This fic based loosely on a dream I had. It's set after the Etemon/crest-acquirement saga where Tai has just been sucked back into the real world for the first time, but in this story, the circumstances of that have changed a little, as has what happened afterwards.

Friendship
by Leto

It's like there's this big monster next to me. I can feel it but when I turn to look at it it's gone. As soon as I turn back, it's there again. I don't think it could be Gabumon. I'm not scared of Gabumon or Garurumon. And this is a black monster, a black, black one.

It's shadowed but I already know well how it looks: standing on two feet but with vaguely canine features. All sharp teeth and claws, powerful muscles. A heavy breathing.

It's by my side... but where IS Gabumon? And TK? I'm supposed to look out for him... what if this monster's got him already? I don't know how long I've been here. I can't see anything, I can just hear this thing next to me breathing.

Greymon digivolved into a monster, and that scared me too. A lot of things do, I guess, but nothing more than this thing beside me.

Suddenly it moves, it leaps at me and I want to stay, fight, be strong - or something. All I can do is cower, and nothing has terrified me more. Where are my friends? Am I the only one left alive? Why aren't they helping me?

The dark figure is in front of me and it's all I can see. Darkness, all I can see.

TK...?

"Matt!"

But that's not a frightening voice...

"Matt!"

Suddenly I can move again. But I'm not cowering, I'm lying and someone's holding my head up.

A dream! Of course it was...

That same dream...

I can hear Sora's voice. "Hey, I think he just moved a little."

Joe. "You said that five minutes ago. But he wasn't breathing then, and alive people don't not breathe."

"Not breathing?" I say, and my voice sounds strange to me. I couldn't talk before.

"Oh, it's about time you woke up," says Mimi, "we've been waiting here for just HOURS."

I can see now, more than black, and TK is right next to me with a big smile on his face, but he looks like he was crying again.

"TK, what's up?"

Gabumon answers from the other side of me, "we thought you were dead!"

How could I not be breathing? I remember what Izzy said earlier, we're not flesh and blood although we might think we are. Do Digimon breathe? I look at Gabumon but it's hard to tell under all that fur.

"What exactly happened to me?"

"This weird dimensional rift appeared," says Izzy, "Tai and Metalgreymon got sucked into it. Your crest started flashing like crazy, and then you were thrown backwards as the other two disappeared."

I cradle my crest in one hand. That's weird... why did it do that?

"So where's Tai now?"

"We don't know."

Oh. Great.

---

I walk a little behind the rest of the group. This way, I won't lead anyone astray, and nobody will be beside me, overshadowing me. This is the first time I have had that dream since I entered the digital world.

Without Tai here, nobody seems to have the same energy. It's weird, the guy bugs me and I don't like to think of him as the leader, but I guess he is.

Where IS he though? He and Metalgreymon?

So yeah, we've lost direction - doesn't help that we don't really know what to do next. CAN we fight tough Digimon without Tai? Sora suggested we look for him, which is all well and good, but nobody seems to know where we're going. Maybe I should take over being leader, but I don't feel so good myself.

Gabumon drops back from the group a little to walk beside me. I wish he wouldn't, and deliberately walk faster. He tries to keep pace. Stubborn guy.

"I'll digivolve too, Matt," he promises me.

"Don't," I say.

Suddenly I'm sure of it - that monster is what will happen if Gabumon tries too hard.

"Why not?"

"Look what happened when Greymon digivolved."

"But maybe we can find Tai that way. Aren't you worried about him?"

"Of course, but..."

Gabumon watches me expectantly, waiting for me to finish the sentence. I'm suddenly really conscious of the crest around my neck. Friendship. What sort of friend am I if I can't take some risks for Tai? I mean, the monster in my dream was threatening ME, not anyone else... but nobody else was around, either...

And hey, I have friends here. Don't they need me too? Gabumon's a friend. And TK! I'm not going to dump him.

Why did my crest react earlier though? What did that mean? I really wish Jennai would explain things a bit better.

