Summary: Ken Ichijouji has always been bad with feelings. For somebody like him, falling in love can be a very harrowing experience indeed. Ken/Miyako

Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon.

A/N: After all these years, I still ship it like burning. Go figure.

Warnings: Non-explicit sexuality.

Liquid Courage

Ken is bad with feelings. Always has been, if he's honest with himself. It's not that he doesn't feel them - because he does, deeply. But he doesn't know how to deal with them properly, where to place them inside the complex framework of his mind. As a small child, the hardest feelings, the ones that made him feel helpless and clumsy, were the harsh ones: anger, resentment, jealousy. He had never let them surface for too long, never allowed them to linger in the open. And so he had buried them, deep down in a part of himself that he kept hidden away from everyone.

But that had changed with the death of Osamu. At that time, new feelings had come, ones that were so acute that they bordered on physically painful. Guilt and anguish - feelings he found himself unable to bury with cheer or propriety. He had quickly discovered, however, that all those other feelings - the ones still buried in that little Pandora's box deep inside of him - helped to push down the truly unbearable ones. And so he had wrapped himself up in a blanket of anger.

It had not been an ideal solution. Such emotions had still left him feeling dirty and awkward, but he had learned to live with that. He had learned very quickly that his new armor had drawbacks - he found it harder to reign in his impulses, harder to keep his tongue in check. He had needed someplace where he could wear his armor without worry that he may say or do something unforgivable. At the time, he had halfheartedly blamed others for provoking his lack of self-control. But, in the back of his mind, he knew that this attitude too was yet one more undesirable side effect of his chosen coping mechanism.

It had been a strange and uncomfortable time in his life, with his rational mind warring constantly with his childish need to lash out, to blame - to share his pain.

All that had come crumbling down, of course, when he had discovered that his game, his release, had never been a game to begin with. The emotions he had been directing outwards to protect himself were once more either buried or directed inward.

Ken, now an adult, looks back on that particular time of his life with new eyes. The guilt over his transgressions lingers, and he doubts that it will ever go away, but he can recognize now, with the part of his mind that he has sectioned off for rational, level-headed analysis, that he had still been a child then. A sad, angry, impetuous, selfish child; too frightened of the harsh realities that faced him in the real world, and too bright not to be aware of his own inadequacies. He feels shame, now, for the person he had been at that time, but he no longer hates himself.

As an adult, he realizes that he has changed much since the end of that dark time of his life. But he also realizes that there are some things about him that have never changed, and likely never will.

After all, he is still bad with feelings. A hopeful part of him insists that he has grown up, that he is no longer a child, that he has learned his lesson the hard way. And while he wishes desperately for this to be the case, there remains a niggling fear.

That perhaps, if he is faced with an emotion that he does not know how to deal with, he will once more lose control.

He fears that it has happened already.

____

He isn't quite sure when he had begun to see Inoue Miyako as anything more than a friend. Not when he had been a child, he's sure. Back then, he'd been much too concerned with himself. Before his defeat--or had it been a surrender?--the concern had to do with escaping the real world and everything that came with it. After, the concern had to do with repentance. Both desires were innately selfish, although the latter in a very different way.

No, he had started to take true notice of the other Chosen Children - with the exception of Daisuke - at about the time he had turned twelve, when he had finally begun to get on with his life. But it had been with the onset of adolescence, he guesses, that Miyako became of peculiar interest to him.

____

Ken is fourteen.

Wormmon is nestled by his feet, trying to pretend that he isn't jealous that Ken's attention is focused so intently upon somebody else. The Digimon had long since gotten used to Ken and Daisuke's close relationships, but he is still wary of new additions to Ken's ever-growing circle of close friends.

Miyako sits next to him, silky strands of lilac hair falling gently forward as she examines the sheet in front of her. He finds himself mesmerized, struck by a mysterious urge to reach out and run those strands between his fingers. Do they feel as soft as they look?

"I don't think I'll ever get used to your computer code, Ken-kun."

Her voice cuts through the haze, leaving him flushed and uncomfortable. He blinks hard. "What do you mean, Miyako-san?"

She looks at him, smiling, wearing a slight flush of her own. Ken has known her long enough to understand that this is often how she reacts to feelings of admiration. "It's just so...elegant." Her smile becomes rueful. "You know, I used to say that I could write a program just as good as one of yours. But I'm beginning to think that I was just kidding myself."

Ken's flush deepens at the praise, and he tries to keep his hands planted firmly on his lap, lest he start to wring them. "Don't be so hard on yourself, Miyako-san. You only had a casual interest in computers up until recently, while I...well, I had rather an unhealthy obsession with them." An obsession that her and the others had experienced firsthand. "With practice, you'll probably be able to surpass me."

