A/N: Welcome back! I'm into my last month in Japan – hard to believe! Time has flown by for me, but it's also rather limited my writing time. Today, being the first day I had nothing, NOTHING to do, except bike to a convenience store and spend a ridiculous amount of yen on sweets, I finally finished this chapter. It hasn't been edited, so certain nonessential details will probably change in the future.

I think I caused some confusion last chapter, with my reworking of Ken and Osamu's history. I have only finagled with the timeframe of Osamu's death. But it's still within parameters, just on the late side. Things will clear up as the story progresses, but for now, just know that Osamu still died when Ken was in elementary school.

As ever, thanks for your awesome reviews! You guys are phenomenal, not to mention patient. Thanks to your support, we broke 100 pages last chapter! As a reward, here is the longest chapter to date, and the first chapter to feature all of the Chosen! I hope you enjoy it, and please give me your thoughts!


Chapter Nine

In Which Taichi and Daisuke Do Something Stupider Than Before

"Are you sure it isn't time for a 'colorful metaphor'?"
- Spock, "The Voyage Home,"
Star Trek Original Series

08.11.2006

FRI

Jun was asleep on the sofa in her bra. Daisuke glanced at the TV; some grainy Chinese film she couldn't possibly have an interest in flickered on the screen. He shut it off and shuffled back to the kitchen with his bowl of ramen. The last thing he needed was for her to wake up and start roaring. ("You slurp like a chimp!" "Who gets up at four in the morning thinking, 'I'd like some ramen right about now'?")

Daisuke had two modes which were typical: On, which was during the daytime and when his energy peaked. And Off, at night, when he slept as heavy as an old sheep dog. It was very rare that he encountered fitful nights, like this one. But those were the breaks. For whatever reason, he couldn't sleep; he'd counted everything from imaginary sheep to the stars and planets on his boxers; he'd tossed around both under and over the covers; he'd tucked his ratty stuffed gorilla under his arm and tried to think sleepy thoughts. Nothing worked.

Oh well, he thought, sliding into a chair at the kitchen table. It's not like I've got anything to do in the morning, except sleep some more –

BANG.

Daisuke just managed to keep from tumbling out of his chair by latching his hands to the table. "The heck!?" The urgent banging at the front door persisted. He threw a glance back at his sister, who thankfully snored on, and snapped his goggles around his head. Whatever salesman or Girl Scout got it into their head to go soliciting at this hour was in for a nasty surprise.

"Whoz'it?" Reaching the door, he squinted through the eyehole.

"Me," came Taichi's voice. "I'm turning into Frosty the Snowman out here, let me in."

Surprised, but no longer annoyed, Daisuke swung the door open. Taichi waddled in quickly, stamping his feet on the wood floor, drops of rain clinging to his hair.

"Hey." Daisuke grinned at Taichi's back, following him inside. "Dude, you're soaked. Did you go outside in the typhoon?"

"Yeah… needed to take a walk. Clear my head."

Daisuke's brow knit, but he passed it off as a Taichi quirk. For all he knew, Taichi took long walks in severe rainstorms on a regular basis. "Oh. So where's your corn cob pipe and button nose?"

"What?" Taichi said, distracted. "Oh, yeah. It's an icebox out there." His eyes roved the apartment, searching (or just buying time?). Finally they fell on Daisuke. "Daisuke, I need you to do me a favor," Taichi said. "Look – I have to go."

"But you just got here. You mean to the john?"

"To Digiworld."

Daisuke laughed. "Haha! Good one. Because all the best clubbing is found in Primary Village." He clapped a hand on Taichi's shoulder, felt him shivering. "Want some ramen?" he asked hospitably.

"I have to," Taichi murmured, as Daisuke steered him toward the kitchen. "I can't do it anymore, y'know? All this waiting, it's driving me up the wall. So I've got to go myself. Fix it myself."

"… Uh-huh." Wrenching a kitchen chair out with his foot, Daisuke tried to persuade his senpai to sit down. "Sure, okay. You've got to go to Digiworld to fix things, got it. I've got some pliers somewhere, if you want 'em, and that sister of mine must have something useful among her weapons of torture."

"Daisuke –"

"You like kitsune ramen? It's my favorite. Actually it's all we've got right now. Here, you can finish my bowl, I'll start another."

"Daisuke!" Taichi shoved him back, ramen and all. "I don't want any of your stupid ramen! I'm serious! Serious," he repeated, but more softly as Daisuke blanched. "Do you get it?"

"What's there to get? You can't go to Digiworld. Remember? It's a big no-no for all of us now, not just you."

"I know." Taichi smirked. "But rules are meant to be broken, right? And this vanishing act is a pain, so I've decided just to take care of it. So would you mind opening the Gate for me?"

He looked so smug that Daisuke could almost believe this was a well-thought out decision. Almost.

"But – that's –" He paused and licked his lips, gathering his thoughts. He could hardly believe he was having this conversation – particularly him, who was neither mentally nor emotionally equipped to debate with Taichi. "That's, isn't that counterproductive? I mean, if you 'seriously' want to try to fix yourself, yourself – Koushirou said that being near Digital Gates, and especially going to Digiworld, would make you worse, didn't he?"

"Yeah, I have this theory, he and Gennai are in cahoots to make my life one fat blot of paranoia." Hooking his arms around the back of a chair, Taichi regarded Daisuke with a casual smirk. "Geez, I'm kidding. Lighten up."

Daisuke crossed his arms and pouted. The bowl of ramen sat unattended on the tabletop. "Kidding about Koushirou and Gennai, or about going to Digiworld?"

He waited resolutely as Taichi sobered. "I have to go," Taichi explained, again. "No matter what the consequences are. Just wait a sec – would you be able to stay here, doing nothing? To let your future be decided by people in another dimension who haven't even bothered to contact you, see how you're doing, keep you up-to-date?"
There was an edge of bitterness to his voice, subtle, but Daisuke couldn't help thinking it indicated something; he couldn't put his finger on what. "I just want some hands-on action. I need it." Taichi raised his eyes, which were red. "Please, Daisuke. I can't wait anymore."

