~ commodification of desire ~

If you could give up tricks and cleverness, that would be the cleverest trick.
Rumi

. + .

Kismet was exactly the word for it. Daisuke, so offended by the entire concept of this date, and entirely furious with the universe for allowing it to happen, was at least a little mollified by the fact that Ken had happened make reservations at a restaurant owned by one of his more illustrious cousins. This intelligence came to him courtesy of Inoue Miyako, who had taken it upon herself to give Daisuke minute-to-minute updates on the situations, sharing non-private tidbits from her email exchanges with Hikari. It was without a second thought-- to be frank, it was practically without an original thought-- that Daisuke instantly decided that he must witness this "betrayal" firsthand and hopefully satisfy himself on the correctness of his prior assumption of Ken's untouchableness.

All that hand holding sent Daisuke into fits.

He had lurked around the Kamiya's apartment terrace for the better part of the afternoon, not wanting to miss the moment that his former best friend arrived to collect his former love interest for an evening of illicit delights.

With uncharacteristic patience, he hid behind bushes, strategically safe from prying eyes as he exchanged any number of emails with Takeru and Miyako, who both had been apprised of his plan. Takeru disapproved, whereas Miyako provided detailed instructions on how to successfully skulk. Daisuke actually found it exciting, after a while. I am...Daisukemon, the Superfly Spy! Ultimate Shinka!

At precisely 7:27, Ken strolled up the walk. He might have arranged the time with casualness, but he adhered to it with military precision.

Prick.

Rarely had Daisuke been afforded the opportunity to spy on...err... observe Ken like this. It made him feel a little better to dwell on Ken's prickishness, because he didn't want to have to deal with the fact that Ken looked so impressive just then. In the years since the Digital World Fiasco, Ken had grown quite tall, whereas Daisuke had stubbornly only gained a few inches. There had always been a disparity between himself and most other boys, and the past few years had widened the gap considerably. Daisuke had enough personality that he usually felt equal to anyone, of any height.

But not Ken. The way that Ken crossed the sidewalk was criminal, his refined height and slimness enhancing his strongly Japanese looks, his gait tigerish and somehow imperial. Ken was always so damned... imperial.

It made him look hot.

Not because he wanted it, though.

Fucking deceptive bastard.

Daisuke suddenly felt quite small.

After Ken collected Hikari, Daisuke had followed doggedly. When Hikari pulled Ken's hand into her own, Daisuke almost choked on his own spit and rage.

How dare she?

Daisuke might have been mad at Ken right then, but he firmly believed in Ken's essential innocence. Ken's just a stupid retard. She's using him.

Dark scenarios intruded into Daisuke's susceptible mind. Hikari's a temptress, a demoness. Dark Hikarimon!

This line of thinking made him feel better.

She's cast a spell! Tailmon helped her! Unholy Arrow!!!

For a while.

Okay, so Hikari's not really evil.

Not totally evil.

She'd have Tailmon go with a Cat's Eye attack....

It was a nice distraction, imagining the various ways Hikari could take out Ken and turn him into her love slave. All was tranquility.. until Hikari reached up to kiss Ken on the cheek. Daisuke's thoughts at that moment?

Unmentionable.

. + .

"Hey, Ken?"

Playing with his food as if it were serious business, Ken looked up guiltily. I'm doing it again. Under ideal circumstances, Ken found Hikari to be quite engaging. High school probably would have been pretty lonely without her: her daily presence reminded him of his resolve to honor the lessons that the Digital World had taught him, to be real. Even Daisuke never offered so much; he simply was never around when the most potent temptations occurred.

Who was it who sought him out to encourage him during homeroom? Who powdered him with eraser dust with alarming regularity? Who helped fend off the social parasites with her own deft expertise? Hikari. Hikari, out of all probability. Because of her, he had been able to fall in with the most interesting people at school, the quirky and cute friends that he wanted…rather then the suave, cruel set that wanted to call him their own.

Hikari was a true friend, an important one. Valued.