Miyako sighs. "I know you're just saying that be nice, Ken-kun." For a moment, she presses her index finger into the table, as if trying to swab away a patch of dust. Then, she grins. "But I appreciate that you're being nice. And that you're taking the time to tutor me at all. I know how important your schoolwork is to you."

He want to explain that really means it--that Miyako has a certain creativity that Ken believes he lacks. However technically skilled Ken is, he finds it hard to make anything that is truly and wholly his own. Miyako, on the other hand, is the type of person who innovates, who comes up with the breakthroughs that advance the progress of humanity. But his tongue feels heavy and hard to move. His heart beats oddly in his throat. The words get stuck somewhere in-between.

Miyako turns back to the sheet, still smiling. "At least I had the courtesy to bug you about something you actually like this time." She winks at him. "I won't pester you with my silly music anymore, alright?"

He wants to protest. While it's true that he has very little interest in music, and has told Miyako as much, he doesn't want her to feel like she has to censor herself around him.

It's just too bad that, for some reason, he still can't formulate these thoughts into speech. Instead, he finds himself diving into the content of the sheet and beginning their lesson.

And so it happens that, twice a month for three years, Ken helps Miyako with her homework

_____

Eventually,the awkward affect that Miyako's presence had on his body, and his ability to articulate, had mellowed into a something much less frightening, something much more natural. He had discovered that he enjoys her company just as much as Daisuke's, for many of the same reasons. She too has an enthusiasm, a boundless energy, that Ken finds endearing. But she is different from Daisuke, as well-- she is more opinionated, more cynical, and has a more classical kind of intelligence. She also has a greater penchant for sarcasm, which often falls in line with his own very cynical worldview. In spite of this, she is a very warm, affectionate person.

Ken is, in truth, an introvert; he genuinely enjoys being alone for long periods of time. But between Miyako and Daisuke, and eventually the others, he finds that he doesn't have to be alone as often in order to keep his peace of mind. He realizes, of course, that he has developed a dependency on these people--one that he will not easily be able to break, if ever.

It both frightens and exhilarates him.

_____

Ken is eighteen.

The six of them are in the Odaiba High School computer lab: himself, Koushiro, Iori, Miyako, Poromon and Daisuke.

Daisuke, for his part, is swinging on his chair, looking bored. "Geez," he says. "How the hell can you guys actually talk about this stuff? It isn't natural."

"Because some of us actually enjoy thinking," says Miyako. It would have been nasty, had it come from anybody else. But she and Daisuke have a mutual arrangement--when they insult one another, it's only a sign of affection. "And for the last time, would you cut that out? We're going to be banned from coming here if you break that chair."

Daisuke stops. "Right. Sorry 'bout that."

"As I was saying," continues Koushiro. "I think that cold fusion is hypothetically possible, provided that we take the necessary precautions."

Iori frowns. "But how will we know what precautions to take, exactly?"

Ken nods. "I agree with Iori-san. It's very likely that matter at that stage has unforeseeable effects at the quantum level."

"I don't really know if that's important, Ken-kun," says Miyako. "I mean, any fusion generator will essentially be a small sun, right? And, since our solar system continues to exist, I think it's safe to say that whatever effect cold fusion has at the quantum level won't affect us."

Koushiro shakes his head. "While I'm inclined to agree with Miyako-san, I see Ichijouji's and Iori-kun's point. The reason why our solar system is unaffected by the sun is because it evolved naturally in that environment - if you can call the formulation of a solar system 'evolution'. But our miniature 'sun' would be man-made. Furthermore, it would be in much greater proximity to the matter that makes up our planet."

"But is proximity really significant?" chirps Poromon from his position on Miyako's lap. "If the theory of quantum entanglement is correct, then it's possible that anything occurring at the quantum level is never all that far away to begin with."

Daisuke clears his throat. "Um...how long are you planning to stay here, Ken?"

Ken smiles apologetically. "A while."

Daisuke sighs and gets up. "I'll leave you smart people to your thing, then." He turned to Ken. "I'll meet up with you later at the park, okay? You promised me a game, so you better show up."

"Of course, Daisuke. I wouldn't miss it."

Daisuke leaves, and the five who remain get back to their conversation. Daisuke and Taichi have taken to calling them the "Brain Trust". Takeru sometimes joins them, but his interests lie more squarely in things like literature and other liberal arts, whereas their conversations tend to revolve around computers and hard sciences. Jou probably would have joined them as well, if he could ever find the time. And Poromon, though not a permanent member, insists on coming whenever he's in the Real World.

