Digital Shuffle
by Famira Damaris

Disclaimer: Don't own Digimon Tamers
Author's Note: One of the Tamers reaches Ultimate. Thank you for reading :)

Reviews are appreciated, but they don't determine how long I take on chapters.

Archive: Go right on ahead.
Bold for implied feelings, mostly for the Juggernaut

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Digital Shuffle
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(Black Growlmon's Closure)

Kincaid was angry. So angry, in fact, that she was barely holding her human shape. If even that.

Vajramon could feel her anger, and, glancing aside at her, he saw her skin rippling uncontrollably as her temper rose. Brown fur spurted up in patches only to smooth back into the pink of a human's pathetically vulnerable skin. Her silver eyes bugged, looking too big for a human's normal proportions, small fangs peeking out her mouth as she talked. He hadn't seen her this angry in years.

"Fleeing like a coward!" Kincaid sneered. All her smiles from earlier were gone. "I should've gone myself!"

Kaminmon cowered, his eyes lowered. His Mistress wasn't done by any means. Next to her, Vajramon stood impassive, his tail every now and then flicking. The truth was they both probably should have stood their ground. But Kincaid would argue that as the Founder, he was too valuable to lose, even to kill the Tamers. It would be one thing if the bridge between the Real World and the Digital World was wide open. The same excuse didn't hold true for her servant, not in her mind.

Kincaid's hands clenched at her sides, an unconscious human gesture she picked up somewhere. "The Juggernaut can't locate Black Growlmon. He would have been a valuable recruit, especially if he could digivolve in his mutated form, but your cowardice cost us."

"I failed you, my Lady," Kaminmon hadn't moved, didn't dare to. "Forgive me."

Apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Vajramon watched as Kincaid blew up.

The Deceiver's human mask exploded off her like burning ashes: first the skin boiled off, quick as a flash, her brown fur sprouting again in audible pops. Her ears changed shape, her eyes spreading and growing larger and larger. A prehensile tail lashed out as she lost a foot or so of her human's height. Makuramon's big silver eyes blazed as she glared at her servant. There might be a physical size difference between them, but if she wanted to delete Kaminmon, she could without a thought. Vajramon had seen first hand what sort of fighter she was, way back before she made Council. It was…prudent to sometimes observe and observe only.

"Forgive you? Forgive you!" Makuramon leaned forward, her tail snaking around her ankles. "Ha! I trusted you with a task I would trust to no other and this is what happened! I made the wrong choice saving you from being a Golem."

Vajramon watched as Kaminmon quivered in shame and fear. As his lady's favorite subject, he wasn't used to this other side of her. Vajramon finally spoke up.

"Perhaps we ought to focus on the present, my dear," Vajramon kept his voice unhurried. He found if you catered to Makuramon's anger, you only fueled it. Not reacting was the best thing one could do. "We still need to find him. And thanks to the losses at Odaiba, we need further reinforcements."

Makuramon sucked in a hiss through her small fangs. "Right. I'll send out the call."

"The Knight of Thorns defecting complicated things," Vajramon added, trying to smooth things over. "Her presence alone might give Zudomon pause."

They still didn't know how those Tamers escaped the trap, seeing as next to none of their own forces made it out of Odaiba. There had to be some survivors who witnessed the Tamers escaping but if they existed, they had fled and didn't dare show their faces to make a report. It occurred to Vajramon they needed better recruits. Apparently loyalty and honor wasn't what it used to be. Makuramon didn't quite deflate at the mention of Zudomon but her fur finally stopped rising into spiky hackles, which was close enough. Apparently she'd had the same suspicions too about the Shield's loyalty.

"Probably. Those eight had always been oddly close," Makuramon said. "Thankfully it seems the humans here haven't figured how to digivolve their slaves to past Champion."

Vajramon nodded. It was more difficult for these Tamers compared to the last batch of humans. Still, they had already surprised them several times so far. Never say never, that sort of thing. It was one of the few human phrases that Vajramon decided was apt and worth keeping.

"Even so, there should be more precautions taken. I'd request the Devas loyal to the cause to biomerge. As far as I can tell, the remaining Royal Knights have no intention of following after Rosemon. If we continue to run into more trouble, there's a chance the Sovereign of Fire will want to see to this personally."

They both exchanged looks. The Sovereign One was sympathetic to their cause, but for him to have to biomerge…well, that was something of a last resort. A Holy Beast shouldn't need to defile himself coming here, surely! Vajramon would've said they didn't need it, if it wasn't for the fact these Tamers kept growing in numbers and not dying like they were supposed to. He'd almost forgotten what a stubborn species humans were. Now he had a crash course in it all over again.

"Fine, fine," Makuramon said. She waved it away and wheeled back on her disgraced servant. "As for you. I'll give you one more chance to make up for Odaiba."

Kaminmon's eyes jerked up though his head remained bowed. Vajramon had a feeling he knew where this was going, his bull's snout twitching. Makuramon's favoritism only went so far, especially under these circumstances.

"Take those Ogremon and find Black Growlmon. Do whatever it takes. Bring him to me or don't come back at all."

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Janyuu Lee insisted on celebrating.

He didn't say why but Jenrya thought it was because they all came back in one piece. Next thing he knew, Janyuu was recruiting others, starting first with Ruki's mom: Rumiko was all for it, rolling up her sleeves and putting her back into figuring out how they could have a party with instant noodles and the other stuff they'd scrounged up now that they were all homeless for the time being. She was sure they could manage, she smiled. Next up was Ryo, then Reika.

