DISCLAIMER: I don't own Digimon, but I do own the original characters introduced in this story and my other stories (except where stated otherwise here or elsewhere by myself).

A/N: Thanks to Crazyeight for beta reading.





By Blazing Chaos


The Tender Engine



Desert Level

05:29 UTC

The world was moving. Moving when it shouldn't have been, in fact. The desert wasn't this up and down, side-to-side, clickety-clack before...was it?

Not just that, but the world had changed rather significantly from what he could distinctly remember. Gone was the endless vista of desert and the blue Earth orb above, all clenched in darkness, replaced by a similarly dark and rather more cramped…box, of some kind. The boy's eyes took a while to shift the sleep from his mind, and he began to sit up, rubbing his head as he did so.

How did he get here? What had he missed? He searched for his most recent memory, as he began to register that his newfound location looked distinctly like…a train carriage. A pretty old-style one, at that. Where were his friends?

Reaching his feet, he quickly sighted the trio on separate seats nearby, all pretty much fast asleep, their bags placed on the opposite seats to them just like his was. Had they put him on here? For that matter, how did they find a train in the Digital World? So little of this made any sense.

He frowned, turning around and heading over to the window for the bay seats where he had been sleeping, giving it a hard tug as he opened it up wide. Cold, digital air rushed in, but the speed was not sufficient for it to immediately wake his companions. Or worse, just Rika, leaving no-one else to defend him against her probably quite-angered state. She was in a bad enough mood on the walk…here…wait, how did he get here? He found himself drawing a blank.

Takato stuck his head out the window. At the front of the four carriages, sure enough, was a large locomotive. One thing did come back to him upon seeing it: Locomon. He remembered scanning the Digimon…but…then what?

"At least this means we don't have to walk much longer," he sighed and mused, closing the window, pausing for a moment on the sight of the desert and Earth orb through it. Placing his hand on the window, he frowned deeper. "I'll be okay mom." This time, she didn't get a chance to write him a note. He'd run away too quickly, something he still found himself regretting. He didn't want to make the woman mad, worried or upset. She didn't deserve it. But…he also didn't want to lose Guilmon. He didn't deserve this either.

Momentarily, he pondered if the portal still existed. Had their rush been pointless, and potentially their downfall? He hoped not.

"Mm…" he heard from behind, glimpsing back to Rika and gulping. She was nearest the window he had opened, unfortunately, and the nearest to his bay of seats, lying one over and across from him, stretched out along the length of one side of a bay.

"Please don't wake up…"

He tiptoed across to her in a hurry, hands out like someone trying to avoid dropping something. If he were a cat, his hair would've been standing on end. After all, he was heading right into the Tiger's den.

"Is she waking up?" He stared at her eyes and face, looking for some sign that she was about to stir, while he leant on the aisle-side edge of the seat on which she slept. For someone who could show such passion, like against her mother earlier, she looked so harmless and innocent when she slept. "Please don't wake up. I don't want this nice and safe moment to end. I don't want to lose my head."

What was going through her mind? What did she dream about? He still couldn't be sure, after all this time, that Digimon had dreams, but he knew that Rika did. She had to. Would they be like his? Could anyone be even close to the insanity of his dreams?

"Maybe she's dreaming about me," a vile voice crept from the corner of his mind, that voice which said all that you didn't want to think. He immediately tried to dismiss the concept, but couldn't help but get the diary out of his mind. God only knew he had had his fair share of dreams about Jeri in his time. Were girls the same? Given they had such an appreciation of romance, maybe they were. Maybe they were worse.

Then again, this was Rika. She wasn't exactly your typical girl. Then again, were any of the four of them really typical?

The train lurched violently as it passed over a bit of bad rail, and Takato was stopped mid-thought, his thoughts turning from such high concepts to rather lower ones: namely, was he about to be killed? He slipped from the seat-edge he was leaning on, and tumbled towards her, reaching out one hand to grab the seat back.

Unfortunately, his other hand landed squarely on her leg.

Like a boiling saucepan, it leapt away rapidly, scurrying behind his back while his feet froze, his body locked in an awkward leaning-over position. Her eyes flittered open, and from her lips came a groggy question. "Renamon?"

"Come on Takato, you can do a convincing impression…" he thought to himself, opening his mouth. This would have to be award-win…

"Oh, it's just you," Rika said, not sounding even remotely pleased with him as her head fell back down. "Did you wake me up?"