Ken enjoys the meetings, because they involve none of the emotional ups and downs that leave him so confused. Except, perhaps, the occasional flutter in the pit of his stomach, if Miyako looks at him a certain way. But he's gotten used that.

Later, when he meets up with Daisuke, he finds that his friend looking sad and thoughtful, a combination that is very rare. "Daisuke?" he asks. Daisuke is sitting on bench facing the open grassy areas that they used as a practice field, and Ken takes a seat beside him. "What's wrong?"

"I've just been thinkin'," he says. "You know, about the future and stuff." He runs a hand through his messy hair. "You're gonna go off to college, and I'm gonna start workin', and you're probably gonna find a bunch of people like Koushiro-sempai to hang out with. I just don't get that science stuff most of the time. I don't know if I can compete with that, Ken."

Surprising even himself, Ken begins to laugh. "What are you talking about, Daisuke?"

"Huh?"

Ken gives his friend a small smile. "If I didn't like being around you, I wouldn't be here. You're...you're my friend, Daisuke, and I like hanging out with you. It's true that you can't really help me to sharpen my debating skills--" A few years before, Daisuke would have protested at this, "--But that doesn't make you any less important to me." Tentatively, he puts a hand on Daisuke's shoulder. Even after all this time, Ken still shies away from physical contact. "We'll make the time to hang out. I promise that you won't have to compete with anyone."

It takes no time at all for Daisuke's face to brighten. "You're right," he says, slapping Ken lightly on the back. "It was dumb of me to worry."

They play a round of one-on-one soccer. Both of them have improved since they were children, although Ken is still the obvious superior. Daisuke's gotten good enough to give him a run for his money.

Afterwards, when they're done, a young woman approaches the two of them, smiling. "Hi," she says. In her hands is a bottle of water that she must have just recently gotten from a vending machine. She bats her eyes at Ken. "I couldn't help but notice that you were working very hard just now. And, well, the vending machine gave me two waters for some reason, even though I only paid for one, and you look thirsty."

Ken blinks. "You really shouldn't go to all that trouble on my account," he says. "Perhaps you should keep it for later."

She smiles sweetly. "It won't be cold by the time I'm thirsty again." She holds out the bottle rather insistently. "Please, take it."

Unsure of what else to do, Ken complies, liberating it gingerly from her grasp. "Thank you," he says, bowing his head slightly.

The girl's smile turns sly. "It's my pleasure." She turns to walk away, but casts a glance backward, eyeing Ken up and down without even attempting to be discreet. "My name's Shiori, by the way. Honda Shiori." She walks away, then, swaying her hips.

Ken looks down, and notices that a piece of paper is sticking to one side of the damp bottle. Carefully, he peels it off and opens it.

892 4561

Call me ^_^

"Dude," says Daisuke. "Did she just give you her number?"

"So it seems," replies Ken, frowning slightly.

Daisuke looks at him appraisingly. "I don't get it, Ken. Here you have all these hot chicks practically throwing themselves at you, and all you can do is frown."

Ken crumples up the paper, throwing it expertly into a nearby trashcan. "I'm not interested in girls I don't even know, Daisuke."

"So it's not because you're gay?"

This isn't the first time Daisuke has asked. And, like always, Ken's answer is the same. "Probably not."

Daisuke pokes him. "I know, I know. You just don't think about people that way. Weirdo."

Ken swats Daisuke's finger. But he doesn't say anything, because that's not exactly true. Not anymore, at least. Recently, he's been having odd dreams involving one individual in particular. But he hasn't yet owned up to what they are.

He's still not used to thinking of himself as somebody with any kind of discernable sex drive.

_____

Now, Ken is twenty.

In fact, the day before had been his twentieth birthday, and he is finally old enough to legally partake in a famous Japanese pastime - drinking. He's never had so much as a sip of alcohol in his entire life, and Miyako manages to convince him to go to a bar with her.

"Drinking's fun when you do it with the right people," she insists. "When you do it alone, it's just depressing."

Ken isn't all that keen, but he is curious. So he agrees.

"How long do you think you'll be gone, Ken-chan?" asks Wormmon, sounding put out.

"I'm not sure," Ken admits. "Knowing Miyako-san, I probably won't get back until late." Had Ken still been living with his parents, this would have been less of a problem. His mother had taken a liking to Wormmon, and Wormmon to her. But now his partner is often left alone for long stretches of time, and Ken can't help but feel guilty.

Wormmon smiles with his eyes. "It's alright, Ken-chan. I understand."