Rational thought became very, very difficult right then, with Taichi's face wiped clean of smiles, a mix of rain and sweat glistening in the dip between his eyebrows. Daisuke swallowed hard, knowing he couldn't say no, and also that he had to. So he reverted to what he did best.

"This is a prank, isn't it?" He sniggered and gave Taichi's arm a pat. "I mean, it's four a.m. You're barely dressed. We've both got soccer practice in a few hours. You show up when it's barely morning, hoping to catch me sleeping in my crap-stained underwear, and after you snap a few incriminating pictures you're going to make me breakfast in bed. Yeah? 'Kay then, I want bacon and eggs, and I want them arranged like a smiley face with tomato slices for ears."

There was silence from his friend for a long moment. Then, in a low voice, Taichi answered, "It's not a joke. I mean it; you keep your underpants, and your ramen, I'm going to Digiworld. I just want you to open the Gate for me. That's all – then I'll be out of your hair," he finished, as if that were enough; as if that were all the reassurance Daisuke would need, to know that he didn't have to take responsibility for whatever happened after.

"But, Taichi-senpa–"

"Did you listen to what I said?" Taichi cut him off, angry now, his cheeks flushed. "I can't wait anymore. That's what's counterproductive! Lying around, waiting for someone in another dimension to take care of my problems – where's the logic in that? Come on, Daisuke." Once more he seemed to get himself under control, but now Daisuke was wary of the calm before the storm. "It's cute that you're worried, but I don't have time for your coddling. I've gone to Digiworld hundreds of times, what's one more?"

Daisuke hesitated. The last time he'd seen Taichi this wound up was – when the Emperor had enslaved Agumon. When he'd watched his senpai thoughtlessly throw himself into harm's way again and again.

He shut his eyes, desperately wracking his brain for the right thing to say. Were there words that could reach him through whatever fog had filled his brain? What would Koushirou do; would he talk him out of it, it's crazy, you've got a screw loose –

Or would he trust him?


"What else d'you think we'll need?" With his hands planted on his hips, Daisuke surveyed the items scattered across the kitchen table. "Flashlights with extra batteries, first aid kit, toilet paper – nice thought, that – change of clothes, rain poncho, bottled water –" He glanced over at Taichi, who continued to pace in a cloud of disquiet. "Hey, should we run to a convenience store and grab some beef jerky, or something?"

Taichi shrugged one shoulder. "Nah. If you want, you can throw in some cup ramen and a pot. But I'm pretty good at foraging for food in Digiworld."
"Okay, nix on the shopping. Let's see, there's my toothbrush and comb. What do you plan to do about those?"

"Borrow yours."

"Uh, not that you're not welcome to, but isn't sharing toothbrushes kind of creepy? I mean, not that I think you've got cooties, or anything."

"I'll do the same thing I did when I was a kid. We had one tube of toothpaste and one toothbrush for the lot of us which we found it the emergency aid kit Mimi'd brought along. Actually, Jou had his own toothbrush – he carried it around in his back pocket, and it lasted until he broke it when he was attacked by a Veggiemon. The rest of us put the paste on our fingers and went to town."

"Suit yourself. Finger toothbrushes, foraging rather than making the three-minute trip to the nearest convenience store – geez, I never knew you were such a man of the wilderness. Next you'll want to forego jeans for a loin cloth." Taichi managed to grin at him. "Okay then, anything else?"

"Kitchen sink?"

Daisuke chuckled, and Taichi stopped pacing long enough to inspect their supplies himself. "I think we're good," he said. "Anyway, I don't plan to stay there long. You don't even have to come at all."

Rolling his eyes, Daisuke started packing his duffel bag. "We've been over this, man, There's no way I'm letting you run around Digiworld unsupervised, even though that might be awfully funny, if only because of the dressing down I'd get from Sora-san and Koushirou."

"Let me do that," Taichi said, wrinkling his nose as Daisuke haphazardly tossed each item in the duffel bag. He started to reorganize its contents, starting with their clothes, which he folded neatly and arranged as a bed for the other supplies. His hands were glad for something to do. His patience was nearly run out; if he didn't get through the Digital Gate soon, his nerves would shatter. What he'd wanted was to go there right away, but Daisuke had insisted they couldn't just port in without preparing.

And he was right, of course. It spoke of just how distressed Taichi was that he hadn't thought of such essentials himself. He wasn't a natural planner, but years of practice had accustomed him to never make a serious decision without ironing out the details ahead of time. A skill Daisuke hadn't quite mastered– or so he'd thought, but it was obvious who was taking care of whom at the moment.

Packing calmed him a bit too. He'd been a wreck when Daisuke had first let him in, and though he thought Daisuke probably didn't know just how much, there was no way he could have gone without noticing.

His companion lolled against the table, watching with disinterest as Taichi tucked the flashlight and a few packages of ramen into the duffel. "And you're absolutely sure you don't want to call any of the others?" he asked cautiously.

He'd asked many times already. Taichi understood his reasoning; after all, there was safety in numbers, as what had happened to Takeru recently had proven. But, really, he didn't even want Daisuke along. Partly because this was his problem to sort out, and he knew it was dangerous and probably stupid idea too, so he didn't want to drag his friends into trouble. And partly because more people would mean concern, though well-meant, coming in from more corners than he could bear.

"I emailed Koushirou," he answered for the fifth time. "I left a note for Hikari. They won't be left in the dark, but no, I don't want them to join us. I'd rather be completely alone," he went on tersely, "but unfortunately, I can't open a portal by myself."

"Nope, sure can't." Daisuke's cheeky grin broadened and Taichi briefly considered the merits of knocking his teeth out. "Which means I get to come. Haha."

"Yeah, haha. Now let's get going. Might be nice to get there before the others figure out what we're doing and stop us."

"Stop you from going where?" said a voice, and both boys turned to find Jun staring at them through bleary eyes. Her hair was caught in a massive tangle. Taichi colored up and tried his hardest to look anywhere besides her chest, but if she felt at all uncomfortable to be caught in nothing but her bra and panda-print shorts, she gave no sign of it.

