a little more of them next chapter! (I thought I'd bring in Mimi in this one, but sadly she'll have to wait.) In the meantime, reviews are like like four-leaf clovers and if you pick them, you may receive the good luck of another chapter...