Ken gets dressed in something smart-casual, and meets Miyako in front of the bar. It's a fairly upscale establishment.

Miyako waves at him, grinning. "Hey there, birthday boy." She's holding a bag with some kind of crinkly substance inside of it, and it makes an odd noise as she walks towards him. Ken's heart rate rises slightly at the sight of her, dressed as she is in a yellow tank top that compliments her fairly generous chest. He berates himself for caring about something so stupid.

He returns her greeting with practiced ease, and they enter the bar together, taking their seats at relatively secluded table at the far side of the room.

Miyako takes charge of ordering the drinks - sake, she insists, because that's traditional. While they wait on their orders, she picks up the bag that she had brought and takes out a package wrapped in a simple silver ribbon. Handing it to him, she says, "Happy birthday."

Ken takes it, smiling. "Thank you, Miyako-san."

"Aren't you going to open it?"

He looks around the bar apprehensively. "Perhaps I should wait until I get back to my apartment."

"Don't be silly, Ken-kun."

He sighs and acquiesces, removing the ribbon with care. The box is a plain beige, and quite large, and when he takes off the lid, he finds himself looking at a shiny, unmistakable surface. "Miyako-san..." he says, eyes wide. "This is..."

"The new superfast, super-small Pineapple laptop. It has a hundred gigs of storage and five gigs of ram." She grins haughtily. "Don't you just love me?"

He knows what she means by the question, and he feels a stab of, of--

annoyance. The warmth in his chest is enough to quash it, though. "You really didn't have to get me this, Miyako-san. It must have cost you a fortune."

At this, she smiles gently. "Think of it as a thank you for everything you've done for me over the past seven years, Ken-kun. Without you, I doubt I would have made it into Toudai." She leans forward, smile taking on a harder edge. "I'm paying for the drinks, as well, by the way. And don't you dare say otherwise."

"R-right," he says, putting the lid back on the box. Desperately, he tries to look anywhere but at those pink, smiling lips. He feels a strange mixture of fondness and desire, and he isn't quite sure how to behave.

The drinks arrive just as he begins to wring his hands, and he happily gulps down the first shot, hoping that the relaxing properties of alcohol are not an exaggeration.

"You might want to slow down, Ken-kun," says Miyako, amused. "You have no idea how it's going to affect you."

She's right, of course. Already, he can feel a strange warmth, completely removed from the lingering affect of Miyako's gift, spreading up into his head. He doesn't dislike it, even if the taste of the sake itself leaves something to be desired. Still, he pours himself another and downs it.

Miyako pours herself a shot as well, but she sips at it slowly, savoring it.

Sure enough, Ken feels his nerves starting to settle. Miyako herself has become no less alluring, but he's no longer embarrassed by the way his eyes trail her subtle movements. He takes another shot and sips it, mimicking the woman across from him. The taste is still not wonderful, but he imagines it will grow on him.

"So, Ken-kun," says Miyako, finishing her first shot. "What do you think?"

"I'm not sure," he replies. "It certainly is different."

She looks at him intently for a few moments. "I have a confession to make."

Ken smiles easily. "I think that everybody has a confession or two."

"Yeah," she agrees. "You know...the main reason why I wanted to go drinking with you is, well," she flushes a little, "I wanted to see what you'd be like drunk."

"I see," he says. "How devious."

She chuckles at his tone. "It's just that you're just so uptight all the time. At least when you're around me. I remember Daisuke telling me about that time you made him carry all those packages for the Christmas party--good one, by the way--" Her smile droops, and she puts down her sake cup. "You've never felt comfortable enough to play that kind of trick on me."

It's Ken's turn to chuckle. "You're upset that I've never played a prank on you?"

She smiles sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I am."

He feels the familiar pull of a smirk upon his lips, an expression he is usually careful not to make around Miyako. "Maybe I'm a little bit afraid of you, Miyako-san."

"Afraid?" she asks indignantly. "Of me?"

"You can be very intimidating when you're angry."

She pours herself another shot. "Yeah, okay. You have a point. How about this?" She raises the cup to her lips and takes a delicate sip. "I promise not to get too angry if you promise to loosen up."

His smirk widens. "That sounds reasonable."

She looks at him suspiciously. "Don't tell me you're planning it already."

"Now, now, Miyako-san - that's classified information."

Miyako's eyebrows draw together in thought, all playfulness gone. "You know, I haven't seen you smile like that since--" she cuts herself off abruptly and looks away. "Nevermind."

But Ken already knows what she was going to say, and with the haze of inebriation growing ever thicker, he finds that he really doesn't mind. "Since I was the Kaiser, correct?"

Miyako's eyes widen.

