013. Part of my 100 Songs Challenge.
Inspired By: Running Up That Hill, Placebo
Disclaimer: I don't own Digimon or the song.
She holds her firstborn son in her arms, gazing down upon his delicate, lovely face, and thinks that life is indeed a beautiful thing.
Never has she seen a more perfect child. His eyes are curious and gleaming, peering up at her with an intelligence she would have never believed. His cheeks are pink and healthy, and as she kisses his forehead she brushes back the few tufts of dark hair on his head. He blinks up at her, hair standing on end, and she can't help but laugh at how owlish and adorable he looks.
"Osamu," she whispers, smiling at him. The name fits him well, she thinks. It is something for him to live up to, and she knows in her heart that he will. He will be great, she thinks, the ideal, angelic little boy, someday becoming a man among men.
Osamu reaches up with his tiny, pale hands and grasps one of her fingers, his grip sure and strong.
She cries tears of pure joy.
He is better than the other children. She knows it to be true.
His mind works on a higher level. His thoughts are far more complex. The way he sees the world is different from the other children, for not only does he see past the lies and deceit and ugliness, but he also sees that which is not meant to be seen. He has the power, or so it seems, to gaze upon a person and peer deep into the darkest parts of their heart.
Or so it seems. He's only a toddler, after all. Perhaps she's reading too much into those unnerving stares he occasionally gives her.
But one thing is for certain: Osamu is special. He learned to walk before the other children, toddling around the house and examining everything he could. While the others his age were struggling with "mama" and "papa," he was speaking in verbose, meaningful sentences. And even now at age four, she has noticed him beginning to read his picture books as if he was born to it. 'Where did he learn to read?' she wonders. 'Did he teach himself? Is that even possible?'
And she is so very proud, because Osamu is better than the other children.
She discovers that she is pregnant again, and she shares her happiness with her husband. Another beautiful baby boy on the way… She hopes that he will be just like Osamu. She hopes that she will be blessed with another miracle – that her second son will be as impossibly perfect as her first.
But of course he isn't.
Ken is everything Osamu is not. As a baby, Osamu was quiet – abnormally so, some might say – but Ken is not afraid to wail and scream and cry, expressing his wants and needs through the only method he knows. His first words are simple and straightforward; his first steps wobbly and hesitant. As he grows up, Ken becomes the happy one. He is constantly smiling and laughing, finding entertainment in the simplest of pleasures. He likes to run and play, making friends both real and imaginary. Simple things like bubbles and butterflies and sandboxes and soccer balls amuse him to no end. He is a normal, happy, healthy child, and any other parent would be proud.
But Ken is not Osamu.
And Osamu is better than the other children.
She thought that he would live up to his name. She was right.
Osamu is eight years old, and he has just begun the third grade. Every day when she comes to pick him up, his teacher rants and raves about that day's achievements.
"Osamu-kun was the only one in the class who could spell these words correctly!" she exclaims, waving the list of vocabulary words about. "Osamu-kun was the only one who could read this complicated passage without stumbling over a single word! Osamu-kun solved all the arithmetic problems without any assistance, and he even solved the fourth grade and fifth grade problems! Ma'am, you boy is a genius!"
He simply stands there, fiddling with his glasses and staring out into the distance. He doesn't like all this praise – it makes him feels strange and different, as if he doesn't belong with the other kids. Most of them seem to avoid him, whispering suspicious words behind his back. Others purposefully go out of their way to trip him or push him off the jungle gym, laughing as they run away. They are jealous and simple-minded, fearing that which is special or unusual without any real cause. 'It's not fair,' Osamu thinks. 'It's not my fault that I'm smarter than them.'
His mother, on the other hand, is all smiles. She is soaking up these compliments as if they were rays of sunlight, gazing at her son with affection and wonder. A genius! How extraordinary! She just cannot wait to brag to all her friends and neighbors.
Four-year-old Ken huddles behind his mother, clutching at her skirts and trying to get her attention.
"Mama," he says brightly, "I caught a butterfly! Look, Mama!" He tugs once more on her skirt, grinning up at her proudly. But she is locked in animated conversation with the teacher, expounding Osamu's virtues, and has no time for such silly things. She brushes him off, annoyed at the disturbance.
Ken's smile fades into dejection.
The butterfly flies away in a sudden, graceful arc, a painted lady fluttering bright against the cloudless sky.
Osamu and Ken stand on the balcony, blowing bubbles.