I'm not really a technical thinker like Izzy, but I'm not a no-thinker like Mimi (heheheh). I don't get the significance of all this.

Let's think. This is the world of digital data and the world of Digimon. But we're in here, so while we're here, we're digital data too. Doesn't that mean we're Digimon too? I remember what I said to Izzy a few days ago when we were looking for our crests; I wanted to digivolve as a person. Maybe that's even possible? Digivices for our Digimon, crests for us.

But we're different because we have bodies in the real world that we're linked to. Izzy said that too. (How DOES he work all this out just by tapping a few keys?) But maybe Digimon are humans in our world, and we're Digimon here... because that's all there is. Some Digimon sure look human - and they talk English, too.

Izzy's still tapping away. Tentomon is carrying that ever-present computer on his back and flying in front of Izzy so he can work while he walks. Typical. Joe's walking with his head slightly down, occasionally pausing to pull up his socks. Gomamon is humming to himself, and trying to make Joe join in the tune. Mimi is fanning herself and Palmon with her hat, continually complaining about how boring the walk is. Sora is actually carrying Biyomon, whose wings aren't strong enough to fly long distances, but whose legs aren't made for walking. TK looks tired, but he grins at Tokomon who smiles back, and keeps stumbling along.

These are my friends. People AND Digimon. Izzy and Tentomon, Joe and Gomamon, Mimi and Palmon, Sora and Biyomon, TK and Tokomon... all of them seem like such partners that it's like they've always known each other. And all of us are a group.

I guess the way we walk says things about ourselves. And what about me? I'm walking back here by myself, ignoring Gabumon and thinking. I wasn't a big thinker back home, but I guess I didn't realise... how much there was to the world.

I don't know if we're the digidestined like everyone says, but I bet we wouldn't have all been friends if we'd just stayed in our world. Like, I always thought Joe was kind of a dork, and even when we got here it was like "great, trust me to end up with a guy like that even here", and he was a wimp. But he surprised me. Everyone did. Even me, I guess.

Sora was a tomboy. Tai was a weirdo. Mimi was a ditz. Izzy was a nerd. Now I know them and it's not like that at all; well, they still are a little, but there's more to them. And what did they see in me? Well, geez, thinking of how I used to think of them, I think I was a pretty rotten person. I don't care now. Here, there's no chance for thinking of grudges or old opinions or arguments. Things blow over quickly. They sorta have to; if we don't stick together, what would happen?

My brother should never have come here. He's too young for this. But I want to look after him, no matter what. I guess I'd be worrying about him just as much if he got stuck in the real world and I wasn't around. But in the real world, there aren't endless walks in awful weather, huge monsters trying to kill you...

But in this world, even if it's not a real one, guts, and friendship seem more real. Hey, maybe that means something, guts and friendship. Tai was courage, and he left. And my crest reacted when he did. Maybe they're back in the real world! But I don't know if it's even my crest. Maybe I got the wrong tag. I don't feel like much of a friend. I don't even want to talk to anyone.

Everyone has stopped walking. I wonder vaguely who is making these decisions, who is playing leader, but I don't really care. I go up to the others and try to sound more sociable than I feel. I just feel like thinking hard until I work something out, but I don't know what I'm trying to work out. Where Tai went, why we're here, the secret of our crests, whether Gabumon is the monster from my years of nightmares... pretty typical things.

Maybe our crests' significance is just in giving us something we need to work on. But then, that's not really true of the others... anyway.

"What's going on?"

"So glad you finally deigned to join us," says Joe drily. I'm a bit surprised, he doesn't usually sound nasty.

"We need a break, guys," says Sora calmly, "we're all getting kind of tired, and we won't be any use if we use up all our energy."

"There's no point in stopping if we don't have any food left," says Joe, "we have to keep going otherwise we'll never get going again."

"I hate this," sighs Mimi, "so much of our journey here is just trying to find food or shelter. I want to go home!"

"Well, let's have a quick rest anyway," says Sora.