"Well, if you think about it," he continues, idly swirling the remnants of his sake around, "the way I behaved then was largely due to lowered inhibitions. That wasn't the only reason, of course, but that was certainly a large component of it."

Miyako relaxes again. "Trust Ken-kun to be all analytical even when he's tipsy."

As a matter of fact, Ken's mind is working hard to make up for the lag brought on by the alcohol. And it is largely concerned with the young woman before him, bringing forth tantalizing images from half-remembered dreams. He is still sober enough to try and push them aside.

"Miyako-san...may I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

He takes a deep breath. "I don't know if you even remember this, since it happened such a long time ago. But it's been bothering me for a while."

"Yes?" she presses.

His smirk softens into a gentler, almost puzzled smile. "How exactly did you manage to climb to the top of a Dark Tower?"

For a moment, she's silent, as if digesting the question. Then, she gains an expression of puzzlement herself. "You saw that?"

The smirk returns. "I was something of a voyeur, back then."

She gives him another suspicious glance. "Makes me wonder what else you saw..." she mumbles, but doesn't press the issue any further. Her eyes become distant, and he can tell that she's casting her memory back to that time. "Honestly? I'm not sure how I did it. I wasn't exactly emotionally stable at the time."

Vaguely, he remembers that as well. "Why not?"

"Well, I had just found out you were the Kaiser, and it had thrown me into this weird depression." She tilts her head to the side. "God, I used to have this enormous crush on you. How weird is that?"

Ken's face falls.

"Anyway, I had been moping around for a couple of days feeling sorry for myself, and around the third day I got this really bad cabin fever. You know, the kind where you feel like you'll drop dead if you stay indoors for one more second? And I just...snapped. I channeled all my kiddie angst into being as energetic as possible." She shrugs. "And, somehow, I got it into my head to climb a Dark Tower. I can tell you now, I probably wouldn't have been able to do it if I was in my right state of mind."

"I'm sorry," says Ken earnestly, eyes suddenly drawn to the twirling patterns etched into the table.

"That was nine years ago, Ken-kun. I mean, when I think about it, we were still children. Just naive, inexperienced kids." She reaches out and places her hand over his. "You have no idea how happy I was when I found out that you were actually somebody worth admiring."

Ken looks up again, and finds himself staring into sincere brown eyes. At that moment, he wants to kiss her, so badly that it aches. Taking a shaky breath, he says, "I'm really not that great a person, Miyako-san. However much you think I've changed since then--"

"Do I need to slap you again? Because right now, the urge is rising." She gently squeezes his hand. "Nobody's perfect, Ken-kun. To be honest, I don't care what you think of yourself, because I'm pretty sure that one of the things that hasn't changed since then is your ability to judge yourself fairly. I know what I see, alright? You're a good person, and that's final."

"I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree in that regard."

Miyako lets go of his hand. "You're impossible," she says, throwing her arms up in frustration. After a moment, she slumps back in her chair. "But...I'm glad that you're at least willing to talk about it."

"The wonders of alcohol, I suppose."

She laughs at that - a musical sound. He loves it when she laughs. But it's over quickly, and she becomes somber again. "I think about it sometimes. How young we were, I mean. Don't get me wrong - I'm happy that I met Hawkmon, and all of the other Chosen Children. But when you get right down to it...we were child soldiers. The people who chose us didn't even ask our permission." A sigh. "We got off easy, compared to Takeru-kun and the others. They didn't even have the option of going back home. And he was, what? Eight years old? That's immoral, no matter which way you slice it."

"...I knew what I was doing, Miyako-san. Even if I was a child." He plays with the cup in his hand, finding the back-and-forth movement of the porcelain between his thumb and fingers oddly calming. "To an extent, anyway. I really had convinced myself that it was just a game, but I always knew that I wasn't doing the right thing, even if I wasn't willing to admit it."

She looks at him thoughtfully. "You know, for a little while, I was convinced that you had some kind of split personality."

He smiles sardonically. "If only," he says. "I think the fallout would have been easier if I could have placed even some of the blame on some separate entity inside of me. But...even right after, when the memories were the most unclear, I could still remember my reasoning. In fact, I could probably still tell you the exact planning that went into every one of my petty little schemes. The only thing that I still can't remember is how the Dark Towers and the Evil Rings worked, but I suspect that has something to do with BelialVamdemon's master plan." He frowns. "My purpose was to put them up, not to take them down."

"...Isn't that a bit scary?"

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know how I'd deal with knowing that somebody had messed with my memories like that." He's not sure that he likes the admiring way that Miyako is looking at him. "You're brave."