Sunlight filters through the clouds to warm their young faces, casting their world in shades of buttercup yellow. A hint of a breeze gusts past, blowing iridescent bubbles this way and that, tossing them about like dandelion seeds in the wind. The world is smiling on this day, Ken thinks, and so is Osamu.
Ken loves to watch the soap bubbles forming, shimmering into existence. They glitter with rainbow light, and in them he sees a fleeting reflection of their creator – him and him alone. Blowing bubbles is the one thing he does better than Osamu, and Ken relishes the feeling of triumph he always feels when his bubbles go soaring off into the great beyond.
Osamu laughs and says it's because Ken's gentle. That's why his bubbles are so lovely and flawless, like orbs of liquid glass.
Ken beams with pride. He is gentle, and Osamu is not.
For once, Osamu is simply, plainly, merely not.
"Nii-san, why do bubbles have rainbows in them?" Ken asks, watching an especially monstrous bubble drift away, flying high above the jumble of traffic in the streets below.
Osamu ponders this for a few moments, wondering how to explain it so that Ken will understand. He's only five, after all – things like visible light and refractions won't mean much to him.
"Well…" he says slowly, "sometimes reflections can show us things that we wouldn't normally be able to see. Light bounces off the bubble and back towards us, making us see a rainbow that would be invisible otherwise. In a sense, reflections show us the truth."
Ken tilts his head to the side in confusion, dark eyes wide and puzzled, but he nods his head anyhow, desperate to show his brother how smart he is. "Oh okay, I get it," he chirps, then returns to his happy bubble blowing.
Osamu's own bubbles are small and hesitant, without a stained glass gleam. Most of them pop as soon as they form, splashing the ground with flecks of soapy water.
No, Osamu thinks. He is not meant to be gentle.
It is not his destiny.
The Digivice appears in a flash of light, settling on the floor of Osamu's room without so much as a warning. They stare at it for a few moments, both transfixed and slightly frightened.
"… Nii-san, what is it?" Ken finally asks, breathless with astonishment.
"I'm not sure, Ken," Osamu replies, eyes narrowing behind his glasses. He picks it up hesitantly, holding it up to the light and shaking it softly. "But I'm going to find out, okay?" He places the device in his desk drawer and turns to Ken, his expression severe.
"Whatever you do, don't touch it. Do you understand me, Ken? It could be dangerous."
The younger boy nods his head obediently, and Osamu leaves the room.
Ken tries to resist. He really, truly does. But the device is calling his name – he can hear it plain as day! Ken, it whispers. Ken…
It has to be meant for him, he thinks. It can't be dangerous. Why else would it be calling to him so sweetly, urging him – no, begging him – to place his hand upon it? It has to be his. And if it's rightfully his, then Osamu shouldn't be too angry with him.
Ken slides open the desk drawer, gazing in wonder at the pale blue device. It's beautiful in a sense, all sharp edges and sleek curves, like something straight from the future.
He reaches out, takes hold of it, and is enveloped by the light.
Children are far more perceptive and understanding than adults. Perhaps that, in the long run, is why they make better heroes. For in their young minds, magic and monsters and fantasy are all very genuine, realities which they have not yet discovered, and thus they accept the existence of worlds beyond their own as easily as they accept the inevitability of tomorrow.
Ken is no different. The Digital World comes as a pleasant surprise, perhaps, but nothing more. He knows, in some uncharted part of his mind, that this world has always been and always will be, and that it is part of his duty to protect it from all that threatens. But for now, he simply enjoys the adventure, trekking across the desert with his own digital companion by his side. He's just a kid, after all. He's always dreamt of exciting escapades, of quests and journeys and hairs-breadth, last minute escapes.
He returns to his own world in another blinding flash of light, smiling at the thought of his newfound play-place. His friends would all be so jealous if they knew.
"Ken!" a sharp voice exclaims. "Just what do you think you're doing!?"
Osamu is illuminated by the bleeding light of the sun, setting him aflame in shades of red. His face is contorted with anger and shadow, creating a demon of coppery darkness, and his eyes are hidden by the sunset glare.
"Don't worry, Nii-san, I didn't break it," Ken says happily, holding up his new favorite toy.
"I thought I told you not to touch it," the older boy hisses, voice slow and treacherous like a snake coiling to strike. He knocks the device from his brother's hand forcefully, sending it skittering across the floor.
Ken's eyes go wide and scared. He's never seen Osamu like this before.