All Jenrya knew was when he got back from another supply run, checking for any food they could find in Shinjuku's ruins, his Dad had already started to transform the shelter. Walking back with a box of dried food, Gargomon walking next to him with his own load, Jenrya stopped short: streamers crossed the ceiling, the shiny stuff you could get at a store…back when the stores weren't buried under heaps of smoking rubble, but here they were. Some construction paper had been cut into uneven shapes – Jenrya figured that was probably Shuichon, insisting on helping – and taped to the walls of the tunnel. With the red lighting, you couldn't really get the full effect, but still. It did make him stop.

Jenrya caught Ruki at the next turn of their shelter. The other Tamer had a strange look on her face – a sour one, like she was trying hard to frown and not quite making it.

"You better watch out," Ruki said. "You go in there, you'll be roped in like everyone else."

"That bad, huh?" Jenrya smiled.

"It's stupid," Ruki said. "Us throwing a party every time we win a fight!"

Jenrya thought about it. "I think it's more for our parents, you know? But you have to admit we pulled off Odaiba."

Ruki chewed that one over, the girl frowning. She shrugged.

"Barely. We wouldn't have made it if Zudomon hadn't stepped in."

Jenrya had to admit she was right. "I wonder why he did that. I thought he was on their side."

"Who knows?" Ruki said. "You seen my mom?"

"She's probably with my dad. He recruited her."

"Oh brother," Ruki rolled her eyes. "I better go find her. She loves parties."

Ruki sounded almost fond despite herself. Jenrya didn't know much about her family, but from what he'd seen of them so far, it wasn't like they were super close. Maybe Ruki was seeing a side of her mom she hadn't before, now that Tokyo was under attack. Jenrya stepped aside to let Ruki go past. Gargomon grunted next to him, peeking over his box of supplies.

"What's wrong with parties? Parties are great!" Gargomon sounded put out.

Jenrya smiled. "She's just saying that."

He walked along the tunnel with his partner. They were silent for a bit, each to their own devices. Gargomon was the first to speak up again.

"I think your dad's right. It's about time we had something to celebrate."

Jenrya nodded. It'd been different before, when they were only fighting a few wild Digimon here and there. Going up against an organized force was another thing in itself. Jenrya shook his head. Dad was right. Maybe he should focus on today instead of worrying non-stop about tomorrow or yesterday. After all, he wasn't the one involved – his dad and sister were, for starters, nevermind Ruki's and Takato's families. If anything, they could use the distraction.

Actually, they all could, come to think of it. If he'd had it his way, Odaiba wouldn't have been destroyed. They couldn't change what happened to the island. But at least they found Black Growlmon and that meant they were that much closer to finding Takato.

So he guessed Gargomon had a point: it was worth celebrating.

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Ryo Akiyama stuck around longer than he meant to at Janyuu's party thing. It wasn't like anything he'd expected – it wasn't off the walls like the parties he'd snuck into back in the Digital World. It wasn't even like the last party he remembered as a human – his birthday the year before he left home. This was different; quieter, mostly an excuse for everyone to get together without talking about the future. Ryo liked it. He actually surprised himself by having fun. Even caught himself smiling when he wasn't paying attention.

It felt good.

He could almost forget all those birthdays in the past hadn't been his. He wasn't even old enough for them, according to Rosemon.

But today Ryo told himself all that stuff could screw itself. For once he'd enjoy himself. There was something kinda infectious about surviving death with a bunch of other people. Probably some group mentality thing. At this point, Ryo wasn't complaining.

The families mingled over food and some dog-eared board games – the Matsudas tried to put on a brave face and meet with the others. The Lees immediately took them under their wing, Janyuu kidnapping Takato's dad for "improvised baking", whatever that meant. It sounded ominous. Ryo had no idea how he planned that without any working ovens. Somehow Janyuu dug up a working CD player, even found some batteries, and now they were playing some music in the back. It might be on repeat, but no one seemed to notice. That Reika lady from Hypnos was sitting with Shuichon and painting her nails, pulling out blue nail polish from her purse. Even Alice had been bribed over somehow. She sat with Ruki, going over their cards, their knees brushing as she held up one and did one of those soft almost-smiles of hers. Talking about battle strategies did that to her – something she had in common with Ruki.

Alice's eyes happened to meet his from across the room. Ryo looked away first.

Okay, awkward. He knew he should tell her she was right, tell her the truth because it was the right thing to do, but he didn't even know where to start. Clinging onto his old life felt easier. At least if he was going to do anything, it wasn't going to be today. Ryo wandered away to check up on the improvised baking, a cup of lukewarm punch in his hand, a sandwich in his other. Given most civilians had already abandoned the area, they still found some food if they went out on supply runs. Right now even lukewarm, this punch tasted great.

He peeked in on the baking and backed right out again. He had no idea what was going on in there, but it looked like someone covered in flour was wrestling with a cake and losing.

Eventually Ryo went looking for Rosemon. Hard not to miss her and he could make a guess where she was – interrogating Black Growlmon. Making sure the beast didn't decide now was a great time to crash Janyuu's party. Ryo wandered the length of the tunnels and the service off-shoots until he found Rosemon in a service room big enough to hold two Digimon. He could hear their voices before he saw them; hers was lilting, measured, his was angry and dropping to a scared growl every now and then. He peeked in.