"Sounds good to me," sighs Biyomon.

"We can't afford to," argues Joe, "let's just keep going!"

Izzy is ignoring everyone and typing away as his computer as usual. His eyebrows are furrowed in concentration. Joe and Sora turn to me.

"What do you think, Matt?"

Why are they asking me?

"Maybe one of the flying Digimon could digivolve and scout the area," I find myself saying, "it really would be a good idea to rest for a little while."

TK is looking pretty wrecked, although the stubborn kid wouldn't say anything - he wants to keep up with the big kids. But I don't know if he can go much further.

"I don't think I can digivolve," says Biyomon. She's probably still injured from before; she doesn't usually seem this tired.

"I don't think I have the energy," says Tentomon. He's listening, even if Izzy isn't.

"Isn't there ANY food left?"

"Geez Matt, haven't you been listening? We've been talking about that for the last ten minutes."

"It's too dangerous to rest," says Joe, "we'll never find anything that way."

"If we drop dead from exhaustion, that's not going to be a big help either," snaps Sora.

"Prodigious!" shouts Izzy, interrupting us both.

We forget the argument and move around his computer, which is still balanced on Tentomon.

"Did you find something, Izzy?"

"I've been scanning various locations in the digital world in the attempt to uncover some evidence of Tai's presence. His digivice doesn't seem to be responding at all. It's very strange. On the plus side, I have confirmed that he is no longer in the digital world, although he is still linked somehow."

"How is THAT a plus side?!"

"Where is he then?"

"He must be in the real world," I say, "maybe there's something important happening there."

"If he's there, Agumon must be there too," says Joe, "but Digimon can't go to our world, can they?"

"Does Tai have a computer at home?" asks Izzy, turning back to his computer, "it seems most likely that if he had returned, he would be at summer camp, but we can always try."

"Don't," I say suddenly, "there are no monsters in the real world. He's safer there."

"If Tai got to go home, does that mean we can find a way too?" asks Mimi, hopefully.

"You still want to leave?" Palmon sounds sad.

"You're happy there are no monsters in your world?" asks Gabumon seriously.

"Definitely," I say, "I mean, it means we don't get the good sort, but you don't get the bad either."

"Don't you get good and bad people?" asks Gomamon.

"Well, yeah, but people are sort of your own size, and they can't shoot fireballs and things like that."

"Humans don't attack each other at all?" asks Gabumon.

"Well, sometimes, but... it's not the same at all! Monsters are stuff out of nightmares."

"Thanks a lot," teases Gomamon.

"Heeheehee, Matt's afraid of monsters," says Mimi.

I fold my arms and turn away. I shouldn't be saying things anyway.

A little later, Joe manages to get us all moving again - he can be a leader in his own way I guess - and we stumble along in the heat until we find a grove of banana trees. The fact that they are in the middle of a desert does not seem to bother anyone. Biyomon and Patamon both fly up to shake down a lot of bananas and we pig out.

We build a fire while there's still sunlight - using Joe's glasses - and all sit around it. It has been quite a day. I'm nervous sitting here, the trees might hide the sight of an enemy coming. Guess I'm still a bit twitchy from my dream. I don't say anything, of course, but my eyes are constantly on the foliage around us.

Izzy is still focused on his computer, and the rest of us are busy in various states of relaxation. I'm leaning against a rock with TK curled up against my feet, Mimi is stretched right out on the ground, using her hat as a pillow. Sora sits with her knees drawn up under her chin, and Joe sits crosslegged, tending to the fire.

"Prodigious! I think I might be establishing a connection with Tai's home computer!"

I look around at my friends and wonder why none of them look at all worried. I feel like something bad is going to happen. Even though I'm resting, my eyes are scanning the tree tops, and a sudden breeze brushes through the trees, making a rustling noise.

Suddenly I have this terrible feeling, and light is shooting out all around me. It's coming from my crest. I cover it with both my hands because I don't want anyone else to see it, but it's pretty obvious by now. Everyone is looking at me curiously.