"Uh, not intentionally," he pleaded, laughing sheepishly (and quietly, ever-aware that Henry and Ryo were still asleep). "Heh, I was just sort of leaning here, watching you sleep, and the train…"

"Hold up," Rika whispered – one of those whispers forced out as if to imitate a far louder voice. "You were watching me sleep?"

"No, no, I definitely wasn't…uh…well, I sort of…"

"You know loverboy, you're sort of bordering on outright perversion here."

"Yeah, I know…I mean…uh, I'm not loverboy…" he flustered. How did she always manage to lock him in such difficult situations? "I don't love you." It was one of those over-compensating moments he instantly regretted, as the words of the letter flashed across his mind. He so desperately wanted to correct himself, again, but he knew he couldn't. Whatever he did, the damage had been done, and would no doubt stick for a while.

A slight frown tampered with the edges of her face for just a second, just enough to make Takato hurt, before she clearly forced it down, rolling her eyes to clear it, a reaction that only twisted the dagger into Takato even more. "Geez, you take everything a step too far, don't you Takato? I'd love to know how your mind works," she tried to pin the blame on him, averting her gaze and biting down solidly into her lip.

Damn it, why had she let him say that. She was happy enough not knowing what she highly suspected was the truth. "No, wait…I don't care…I'm happy not to care. If there is something, it's just a phase, and a reality check like this will kill this stupid phase stone dead!" she mentally ranted to herself, staring across the carriage, but she knew it was useless.

Of course he didn't feel the same way. Why would he?

"Love isn't like. He might still like me. I can make something out of that," came Rika's version of that vile voice, which she rapidly suppressed. "Never watch me sleep, got that? It's just…weird!"

"Wait, she's angry with me now?" "Uh…yeah, right."

"Good. Now let me get back to sleep."

"Wait, I have so many questions!"

Rika huffed, sitting up and glaring at him, all the while whispering. "Like what, huh?"

"Well, for starters, how did I get here?"

Rika was about to respond, before there was a flash in her eyes, a flash of realisation and thought. At first Takato felt quite pleased about this – it was a sign that maybe he was onto something here, and maybe her hurriedness with him was a bit of poor judgement on her part.

And then she spoke. Well, after grabbing his collar.

"You have some bloody explaining to do."

Takato gulped. So much for that. "Uh…do I? What about?"

Rika opened her mouth, but in a rare show of sensibility in spite of anger she noticed Henry and Ryo sleeping nearby, and decided that she couldn't quite whisper this much for this long without waking the pair of them. "Next carriage. Now," she finally said, Takato nodding fearfully and obediently, like a gun was held to his chest.

She let him go and pushed him back, and he staggered a bit before wandering down the carriage to the end door. Getting to her feet, she pushed her hand into her forehead in stress. She didn't even feel truly awake yet, and now she was confronted with this. How could he not remember? How could he have been so stupid and then completely forget? What was wrong with…?

Hearing the door close, she glanced up, seeing Takato had left, and took a step towards it.

The world suddenly twisted in her mind, and she had an odd feeling. Something was not right. Something about what she was doing felt off, like heading the wrong direction to school. Or…

Her feet began to pound as it hit her like, well, Locomon almost did. She threw herself through the door, and whispered a shout down the railway tracks leading away into the night: "TAKATO!"

"Over here," came a voice from her right, Takato still intact and standing on the right hand side of the balcony, leaning on the railing. "Don't let the door…" he began, hurriedly, before it clunked. "Shut. Never mind."

Rika twisted round, looking to where she expected a door handle to be. Nothing. She fed her hands around the edge of the frame, but to no avail. The mechanism had shut on it, and there wasn't really any space on the balcony to manoeuvre any kind of kick-down. "Great, we're stuck and it's cold. Did the handle fall off or something?" Were all the other doors like this? Were they already open? She wished she'd paid more attention to the interior of the dark carriage. They'd come in this way, hadn't they? This was so annoying!

"Beats me. You could've told me that it was the other way."

"I didn't realise at first."