And yet… it was all Ken could do not to fall over in boredom. His natural defenses were kicking in, and every time his date slipped into tender conversation, something vital inside of Ken turned off. It didn't help that Hikari didn't seem the least bit disturbed by this flagrant indifference.

If anything, she was feeding off it.

"Hmm?" Ken replied after a moment, his head turned to watch other couples at the restaurant, absently twirling the straw in his soda.

"Where do you think we should go this spring, then? Hawaii?"

This almost was enough to capture Ken's attention. Surely, surely she can't be suggesting that we…? Ken shook himself slightly. No. She's just talking about the class trip. She's on the selection committee… I'm an idiot.

"Whatever. That would be fine, I guess."

Hikari leaned forward, tapping Ken's plate with her chopsticks. "Nonsense! You must have an opinion."

Ken leaned back, fatigued beyond belief. Why can't I focus? "Not really. I'm not going."

"No! I'm counting on you!" Hikari forbade warmly, her voice a caress. "I can't invite Miyako or any of the others, so you will be the only one of my old friends who can go. I need you." She assumed a wheedling tone. "You are the only boy I can trust, in any case. I'll want your protection..."

"I have commitments," he replied tersely.

Hikari frowned, her smooth forehead wrinkling slightly between her eyebrows as she tried to recall if this was something he'd discussed in the past. "...and they would be?" she said finally.

"I promised Daisuke…" Ken started, then stopped. He must hate me. Here I am, on a date with Hikari, and he'll hate me forever, most likely. I knew that. I asked for it, in a stupid fit of pique. So what plans, exactly, can I presume are still binding?

"Oh, that." Hikari said dismissively. "I can't believe he'd hold you to a promise you'd made years ago." With a seductive smile, Hikari kicked her foot against Ken's, causing him to sigh in exasperation.

"I never break my promises to Daisuke, Hikari." It had been a crazy, reckless thing to promise. But Ken had felt he owed it to his friend, after all the things he had taken care of on Ken's behalf. Besides, at the age of eleven it had seemed exotic and exciting…

"I can't believe the both of you still do that, year after year. It's so… childish." Hikari rolled her eyes, adopting a tolerantly bemused expression, her foot still kicking into Ken's with all the flirtatious skills at her command.

Ken didn't feel like justifying himself. Really, all he wanted to do was go home and call Daisuke, telling him that the date had been a bust and that he would never do it again. Maybe beg for forgiveness-- it was a thought. But in a way, this turn of the conversation was engaging him, waking him up. Like toying with a painfully loose tooth, it felt good to talk about Daisuke. Look, here's a person who will know him for always, even if I don't. My own foolish pride, ridiculous decisions, and above all, gayness— it will destroy the friendship for sure. But maybe, maybe.. this date isn't such a bad thing after all. A girl who Daisuke loved… if I date her, I will always have a piece of him, through her… "Mmm? How so?" Make her talk… Make her talk about him. That's what I'll do.

"Well, neither of you is exactly the creative type, right? So why the arty boot camp? You aren't ever going to be concert pianist, and Daisuke's sure as hell not going to be the next Takashi Murakami. It's not like you work hard on these things during the rest of the year, either. Is it really worth it?"

"The arty boot camp," as Hikari had dubbed it, was actually a Julliard-like academy tucked away in the northern wilds of Japan. Daisuke had never bothered to tell anyone besides Ken his fondest dream- to become a manga artist. And in fact, he was more then a dabbler… a lot more.

Years ago, Ken had seen some of Daisuke's pictures, and found them impressive enough to encourage him to continue in this vein. Daisuke, ever worshipful of Ken's good opinion, quickly seized on that approval, and began art lessons that only Ken and his family knew about. These yearly trips were a reward for Daisuke's hard work by his parents… and Ken's participation in the "boot camp" was in part for moral support. And in part for a completely different, more personal reason... but that was a story for another time. The promise had been simple: I'll go if you go.