"Wow, what's going to happen?" says Sora.

I don't know, but it hurts! Its burning my chest! I pull it out from my shirt and quickly unloop it from my neck.

"It's hot!" I explain, and try to drop it. As soon as it hits the ground, there is an explosion of light and sound, and it shoots up all around me. I can dimly see the outline of my crest's symbol, and I feel like I'm going blind. I think I double over in pain, it's hard to tell, it's so unreal. The digivice glows too, but it is dull by comparison.

"Oh my goodness, what's going on?" cries Mimi.

"Something's going wrong!" says Izzy.

Duh.

"Gabumon digivolve to Garurumon!"

Garurumon... that's one stage there...

I don't hear anything else they say. Suddenly that feeling of fear creeps over me again, and I can't shake it off. What is my crest doing? It sends currents down my arms and I feel an unsteady strength enter them.

It stops glowing and I straighten up in mild relief that I'm no longer blinded; the fear is still there. I blink to clear my vision and now I can see again. Everyone looks smaller than they did, and they're staring at me.

"What?" I ask, irritably, and it's not my voice.

Mimi fumbles in her purse and pulls out a small vanity mirror - trust her. I look into the mirror, I can see the crest is still around my neck but I can't feel it. What IS my neck? What am I? I feel sick. No I don't. All I can focus on in the mirror is the crest around my neck, and it sparks something in me.

The fear is gone. This is great. Those idiots have no idea what they're doing. They're wasting their time. I can help them. They don't have to worry about homesickness or being afraid any more.

I stretch out one arm in front of me, unsheathing my claws, flexing my muscle and seeing my own power with a calm satisfaction. The fur ripples over my skin, and when I run my hand along it, it stands out in little spikes. This is good!

I turn to the digidestined and smile, feeling my sharp teeth baring. I scrape them against each other, and Joe winces, so I do it again.

"Well, children," I say - or snarl, "what do you say we stop travelling for today? I think this is the end of the road."

"No it isn't," says Izzy, "the road stretches on for at least another three miles, although it is difficult to see beyond that due to the -"

"No," I repeat, "this is the end of the road."

This power will have to spill out soon - no, now. Now! I raise my fist, feeling a sort of... current... running through my arm. So this is how it feels!

"Wolf's friendship!"

Friendship! Appropriate! These little idiots have no idea. Don't trust anyone. Now they just look shocked, but this power surges through my arm and shoots out the claws, through the air and down towards them. None of them act in time and it hits perfectly. Huh. I know their weaknesses, none of the other stupid bad Digimon got off such a good shot.

"Matt, what're you doing?" shouts TK, "what happened?!"

"I am not Matt," I growl, "and I am doing what I ought to have done long ago. You are the digidestined, and this is our destiny! Wolf's FRIENDSHIP!"

Friendship, a taunt, a battle cry, a weapon. I send another bolt into the ground, and then there is a hand - paw - on my shoulder. I slash it off, and turn to face... what? Another wolf, but I'm sure it isn't Garurumon, although the face is similar. Standing on two legs, a were, like me. Did my crest have a side effect? I am sure that I was its true purpose.

"Matt, you don't know what you're doing! Stop this right now!"

"I'm quite aware of what I'm doing. This is my crest's power, I am Were Okamimon!"

"That's not what the crest was for! Matt, fight it!"

"Not likely. I knew this would happen. For years, it was going to happen this way! In this world, we can take on the attributes of Digimon! Wolf's friendship!"

This delicious power is all through the air as I send another bolt of it, and now some of the others are springing to action.

"Poison Ivy!"

"Spiral twister!"

Palmon whips out her vines to try to defend Mimi. Biyomon jumps in front of Sora to try to disperse the attack before it hits.

And? My strength rips right through them. It wouldn't happen any other way. Bad guys are not easily beaten. I don't need to fight as a team any more. I'm all right on my own!

"Matt, I do not want to have to fight you," says the werewolf Digimon.