"Don't touch my things ever again!"
"I… I'm sorry," Ken says, voice barely a whisper. His eyes are beginning to prickle with hot tears.
"You have to have respect for people's property, Ken."
"… I will."
"It's too late for that. I already told you once not to go in my drawer, but you broke my trust. Now I can't trust you ever again."
Ken opens his mouth to defend himself, but is cut off.
"What if you had gotten hurt!? If you had, Mom and Dad would've blamed me!"
"… I said sorry." Even to his own ears, he sounds meek.
"Get out. I have to study."
Ken leaves, sniffling, as the reds of the sunset slowly fade into dusk.
The woman's makeup is garish and ridiculous. Her lips are painted, her cheeks are smeared with rouge, and her eyelashes are stuck together with thick clumps of black goo. She looks like a clown, tired and overdone but still trying her hardest to put on a fake smile for the world. Inside though, Ken can see her screaming. I haven't aged a day! Look at me! Notice me! Want me, just as you once did!
But no one seems to hear. Her silent shouts go unnoticed.
Her cherry red lips, slightly smudged on one side, curl upwards to reveal sharp white teeth. A shark, Ken thinks.
"How is that son of yours?" she asks, voice sickly sweet and harsh on the ears. "I hear he just skipped a grade, ne? I heard he just placed first in that prestigious academics competition, and that he won the high school level science fair! A genius, that one! Soon he'll be a celebrity, I just know it! When he becomes famous, make sure to get me an autograph, alright?"
Ken's mother smiles radiantly. She's become used to the compliments, but still basks in their glow at every given opportunity. "Isn't he just wonderful?" she murmurs, and then launches into a retelling of Osamu's latest achievements and goals.
Ken stares at his feet. Why is no one proud of him? Just the other day he wrote an essay in school and got an 'O' for Outstanding. Just the other day he made a goal from the other end of the soccer field. Just the other day he climbed the tallest tree in the park without skinning his knees even once.
Why does no one care?
Osamu this. Osamu that. It's always Osamu, never him. And though he's seven years old (not a baby anymore, he can take care of himself), sometimes he finds himself wishing that they'd praise him once in a while.
Good work, Ken, he imagines. You did a great job!
Wow, you're so smart, Ken, he imagines. You know everything!
Amazing, Ken, he imagines. Such natural talent!
In this imaginary world, there is no Osamu. There is only him, surrounded by people and love and everything he could ever want.
The shark-toothed woman is still talking, but he's not paying attention. Because his eyes are closed to the world and he's smiling – smiling at his make believe fans, grinning at his pretend admirers.
It's his time to shine.
With only the slightest tremor of hesitation, he wishes that Osamu would just disappear.
Outside, people are shouting instructions and orders. Others are chatting calmly. Others are weeping sorrowfully. But inside the room, there are no sounds but the slow, mournful beep of the heart monitor and the hollow, deathly rattle of the respirator.
Ken doesn't like this place very much – too fluorescent and sterile and gleaming, with the sharp smell of sickness lying heavy on the air. He wishes he were anywhere but here, gazing upon the battered body of his older brother.
No one has explained to him in detail what occurred. He's just a kid, they think. No need to burden him with unnecessary information. But Ken's heard enough snippets of conversation here and there – speeding car, came out of nowhere, driver was probably drunk, the bastard – to piece the puzzle together.
He knows what did this to his brother. But he's still not sure who.
"Where'd mom and dad go?" Osamu's voice is a ghost of a whisper, and his face is drawn and pale due to the mind-numbing pain. His head is heavily bandaged. There is a brace around his neck. His leg is broken, his arm is broken, his ribs are broken. He is broken - a frail, pitiful shell of his former self.
"They're talking with the doctors," Ken says quietly. Unsure of what to say or do, he looks out the window, staring accusingly at the pale blue sky.
Beep, goes the heart monitor.
Whoosh, goes the respirator.
"What's the matter, Kenny Boy?" Osamu asks softly, trying and failing to smile through the pain.
Ken feels tears forming in his eyes, feels them spill down his cheeks like raindrops on a window pane. "It's all my fault," he whispers. "It's all my fault that you got hurt, Nii-san."
"… What kind of nonsense are you spouting now?" comes Osamu's hushed response, as if he and his voice are slowly fading into nothingness.