Black Growlmon had his head to the floor, one claw slung over it as he whined. Every now and then he would rub his snout against the concrete like he was trying to get rid of a giant itch. Rosemon sat cross-legged in front of him, her beautiful face tilted toward him, her hands resting across her knees. Her silver whip kept Black Growlmon tethered where he was and even his teeth couldn't cut through. It didn't stop the beast from trying every now and then. Ryo had to give him points for effort.

"You're one of the most truthful Digimon I've met," Rosemon was saying. "You believe everything you say. And you say this swarm buzzing in your head, that's natural?"

Black Growlmon snarled from the floor. "It's always been there!"

"Has it?"

"Go away! I told you I want to be alone!"

Rosemon laughed – a strong laugh, like a crystal bell. "Now you're lying, young one. Lies don't suit you. You've not very good at it."

Black Growlmon surged up from the floor, jaws gaping, and went for the Knight of Thorns. His fangs snapped around her arm, Rosemon letting the beast chew on her gauntlet for a bit before she pried him off as easily as a child. His teeth screeched against metal.

"The last thing you need to be is alone and you know it too, deep inside," her voice rang out. "I'm trying to help you help yourself. Now sit!"

The Shadow dropped back down to his position on the floor, glaring that snake's glare, before he went back to trying to rub his head with those compulsive, twitching jerks. Rosemon was still watching him when she spoke up without raising her voice.

"Why don't you come in, Ryo."

Ryo started. Oh yeah, she had that crazy sixth sense of hers. No point pretending he hadn't been caught eavesdropping. Ryo stepped inside warily, all too aware of how fast Black Growlmon could move if he decided he wanted a bite-sized snack. Rosemon motioned for him to sit down at her side, Ryo obeying and feeling dwarfed next to the Mega. It felt weird to be in on this, because if you asked him, he would've said Jenrya should been in on this instead. Jenrya was Takato's best friend, after all. Then again Jenrya was also at the top of this monster's hate list, so maybe Rosemon didn't want to set him off again.

"Why's he here?" Black Growlmon sounded almost tired. He gave a lazy crocodile blink. "It's bad enough you won't let me kill Jenrya and get it over with."

"Because he can help in his own way," Rosemon said serenely. "And I wish it."

Ryo shot her a startled look. Uh, that was news to him.

"You're both without your partners," Rosemon went on. Ryo stared at the floor. He wasn't even sure he could call him his partner anymore, even if the Knight didn't make the same distinction. "You both know that loss. It defines you."

He could feel Black Growlmon's yellow eyes burning into him. Judging. Searching for that same pain. Ryo swallowed. He didn't know what game Rosemon was playing right now, if she was lying to Black Growlmon and spinning a story or she was gonna go in guns blazing and spill everything she knew about Ryo the Fake to this beast because honesty was the best policy. The thing was, Ryo couldn't tell Black Growlmon the real truth even if he wanted, not when he didn't remember it himself. Hearing it from Rosemon wasn't the same. He'd just be repeating what she said. It wouldn't feel real to him and he figured Black Growlmon would pick up on that.

Ryo decided he better go with what he believed happened. It still felt real to him, at any rate.

He just had no idea how long that would last.

"I thought we were like this," Ryo crossed his fingers. "Like if Cyberdramon had me, everything would be okay. It was us versus the whole Digital World." He faltered. This wasn't stuff he'd talked about before. It was personal, the kind of thing Ryo kept close because in the end what he felt was all he had left, even sprawled in the desert half-dead. "Without him there, I feel like – like I'm nothing. I wasn't enough for him. Maybe I never was and he finally figured it out."

He felt his throat close up then. It hurt, just as raw and real as before.

All he knew was he had Black Growlmon's undivided attention. Rosemon said nothing.

Ryo licked his lips and went on. By some miracle his voice didn't break – it came out dead, flat-lined. Aching. "I wish I'd played it smart. Every day I think about what I should've done differently. What I did wrong. If there was another way I could've held on tight."

The beast across from him had stopped rubbing his head against the concrete as Ryo talked, that yellow eye with the slitted pupil on him. Ryo realized he was clenching his fingers in his lap and forced his hands to relax. It was a totally different level of hurt Ryo didn't think any of the current Tamers could understand. Not really. Not like here. Everyone in this room, though, had gone through it. Rosemon was still as a statue next to him, hardly seeming to breathe. The way Black Growlmon looked at Ryo now was different, less like he was a snack on two legs and more like a potential ally.

"You know, human. Let me go. Please," Black Growlmon's voice was barely above a whisper. "I want my Tamer. If I could just kill Jenrya, I could free Takato and everything would be like before."

Ryo almost laughed, the kind of laugh when you couldn't even be surprised anymore. Yeah, yeah. He got how Black Growlmon could come to that conclusion. Partners made you crazy in all the best and worst ways. Next to Ryo, Rosemon shifted.

"You know Ryo can't do that while I'm here," Rosemon said.

"Even you need to sleep."

Rosemon smiled. "Oh yes, I suspect so. But I'd like to speak with you more, youngling. Why don't we talk about Jenrya? How would killing him make a difference?"