"I am not Matt, but his digivolved self, Were Okamimon. I didn't expect a coward like you to want to fight, it is a losing battle after all," I say, and swipe at his stomach. He stumbles backwards and I lunge, clawing, feeling my strength, cutting into him, injuring, drawing blood.

When I was a weak human, why had I feared this self? This is unbeatable!

Vaguely I notice Izzy talking to his computer, addressing Tai? That should mean something to me... I can't quite remember... oh, Tai was always a jerk anyway. I shout "Wolf's friendship!" again and aim one right at the werewolf. He screams and struggles, but is hit head-on. He tries to get up and I knock him down again with a perfect kick.

"Matt!" shouts TK. I turn slightly, and see he has tears streaming down his face.

"That's right, cry, that's your solution to everything. What do tears solve?"

"Turn back into Matt!" sobs TK, "I don't like you this way!"

"Oh, but I do," I say, and crouch to lunge at him. I want to rip him apart, I have a wolf's desire for blood.

"Tokomon digivolve to Patamon!"

Patamon quickly appears between us and glances back.

"Don't worry, TK," he says, "things will be okay."

I pounce, ignoring the bubbles peppering my face as I slam into Patamon, then continue into TK. Both are knocked into the ground, hard.

Something hot slams into my back - hot, burning! Howling a wolf's howl, I whirl and see Birdramon glaring at me.

"WOLF'S -" I begin, but as I stretch up to let the power thunder up my arm, something grabs at my leg and pulls me down. The werewolf again.

"You haven't had enough!"

"Matt, stop it!"

"Matt," says Mimi nervously, "what are you actually intending to do, hehehehh?"

"I had thought it was pretty obvious," I say, "kill you all, of course."

"But why?" cries Sora, "what'd we do?"

"It's all in the name of friendship," I say simply. I know they won't understand. I don't know if I do, it's just this feeling... this is the best thing to do, and it feels good.

"Perhaps something happened when the warphole appeared to negatively influence Matt's crest," says Izzy, opening up some program on his computer. Typical, he *would* think that. I jump and go to slash down at him, but Tentomon is suddenly there, and the digivice flashing.

"Tentomon digivolve to Kabuterimon!"

I take a step back. The werewolf, Kabuterimon and Birdramon. Still, resistance would have to be expected, wouldn't it? The werewolf's presence is holding me back from reaching my full potential. We're linked. If I can break the link, I'll be free to be powerful. First focus.

"You and me, wolfman," I say, and give him a death look. He meets my gaze calmly, although he is covered with gashes.

"I will not fight you, Were Okamimon - I know you are really Matt."

"Makes things easy then," I say, and charge at him, striking him over and over. I think Birdramon and Kabuterimon don't want to risk hitting the wrong Digimon, because neither of them are acting. I knock my opponent down, and wolf friendship him. His body quivers but he does not get up, nor does he fight back.

I can feel the link between us breaking as I hit him again, again, again... he devolves to Garurumon... I keep striking... he devolves to Gabumon... again, again... he devolves to Tsunomon. I straighten up for another wolf friendship, and a small figure darts between the two of us.

"TK, you must really be feeling suicidal today."

"Bring back my brother!"

Brother.

"I'm all right on my own!" I roar. "I'm all right on my own!"

"Matt!" says TK, "I liked you the way you were before! Don'tcha remember how you came to visit me in secret after our parents split up?"

"Don't be stupid, TK," I say, "that was because of Mom. She always liked me better than you anyway."

"That's not true," sniffles TK, "you said they still loved both of us! You said we'd get to be a family again some day!"

"The only reason they split up in the first place was because Dad couldn't stand having to look after you any more! Mom didn't want to get stuck with you but somebody had to take care of you."

"You said you'd take care of me."

He's crying pretty hard now. This is really getting on my nerves.

"Don't cry, TK," says Patamon desperately, "that isn't Matt, he doesn't know what he's saying!"