"I'm really not." Truth be told, he had dealt with that knowledge the same way he deals with everything that scares him - he had buried it away.

There is some kind of comprehension dawning in Miyako's eyes, and then she looks...sad. "When you used to say those things about how you were the perfect human being...you didn't believe them, did you?"

He is careful to keep his expression neutral. "Not even once," he says, matter-of-factly. "But...it was nice, to pretend. I wanted to pretend so badly that I eventually couldn't face reality anymore."

"Great," says Miyako, blinking hard. "Now I feel like crying."

"Please don't." This time, it's Ken who reaches out, taking Miyako's hand into his own. "I really don't like seeing you cry." He uses him thumb to caress the back of her hand, knowing that he probably shouldn't. "How long have you wanted to talk about this?"

"About eight years, give or take. I've always hated feeling like there's this hidden side of you that I know nothing about."

Letting go of her hand, he asks, very softly, "Do you wish that you still knew nothing about it?"

"No. I've said it before, Ken-kun: you're somebody that I admire, flaws and all."

But it isn't her admiration that he wants.

"Wow," says Miyako, laughing awkwardly. "I really didn't come in here with the intention of having such a heavy conversation." She looks around the bar, as if worried that people are watching them. "Hey, do you want to go outside for some fresh air? This place is getting stuffy."

Ken agrees, happy to be on his feet, and Miyako leaves the money owed the establishment on their table. Ken is careful to take Miyako's gift with him.

Outside of the bar, the air is cool and crisp. And although very few stars are visible because of the lights of the city, the street lamps give off a warmth of a different quality.

They begin to walk.

"...May I ask you another question, Miyako-san?"

"Sure," she says, swinging her purse in an arc. "Why not."

He hesitates for a moment, but, once again, the alcohol makes everything seem less like a bad idea. "Have you ever had a boyfriend?"

A pause. Then, "I've had one boyfriend." Ken takes solace in the past tense used in her reply. "We went out for a total of two weeks. He--what's that saying Americans use?--hit me, then quit me."

"You mean that he..."

"Used me for sex? Yeah. It...kind of put me off the whole dating thing for a while."

Ken can feel old cogs turning around in rusty parts of his brain--parts that had once been used to formulate schemes to defeat and humiliate. "What was his name?"

"Hiroshi...something." She laughs. "Hah! I think all this' trying to forget him' stuff is actually working." Moving closer, she asks, "So what about you, Ken-kun? Any boyfriends to speak of?"

Ken heaves a sigh and stops walking. "Why does everybody assume that I'm gay?"

"You mean you aren't?" she asks.

"No," he says emphatically. "I like a girl."

Miyako takes notice of the singular, and her eyebrows shoot up. "Ooh," she says, leaning in closer. At this distance, he would be able to kiss her. "Do tell."

His heart is beating hard and fast, and it takes every last bit of his remaining willpower to draw himself away under the pretext of leading them to a nearby bench. Miyako sits, and he follows suit. "Well..." he says, still unable to take his eyes off of her. "She's intelligent, and funny, and energetic, and...she's pretty." He is fascinated by the way the lamplight is reflected off her hair. "Very, very pretty."

"You know..." she begins, conspiratorially. "If you want some help snagging her, I'm more than willing to give it. Although I don't see why you'd even need it, given how you're a drop-dead gorgeous genius with professional athletic skills, a bright future, and a good personality." Her own words cause her to frown. "Come to think of it, why isn't this girl your girlfriend already? Anybody would be an idiot to turn you down."

Rather than inspiring hope, Miyako's words cause his stomach to plummet into his feet. Because they're spoken in the way a mother or a sibling speaks about your romantic prospects, in the way a person tries to reassure a friend of their desirability.

Softly, he says, "I don't think that she's an idiot. She just...doesn't see me like that." He chuckles bitterly. "Not since we were both children, at least."

"So she's a childhood friend, huh? That give you an advan--" Ever so slowly, comprehension dawns upon Miyako's face. All traces of humor disappear. "Ken-kun...you can't mean..."

He figures that there's no longer a point in denying it. "I mean it, Miyako-san." He looks her hard in the eyes. "Every word."

A silence follows, stretching out for no more than a few minutes.

It feels like much longer.

"Well," says Miyako, finally. She's drumming her fingers on the wood of the bench. "This is awkward."

"Really? I hadn't noticed."

She bites her bottom lip, fiddling with the zipper on her handbag. "You know that I care about you, Ken-kun. You're--"

"If you say that I'm like a little brother to you, I think I may have to kick a small animal."

This makes Miyako raise her eyebrows again. "You're kidding, right?"