Ryo took that as his unspoken cue to get lost. He slipped out as Black Growlmon hissed at the Knight and slapped his tail sullenly on the floor. It was awhile before Rosemon took a break. She stepped outside the room, startling Ryo awake. He hadn't realized he'd dozed off against the wall. The Royal Knight acted like she'd expected him right where she found him, her boots clicking to a stop.

"You did well, Ryo," Rosemon said. She knelt so they were more or less at eye-level, her cloak pooling on the floor. "Thank you for your assistance."

He scowled. "I didn't do anything. I don't even know if I was lying or telling the truth."

"Do you want to?"

Ryo figured he should say hell no, he was tired of her dropping stuff in his lap. He surprised himself by saying yes.

"What you said was from here," Rosemon touched his heart, her smile almost pitying. "Lies can be based around a truth. This is the one you built yourself around. It's why you were able to pull it off as long as you did."

Ryo gazed up at the Knight, taking in the curve of her lips, the glint of her armor's engravings. So he guessed that was the one thing he knew for sure he hadn't made up, like it was any consolation. Both the real him and…whatever he'd convinced himself he was now agreed on something. Real-him and fake-him having overlap? He tried not to think about how creepy that was. Rosemon rose to her feet.

"Black Growlmon requires more interrogation, but I believe if he is going to help us, he will need closure." She paused. "Or at least an assurance we are strong enough to save his human. Perhaps both."

"You figure out the Jenrya angle yet?" Ryo asked. Talking about the interrogation seemed somehow safer.

"We are making progress. I will let you and the others know when I have something more substantial."

Rosemon turned and went back into the room with Black Growlmon, leaving Ryo alone in the hallway.

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He was trapped in more ways than one.

Takato Matsuda's memories came in fits. It seemed like there was more since yesterday and the day before, jittering in and out ever since Odaiba.

Jenrya was off somewhere. Doing Jenrya stuff, probably. Juggernaut stuff, Takato reminded himself. This was and wasn't Jenrya. It was really really hard to keep them separate most of the time and he guessed that part of him was still broken. He almost could feel it like a real thing, feel it linking back to Jenrya like a rope connecting the two of them. If Takato pulled too hard and too fast, he'd give himself away. Jenrya would come running. So he kept himself as small as possible, barely daring to breathe – not that he needed to breathe here – and waited.

Takato wanted to be sure. The way his memories came back, sometimes he couldn't remember what really happened and what was something bleeding in from the Juggernaut. What may have been one of those memories from all the people Jenrya deleted and uploaded. Once he remembered playing with his pet golden retriever, for example, only to remember his mom and dad had a strict no-pets policy. So, okay, maybe he wasn't the most reliable. You try having bits and pieces of other people suddenly in your head.

All he could tell was Jenrya was unhappy with the Odaiba thing. Very unhappy. Concerned, even.

The question was: what did Jenry – the Juggernaut do when it was "concerned"?

Takato wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Data upload projection to completion…[loading] …65.10% and rising.

The Juggernaut kept a close eye on that. Even with the earthquake and the damage to Tokyo, the Golems still streamed in to gather the data from the millions of humans trapped in the city. Whatever Jenrya thought, it still planned to carry out the Council's breach of the Digital World. It…did have other ideas, however. Contingency plans.

Other concerns.

Tokyo's new isolation hadn't gone unnoticed by the outside world. Jenrya knew about the D-Reaper, almost ready in a far away place named Silicon Valley, the threat called Rob McCoy pushing for an even earlier release date. If the D-Reaper went fully active, it could ruin the Digital World's plan.

Data upload projection to completion…[loading] …65.13% and rising.

They debated deploying a preemptive tactical strike. So far Jenrya hadn't come to a decision, which was…weird for him. Maybe they couldn't extend out that far to get access to missiles. Not yet, anyway.

Takato didn't know.

Maybe it had something also to do with the fact they still hadn't found Black Growlmon. Takato let himself feel happy. Okay, so he couldn't pinpoint Black Growlmon either, but the thing was, he could still feel him, at least enough to know his partner was alive, out there somewhere, and that he was on his side and not the Juggernaut's. He'd always be on his side. It meant the world to him to know he still had some real friends out there. Takato clung to that. That, at least, felt like it was his and not something that could blur in and out on him.

Takato wished he could reach out to Black Growlmon. Will it to happen, like before. (That did happen, right? Like really happened?).

Maybe he could, the longer he was able to think without Jenrya overriding him. He thought he could. It'd happened before. The main thing was he needed time…

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Jenrya was checking up on Darcmon's egg when Ryo caught up to him a few days later. He turned as the other boy cleared his throat.

"So that's it, huh?" Ryo dipped his chin at the egg.

"It" was bundled up in a bunch of towels and what was a sweater for someone way bigger than him. Jenrya had a feeling it probably wasn't the best nest you'd stick it in, if they were going with the best case scenario here. From the tiny smile tugging at Ryo's mouth, he was right. Jenrya nodded as Ryo let himself into the room, the red glow from the emergency lights washing out his face and casting him in harsh shadow.

"Wonder if she'll partner up. Out of the egg like that they're impressionable," Ryo remarked.

Jenrya made a face. "That's not why we took her with us."

"Yeah, yeah. You're just so squishy." Coming from Ryo, that was friendly. "Still, if she hatches soon you're gonna have a big food problem. They're even worse about inhaling the stuff when they're young."

"I'll file that away," Jenrya said, not sure what to make of Ryo being helpful here. "How's the Black Growlmon thing going?"