"None of your business." Daisuke stuck out his tongue, childishly, and Jun mimicked him.

"It's my business if I have to explain to Mom and Dad why the neighbors aren't complaining about the volume of your music for once."

"Tell them I've sworn off music in order to focus more fully on soccer," Daisuke said. "Better yet, tell them I'm at a cram school writing proofs for unsolvable math problems with all the whiz kids."

"Pfft. Even your alien abduction stories in elementary school were more believable than that."

"Say we went camping," Taichi suggested. Camping, the time-old, skin-saving excuse. It fit every detail they needed to cover. You packed lots of supplies, disappeared for a week or so, and when you came back you were too dirty and exhausted to deal with anxious parents' questions.

Jun locked eyes with him, scowling a little. She knew they were going to Digiworld – probably from the start, he thought. Her jaw jerked much like Daisuke's did on the rare occasions that he tried to think before he said something potentially insulting. "Then while you two are 'camping'," she said, "I hope you don't cause too much trouble. Like with bears or park rangers or poisonous mushrooms. I'm holding you responsible," she added, jabbing a finger at Taichi's chest. "You're older. And by default smarter."

"Hey," Daisuke grumbled.

Taichi gently pushed her hand aside. "I'll look after him. Really."

"I don't need looking after," Daisuke protested with a sulky grunt. "And stop staring at my sister's boobs. It's grossing me out."

"I'm - not!"

"Avoiding looking at them is grossing me out too!"

Jun's lips spread in a coy smirk. "What, they're just breasts. I don't care. Look all you want, just don't drool on the carpet like a dog."

"You have a nice rack," Taichi shot back, not quite sure what game they were playing, but damned if he was going to lose.

"Aren't they though?"

"Okay, okay, already." Throwing his hands up in a gesture of supreme disgust, Daisuke pushed Taichi towards his bedroom. "Ugh, you guys are sickening. I'm gonna puke ramen all over you."

"Hey," Jun called after them. "I can't help it. It's a novelty to have a man in the house who knows how to appreciate D-cups."

"Did you hear that?" Taichi sniggered as he was propelled into Daisuke's room. "She called me a man."

"She also called you a dog," Daisuke muttered, dropping the duffel unceremoniously in Taichi's lap. "I thought you wanted to get going right away."

Slinging the bag over his shoulder, Taichi nodded once. "I do. I was just distracted for a minute. What's got you all worked up?"

Daisuke shrugged. His hands fumbled in his pockets, eventually emerging with his D3. "Nothing. Ready?"

Frowning, Taichi searched his memory. "Is it what she said about you not knowing how to appreciate D-cups? 'Cause, you know, I haven't actually managed to date anyone for more than two weeks, and I'm almost eighteen. So you shouldn't feel bad about being single."

"I'm not pissed about that," Daisuke sighed. "She's my sister. I definitely don't want to care about her boobs."

"Glad to hear it. Ready to go? Aim for Sector B12-43." He'd already produced his own Digivice. The original model. Not as souped up as Daisuke's D3, but he personally liked it better, and it was efficient enough in its own right.

Nodding, Daisuke looked towards the glowing computer screen. "Digi-port, open!"


Digiworld
Sector B12-43, 05:12:56 AM

They landed in a heap on soft and springy grass. Taichi was the first to scramble to his feet and look around. They were in a forest of tall trees – somewhat like redwoods, he thought – and boulders covered in creeping moss and lichen. The damp, cool smell of wood after rain clung to the air like a gossamer curtain.

"It's cold," Daisuke commented, rising with his arms wrapped around his torso.

"Dig for your sweatshirt," Taichi replied, passing him the duffel. "We must be somewhere up high. I think I see fog."

Sure enough, as they trudged through the forest, a sheer, rocky cliff came into sight. Below it were rolling green hills, thickly shrouded in a milky haze, leading to a barely visible valley. Judging by the sun, it was early morning, and nothing but the noises of birds and insects came to greet them.

"So now what?" Daisuke asked, thrusting his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt and matching Taichi stride for stride.

"Now?" Taichi glanced at him briefly. "Now I've got to try to find Gennai."

"Okay, so where do we start? What's the plan?"

"There is no plan," Taichi sighed. "We have no clues."

Daisuke's mouth slid open, and he made a small disbelieving noise. "You don't even have a plan!?"

"You can go home if you don't like it," Taichi replied irritably. "In fact, that's what I wish you'd do."

"And I've already said I won't, so can it." Scowling darkly, Daisuke jabbed his elbow into Taichi's side. "Why are you being so mean?"

His frustration simmered down as fast as it had overcome him and was replaced with deep disappointment. "Sorry," he said, wondering if he sounded as exhausted as he felt. "I'm just… I…"

"I'm just a ninny loser! Go-yon!"

Taichi's head whipped around, and Daisuke's did the same. Peering up at a tall, leafy tree above him, he could just make out some of the branches bouncing and waving as something scrambled among them. "Who's there?" he called out, taking a cautious step forward.

"No one there but meeee! Go-yon! But you haven't any brains under all that hair, go-yon!"

"Listen, you little creep!" Daisuke's hands balled into fists. "If you're gonna insult us, at least do it where we can see you!"

"As you wish, uglies! As you desire, go-yon!" The branches buoyed once more, and something small and peach-colored hurled towards the forest floor. At the last moment, long-fingered hands popped out to grab hold of the lower branches, and the creature swung up on limber legs and greeted them with a huge, toothy grin. In body he looked like a small, chubby, pink monkey with a round bell attached to his swaying tail. Over his face, just above that Cheshire mouth, was the long-nosed, angry red mask of a tengu.

"I'm Gonmon! Go-yon!" The creature wound its tail around the branch, swinging over to stare at them upside-down. "It's so very nice to meet you uglies! I've been waiting; won't you tell me your names?"

At the words "I've been waiting," Taichi's senses snapped onto high alert. Already his fingers itched to grab the little creature around its twig-like neck. But things were never how they seemed in Digiworld; even someone like this could turn out to be an ally.