He uses a hand to rub at his right temple. "Yes, I'm kidding." After all, he still hasn't gotten over the guilt from the last time he'd done it, even though it had been nine years previously.

She cracks a small smile. "I don't know how to define the way I feel about you, I mean - you're nothing like a brother. But I haven't thought of you...romantically...since a long time ago."

The sting of rejection is a hopelessness that Ken is all too familiar with - and it makes him reckless. He takes Miyako gently by the shoulders, allowing his fingers to caress the skin exposed by her tank top. Slowly, carefully, he leans in closer, his eyes never leaving hers. He is consciously using all the little psychological tricks that he's acquired over the years, ones that he has never used before, having never felt the need. But tonight, the longing and the alcohol is making him forgot himself. Tomorrow, he will feel guilty for even attempting to manipulate her in such a way.

She has yet to pull away, and he is close enough now that he can feel the warmth of her breath ghosting against his face. "May I kiss you?" he whispers.

She licks her lips and tries to avert her eyes, but the action doesn't last for long. "Alright," she says, breathily.

At long last, he closes the final distance between them, barely brushing their lips together. She shivers beneath his fingers, and he does it again. Only this time he lingers for longer, opening his mouth just enough so that he can moisten Miyako's lips with his tongue. She knows what he wants, and she opens for him, sliding her tongue to rub lightly against his.

It's sensual and restrained, and Ken is surprised by how much he likes it. In truth, the thought of such intimacy has always left him feeling mildly disgusted. But there is nothing even remotely disgusting about this, and he finds himself longing for even more contact. He slides his hands from her shoulders to the small of her back, pulling her closer, deepening the kiss. There is nothing restrained about it now.

She moans, and he's certain that it has to be one of the most amazing sounds he has ever heard. He trails his fingers up and down her back, wanting to hear it again. But instead, she pulls back from the kiss, breathing hard.

"Are you sure you've never done this before?" she asks.

"Never," says Ken, taking the opportunity to kiss his way down the smooth length of her neck. He smirks triumphantly at the little gasp she awards him for his efforts.

"Must be--" her breath hitches, "--a genius thing." Another gasp. "We need to go somewhere private."

He kisses along her exposed collarbone. "Wormmon's at my apartment," he murmurs.

"My roommate is--mhhm--at mine. Poromon too."

He moves upward, nibbling at the shell of her ear. "It seems that we have something of a dilemma."

"We could go to a love hotel."

This gives Ken pause, and he draws back from his ministrations. "Love hotel?"

Miyako's eyes look particularly beautiful when she's aroused, Ken decides. "I know it's not ideal, but it's definitely private."

"I'm not taking you to a love hotel," he says, frowning.

"Why not? It's a bit late to try and be proper, Ken-kun."

"It's not about propriety." He lets his hands fall away from her, although his gaze is no less intent. "Trust me, I could care less about something so trivial right now."

Miyako's lips purse together. "Then what?"

"This..." he takes a deep breath in an effort to slow down the beating of his heart. "This isn't about sex. And, if we're going to do something that intimate, I don't want to make it into some kind of meaningless tryst."

"Right...because you like me." She says it as if she still can't believe it.

Ken sighs. "Maybe we should call it a night, Miyako-san." This is what he deserves for his underhanded seduction, he realizes. She had never been responding to his feelings - only to her instincts. "I don't intend to take advantage of you when you're like this."

"You're not taking advantage of me, Ken-kun." She puts her face in her hands. "I'm the one who's taking advantage of you. I'm...god, I'm sorry."

Ken isn't sure how to respond to that. So he says, "I love you."

Miyako's head snaps up, and she stares at him.

He frowns. "I've loved you for a long time, Miyako-san. And I don't think that's going to change." He stands up and grabs his present, bowing stiffly. "Thank you for everything."

It takes less than the span of a breath for Miyako to follow him. "Wait!" she calls.

He stops and turns around. Every fiber of his body wants to bolt, or lash out, and he's afraid of what he might say.

She's suddenly in front of him, her cheeks flushed with exertion. "You're one of the most important people in my life. Please, don't ever doubt that." She takes a deep breath. "But this is all just...so sudden, you know? And I'm scared."

"I don't think I understand your meaning," he says, tersely. He's not sure he wants to understand.

She swallows thickly, and her eyes begin to look suspiciously wet. "Things change when you date someone. I don't..." Some tears slip down onto her cheeks. "You have no idea how important your friendship is to me, Ken-kun. And if we were to break up for some reason, it just wouldn't be the same." She attempts to wipe the tears away, only to have new tears take the place of the old, and laughs a little hysterically. "But now what am I supposed to do? Either way, everything changes between us." She takes another crack at wiping away the tears, this time more successfully. "And now I've given you mixed signals, which isn't fair to you at all."