Ryo didn't answer at first, instead dropping to his knees next to the egg and running his hand across the smooth surface. He idled by the egg and, maybe it was a trick of the light, but Jenrya thought he almost looked sad. He must've been imagining things because when Ryo got to his feet and turned to face him, he had the same expression as before.

"Pretty good. Rosemon has her ways."

"You think he'll help?"

Ryo shrugged. "Most likely he'll have some demands. They're still negotiating the whole Jenrya deal."

Jenrya tried not to look too queasy. He still didn't get why Black Growlmon had it in for him and wished he could sit down and talk, ask why without the Digimon glaring death at him. Ryo met his eyes and gave one of those sardonic smiles of his, like he could read his mind and go yeah, it's screwy, isn't it.

"C'mon, your dad's making noises about lunch," Ryo said. "Dobermon said he'll watch the egg for now."

The two boys headed back to where everyone was gathered, Jenrya thinking about Odaiba. Hard to realize it was gone. Like really gone. As gone as you could get. According to Alice's scouting report, the sinkhole where the island had been finally closed up, the sea water rushing in until you couldn't tell Odaiba had been there unless you knew where it was. He tried not to think about if any humans had been trapped there during the fighting, or when the bomb had gone off. If Ryo had the same thoughts, he wasn't sharing them with the rest of the class.

Jenrya could smell the cooked food – canned or powdered, he didn't ask anymore – from here when Terriermon came running toward them, his ears flapping behind him.

"Jenrya!" Terriermon bowled to a stop, huffing and puffing, and nearly ran headfirst into Ryo's legs. Ryo stepped aside just in time. "You're not gonna like it!"

"What's going on? Like what?"

Terriermon shook his head, trying to shush his partner before the other humans close by could hear him. "Sssh! Follow me."

He could see even from behind that Terriermon was nervous – really nervous – maybe more nervous than the morning before Odaiba. Spooked, too. Jenrya hurried after his partner down what seemed like endless lengths of red-lit tunnel. Ryo followed, the other boy on his heels as they came to a stop in time for Rosemon to step outside. She was unflappable as always, Jenrya wincing slightly at that invisible pressure radiating out from her in soft waves.

"Ah, there you are," said Rosemon mildly. "I believe I have come to something of an understanding with our guest."

The way she said "guest", you could almost forget Black Growlmon was their prisoner.

"However, there will be no further negotiation until you prove yourself."

Jenrya wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. "Did you find out why he hates me?"

"Not yet. I will. But I suggested you are not the enemy he thinks you are and I think he believes that much now. You don't have the right eyes, he said." Rosemon tilted her head. "Unfortunately building trust takes time and time is not something we have. To gain more, we need to give something back."

"So what's this understanding?" Ryo asked. He sounded resigned.

Terriermon made a soft noise at his partner's feet; apparently he'd already been filled in and he didn't like it one bit. Rosemon glanced over her shoulder, then back at Jenrya.

"Proof. He needs to believe you are strong enough - both of you - to rescue his Tamer. In short, he demands to judge you himself," the Knight of Thorns went on. "A battle between you and him. If he deletes Terriermon or kills you, then so be it. Undeniable proof you couldn't help yourselves, much less his beloved human."

"I…" Jenrya trailed off.

"If you beat him, then Black Growlmon will help us and do his best to reign his urges," Rosemon held up an armored hand. "You must understand he has been deeply warped by whatever hurt him and his human. For him to be open to even this sort of deal is progress."

Jenrya knew without looking at Terriermon they were in this together. If this was what it took… "But what about the others? My dad?"

"You may tell them or not tell them, just as you may accept or not accept our guest's demand. It changes nothing."

"Can you give us a sec? Thanks." Ryo didn't wait for Rosemon to nod, turning and grabbing Jenrya by the arm and pulling him aside. Ryo's voice was a hushed hiss. "You can't do this. You're too valuable to give it up for some one-sided death match."

"And what if this is the only way?" Jenrya shot back.

"Then find another way, hotshot."

Terriermon spoke up from Jenrya's ankles. "Ryo, we need Black Growlmon on our side. And I think I can protect Jenrya."

"What makes you think this time will be any different?"

Jenrya's mouth set in a determined line. "Rosemon's right. If we want him to trust us, we have to give him a reason."

Ryo was already shaking his head, muttering about "crazy Tamers" and something that sounded suspiciously like he couldn't believe Jenrya and Terriermon made it this far with that attitude. They all knew he couldn't stop them – even if he went off to tell Janyuu, there wasn't much else the adults could do either. This was bigger than them, anyway. Even with Rosemon here, they were still outgunned and maybe they'd gotten stupidly lucky surviving Odaiba. Ryo blew out an explosive breath.

"Okay, so what do I tell your dad and your sister?" Ryo went for the low blow.

Jenrya sighed. "I don't know. Maybe we shouldn't say anything. It'd…it'd probably be easier."

There was a silent "just in case" worked in there. Jenrya knew if he told anyone else it'd spread to everyone like wildfire and the others wouldn't be so willing to trust Black Growlmon to follow through. He could easily see Ruki and Renamon jumping in on this. Jenrya was afraid the longer he had to think, the more tempting it would look to back out and second-guess his options and consequences. It flashed over him that was how a lot of this started – he'd spent so much time waffling and trying to keep Guilmon out of this that he hadn't acted when he should've. Now he was determined not to make that mistake all over again.