Ken thought about all these things, as well as the possibility that the promise might be nullified forever, either because of tonight, or another night: hurting Daisuke seemed inevitable. "Worth it?" he tasted the words curiously, wonderingly. Was it even possible that time with Daisuke could be anything but?

"Yeah." Hikari misread his question for doubt, and pressed her seeming advantage ruthlessly. "Think of it. You will have sun, volcanoes, beaches, and me. You'd like that, I hope? Daisuke would understand, I know it."

Everything felt so surreal. "You think so?"

Hikari, Hikari… you didn't see the pain in his eyes that I elicited, just by proposing this stupid solitary date.

"Absolutely!" Hikari shook her head winningly, and her subsequent smile was like a kiss. Dazzling, surprising. Hikari, of the best beauty. In this moment of confusion, a waiter stepped up to the table, and took Hikari's empty water glass gently, filling it slowly and expertly. Neither Ken nor Hikari looked up, caught up as they were in this mini-emotional tableau. She kept rubbing his ankle, and he wanted it to stop. And yet... he also wanted to want her to continue.

Ken's feelings were very complex. He wanted to be attracted to her, she was making herself so wide open for it. He wanted to slap her… it seemed unnatural for anyone to have that careless level of self-confidence. He wanted to beg her to reconsider her rejection of Daisuke, all those years ago... Maybe the boy didn't love her anymore, but he could, oh he could!

Above all, Ken wanted Daisuke's happiness. He wanted to be an instrument of it.

I will be straight for him. I want him to hate me if he needs to. I want to forget him. I want to touch him. I need him. I should never see him again. If I don't see him this evening I will die. I wish I could tell him the truth. I want to shield him from it, and anything else that might confuse or pain him. I want. Oh how I want.

My selfishness is amazing.

Ken leaned in towards Hikari, adopting a conspiratorial tone, absently holding his glass out to the waiter, to have it refilled. "I'm not convinced." Gently, he kicked her back, which stopped her sensual rubbing and yet made him seem all the more winsome. "I think he'd mind."

"You are no fun!" she pouted. With her customary poise, she sniped a rice ball off Ken's plate, and popped it in her mouth. She then stuck out her tongue, little pieces of rice still sticking to it.

"Attractive," Ken noted wryly. "Very, very attractive."

Hikari was lost in thought for a moment, and then a determined look suffused her face with warmth. "So, have I told you yet what I've decided to be when I grow up?"

"No..." Ken answered, feeling the malaise setting in again as the topic shifted away from Daisuke and to inconsequential matters.

"Have you ever heard of Feng Shui?"

. + .

Keiko. Midori. Natsuko. Anya... Ayame. Kimi. Mai... oooh, Mai... Sakura. Idoru... bitch! Yukiko. Hermione wannabe... what was her name? Oh yeah-- Lian. And then Shanta.. Hell, All those girls from American University. Hikari…

...oh, no never "I'm too good for you" Hikari. I keep forgetting.

After some begging and bribery, Daisuke found himself in the corner of his cousin's restaurant with silver in hand and conquest on the mind. The fact that he was dressed as a waiter was purely for effect… he wasn't allowed to mingle among the "guests" upon pain of death. What he was allowed to do was sit behind a tasteful screen-- a latticework of wood and ivy-- and sulk.

Trying to make himself feel better by listing all of his past girlfriends was an admirable strategy, but one that backfired when Daisuke glumly concluded that he had loved none of them. And once Hikari's name slipped into the list, there was no help but to deteriorate into sarcastic self-flagellation. Was she really my first love? After everything that's happened, could it be that she was my only love, condescending twitty bitch that she is? Is that why I am so fucked up? For the 467th time that hour, Daisuke's eyes strayed from the tarnished teapot that he was polishing, over to the far corner where his friends dined on curry and rice. His line of sight was really quite decent… Ken and Hikari were both in profile, and Daisuke could even see some of what was going on under the table.

Thus the glumness.