"Ugh," she huffed, leaning back on the left hand side of the balcony, opposite him. She felt able to talk a bit louder here, but it barely made up for their current entrapment. Her eyes fell to one side. While the train moved relatively slowly (a request from Henry after the trio had found it impossible to get to sleep with the highly jerky ride at speed), it was clearly faster than either of them could run and they would no doubt sustain some injuries in trying to jump off in the first place. They were stuck, illuminated only by whatever kept the night here alight. Oh, and a number of data streams, the quantity of which seemed to vary wildly. They seemed to stray away from this main track, although whether being sucked up by one of them would actually be beneficial she wasn't sure. It wasn't worth the risk, even if they could find their partners. They could end up anywhere! And maybe not even all together.

Takato knew there was a reason they came out here. He didn't want to press on it yet, but he knew sooner or later Rika would. At least he could have some measure of control over the conversation if he raised it. "Just like ripping off a band-aid…come on Takato…" "So…uh…what do I have to explain about?"

"What about? Oh, I don't know, how about the fact you ran towards Locomon and almost killed yourself, and then I had to almost kill myself to save you?" So much for a measure of control.

"Wait, I did what?"

Takato's mind was spinning. Was he dreaming? This just didn't make sense. He would remember doing something stupid like that, and he was sure that Rika would mention some significant bump to the head that'd knocked his memories out of his ear. Not that it made much difference to the fact that he had done something that stupid in the first place – what could possibly have come over him?

"And, not only didn't you even seem to care or thank that I had just saved you, but you called me babe!"

"Seriously? Is that her priority?" "I don't remember any of that."

"How can you not?"

"I don't. Really Rika, I really, really don't."

Rika was ready to bite back, but there was a distinct sincerity in Takato's eyes, that annoying honesty had crippled her on many an instance. But how? How could this be true? Amnesia? Did he just not believe what he had done? But this was Takato, the dreamer – hardly the kind of person to be rooted in reality. So, in the end, she just replied with a reserved huff. "You'd better work it out Takato. I won't always be there to save your butt."

"Uh…yeah…thanks for that Rika, I really appreciate it."

"Just doing my job." She didn't seem too happy about it. "Which is apparently keeping you alive."

"Hehe…" Takato laughed nervously, but his mind had been spinning ever since he woke up. Just what had happened? Why had he done that? So many questions, and no answers whatsoever. None of this sounded like anything he'd do.

"Even when you act like an idiot. Worse than usual, in fact. I mean, come on, you've done suicidal things before but they at least have a chance of succeeding. What were you planning to do, grab the train or something?"

"I really don't know Rika. None of this makes any sense at all."

"Ugh. Let's just go to sleep Takato," she sighed, resigning to not knowing and slipping her back down the balcony until her feet stretched out, not caring that it meant that Takato would have to sleep with his legs in an uncomfortable position at the other end of the balcony, either with his knees hunched up or his ankles pressed to one side. He'd made her have to sleep in the cold, so he would have to put up and shut up.

Still, she felt pretty mean as she watched him settle into his newfound situation without a word, keeping his legs up slightly. She even gave a bit of ground, and shifted her legs over to one side, the boy giving a shocking amount of unspoken thanks for the move. "Night Rika."

"Night Gogglehead," she said dismissively and sardonically, and then immediately hated herself for doing so once her eyes closed. Why was she being so cruel?

"I don't love you."

Oh yeah, that was it. As much as she insisted otherwise. Even if this was a simple phase she was going through, she couldn't force herself to treat his words as the release she needed from it. Instead, it left her with a dead emptiness, and a longing for what she actually wanted him to say, a longing for the time before those words left his lips. But, if he knew she was thinking that…

Who was she kidding? This was Takato! If he knew, he'd try to make things up, even when it was none of his fault. He'd feel it was his responsibility that he didn't feel the same way, like he somehow had to fix it. Stupid Gogglehead. Stupid…brilliant…Gogglehead.

Takato's eyes closed, but couldn't help briefly opening to look to her, eyes clamped shut and misery on her face as it twitched from thought. What exactly was she thinking about? The huge number of events that'd happened today, each no doubt grabbing for a piece of her mind, left him completely unable to guess. Forgetting what she had to think about, he found that his thoughts were just as demanding: what had happened to him that he couldn't remember? Why didn't he seem like himself at all in doing what he had done? What would he do about returning the diary to Rika? Where was Guilmon? Could he fulfil his promise? To Guilmon? To Seiko? To his mother? A thousand things shouted at him, and there was one outcome.