Rosemon waited for them next to Black Growlmon's cell. "I will bring you in to see him now. Hearing it from you personally will build that foundation of trust."

Jenrya didn't look over his shoulder as they went in, Terriermon perched on his head. He could feel Ryo's black eyes burning into his back.

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Black Growlmon had to give this Jenrya credit – the evil little beast was willing to put himself in the line of fire.

Another thing that didn't add up to what he knew about Jenrya. The Jenrya he knew was all about survival, to the point where he'd probably even be willing to use Takato as a shield if he thought he needed to. Black Growlmon quivered as Jenrya and Terriermon entered. It was the eyes. They weren't silver ringed by black, like they should've been. And Jenrya talked with his mouth! Weird. Freaky. But the face was the same, that same hate surging up in him the second the human stepped into his prison cell. It took everything he had not to rush him and try to snap his head off. The only thing that stopped him was Her stepping in behind Jenrya.

Black Growlmon pressed his head to the floor with a snarl, that pressure from Her pushing at him. Rosemon was so distracting he sometimes forgot about that buzzing in his head.

He was scared of Her. You'd have to be stupid not to be. She was almost as bad as Jenrya!

Jenrya looked at him warily with those beady human eyes of his. Black Growlmon caught Terriermon staring like he was something to be pitied.

"We're in," Jenrya said.

Black Growlmon blew out a snort of sheer disbelief. "So all I had to do was ask and I get to kill you?" He laughed, an ugly chuffing sound in the back of his throat that exposed his fangs. The laugh turned strangled as the throbbing in his head spiked.

Terriermon bristled. "You go ahead and try it! I've got his back!"

"Just like last time, runt?"

Rosemon stepped in then. "Enough. Are you certain this is what you want?"

Black Growlmon tried to glare at Rosemon, but unlike the humans he killed, she refused to look away or flinch. "As sure as sure. It's what Takato would've wanted." He was sure Takato would've wanted these so-called friends taken out, especially since they hadn't rescued him. Or was that what Other-Jenrya wanted?

All Black Growlmon knew was he was itching to finish the job. Maybe if he did, he'd finally get some peace around here. Thankfully his voice didn't wibble-wobble when he mentioned his Tamer. He missed him so much that he was worried he couldn't concentrate on stuff like deleting Terriermon.

"Very well," Rosemon said. "Jenrya Lee and Gargomon against you. They win if they incapacitate you or you otherwise forfeit. You win if you delete Gargomon or kill Jenrya. Jenrya may use what he can to defend himself."

Black Growlmon rumbled deep in his throat at this, trying to figure out Rosemon's game. For a Digimon on the human's side, she seemed ready to throw Jenrya at him in a hurry. If it wasn't for the tempting idea of finally getting Jenrya once and for all, he would've been even more suspicious. There had to be a catch, right? After days of squirming under Rosemon's questions, trying to remember how to think straight and not even being able to see Takato in his dreams, this seemed almost too good to be true.

Getting what he wanted all along put Black Growlmon in something that could be mistaken for a good mood. Almost.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Of course Ryo told his dad.

Jenrya somehow wasn't surprised. All he knew was he was horrified when Dad showed up with Reika, Ruki and just about everyone else in tow: the only people missing were his sister and the Matsudas, and he could guess why. Dad tried just about everything under the sun to talk him out of it, Jenrya standing there as he poured his heart out. It was hard to say no.

Somehow he did.

Rosemon stood off the side. Jenrya tried not to let his eyes wander back to her. Ryo told him about who Rosemon was – that she used to have a human partner and that she'd probably gone through whatever drove Garurumon crazy. Whatever it was, it hadn't worked. Jenrya wondered if her Mimi was anything like the girl in the Digimon show. It was creepy thinking about it. Ryo's "bet you it's cover-up" theory made sense, Jenrya guessed.

Put a story like that on TV and who would believe anyone who said anything about it was true?

Either way, Rosemon wasn't the Rookie she had been before. She stood with one armored hand on her hip, her face expressionless, painfully beautiful, and for a second he almost thought he understood how she became a Royal Knight.

Jenrya still wasn't sure what she meant by closure. All he knew was that she wouldn't step in if things got bad, not after she promised to Black Growlmon she wouldn't. The Knight of Thorns was only there to make sure both parties obeyed the rules, no more, no less. No targeting the other humans. And no assists or interruptions from anyone, either. His dad stood unhappily behind Rosemon with the others.

"We'll be okay," Gargomon said next to him. "Momentai."

Jenrya wanted to believe all they needed was momentai. The thing was he wasn't that worried about himself. Back on Odaiba he'd been running on adrenaline and fear. It was the same feeling. Knowing what was at stake. Worried about Gargomon going up against that Black Growlmon again. Feeling that cold pit in his stomach knotting in on itself. They were in this together but that didn't mean Jenrya thought they'd win, either.

He kept that to himself, biting his lip. The last thing Gargomon needed to see was his doubts.

"Surprised he hasn't taken any potshots at anyone already," Gargomon went on. He tried to keep his voice light.

Black Growlmon stood several meters way, free of Rosemon's silver whip now. He worked out the kinks, his muscles in his arms and legs rippling. Jenrya tried not to stare at those fangs. His partner was right, though. Black Growlmon was doing a pretty good job keeping things under control and Jenrya guessed maybe finally getting a crack at him might have something to do with it. It hit him all over again how totally wrong this was. Takato should be here, helping them fight with Guilmon. Not this.