"I… I wished you would go away, Nii-san," Ken mumbles, and the tears come faster now, blurring his vision until he's seeing double. "No one ever pays any attention to me. It's always you they talk about. It's always you they praise. I thought that if you were gone, everyone would start caring about me! But…"
Ken's throat is constricting painfully, his nose is running, and violent sobs are racking his small frame. "I'm sorry, Nii-san," he says through his tears, voice choked and laden with emotion. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!"
Osamu is looking at him through dull, expressionless eyes. He waits for his brother's sobs to subside into sad, dismal little sniffles.
"… It's alright, Ken," he murmurs. "It's not your fault."
Ken looks at him blearily, blinking back his remaining tears. "It's not?"
"Nope. And you know, even if I do go away, I won't be gone forever." Osamu's dark eyes, clouded by a pall of hurt, are steadily losing their brightness, but they are still peering deep into the recesses of Ken's heart and appraising what they find within. He's always had this power – just a mere glance and he knows every secret, every weakness, every uncertainty. Just a glance, and he can see deep into one's soul.
"Someday I'll be back, Kenny Boy," Osamu says, locking eyes with his brother. "You may not realize it, but someday I'll be back. Just you wait."
Whoosh, goes the respirator.
Beep, goes the heart monitor.
Whoosh, goes the respirator. But it's no use. His breath slows.
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, goes the heart monitor - one long, doleful, drawn-out note that echoes through the stillness of the night.
Life is such a fragile thing, she thinks, as the world goes to hell around her. Beautiful, yes, but fragile all the same. Like iridescent soap bubbles drifting on a wisp of wind, life can be both fleeting and magnificent. He is – was, she reminds herself – her perfect boy, her exemplary son, her lovely little genius.
And now he is gone.
He had wanted to be a chemist, an engineer, a doctor, a programmer, an astrophysicist. He had wanted to win the Nobel Peace prize and discover intelligent life in other galaxies. He had wanted to find a cure for cancer, to develop the next best supercomputer, to find a solution for pollution and global warming. He had wanted to change the world.
She thinks of the jealous stares the other mothers had thrown her way. She thinks of her pride as a six-year-old Osamu showed her his working model of the solar system, far beyond the expertise of a normal first grader. She thinks of his intelligent smile, seldom seen but so very beautiful.
She thinks of what might have been, and cries tears of indescribable grief.
Ken's wish has been granted.
Osamu is gone, but life could not be worse.
His parents are disconsolate. At the dinner table they sit, blank-faced and lifeless, hardly touching the bland, flavorless food in front of them. His mother cries often, and Ken rarely knows what to do but leave her alone with her sorrows. Sometimes his father forgets to pick him up from school, distracted by the heaviness of his thoughts, and Ken must brave the miles-long walk home by himself.
They are empty, he thinks. Osamu has taken their will to live with him, under the cold, hard ground where he is buried. Their bodies are here, like puppets with their strings cut off, but their souls are still lost in some distant, happy memory of the past.
In a sense, Osamu is not the only one who died on that day.
Ken often feels the urge to scream. I know you're sad! he wants to shout. I'm sad too! But I'm still here, and I still need you!
But he never does. He doesn't want to be selfish. His parents are grieving, he knows, and though it may take months or years or even a lifetime, eventually the mourning will cease and they will once again turn towards the light.
So when his mother forgets to pack him a lunch, he does not scream. And when his father tells him to turn off the TV, even though his favorite program is on, he does not scream. And when they hardly spare a glance at his straight-A report card, he does not scream.
Because he is meant to be gentle and kind-hearted.
It is his destiny.
He stands on the shore of a monochrome world.
Here, everything is cast in dull shades of grey and black. Stormy clouds hang low like a smothering, suffocating blanket, thick mist presses in from all sides, and cold, gloomy water laps hungrily at his feet, as if it is trying to swallow him whole. As far as the eye can see there is naught but cold black ocean and jagged rocks, which stab at the sky like knives of stone. The air is almost rough against his skin, heavy with the sharp tang of salt.
Evil thoughts are whispering through Ken's mind. He doesn't like them, and yet… They sound so sweet. These words of malice are like an entrancing song, luring him into their dark abyss, a place where his own common sense and willpower are forfeit.
Ken takes a step into the hungry waters. And then another. And then another, until he is up to his knees in cool, piercing darkness. He holds the Digivice under the surface, watching as it transforms from blue to black, and the cruel whispers in his mind change, developing into crazed, maniacal laughter.
His thoughts turn traitor.