"Can't sleep?"

"Haven't even tried. So you can't then?" he said to Rika, the girl sighing deeply from where she was opposite him, her eyes now wide open.

"Too much on my mind."

"Like what?"

"None of your business."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"When I want to, I'll say."




"What's keeping you awake? Mr Dreamer, not even trying to sleep."

"I've got a lot on my mind too."

He secretly hoped she'd take the bait, and ask lots of questions about what was on his mind, so he could quite easily then ask the same of her and call her a hypocrite for demanding from him what she herself couldn't offer. But, at the same time, he knew he didn't want to be that cruel. He was easier with his inner thoughts than she was, his shared frequently with friends whereas hers were normally shared only with bystanders in her greatest moments of despair, and even then barely went further than a curse if they weren't really people she was close to. Was she close enough to him to ever tell him the kind of thing that went through her mind? He liked to think that, because she crushed on him, she'd be more open, but…this was Rika. Even Rika with a crush was still Rika. Besides, the crush probably left her with plenty of subjects she would never be able to talk to him about as a result. He knew that when it came to telling someone things honestly, it helped to have no taboos, and so, in spite of Jeri being ever so nice to him, he found himself more prone to confiding in Henry (with Terriermon's absence if possible). Those you loved the most were those you kept the most from.

She didn't take the bait. "I find that hard to believe."

"I promise Guilmon I'd bring him back, and I'm still not sure I'll manage that. And I'm really worried I've upset my mom, and…" Wait, was he…damn it, she'd baited him instead. He was bleeding his thoughts without her even asking.

"Your mother will be fine," she interjected forcefully after his silence went on for a long while.

"What about yours?"

"She'll be fine too, Takato," Rika insisted, glaring at him when he opened his mouth to say something again and stopping the point before it was ever said. This was a topic she wasn't about to talk about in a hurry. She promptly changed the subject. "It's not just what's on my mind making me not be sleepy anyhow. Have you noticed that it's still morning for us? We barely just got up. I mean, I know I went to bed a bit later than usual, but it's hardly anything. Still, I think Henry said something about going to bed really late after sorting out Hypnos with his father, and Ryo got the early train…so I guess they sort of deserve their sleep."

"I just had a sleep anyhow."

Rika didn't look too pleased to be reminded about that. "You'd better not be turning into a narcoleptic, Gogglehead," she said sternly. Her use of his nickname was surprisingly erratic, coming and going, and he wasn't quite sure what to think of it. To her, the word 'Takato' usually seemed like a vicar's swear – rarely heard from her lips, at least in public.

"I promise."

"Ugh, you and your stupid promises."

"I just…uh…"

"Never mind," she quickly averted, noticing that her words had been quite hurtful. She seemed to have a habit of that this morning. She sighed. "What do you want from me Takato?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" She didn't think he was the one with the crush, right? Stuck on a balcony with no escape, his over thinking mind went into overdrive about the meaning behind her question.

"You always want to know what's going on in my mind, what I'm thinking, whether I'm okay. Why?"

"I'm just…uh…being friendly. Doing what friends do. Uh, that is what friends do, right?" Takato said, words he would never usually have reason to doubt. But, down the barrel of Rika's gun, these were words which became as suspect as 'dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', 'we had to put your hamster to sleep' or 'I need to wash my hair'.

"How should I know?"

"Well, uh, you have friends."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I understand what they're meant to do. And with you, it's always so…overblown. How do you care so much? Why do you care so much?"

"I-I just want to make sure people are okay, that's all. I really hate seeing people get hurt, or being down."

"You think I like it? Are you saying I wouldn't?"

"N-No, I'm not saying that. I just mean, well…I don't know really."


Rika went silent for a moment, looking to cast herself deep into thought to Takato's eyes. In reality, she was casting herself into deep loathing. Why was she shouting at Takato? The concept that this boy existed was one of the few things that had kept her sane in the weeks since Takato's departure; it had provided a distraction, another problem to occupy her mind away from her issues with her mother and the misery from the loss of Renamon. So why was she now directing all of her anger onto him? Was his emotional openness a bad thing? Was his worry for her a bad thing? But why didn't he just accept she was depressed, or down, and didn't want to talk about it? Couldn't he wait until she was more open, and, if she wasn't, merely accept that he couldn't do anything to help?