"Of course I know what I'm saying," I say, speaking slowly, savouring every word and the look of pain it brings, "I remember the time Mom and Dad had that big argument after you broke the bathroom window. And all the afternoons Dad worked late and left us home? It was to avoid YOU. He paid me pretty well for keeping an eye on you, nobody else wanted to. And don't you remember that time Dad went to the hospital? That was after Mom rang him up to talk about dumping you on him again. The stress was too much for him."

"It's not true!" shouts TK, "it's not true, it's not true, it's not true!"

Suddenly, he stops crying, and his face scrunches up in fury. "IT'S NOT TRUE!!! LET 'IM GO! MATT, COME BACK! I miss you! You're my brother!"

It's not cool to be sentimental. I told him that once, when he was in one of his crying fits. He nodded eagerly and wiped his eyes. I remember he wanted to be like me. Why? I was unemotional. Closest I ever came to admitting affection was that... "you're my brother"...

I thought he wished Tai was his brother instead of me.

"You can't have been lying all this time," continues TK, "you tried to save me before!"

TK's crest suddenly lights up, sending a greenish glow all over his face, hands and chest.

The crest of hope?

What hope?

The glow intensifies and spreads, I see it on my paws, and the claws are shrinking, changing form, I see it on my arms, and the hair is falling out...

I dimly see one last sparkle - my own crest - the darkness in my mind fades, and I'm myself again. And what have I done? The ground around us is cratered, my friends are lying injured, bleeding in the dust. The monster in my mind is gone now, but I'm more scared of it than ever, and now I know I had good reason to be all these years.

It was the worst type of monster. It was me.

But, it's gone...

I can't believe it, but before I know how to fight it, I hear this kind of choking sob come out of my mouth, and suddenly I'm crying, but I don't cry! That's just not me, and I'm struggling to stop, holding my elbows to stop shaking, and wishing there was nobody else around.

TK suddenly jumps into my lap and puts his arms around my neck. I look up at my friends and they look all blurry, but none of them look mad. Why aren't they mad?

"You're right," I manage to say to TK, "Mom and Dad never hated you, it was me they didn't want."

He sticks his tongue out. "That's not true either!"

My friends all look relieved - my friends! I can trust them. Even when I was trying to kill them, they wouldn't hurt me. I didn't know I could meet anyone like that. I do know I don't deserve to, but I won't underestimate friendship again.

I'm still trying to stop crying, and finally it works.

"After all those years," I say, and am again angry at the tremble in my voice, "he's finally gone."

"Who is?" asks Joe. He looks up from where he is rifling through the first aid kit.

"I know that monster was in my head..." and then I decide not to say any more. I suppose it doesn't matter if my friends see me crying. They are my friends after all.

But, my best friend! I just remembered. Did I... successfully break the link between me and my Digimon? Tsunomon is sitting very quietly watching me and despite the devolutions, has the marks of a wolf's claw.

"I'm sorry, Tsunomon, everyone."

Words, how useless they are when most of my friends are covered with blood, but it's another first for me - an apology. It seems to have been enough. Tsunomon's expression brightens and he winks at me. I smile shakily and brush the dirt out my hair, pulling myself and TK to our feet.

I notice now that it is night, but my nightmares won't trouble me any more. And if they do, I'm surrounded by real friends. I think that must have been what I always wanted.

But why did my crest mutate me? I pat TK on the head and go to help Joe with the first aid. My digivolution helped me recognise real friendship... maybe I needed that for future battles... but it shouldn't have had to work like that. Joe is limping as he bandages one of Patamon's wings... it shouldn't have happened that way. Will all our crests cause bad things to happen?

On the other hand... the monster is GONE. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

Still, I have this feeling... my crest really *was* acting in the name of friendship. For us to die now would be an act of kindness. Oh man, it makes me worry what battles are up ahead of us!

We can do it though! I feel a glimmer of hope still, from my bro's crest. If our destiny isn't looking so good, if it says we're going to die, we can just change it, right! I changed mine. If we stick together, we can't lose.

Look out, future villains. Friendship is definitely a force to be reckoned with!