"Why have you been waiting for us?" he asked, one hand on his Digivice, remembering with a pang that Agumon wouldn't be able to rescue him.

"Oh, not for you. Not for you specific uglies. Any uglies would do, go-yon, you just happen to be the first, foolish uglies, and now I need your names, please."

"Fat chance, Pinocchio," Daisuke growled.

The monkey's head swiveled; beady eyes locked on Daisuke. To the two Chosen's astonishment, his grin somehow stretched farther. "Oh, very good! Oh, capital! I hadn't dared hope the first I'd meet was you, go-yon!"

And Gonmon launched himself from the safety of the tree, landing squarely on Daisuke's head.

"Hey!" Daisuke clawed furiously at the Digimon, whose hands were buried deep in tufts of his hair. "Get off! Ow!"

"You've got a monkey on your head," Taichi exclaimed, bewildered, and grappled for a hold on Gonmon's torso.

Gonmon whipped his tail out and smacked Taichi across the face. He staggered back, and in the split second it took him to reorient himself, Gonmon removed his tengu mask. And slapped it over Daisuke's eyes.

Almost immediately, Daisuke ceased struggling. His arms fell loose at his sides, and his shoulders drooped. Even his knees seemed to sag tiredly under the weight of the rest of his body.

Taichi made a mad dash for that mask. Whatever it was doing to Daisuke – he had to get it off. He wrapped a hand around the obtruding nose and pulled.

"I wouldn't, if I were you, go-yon!" Gonmon hopped about merrily, balanced on his hands. He made no move to stop him –

"Aaaugh!" At once, a searing pain shot through Taichi's palms, as if he'd grabbed onto a branding iron. He lost his grip, tumbling on his back, the skin on his hands blistering like fire. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to think about the pain, scrabbling onto his knees –

Then Daisuke's shadow fell over him, Gonmon perched on his head. With strength Taichi knew couldn't be fully his, he grabbed hold of Taichi's collar and lifted him off the ground. He drove his foot deep into Taichi's solar plexus, and the last thought that passed through Taichi's mind was I knew I never liked monkeys before the world went black.


Earth
Tokyo, Japan, 09:35:12 AM

Mimi lifted a shiny black-and-silver blouse to her chest and ran her fingers over the fine material. "What do you think?" she asked, modeling it in front of a full-length mirror. "It's nicely priced, really a good deal. But I hardly ever wear dark colors these days."

She watched the reflection of Sora give a half-hearted shake of her head. "Dunno, Mimi-chan. It would look great on you. But if you're not going to wear it, you should save your money."

This had been her standard answer to each of Mimi's appeals for an opinion over the last half hour. Mimi knew Sora had never been the shopper she was, but she wasn't without a sense of fashion. In fact, Sora dressed more tastefully than a lot of girls Mimi knew – which she guessed had a lot to do with her mother's strict and proper rearing, something Sora had balked at when she was ten but likely appreciated now.

"I think you should wear it." Mimi offered the garment to her friend as a peace-making gesture. Really, she was grateful to Sora for indulging her so much over the past week. It was just that she hadn't been to Harajuku in years, and now that she was finally old enough to wear the clothes she'd longed for, she found it hard not to completely lose herself in excitement.

Sora held up a dissenting hand. "I'll pass. It's pretty, but not really my style."

Pouting, Mimi replaced the blouse on the rack. "At this rate I'm never going to find anything worth buying."

"Mimi-chan." Sora sighed, dropping her arms. "We've been through twelve shops. Twelve. You've looked amazing in everything you've tried on –"

"Except that woolen disaster that made me look like a sheep –"

"– You just can't seem to settle on one thing. Which, actually, surprises me, since the Mimi-chan I remember bought everything that caught her fancy without a second thought. Are you trying to save money?" Sora peered at her, as if she could tell the state of Mimi's finances by her dimples.

Laughing, Mimi linked their arms, and together they strolled out into the packed morning streets of Harajuku. "Don't worry. As ever, I'm still quite the spoilt princess. I've just learned not to spend money so freely, that's all. It looks bad to other people. Besides," she added with a smirk, "my closet is running out of room."

Sora chuckled, and dropped her head into her hands. "I give up. Look, how about we take a break. I saw a Starbucks earlier. I could use a latte or something."

"Sounds good."

They started for a nearby crosswalk. As they waited for the Walk light to turn green, Sora's handbag began to vibrate. She dug around and pulled out her cell phone; just as she was flipping it open, Mimi's phone chimed from her pocket.

The girls exchanged a glance. Then, steeling themselves, they looked at their screens.

"'Taichi-san has bolted'," Sora read, and halted, sucking in her breath with a hiss.

"'Gone with Daisuke-kun to Digiworld. Left a note, but no indication as to his plan. Not responding to emails. Meeting at my house asap. Koushirou'," Mimi finished, and looked at Sora with her mouth open. "Oh my gosh."

Sora hissed something – possibly profane – under her breath, and picked up her pace as they crossed the street. Mimi hurried after her, chest constricting.

"I'm sure they're fine," she said. "No one knows Digiworld better than Taichi-san. And Daisuke-kun isn't lacking skills himself."

"If he's fine, I will kill him," Sora fumed. "He has no right to come out of this without significant bleeding, ego-bruising, and remorse."

Rolling her eyes, Mimi turned with her towards the subway station. "Ooh, feel the love."

But, like Sora, inside she was a knot of worry. Everything she'd heard since arriving in Japan – about the Spore Children, about Taichi's digitizing – came rushing back to her. Up until now, it hadn't seemed real – no monsters threatening her doorstep, no ominous red light blinking on her Digivice. Her friends were as they always were. Sora, kind and tolerant. Yamato, distant but loyal. Koushirou and Jou, too busy for many visits but always there for her as a kind of solid presence. And Taichi, goofy, fun-loving, teasing. Happy.

It pained her to admit, without Sora's explanation during the drive from Narita, she might never have guessed a single thing was wrong.