But he was Takato. Accepting helplessness wasn't really a trait of his. Here was the boy who combated a massive pig tearing up Shinjuku by screaming a lot. The boy who made a flag to keep their team together. The boy who was the last one fighting against Beelzemon. Giving up was hardly something he did. Hell, even standing in front of a train fitted his personality in a twisted way.

"What do you think is going on Gogglehead?"


"What do you think is on my mind?"

He had not expected this. What could he say? Her mother, his own weird actions, the crush, Renamon, maybe even others things besides? He couldn't let on that he knew more than he knew though. If he told her he knew what she felt…it'd make things so uncomfortable. Being stuck here could give them a chance to talk, sure, but it could also give Rika a chance to retreat into her shell in the worst way: without an escape. And it could completely destroy their chances for a proper resolution.

"Well…uh…you seemed pretty mad at your mother."

"What for?"

"You shouted about her not being there when you wanted her there."

"What else?"

"Well…I think you're probably missing Renamon. I mean, I'm missing Guilmon, and you two are even closer in a way since you do that psychic thing."

"What else?"

"I did some weird stuff a few hours ago that you don't quite get."

"And what else?"

"Uh…" "Does she know I read the diary?" Without mentioning the crush, he had nothing else more to say. Did she think he did? Was she testing if he suspected anything? Or was she testing if he had the guts to voice his suspicions? "I don't know."

He didn't know yet. She wasn't being that obvious. She still had a way out of this, if she wanted it. She could just push away from the crush, pretend it didn't exist, let it be starved of oxygen. Takato didn't suspect it, and certainly no-one else had any reason to. She could simply ignore it, and no-one would ever be the wiser.

"You're right. So if you know all that's going through my mind, what on earth do you want to know about me? What can you possibly want to extract? A sob story, an explanation, what? Those things make me depressed, okay, but I don't think blubbering about them to you just because you give me an opportunity to show my heart," she said in a mocking voice. "I'm not like that," she lied. How she knew she was lying, she wasn't sure herself: she'd never really had a moment of being that open, except maybe with her grandma when she was younger, or Renamon. But she knew she wasn't like that. She wasn't about to admit it to him though.

"An explanation, I guess."

"An explanation of what exactly?"

"Why…I don't know..."

"Why I'm like this?"


"Well, it's really tragic," she began, frowning deeply and looking sadly towards him. "You see, when I was a child, I always got really excited on Christmas Day. Once though, I rushed downstairs, and there was mommy and grandma, putting out all the presents. And I cried and ran to my room."

Takato frowned, remembering his own story of learning 'the truth'.

"And then, I heard this clip-clopping on the ceiling, and I looked out the window, and went outside."

"Santa Claus?"

"No, don't be ridiculous. It was a reindeer, and a baby reindeer, talking reindeer! And then Bambi's mother got shot by hunters, and Bambi ran through the streets of Tokyo." She mimed running with her fingers. "Meanwhile, Santa was in court, but all these bags of mail turned up addressed to him, and it was proved he wasn't mad. And finally, I shot JR, but it was all a dream so none of that matters. Oh, and Haruhi Suzumiya is God."

"That's not funny, you know?"

Rika folded her arms. "I don't have an upstairs Takato, I live in a one-storey house. And I don't have some simple, tragic explanation as to why I'm like this. You're not a psychiatrist, and I'm not your patient, okay?"

Takato found himself at his limits too. Just why did she have to shoot down every attempt he made to get close to her? To understand her? With her current situation more than any other time, why didn't she want him close? The harder you forced it with her, the more she seemed to resist, and now she was openly mocking him for it. If she felt guilty for doing so, she wasn't showing it.

She felt guilty for mocking him, as much as she had some sick amusement from stringing him along like that with her increasingly contrived story. Why was she doing this? All she had to say is that she didn't want to talk, end of story. Why did she have to persecute him for being him? But why did he have to be him? Couldn't he just be…normal? "A normal Takato. Now that would be ridiculous, even in this place."

"Is it about your father?"