"This is mine now," he whispers, as if in a trance. "No one can ever take it away from me!" His lips curl into a smirk, then a sneer, then a demented grin, stretching wide across his face. The whispers in his mind are telling him what he can do with this black device – what he will do. They are telling him of the power he alone will possess, and that nothing will be strong enough to stand in his way. He welcomes the whispers now. They tell him exactly what he wants to hear.
Ken stands tall, gazing upon the device with anticipation shining in his eyes.
With this, he thinks, he will rule the world.
The changes begin slowly.
He starts to drift away from his so-called 'friends.' They aren't worthy of him, those low-lifes. All they care about is laughing and having fun, never thinking of the big picture. But Ken sees the big picture. He sees his goals and dreams for the future, and knows that friends are a useless thing to have. They will do nothing but slow him down, he thinks. In a world such as this one, friends are not needed.
He starts losing interest in many of the activities he used to enjoy. Although he's considered the star of his soccer team, the sport no longer holds his interest as it used to. Soccer is no longer fun – it's a chore, something that must be done in order to keep up appearances. Kicking a ball around a field now seems like such a plebeian task. He's not a simpleton. Not anymore at least. He has better things to do than to score goals.
He delves deep into his studies, immersing himself in facts and figures and diagrams that suddenly make perfect sense. Math is simple now. In fact, it's too easy. He finds himself sneering at the simple problems the teacher presents them with, solving them in mere seconds and moving on to more complicated things. Science is a joke now. In fact, it hardly takes any effort. His mind is filled with multitudes of formulas and chemicals and elements, and his peers begin jostling over who will be his lab partner next. English is hardly a challenge anymore. His classmates stumble over the foreign words, sounding them out in apparent confusion, but to him they come as easily as the vernacular.
His teachers preen themselves, congratulatory, thinking his successes are their doing, but Ken knows better.
Because he is better.
His parents start to take notice. He sees their souls returning to their bodies little by little, sees them beginning to return to life once more. They notice him a bit more every day, questioning him about school and such during dinner, occasionally proffering up small, hesitant smiles when his answers are positive. The school guidance counselor calls to talk about Ken's outstanding grades, and his mother answers the phone.
"A genius?" he hears her whisper, and then burst into happy tears.
Ken smiles, but it is a lazy, languid smile, full of secrets as sharp as a razor's edge.
'Yes, mother,' he thinks. 'A genius. Aren't you proud?'
The Digimon Emperor sits atop his throne, gazing down upon his kingdom.
Someday, he thinks, he will rule it all with an iron fist. The very thought sends shivers of joy and exhilaration down his spine. He can imagine it now – control spires as far as the eye can see, their onyx peaks gleaming dully in the pale gloom, reaching their shadowy fingers towards a lightning-streaked sky. Each and every creature shall be his slave, their minds ready and willing to be molded by the power of his Dark Rings, their blank eyes full of whatever emotion he so chooses. This world will crumble to dust beneath his fingertips, revealing a barren wasteland of black ice and stone in which he and he alone will pass judgment on those that inhabit it.
The Digimon Emperor laughs, and imagines himself the Lord of Oblivion.
But for now there is still work to be done. He rises from his throne.
As he walks through the catacombs that conceal his base of operations, a small green creature chances upon him.
"Master!" Wormmon exclaims, scuttling out of the way fearfully. "How wonderful to see you! I-Is there anything you need, Master? Anything I can do for you?"
The Emperor pauses. "Actually, Wormmon, there is something you can do," he says, lip curling into a derisive sneer. "Get out of my sight."
He aims a well-placed kick at the caterpillar-creature, and savors the torturous pain, both physical and mental, in its wide blue eyes as it is flung forcefully against the wall. Wormmon whimpers pitifully as he scurries back into the relative safety of the shadows.
The Emperor continues on his way as if nothing has happened, glad to be rid of such a pest.
The walls are sleek and polished in this part of the catacombs, where the ancient stone above gives way to futuristic technology beneath, and they reflect their surroundings much like a mirror would. The Digimon Emperor catches his reflection as he walks past.
He is illuminated by the faint glow of the overhead lights, drenching him in cool shades of blue. His face is twisted with hunger and shadow, creating a demon of metallic darkness, and his eyes are hidden by the shaded lenses of the glasses he wears.
The memory surfaces suddenly. Ken's eyes go wide and scared as he assesses himself, horror awakening him briefly from his otherworldly state.
"See, Kenny Boy?" his reflection says, smirking. "I told you I'd be back."