"'Hikari, in Digiworld, don't worry, stay here.' That's all he wrote." Hikari dropped her brother's hastily scribbled note in her lap. "That's all he felt his own sister deserved to know."

"He got a little wordier with me," Koushirou admitted. He drew Taichi's email up on the computer screen. "Listen: 'Koushirou – I know I should have told you, but it's been happening to me again. I can't sit around and wait anymore. I'm going to find Gennai. Don't worry the others, just keep a look-out for messages from me. I'm counting on you, Taichi.'"

"Oh, come on. Like we're going to wait around for him to find the time to email you." Taichi's little sister slung her arms over Koushirou's desk chair, twisting it slowly back and forth. Koushirou couldn't decide if she was close to tears, or if her relative calm could be trusted.

For lack of anything better to do while they waited for the rest of the Chosen to arrive, Koushirou opened his inbox again, scanned his new messages for a line from Taichi, Daisuke, even Gennai. "We certainly aren't. He should know better than to pull a stunt like this. I'm surprised at him – and at Daisuke-kun too."

"Why?" Hikari demanded. "Daisuke-kun has never been able to say 'no' to Oniichan."

"I know you're upset, but don't be so quick to cast blame," Koushirou said gently. "Taichi-san at least matches Daisuke-kun in stubbornness, if he doesn't exceed him. Most of us have a hard time coping with Taichi-san when he's got his heart set on something."

She quieted at that, knowing it was true, and Koushirou thought about the vast number of times he'd fallen in with Taichi's schemes even against his better judgment. Of course, Taichi had changed a lot during their first adventure in Digiworld, had learned not to jump into danger without thinking – which was a big part of why he'd kept his position of leader so long. He had a head for strategy, and could sometimes put together the puzzle even more quickly than Koushirou, because of how rarely he panicked.

But that was exactly what worried Koushirou now. The email Taichi had sent him, and particularly the note he'd left for Hikari, were not the words of their usual calculating, clear-headed leader. On the contrary, in both messages he sounded on the verge of a breakdown.

Koushirou's bedroom door clicked open, and Ken strode in carrying a backpack. He looked at Koushirou grimly and gave him a nod. "Thanks for waiting," he said, sounding truly grateful. It was, after all, his best friend who was caught up in this mess.

"Not a problem. Actually, we're still waiting on Sora-san and Mimi-san," Koushirou replied. "They're coming from Harajuku, so for once there's someone traveling from farther away than you."

Ken dropped his bag on the floor. Jou and Yamato, seated on Koushirou's bed, moved over to make room for him to sit down. Miyako and Iori were crouched in a corner, speaking in low voices – to Koushirou's ears, it sounded like Miyako was panicking a bit herself, and Iori was carefully trying to keep her calm.

He glanced back at Hikari. She'd pulled her cell phone out and was typing a text – probably to Takeru, since they hadn't heard back from him. That had to be tough – her brother missing, and her best friend not around to comfort her.

Hesitantly, he laid a hand on her shoulder, gave it a squeeze. She looked at him, surprised, and he felt a hot blush cover his cheeks. But she smiled gratefully, and he relaxed. Human interactions had never been his strong point, but once in a while, he did the right thing. And those occasions were… very pleasant.

The door swung open again minutes after Ken had settled in, admitting Sora and Mimi – neither of whom were dressed for a rescue mission, Koushirou thought, noticing their bare feet which could only mean they'd come in sandals. Both girls' toes showed signs of a recent pedicure.

"Ugh, I'm so glad we made it," Mimi groaned, leaning against the wall and redoing her ponytail.

"Was the Yurikamome crowded?" Koushirou inquired.

"Like you wouldn't believe. Although it was the train from Harajuku that was the worst bit. We couldn't find a single free seat on either."

"Any word from them?" Sora asked, making her way to Koushirou's side. Her hands went right for Hikari's shoulders, massaging them gently.

"Negative," Koushirou sighed. "I've sent many emails, but no luck. I don't know if I should hope they're ignoring me deliberately, since the alternative is they can't reply."

"I doubt Taichi would willfully ignore us." Jou paused in reviewing their stock of supplies. "He's many things, but not irresponsible."

"The fact that he even tried a move like this might contradict that," Yamato said.

"I seem to remember the last time one of us decided to set off on their own, it was you," Koushirou said.

Yamato arched his brow, tilted his head coolly. "And have I ever said it wasn't a bad decision?"

"Actually, the last person was me," Jou put in sheepishly, as he readjusted his glasses. "And I don't think it was a bad decision. I needed to pull myself together, and to do that I needed space. I'm sure Yamato was the same, and maybe even Taichi."

"But Taichi did bring Daisuke-kun with him."

"Daisuke-kun may not have given him a choice."

Hikari made a noise like a snort at that. "What were you saying earlier, Koushirou-san, about Oniichan being more stubborn than Daisuke-kun?"

"So what's the plan?" Sora asked, drawing them back on topic. "We're going after them, right?"

Koushirou nodded, and started to answer, but Yamato cut in before he opened his mouth: "Are we sure that's the wisest step right now? We're not supposed to go there, and the whole lot of us diving in might just make things worse."

Yamato was sitting on the edge of Koushirou's bed, reclining back on his arms with his legs stretched out in front of him. His hair was impeccably styled; he'd penciled in his eyebrows. He'd been on his way to Yoyogi Park to hold an impromptu concert with his band when he'd received Koushirou's message. And although he'd immediately rushed to meet the other Chosen, it was clear to everyone in the room that he wasn't thrilled about it.

Not, Koushirou reasoned, that any of them were.

"Basically, we've got two bad choices in front of us," Koushirou started to explain. "Like Yamato-san said, we aren't supposed to go to Digiworld right now. Our presence could possibly exacerbate the situation further. On the other hand, leaving Taichi-san and Koushirou-kun to their own devices seems too cruel. We can't be sure their silence isn't because they're injured or lost."