Rika blinked in surprise. That was…unexpected. How had he made that link? For the first time since "I don't love you", she found herself not sure how to respond. "Uh…"

Takato, noticing the pause, quickly rushed to explain. It was a long shot, sure, but…it was something he had always wondered about. And right now, without being able to sleep to pass by the next few hours and without Rika producing any productive conversation that he could use to help her out, it was his only hope. He didn't want a few hours of trivial conversation, after all. He wanted to cheer her up, right here, right now. "I've noticed he's, well, not there, and I wondered how that affects you."

The look on Rika's face told him he was playing with fire. "It doesn't. Yes, he's gone, but who cares? Never did anything for me anyhow."

"B-But, I mean, they always say about father figures and stuff…"

"That it helps? What, you think this aggressive, stubborn girl is something to do with the fact that daddy was never there to hug me?"


Rika wanted to say no, but she couldn't quite bring herself to it: she too had contemplated the idea many a time. "I really doubt it Takato. And even if it were possible, how should I know? I can't meet me from another reality and see how I'd be if he were still here, so why should I dwell on it?"

She was still on the defensive. Was there any way past this? There had to be something underneath, something to make all this effort from Takato worthwhile. But she obviously knew what he was trying to do, and was endlessly ramping up her defences more and more. Her explanations became shorter and more generic, her wit more sardonic, her insults more biting. Castle Rika was fortifying itself.

"Do you remember what he was like?" he said, taking a different tack and hoping that unnerving her was the key to success in their unplanned battle of minds.

"He was a dad."

"Like my dad?"

"No…more…serious. I think. I don't really remember. I was a kid." There it was again, a brief spurt of honesty followed by generic statements and self-protection. Was he breaking her? Was she letting her guard down?

"How old were you when he left?"

"Three. Do you remember what your life was like then?" she pushed the questioning onto him.

He wasn't about to fall for that again. "A few things." He wasn't about to give her anything to work with. This had to be about her. He had to get through to her, to let her know she could share things, that she wasn't alone. There had to be a way. Everyone had to have a weakness. Right? "Do you remember anything?"

She closed her eyes, wincing. She'd almost forgotten it. "Arguing. Mom and Dad, always fighting. Grandma had to step in every time. I had to stay in my room. I never understood why. Yeah, they had me young, but… It just seemed so unfair. They were meant to love each other. That's what all the moms and dads on TV did. But…"

Opening her eyes briefly, she saw Takato's face. Pleased, almost…happy.

It was sick.

"Oh go to hell."


"Is this how you get your kicks Takato? Making other people dig up their past?"

"No, no, really Rika."

She once again found herself shouting to push up her cheeks, forcing the tears out of view. "How is this going to help me?"

"I d-don't know Rika." She could be really imposing when she shouted…really imposing. Worse than an angered schoolteacher or even his own mother. There was something so…unpredictable about it, only made worse by the fact her shouting was 'restrained' lest she wake up those behind the door, even from this distance. And what too made it unpredictable was the distinct sense Takato got, from a distant sadness in the voice, that he was onto something here. And yet, his own sense of self-preservation – in spite of his knowledge Rika would never truly harm him – held him back from digging deeper.

"Then don't bother."

"Wait…do you want to be helped then?"

"N-no. And even if I did, I wouldn't go to some shrink – Jeri hasn't had much fun with hers and her problems are a thousand times worse than mine. And, no offence, but I wouldn't go to any of you guys either."

"Why not?"

"Because…because…" she searched for the words, thinking what she wanted to say. "You're part of it all." "It'd be too…difficult," she actually said. "People judge people, even if they don't intend to."

He knew what she meant. "I wouldn't."

Why did he have to make this so hard? She really wanted to just lie down and go back to sleep, or, at least, return to attempting to go to sleep. But she had changed from who she used to be, the girl who neither wanted nor cared for others; a change she found herself regretting at this very moment. And, at the end of the day, even if he was digging really deep, this was Takato, and she couldn't just ignore him like that. It felt like kicking a kitten.

"What about your grandma?"

"She's helpful and all but…if she knew, it'd make life just as difficult."

Takato held back from asking about her mother: if Rika's earlier rant at her was indicative, the pair of them had trouble enough talking full stop, let alone about difficult things. "So who would you talk to?"