"Miyako-san..." he begins, but finds himself bereft of words.

"But saying that you're always going to love me - that's not fair to me. Because I don't ever want to hurt you, Ken-kun, but now it feels like I have to choose between hurting you now and hurting you later. And that's a really, really difficult choice." She looks him right in the eye. "Just...give me some time, alright? I need to sort out what's going on in my head."

Ken tries to resist, he really does, but he can't help himself: he hugs her. And, for Miyako's part, she doesn't protest.

It takes a great deal of willpower to keep his voice even. "I'm sorry," he says. "For being so selfish."

She pats him on the back. "Don't sweat it, Ken-kun," she says, some of the humor returning to her tone. "I'd be a complete hypocrite if I held it against you."

He pulls out of the embrace, but doesn't leave. Not yet.

"Maybe I'm just being arrogant." It certainly wouldn't be the first time, he thinks. "But...I really do believe that we could be happy together."

She smiles, but doesn't reply. Instead, she says, "Goodnight, Ken-kun," and walks away.

_____

When Ken arrives back at his apartment, he scoops Wormmon into his arms and hugs him close.

"What's wrong, Ken-chan?" His partner's eyes are full of concern. "Why does your breath smell funny?"

He sits down on his bed. "I think I just said and did some very selfish things." Slumping back on the bed, he kicks of his shoes. Wormmon crawls out of his arms.

"Is there anything that I can do to help?"

Closing his eyes, he allows that events of the evening to wash over him. He had lost control, just like he had always feared, and now it's possible that everything is ruined. "I don't think so."

Ken is only certain of one thing: he will never drink again.

_____

Ken wakes up with the uncomfortable feeling that he's being watched. He knows that it's not Wormmon, since he has long since gotten used to his partner's presence. Already, his mind is formulating complex strategies to deal with the intruder, but few of them are feasible.

He opens his eyes, and finds that he's looking up at a familiar, smiling face.

"Miyako...san?"

"Morning," she says.

He pushes himself up into a sitting position, and she moves back to accommodate him. "Um..." he says, trying to blink the sleep out of his eyes. "What are you...I mean...how did you get in?"

"You forgot to lock the door." She tsks playfully. "That's pretty sloppy, Ken-kun. What if some pretty she-thief had come in here last night and stolen your innocence?"

He wonders, then, if he's dreaming.

Sitting down on the bed, Miyako lays a hand on one of his sheet-covered thighs. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine, I guess." All things considered.

"That's good. I figured that you didn't drink enough to get a hangover." She smiles mischievously, cheeks dimpled and eyes dancing. "You're not as much of a lightweight as I thought you'd be."

He has the feeling that something is missing, and it takes him a few seconds to process what it is. "Where's Wormmon?" he asks.

Miyako's expression becomes a little apprehensive. "He and I had a bit of a talk, and he agreed to spend some time with Hawkmon in my apartment. Since..." She smiles shyly, blushing. "I wanted to have some time alone with you."

Ken smiles back, mystified. "There's no way this is real," he says, placing his hand on top of Miyako's.

Miyako giggles. "That's one of the most the most clich├ęd things I've ever heard you say, Ken-kun." She moves closer. "This is real."

"I thought that I had..."

"Scared me away?"

He bites his bottom lip and nods. In a way, he misses how the alcohol had made him less jittery and awkward.

She moves closer still. "I realized something important about ten minutes after I left," she says. "I'm in love with you, Ken-kun. I've probably been in love with you for about eight years. I was just convinced that you would never be interested, so I pretended like I wasn't. And I eventually made myself believe it. I wasn't lying last night, though; I am scared. But...I know I'll regret it forever if I don't at least give this a chance."

A warmth is spreading outward from his chest, and he feels...lighter. It makes him want to smile and laugh and cry, all at the same time.

Miyako's eyebrows draw together in worry. "Aren't you going to say something?"

He doesn't say something immediately, still doing whatever he can to gather his wits, to figure out the right way to respond. Realizing quickly that this is a lost cause, he says, "Would you mind if we picked up where we left off last night, Miyako-san?"

She shakes her head, clearly a bit bemused, and Ken wastes no time. He pulls her into passionate kiss.

He soon decided that his name sounds so much better when it's moaned in pleasure.

______

Ichijouji Ken has never been very good with feelings. He figures that it's a very good thing, then, that his girlfriend is. And that she doesn't usually mind when he loses control.