"We have to go," Sora gasped, staring at the others as if she couldn't believe there was any need for discussion. "Taichi's not okay. If he's being digitized again – we can't just expect –"

"He's a big boy. And he's got Daisuke with him. We don't even know where to start looking for them, geez. All you want to do is exactly what they did – leap in without any directions, without a plan –"

"Fine, Yamato, then stay here," Sora snapped, whirling on him with claws bared. "Go to your rehearsal. Play with your groupies. Have a great time. We'll let you know if anyone gets hurt, or dies, God forbid –"

"Sora-san!" Mimi shrilled, alarm written across her pretty features.

Yamato's eyes glinted dangerously. "Thanks for that, Sora. It's nice to know you think I'm just human enough to care if anything happens to my best friend."

Scared that the scene playing out before him could only end in disaster, Koushirou wished, not for the first time, that he were more assertive. Or had the kind of no-nonsense reputation that inspired some degree of respect. He knew that Sora hadn't meant to lash out at Yamato; she was upset, like they all were. Maybe more so, because Taichi was her oldest friend, and she had a tended to stress over her loved ones' welfare. And the tension between her and Yamato had thickened as of late, to the point that they could rarely be in a room together without one or the other leaving in an injured huff. Yamato, for his part, had always been more sensitive than most, particularly when it came to Sora.

"You have a funny way of showing it." Sora folded her arms across her chest. Mimi had come up next to her and was hovering just out of harm's way.

"If I recall correctly, I was part of the team that rescued Takeru's D3 last week. You were nowhere to be found," Yamato countered, rising from the bed. Surprised, Jou stood too, looking harassed.

"That's because no one called me!" Sora cried. "Which is another thing I've been meaning to mention –"

"What, that you can't stand letting go of an iota of control for even a second?" Yamato sneered.

"I meant the lack of trust among us lately!" Sora thundered back. "You know, Yamato, I'm beginning to think it's not me you have a problem with, you just hate people!"

This had to stop. "That's –" Koushirou stammered, as soon as he could break in, frustrated beyond words with both of them.

But before he could go on, before either party realized he'd even spoken, Ken stepped between them. He was tall, already taller than either of them, and he gently covered Sora's hands with his own, and placed his other just below Yamato's shoulder.

"While I appreciate that the dilemma before us is a hard one," he said quietly, "I know I don't need to remind you that Daisuke is there, in that world, possibly hurt, possibly unable to contact us. And your incessant arguing is preventing me from going to him. So I suggest you shut up, and start acting your age. Because if you persist, I'm going to knock you both down and go on my own."

Yamato and Sora gaped at him, suddenly speechless. Then Hikari stood up and placed herself beside Ken. "That goes for me too," she said with such grave resolve that the older pair blushed simultaneously, and immediately lost their fighting spirit. Sora, shame-faced, turned towards Koushirou's computer screen, although she didn't appear to really see it. Yamato crossed his arms, holding himself stiffly, like a wounded cat.

Ken now fixed his attention on Koushirou. "I think we should port in with our supplies, and make a systematic search of as many known territories as we can. By the time we finish, we'll probably have learned something. It's likely enough Taichi-san picked an area he knew, anyway."

"That's a good point," Koushirou said slowly. "In fact, since he did say he wanted to find Gennai, it's a safe bet he picked Sector B12-43 for a starting point."

"Why?" Miyako asked dimly from her corner.

"Because, when we were kids, that's where Gennai lived."

Miyako gaped. "Whoa! You mean Gennai has a house? I thought he spent all his time floating around the clouds with the Sovereigns."

"Things in Digiworld changed a lot from the time of our adventure to the time you guys were Chosen," Jou replied. "I'm sure they've changed even more by now – but Koushirou is right, B12-43 is as good a guess as any."

"Then let's go," Sora said, anxious but determined. She picked up her bag.

"Wait, Sora-san, do you and Mimi-san have the right kind of shoes?" Koushirou asked.

Sora and Mimi looked at each other and chuckled. Unzipping her bag, Sora showed him two pairs of brand new hiking shoes. "Really new. Really expensive. Half the reason we were late," she explained.

"But they're water-resistant, so they're worth it," Mimi added brightly.

Shaking his head, Koushirou waved them off. "Alright, in that case –" he started to say, when, astonishing them all, Gennai suddenly appeared on his computer.

Or rather, a pixelated caricature of Gennai walked to the center of his screen and waved. The others flew to collect around Koushirou's chair, each shocked and slack-jawed.

"Hello, children," Gennai said gravely. "How are you? You seem all in a tizzy."

"Tizzy" is a bit of an understatement, Koushirou thought, his head spinning. "Hi, Gennai. Nice to see you."

"I wish I could say the same." The old man sighed, and dropped his shoulders. "To be honest, I was hoping not to hear from you for quite a long time. But circumstances being what they are… I must insist you all come to Digiworld right away. I am sending you new coordinates, Koushirou. Please come quickly."

And just as abruptly as he'd appeared, Gennai popped out.

For a moment, the group stood in silence as each tried to work through his or her muddled thoughts. Unsure how he should react, Koushirou scanned the faces of his friends, and found most of them looking right back at him. He glanced between Sora and Yamato. Together, as if they'd agreed on it the whole time, they gave him a nod.

"Let's go," Koushirou said, pushing back in his chair.

Everyone scrambled for their packs. Sora and Mimi dropped to the floor, lacing up their new shoes. Jou made one last hurried check of their supplies. Ken pulled Hikari, Miyako, and Iori into a tight knot, striking up a rapid but hushed conversation. Then Takeru burst wildly through the door.

"Thank God, you're still here." He leaned against the wall, panting. His shirt was sweat-soaked, his hair bending every which way. "I didn't know what I'd do if I missed you. Try to catch up, I guess, but –"

"Takeru-kun!" Hikari exclaimed, tripping over Sora's bag and throwing her arms around him. "You made it! Your mom let you out?"

His lips twitched into a wry grin. "She did, once I told her I had to go 'camping.'"

Hefting his backpack over his shoulder, Yamato turned to Takeru with a knowing look. "Couldn't fool her, huh."

"At this point," his brother sighed, "whenever I'm out of her sight, she thinks I'm in Digiworld."