Did it help that Ken was obviously suffering? A little. Daisuke, knowing his friend's moods, had been keen to pick up on the indifference shading into torqued, muscular boredom. Actually, when Daisuke caught a wince, he lifted up a silent cheer. Very good, my friend! That'll show her! Bitch. But his moment of triumph didn't last long, because he saw that Ken was obviously making some kind of effort, training himself to accept Hikari's attention with grace and slowly growing interest.

And why, by all that is unfucking sacred, do I keep calling Hikari a bitch? Just because she rejected me…

She'd rejected him. Wasn't that the crux of the matter? Obviously he was just jealous. Daisuke had thought he'd gotten over this years ago, but it must be why he was so furious now. Ken couldn't help being as amazing as he was, so perhaps it was not surprising that Hikari seemed to be attracted to that. But it still seemed weird. After all, he and Takeru were both highly eligible males (he even more than Takeru), and although she never technically led them on, she definitely hadn't ever been... like this. How could Ken resist? Ken was totally falling in love, even without the benefit of wicked spells and special attacks. Ken would… Ken would…

I hate her. Hate her, hate her, hate her, hate. She's flirty and evil and a perverted virgin tease. She's mindwarping him. She's mindwarping my Ken-chan.

MY Ken-chan.

Ugh. He was doing it again. Ken probably hated it when Daisuke called him that, but he couldn't help it. And yeah, maybe it sounded kind of gay, which was why Daisuke was trying to cut back (quitting cold turkey seemed like a fool's quest). But it wasn't that gay, really. Lots of guys... well, some guys... called their childhood friends whatever-chan and it didn't have to mean crap. But still, he needed to cool it, since both he and Ken were practically grown ups and maybe it was just too weird.

But he really is my Ken-chan... Daisuke thought, highly aggravated and annoyed. He needed to stay focused on what was important and ignore the trivial.

Never as pretty as Ken, the dynamic of their friendship had been set early on… Daisuke would be the one to get all the girls for casual sex and triumphant serial relationships, whereas Ken would be the untouchable idol, inspiring unrequited sighs and reams of bad poetry. Daisuke never needed to think about why this situation pleased him; at least, not until now, when he sensed everything falling apart. How can my Ken-chan and I be the same… how can I ever have a place in his life after he wakes up to his true potential?

Even in the most non-introspective person, moments of clarity could occur, and Daisuke found himself thrust into nirvana. This was what he saw: Hikari, the most successfully flirtatious girl he had ever known, softening up Ken and changing him, transforming him into a weirdly sexualized being. In theory, Daisuke could accept his own responsibility in the genesis of this date, but he refused to accept any blame for the possibility of this relationship continuing, and he did not care at all for the thought that his young, boyish friendship with Ken seemed destined for an ignominious end. He'll become enchanted with Hikari… and then girls in general… and I'll lose him forever to depravity.

Over the years, Miyako had been known to draw Daisuke into conversations that she called "Adventures in Self-Discovery." During these little chats, she would ask him the most embarrassing array of personal questions. How do you like it? Have you ever tasted your own come? Why didn't you ever have a crush on me? Angewomon or Lilymon? What about boys—be honest! You were lying about the ramen cart, weren't you… what do you really want to do with your damn life? Favorite color? No, Titanic does not suck!

Sometimes she would rely on aggressively argumentative statements. Her favorite such statement was a doom that she often pronounced: You and Ken won't be friends forever. Of anything that Miyako could offer, this was the one topic guaranteed to make Daisuke go ballistic. You won't be friends forever. He would argue, cajole, demand explanations, wax sarcastic, descend into outrage, alight upon revelations, and basically, amuse Miyako to no end. She called Daisuke the Defender of the Impossible Eternal Friendship, but only when talking to him privately, because to get Daisuke to be honest she always promised utter secrecy.

Daisuke had dismissed this title as nonsense. Now, he had the disturbed feeling that maybe he should have hailed her as a prophetess.

"I want to die," Daisuke whispered to himself.

At that moment, he happened to look over at Ken, yearning for something nameless and primitive, and noticed that Ken appeared to be excusing himself to go to the bathroom. Ken looked so damn good, in that blue blazer and flushed pink from the curry. Daisuke also felt himself flushing, with nervousness and general anxiety. He felt a confrontation coming on, and this excited and unnerved him.