Rika frowned, glancing out across the desert. "I'd…I would have…talked to Renamon…" She had to be out there somewhere. Rika had so much on her mind she needed to release but…could she even tell Renamon? While the Digimon was loyal by her side, much like Seiko she had the habit of trying to convince her that her thoughts could be wrong, whether it was about her mother or otherwise. Not that Rika didn't want to be convinced otherwise, but she wanted to come to terms with such a belief on her own time and through events themselves – she would never simply be convinced by someone telling her abstractly that "oh, your mother is trying so hard" when events so clearly said the opposite.

"You really miss her, huh?"

"No Takato, I barely remember her name," Rika said in her standard sardonic voice. "Of course I miss her. I mean, it's not like with you and losing the regular hits to the chest; it's like losing your shadow."

Hearing Rika's saddening voice, Takato countered with a burst of cheery optimism. "Well, that'll all change soon. We'll find them, and then the old days will be back again. Only, without the D-Reaper." "Or Leomon…" he mused, but didn't want to say it. He was trying to be optimistic, after all.

"How can you believe that so easily? I mean, our parents are right: we had enough trouble finding one Digimon last time."

"I don't know, I'm just hopeful. Aren't you? Isn't that why you came along?"

"I just grabbed the chance we had, slim as it is. Better than staying at home, but that doesn't mean I think we're going to be successful or anything."

"Not successful?"

"Come home empty handed or die."

"Wow, you're an optimist."

"Oh, I'm sorry, my father took that too."

"Did he?"


"Oh." Takato chewed his lip. He felt like he was at the end of his tether with what he could work with. He couldn't ask more deeply about her father, even though the subject was raised – everything he wanted to know about the man was negative in some way…or… "Do you have any good memories of your father?"

"What?" She seemed to have a short patience now with the topic, as he'd expected.

"Well, I mean, I keep saying all this as if your father was bad and it's obvious he…um…meant something to you? So, um, I wanted to know what…I mean, what was good about him. Not that I didn't expect anything to be, but…"

Rika decided that letting loose one piece of information was better than hearing Takato endlessly ramble. "The playground."

"What'd you do there?"

"Playground stuff. He'd usually push me on the swings, higher and higher, and…sometimes, if mom had got at him for being too risky, he'd just push me gently. And I'd sing…I mean, sit there and…" Rika quickly regretted her verbal slip.

"Sing?" This was unexpected. Singing? Rika? Really? Takato had never even considered the two in the same sentence.

"Like kids do," Rika retorted, trying to lessen the impact of what she had accidentally said. "Dad always loved hearing me sing."

"Are you…I mean, were you…uh…good?"

Rika shrugged. "Dad was hardly going to say I wasn't, was he?"

"Have you sung since?"

Her brief moment of surprise and thought at the question gave him his answer. She gritted her teeth as she saw this look on his face, and jumped ahead of him. "Only for me. And I'm probably tone-deaf or something: not like I have anyone to tell me."

"I could tell you."

"I don't want to know. I don't like singing."

"Because it reminds you of your father?"

"No! Because I don't like it, okay? It's…not me."

"Not you? Wait, are you worried what people would think?"

"No," Rika insisted. It wasn't…was it? She was like this out of genuine annoyance at others; it wasn't some kind of persona that she maintained. This was her, and it was who she wanted to be. Was it? "It just cheers me up at times. And no, I'm not going to sing now, before you ask."

"I wasn't going to," Takato lied, supressing his sheer curiosity about such an…unnatural sight. "Uh…is that your only good memory of your father?"

"I don't know, I probably have others. But I don't actively search for them. And it's not like it'd be some kind of link between us if he turned up tomorrow. He's just…a man, a random bloke, probably as dickheaded as the rest of them. No offence to you or your gender either – girls are just as bad."

"Have you seen him since he left?" The words felt like the first time he had swung his lance as Gallantmon. The feeling that you were truly playing with some kind of power here, like a mistake would have consequences. He just hoped Rika would respond in the right way.

"Seven years ago, in some random supermarket. Thank God, Grandma was there, otherwise I bet they'd have just argued like always. Never mattered when I was there." Oddly, Takato got the feeling he was talking to Rika honestly again. There was emotion to these words, rather than restraint. How long would she be 'open' for? "He had some new girlfriend. And mom was in one of those rare weeks she hadn't brought home some moron with nothing between his ears for a week at the most. That's if she came home at all." Very little had changed, apart from the fact that her mother's boyfriends (at least, those she saw) now simply held more senior positions in the modelling world. She was moving into that weird world after a model's 'prime', when a good model would be immortal and an unmemorable one would fall to earth faster than an asteroid. Her mother was well enough known for Rika to be sure she'd be the former. Maybe that was why she'd been so absent? She cursed herself for trying to sympathise with her mother's side. "The poor girl probably ran for the hills when she saw his baggage. Not that I feel sorry for him. I'd just stopped caring. About anything."