Finally they were all together – going to Digiworld together, for the first time in years. Once they met up with Taichi and Daisuke, the circle would be complete.

Koushirou couldn't help smiling at the thought. Just a little.


Digiworld
Sector B12-43, 13:03:41

Something sticky covered his eyes. Not sticky like honey – this was thinner, somewhere between sticky and slimy. Nattou-sticky, as if someone had thrust his face into a full bowl. Wherever he was, it smelled like nattou too. Eugh.

Daisuke tried to pry his eyes open, to no avail. His body felt heavy as a lump of iron, which was, to say the least, rather frightening. He couldn't tell if he was standing or lying down. In fact, it took him a few minutes before he realized his legs were moving.

He willed them to stop. They were his legs, dammit. They should listen. But they meandered on independently, and Daisuke wondered, only half-joking, if maybe he was dead. Perhaps his disembodied legs were leading him to the River Styx. He hoped not. He had yet to make his mark on Sanou High's soccer team, like he'd been dreaming. On the other hand, if he was going to die, he wouldn't mind it happening before the school entrance exam, since it would suck to spend all that time stressing and studying and then never get the chance to join the team.

What am I thinking. I'm not dead. That's bull. I am just very sticky. For all I know, this is just another awkward stage of puberty no one likes to talk about. Yeah, that's it. I bet I've morphed into a giant pimple. Motomiya Daisuke, the Giant Pimple. That can be my stage name. Ken can sell tickets and we can go on tour together and have all the babes money can buy.

Besides, there was no way death could smell this gross.

Suddenly, his legs came to a halt in their automatic trek. Once again, he tried to wrench his eyes open, but to his horror, found his body growing heavier still, like there was a weight hanging from his neck. He dropped to his knees, but forced himself to keep from collapsing completely. It took all his concentration just to keep himself upright, but he wasn't about to relinquish what tenuous control he still had over his own body.

Then he heard something creak. Wood floor. Shuffling footsteps – and a smell even more putrid. Daisuke wrinkled his nose, trying not to gag.

"What's this you've brought, Gonmon? My, my, what's this?" croaked a voice, rough and brittle, as if someone were trampling autumn leaves.

"It's an ugly, one of the uglies, go-yon!" Gonmon, who Daisuke hadn't even realized had been sitting on his shoulder all this time, leapt off him and cackled wickedly. "You told me to find the uglies and bring them, go-yon. Particularly the one with the silly goggles. I found them, what luck! I found the one with the goggles, go-yon."

"So you did. Good work." Suddenly clammy hands groped at his arms, the hem of his shirt. Lifting his shirt over his head. "Curses, Gonmon, remove your ridiculous mask."

"I doubt that would be wise, go-yon," Gonmon said nervously. "The uglies are a feisty bunch."

"I am Wisdom, Gonmon. Or have you forgotten? Now remove the mask, or I'll snap off that nose myself."

Daisuke grimaced as the – mask – he'd apparently been wearing began to peel off his face, and slowly the world brightened. His skin still felt gross, and his eyes were a little swollen, but he was relieved to be able to see again. He blinked slowly, adjusting to the light.

Then it hit him, as his view was once again obscured, that someone was trying to pull his shirt over his head, and he was doing nothing to stop them.

"Hey! Cut it out!" He batted at coarse, twig-like hands, and scrambled backwards. "Dude, going around peeking under people's shirts is so not cool!"

But if he'd expected a fight, he was disappointed. Gonmon he could see standing on his head, wearing his mask and a confused little frown. The other had disappeared from Daisuke's view.

Then a staff came down on Gonmon's head.

"Owwwww!" sobbed the little Digimon. "It hurts, go-yon! My poor head, go-yon, is cracked like a coconut!"

"You nincompoop!" shrieked the wobbling voice. "This is the wrong one! I can't do a thing with this one!"

Amid Gonmon's howls and the other Digimon's banshee-like recriminations, Daisuke saw his chance. Crawling across the floor, he made for a dark archway through which he could hear the wind. But just as he was nearing it, something landed hard on his back and his head hit the floor.

"Oof."

"Not so fast! Not so fast! I haven't finished with you yet!" Daisuke strained to see above him until stars burst in front of his eyes. What he could make out was a plump, wrinkled brown head half-hidden by a mountain of gray hair. Huge, uneven frog eyes peered through the Digimon's stringy fringe. In her hand was the staff that had been the cause of poor Gonmon's troubles, which she now lowered to Daisuke's forehead.

"Let's see what we might find, shall we? Gonmon, restrain his legs."

With surprising strength, Gonmon wrapped Daisuke's legs in a vise-like grip. With the rest of his limbs, he pinned Daisuke's arms behind his back.

Daisuke spat at the floor. "When I get up, I'm gonna shove that stick in your goofy face," he snarled.

The plump Digimon put her face close to his. The stench quickly became unbearable. "Be quiet, ugly," she said, rattling her staff. "It will all be over with in a moment."

In front of Daisuke's nose, the staff was enveloped by a fluorescent purple glow. The Digimon began chanting – or gargling, Daisuke couldn't quite tell which. He began to think he should worry when his D3 started to hum in response.

The humming grew along with the light, until Daisuke had to clamp his eyes shut to protect them. The Digimon lifted the staff, and brought it down hard on the floor. It burst into a cloud of lavender smoke.

Daisuke coughed as the smell of lilacs funneled up his nostrils. He could hear Gonmon and his mistress hacking away beside him, and wondered, Was that supposed to happen?

Apparently not. "You fool!" the Digimon shouted, once at Gonmon. Now that she'd exploded her staff, she had to resort to strangling him with her shriveled hands. Gonmon hung limp in her grasp, like a rag doll, the lower, unmasked part of his face turning slightly blue.

Daisuke staggered to his feet, coughing puffs of purple dust. "Alright, I'm officially annoyed," he said. He plucked Gonmon from the fat Digimon's hands and held him by the scruff of his neck. "I think you'd better tell me what's going on, before I get it into my head to stomp on you both."