The fighting area was a school's gym less than a mile away, mostly intact despite the earthquake. Hopefully the place didn't fall down on their heads. But it was a roof and cover, and with the Council's forces out there, it beat fighting out in the open. Jenrya made it a point not to look over at the others. He hadn't ever fought with an audience before – then it was just fighting because he had to, something spur of the moment, and not being aware of eyes on him.

"Are you ready?" Rosemon asked.

Jenrya nodded, his cards and D-Arc in his hands. Gargomon clicked off his safeties. Black Growlmon gave a snort ringed with fire.

Rosemon didn't say anything. There was only a nod and it felt like something in the air, something unspoken, changed.

Black Growlmon immediately lunged forward as Gargomon let loose a salvo. "Gargo Laser!"

Gunfire spattered across the floor and against the Shadow's scales with an explosive boom. Black Growlmon howled in the smoke kicked up: it sounded enraged, nowhere close to throwing in the towel.

Jenrya didn't wait for him to emerge, slashing his first card. "Digi-Modify! Slot Blast, activate!"

He'd seen what it could do during Odaiba. The last thing he wanted to do was blow a hole in Black Growlmon, but he also wanted to make sure Gargomon had a better chance than the last time they ran into each other. It wasn't like they could rely on an EMP pulse from Dobermon.

"Thanks!" Gargomon leveled his cannon, the plates still rotating out. Energy particles gathered as he started to fire.

Black Growlmon didn't wait around, instead charging as his elbow spike glowed and extended with a pop-hiss. His Plasma Blade slashed up against Gargomon's cannon. For a split second Jenrya thought it would hold. The next second he was proven wrong, the blade glowing and cutting right through the rifle attachment. The attachment melted into slag and exploded into data.

So much for that card. Jenrya slashed another one.

Having to dodge both Plasma Blades humming dangerously inches away didn't leave Gargomon a lot of time to get used to his new upgrades. Black Growlmon was playing it, believe it or not, even more aggressively than before, hugging his opponent hard. It didn't occur to Jenrya that he wanted him to think that.

The fighting started to draw closer to him over the next couple of minutes, Jenrya trying his best to ignore the gasps from Dad or Ruki trying to yell him card advice. He dodged as Gargomon almost fell back on top of him. That was the first time Black Growlmon suddenly switched gears, using Gargomon's distraction to make a pass at Jenrya.

"Exhaust Flame!"

Jenrya managed to jump out of the way and nearly ran face first into the Plasma Blade waiting for him. It shaved by as Black Growlmon glared down. Before Gargomon could jump to his partner's side, Black Growlmon whipped his tail at him, kicking his enemy back at step as he charged the human again with his shoulder. Between the fire patches blocking his escape route, there wasn't anywhere he could run. Jenrya felt his head crack against the ground as he was bowled over. The world swirled. He thought he tasted blood in his mouth. When he looked up Black Growlmon was over him, his fangs glistening as he thrust his jaws down.

"Oh no, you don't!" Gargomon yelled.

He tackled Black Growlmon from behind before he could bite his human in half. The two Champions stumbled away. One of Black Growlmon's clawed feet smashed down inches away from Jenrya's chest, his partner using brute force to push against him. Jenrya rolled away as their opponent took a blind swing with his tail. It caught him in the side and sent him crashing back down to his knees, Jenrya struggling to breathe, gasping and wheezing.

Gargomon couldn't help himself – he looked over at the sound of his Tamer in pain.

Black Growlmon took the opening and sank his fangs inches into Gargomon's shoulder. The other Digimon cried out and tried to jerk away, trying to raise his gun-arms and fire point-blank. Black Growmon shook his jaws before he could get a shot in, tearing the gaping wounds bigger.

"I knew you weren't strong enough!" Black Growlmon bellowed. He bit down again and again. He tore his fangs through Gargomon, blowing out a burst of white fire into the wound, and then threw him aside, still smoking. "Even your Tamer can't trust you to do the job!"

Jenrya's mind went blank. In that second, there was this sharpness, like he could look around and see every detail, from the fine scales in Black Growlmon's hide to the way Gargomon fell back like he weighed nothing, data spewing out. It was almost like that time he first really understood who Terriermon was – not a what, but a who, that Terriermon was more than binary on a screen. That same feeling punched him, making everything narrow down to a needle's focus. He saw, really saw.

The problem was trust. It wasn't that Gargomon wasn't strong enough – it never had been.

It was him.

He'd been afraid to let his partner fight then and despite everything, there was a part of him that still was, even now.

Jenrya slashed the card in his hand. It didn't matter what kind of card it was. Didn't matter if it was the last one left. Black Growlmon charged right at him, but Jenrya's eyes were only on Gargomon, his partner still lying on his side. Something opened up something inside, a flood gate like a breath of fresh air.

His D-Arc burned with a new light. Gargomon's eyes shot open.

The light engulfed him, a wave of heat washing out as Gargomon digivolved.