"So you do think your father is to blame then?"

"What?" Rika began, before she really registered what he was suggesting. "No. Possibly. Whatever, I don't care." She rubbed a hand into her forehead. "When is everything ever that simple anyway," she mumbled.

"I see."

"So, are you happy Takato? Are your excavations over? Because I really didn't want or need to bring any of that crap up, in case you couldn't tell." Rika felt…broken. But, somehow, it was in a good way, the feeling of bringing up those old memories being weighed against the…relief, was it? She couldn't really tell. But she wasn't about to admit it in any way.

"I…am if you are." He was…pleased. But he couldn't say he was happy. Who would be happy to see their friend like this?

She smiled. But it was a sadistic smile, not a 'happy' one, her tongue pressing against the back of her teeth. "I think your imagination can fill in what will happen if you mention a word of this to anyone."

He gulped.

"Exactly. But…uh…did I help…at all?"

"Probably not."


Seeing his head fall in disappointment and dejection, she found herself forced to add a "but…thanks. I guess. For at least trying."

"Uh…you're…welcome?" he said cautiously, worried he was falling into a trap. He'd uncovered something…was he about to be flung over the balcony and onto the tracks? At this speed, it probably wouldn't have killed him, but this was Rika. She'd find a way.

"Not even remotely."

"Heh," he laughed uneasily. "It's what friends do."

"Friends also let other friends try to sleep, am I right?" Now she sounded almost…happy. In her usual, slightly sadistic way that left Takato completely uncertain as to whether she genuinely was.

"You think you can sleep now?"

"Your talking has tired me out."

"You're welcome, I suppose," he chuckled, as she leant back on the balcony, nodded lightly and closed her eyes.

Takato promptly did the same, in spite of the fact that it was a far from comfortable sleeping position. Hopefully he'd have better luck with sleeping this time round.

"Oh, and one last thing. Don't let me catch you watching me sleep, okay?"

"Okay," Takato yawned, too far into the process of trying to drift off to let his mind contemplate the unusual wording and 'amused' tone.

Rika stifled a smile as she found her mind oddly more relaxed, and tried to concentrate too on ignoring the fact that this balcony was far from the seats indoors in terms of comfort, and they were hardly perfect. Still…she found it hard to be mad at him right now, as much as she wanted to be. This idiot had dug at her, broken her heart (as conflicted with her mind as it tended to be) and brought back things she didn't want to remember, all of which she hated him for.

But he'd been a friend. Someone, and something, she'd missed, with consequences she so sorely knew.

A few months ago, a friend alone would be unimaginable. Here, now, she was letting loose, albeit with a lot of restraint, things she'd expected to take to her deathbed. That was progress. But was it good? Her mind didn't get a chance to contemplate the question, as she drifted off into the world of sleep, just as Takato did – before either of them could be awoken by the other's snores.

So no one heard the voice, drifting across the desert, as it contemplated what it had just witnessed before its own eyes, disdain in its hardened grimace.

"Sappy crap."


A/N: And so we have another 'almost entirely rewritten from scratch' chapter, and hopefully a good one. I wanted to go into a lot more detail this time around with this heart-to-resisting heart, and I hope it came across well, even if it was a bit too long for my liking. This was my first ever-deep conversation in the original, so it's quite a poignant moment to be redoing it. It's always interesting doing a scene between just two characters, let alone a whole chapter, as there's a very different dynamic to it all.

To read on from here in the original version, go to chapter 4 (and prepare for some discontinuity).

As for the rewrite, I'm heading back to write Book Seven for a bit so expect a (short, hopefully) while without updates. My apologies, but I've found I work a lot better when focusing on one fic at a time than jumping back and forth. At some point, I shall continue with Stratagems too, although since it too is rather dependent on some events on Book Seven (again) passing, I think I'll wait a while to continue with that. It's my target to finish Book Seven by the end of the summer, as unrealistic as that seems now, so I shall have to get a move on.

Until next time…