The two Digimon stared at each other, bewildered. Daisuke straightened his back. He'd already sized up the situation, and decided this pair was on level with the likes of Gazimon or RedVeggiemon – bad, but stupid, and mostly full of hot air. Possibly they were hiding the strength of Arukenimon and Mummymon, but even then he wouldn't worry much. Back in the day, those two had proven decent opponents, but the Chosen had evolved so much since that if Imperialdramon so much as sneezed in their direction, those two clowns would have high-tailed it to another dimension.

Gonmon's tail curl into a spring, then popped out at Daisuke's head. Daisuke caught it and glared. "Quit it already. I want answers. Who the heck are you?"

Seething, Gonmon made a screeching noise that was more monkey-like than anything he'd done so far. Hearing him, the other Digimon held up a hand. She drew herself up to her full heat – maybe two feet tall, three feet wide – and smacked her thick lips.

"I am Babamon," she said. "I suggest you release my subordinate. He gets very cranky when others touch his tail."

Daisuke frowned. "If I do that, how do I know he won't stick that freaky mask on me again?"

"There would be no point, go-yon," said Gonmon impatiently. "Babamon has already determined you are the wrong ugly. She can do nothing with you, go-yon. You are free to go."

"And exactly what were you planning to do to me if I turned out to be the right 'ugly'?"

"Nothing harmful," Babamon answered. "Nothing cruel. Only I needed your fractal code. But yours is too well protected, so I will not detain you. You may go."

Unsure how to respond to this unexpected cordiality, and suspecting a trick, Daisuke kept his hold on Gonmon. "Why do you need my fractal code?" he asked, making an effort to sound like he had some idea of what that was.

A sound emitted from Babamon, a great belly laugh that shook the floor and sent chills down Daisuke's spine.

"To become beautiful," she said, batting her eyes at Daisuke, who stepped back, unnerved. Her wrinkled arms rose slowly to smooth some stray locks of hair. As she approached him wearing that same distorted maiden's smile, Gonmon escaped and bounded to her side. Once again he let out that ear-splitting monkey shriek.

"What now, you little plague?" Babamon snapped, her girlish visage fading as she reverted to the grouchy old crone.

"That should be my line. Babamon, how nice of you to visit. Although I must admit I'm rather puzzled. I thought I'd asked you quite politely never to come here again."

Daisuke made no attempt to keep his jaw from dropping open. "Gennai!" he cried, as the old man padded gingerly onto the floor. Gennai's lips curved upwards beneath his catfish's moustache, and Daisuke thought he might even have winked.

"Why, hello, Daisuke. It's a regular party here in my guest room. I wonder that I wasn't invited. But I'm sure it just slipped your mind."

"Why are you here?" Babamon spat, her bulbous body trembling. "You are supposed to be –"

"I returned," Gennai said simply. "Just in time, it appears. Now, Babamon, kindly take your tone-deaf companion and leave this place, for your own sake, if not for mine. The sea will close soon, and if you are still here when the stairs disappear, I'm afraid I'll have to seal you in the dungeon."

Gennai had a dungeon? Somehow, Daisuke thought he should be more surprised than he was.

Spitting, and mumbling viciously under her breath, Babamon yanked on Gonmon's arm. "We'll be on our way," she croaked, waddling for the archway. "Don't think we're finished, Gennai. Don't you forget there are many secrets of yours I know. You won't always have the upper hand."

"Be sure to throw the Seadramon a marlin or two on your way out," Gennai replied cheerfully. "When their bellies are empty, they can be quite unpredictable."

Hurling one last curse over her shoulder, Babamon vanished with Gonmon out the door.

Daisuke stared after them until curiosity forced him to fix his attention on Gennai. "What was that all about?" he cried, hurrying to the guru's side.

"All in due time, my boy." Gennai's moustache quivered as he laughed. "That Babamon is quite the character. Let me advise you – you are young, and can still avoid an old man's mistakes: Never, no matter how tempting it may be, insult a lady's choice of wardrobe."

"Gotcha," Daisuke said faintly. His thoughts all ran in a jumble. Gennai headed down a narrow hall, and Daisuke hurried to keep up. "But – for real, man. Why'd you just let her go? Isn't she evil?"

"Evil?" Lifting an eyebrow, Gennai regarded Daisuke for a moment. "No, not evil. No more evil than Apocalymon, at any rate. But it is safe to say she is very, very angry. Not someone you'd like to cross."

"But she kidnapped me," Daisuke protested. "Her shrimpy familiar stuck that mask on me, which forced me to leave Taichi-san and come here and – gaaah!" He clapped his hands on either side of his head. "Taichi-san! He's out there somewhere!"

"Is he indeed?" Gennai sounded far too composed for Daisuke's state of mind. "Well, I suppose we'll have to collect him before Babamon does."

"This sucks," Daisuke groaned. "Gennai, you got any idea where he is?"

Sliding open what Daisuke had taken for a rice paper window, Gennai gave a breathy chuckle. "Maybe I do," he said pleasantly, shuffling inside a dimly-lit tatami room.

Not bothering to hide his restlessness, Daisuke followed after him. With an irritated sniff, he said, "And are you going to share that information with me, or will I have to tap into my secret oracular powers, O Ambiguous One?"

"I will give you everything you need," said Gennai from a distance, "starting with this."

Daisuke's brow furrowed, but before he took another step, he felt a small tug at his shorts, and looked down.

"Hey, Daisuke," Veemon grinned up at him, full of mischief:

"Why do you smell like nattou?"


Chapter Notes:

1.] tengu: A Japanese demon with a very long nose, usually red-skinned. Google it for cool pictures.

2.] Yurikamome: The train line leading to the Odaiba area from mainland Tokyo. Generally you have to change trains to catch it, unless you're at one of the few stations it connects to. It's a very narrow train, but rather nicer than the subway.

3.] nattou: Fermented soybeans. You either love it or you hate it. I… tend to hate it.

Thanks for reading! I'm sure you can tell I've taken liberties with Babamon, who is nothing like the Babamon from Tamers. (Actually I only vaguely remember her.) Gonmon is my own creation, as far as I know. Reviews are the cheese to my macaroni!