Whatever ammo he had left in his gun arms cooked, the shots flying wildly as Black Growlmon was forced to lurch away and duck for cover. Jenrya threw himself to the ground. He glanced up. There was an impression of armor replacing fur, green armor growing everywhere, all curves and no hard edges. His ears segmented and hardened into sheets of metal, the horn on his head tapering to a sharper point. Jenrya shielded his watering eyes as the light brightened in intensity. The heat began to fade as the digivolution completed, allowing him to look up, gaping. It took him a second to realize his D-Arc was chiming away with the new information it detected:

Rapidmon
Ultimate level
Android Digimon

It registered on Black Growlmon's face that he was now outclassed…and he might not get another crack at Jenrya ever again. He surged up from where he'd flattened against the floor, ignoring Rapidmon and making a last ditch effort to get to his human.

Only this time Jenrya stood his ground. No more running away.

No more thinking in the back of his mind Terriermon couldn't handle this. He trusted his partner all the way.

Black Growlmon was only feet away, hot enough to feel that freaky heat coming off, when Rapidmon popped up in front of him. Jenrya couldn't explain it. Suddenly he was there, materializing so fast Jenrya didn't even see him move. Without even seeming to swing back, Rapidmon decked Black Growlmon right in the face with his new cannon. The impact was deafening. A sickeningly loud whud of metal meeting flesh vibrated through the air. Black Growlmon staggered back, part of his snout's skin peeled back to reveal the digital lines throbbing underneath. Data drifted out as the Shadow tried to right himself.

The fight hadn't been knocked out of him yet. Trying the same trick with biting into Rapidmon didn't work – his teeth skidded across the green armor, the flames only licking at the edges.

Recovering, Black Growlmon darted to the side and disappeared into the thick smoke hanging over the battleground. It was so dense Jenrya couldn't see where the beast was. Rapidmon swiveled in place next to him, those huge ears of his tilting with a whirl of gears. Without even seeming to aim, he lifted his cannons and leveled them at a spot in the darkness.

"Rapid Fire!"

Black Growlmon snarled. Obviously sneaking around wouldn't work with ears like Rapidmon's. The beast burst out of the smoke, sporting more tears in his black hide than before. He roared his defiance, sucking in a breath. White fire sprayed out in the strongest burst yet.

"Tri-Beam!" Rapidmon's attack screamed through the wall of fire like it was nothing.

Black Growlmon's eyes went wide. Jenrya had a glimpse of Rapidmon falling back to shield him, his hand brushing up against metal that felt surprisingly warm, before the Tri-Beam hit its target square in the chest. Black Growlmon was thrown through the wall, the sonic boom blowing out whatever was left of the windows. Glass tinkled everywhere. Green sparks rippled over the hole and Black Growlmon's twitching body. The Tri-Beam had blown away the smoke and most of the fires, cinders still winking here and there. You couldn't ask for a clearer shot.

Rapidmon was preparing to attack again when Rosemon's voice rang out. "Enough."

Jenrya got to his feet next to his partner, reaching up to wipe the blood trickling from his mouth. Black Growlmon was still in one piece, but the fight had been kicked out of him. His tail gave a useless thump. Every now and then he would try to lift his head and find he could barely do even that.

"Remember what it was like and hold onto that, both of you," Rosemon said. She swept past them and headed for Black Growlmon. "Congratulations."

She crossed the rubble and knelt down next to Black Growlmon, her hand reaching out to caress his spikes. Sensing she wanted to be alone with him, Jenrya hung back. He was still pumped full of adrenaline, lumped in with shock they'd done it and that Gargomon hit Ultimate. Jenrya couldn't think of what to say as he turned toward Rapidmon. Smoke from the battle still wafted over the bleachers and the gym, decorated with way more ventilation holes then it started out with. He was bruised all over and it was still hard to breathe, but he found his face breaking out in a smile, half in relief, the other half deliriously happy.

"Told you," Rapidmon said, his voice coming out tinny from his armor. "That's a lifetime of I told you so's! You bet I'm gonna milk it."

Jenrya laughed.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Reika's cell phone still worked. With very few places to charge it, that in itself was a small miracle.

It helped she kept it off and rationed the time she turned it on to check. No calls from her sister or any of her friends. Any contact with Hypnos was a no-go. Even Kei hadn't resurfaced. There weren't any messages, either, from Yamaki.

She kept half-expecting one anyway. If her boss was still alive, he would've tried to call, wouldn't he? Why cell phone reception still worked with that barrier in place was beyond her, but at least it was something. What she saw today was something she would've wanted to report. Reika stood back as the others ran to crowd around Jenrya Lee and his newly evolved Digimon, her lips pursed. The first of the children to have his creature hit Ultimate. She would – should – have found it disturbing if she wasn't convinced these kids were the last chance they had. It wasn't a comforting thought. Reika wasn't sure how she'd come to this point.

Out of habit she turned on her cell phone, listening to Janyuu sweeping up his son in a crushing hug, and glanced down, expecting to see the usual on her phone. She froze. 1 MSG WAITING, it read. 10:32 AM. Today.

Her heart thundering in her chest, Reika turned away from the group. She opened the message.

- R.O. -

ALIVE, MADE IT BACK TO TOKYO. HAVE COMPANY.

REPORT: YOUR LOCATION / STATUS

REPORT: YOUR UPDATE ON HYPNOS / WILD ONES

MEMO: I WILL EXPLAIN MORE WHEN WE MEET. NEARING SHINJUKU.

- M.Y. -

To be continued
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I'm plugging ahead with Digital Shuffle and have started laying out the epilogue (although I'm not yet close to that – I'd say I'm about 70% done with the story).