"Umm... I think I'm going to be sick. Yeah."

Not knowing if he was being clever or reckless, Daisuke stood up and dusted himself off. To the bathroom it was!

. + .

"You!"

"Hell, yeah!"

Ken and Daisuke stared at each other through the intermediary of the bathroom mirror, each boy aggressively washing his hands, each refusing to be the one to break the gaze or the ritual cleanliness. There was an echoing quality to the splashing water that highlighted the overall quiet; no sounds emerged from the stalls, so the only sounds in the bathroom presently were those generated by the two of them.

Having already gotten over the stony silence of the reunion at the urinals, it was Ken who spoke first, as was his right.

Too bad he wasted it by stating the obvious.

After Daisuke confirmed that Ken's accusation of "you!-ness" was correct, a lull occurred before the argument was officially declared a go. Ken seemed embarrassed, instead of 100% angry. In turn, Daisuke was confused-- he wanted Ken to be furious, so that he could lay down a righteously ill smackdown in retaliation. Ken's hesitations were throwing Daisuke off his game.

It didn't help that this was a game he'd never played with Ken before. They'd never fought, not like this. Daisuke had no idea what the rules would be.

"Umm..." Ken said coolly, but with some more hesitation. "Are you spying on me?"

Daisuke shrugged, and continued to wash his hands. Playing the punk seemed safest, until he could get a handle on his own quicksilver shifts of emotions.

Ken opened his eyes wide at the insolence. More frosty on the second pass, Ken looked exceptionally stern. "Well?"

"I sure as hell don't know what I'm doing here." Daisuke said casually. "Whim, maybe? I think I just came to watch the show."

"The...show?"

"Yeah.. I particularly liked when you let Hikari slobber all over you. She'll make a man of you yet."

Ken froze. "I have feelings, you know." Do not let it be said that geniuses always say genius things. They don't.

"So do I." Daisuke said flatly, taking his hands from the sink and wiping them on the pantlegs of his borrowed uniform. "I'm not sure I want to see you with Hikari, after all. I don't like it."

Ken also stopped washing his hands, and wiped them on the revolving towel, as was correct. He then leaned against the tiled bathroom wall, slouching-- as was completely incorrect. "Why not?"

"She's my... and you are... and Takeru has rights too, you know!"

Ken blinked. "Takeru?" he said after a pause, suddenly dimpled and pleased with himself, for reasons that Daisuke could not guess.

"Yeah, Takeru. You remember? Boy with the hat?" And the horrible taste in highlights?

It was extremely disconcerting, the way Ken was beaming down on him all of the sudden. As if he thought Daisuke was… cute. "I'm serious!"

Why in the world would Ken be smiling?

"Of course." Ken said, still grinning. "Okay, so Takeru has rights. How interesting."

Daisuke collected himself, and then stepped right into Ken's personal space, mugging and pointing his fist deep into where he imagined Ken's aura to be. "Stop. Laughing. At. Me."

And like that, the smile was wiped off Ken's face. "I would never." Automatically, apparently without even knowing what he was doing, Ken reached out to smooth his fingers down along the side of Daisuke's arm. A long time—it had been a very long time since Ken had initiated any contact with Daisuke. So perhaps, it was not surprising that Daisuke jumped. Or that Ken pulled back his hand quickly, ashamed.

"You think you're funny, don't you?" Daisuke snorted, trying to ignore the flush of heat in his cheeks and earlobes. "Little Mr. Fancy Pants, with your fancy new girlfriend and everything. So smart, using my guilt over saying one stupid meaningless thing to trick me into letting you ask out Hikari. So, so smart. I'm impressed, Ken-chan. You really showed me. I'm glad that our friendship meant so much to you that you cooked up such a special scheme, just for my benefit. I'm touched. And now you think its funny, to see stupid little Daisuke founder for words because he's not as good at that kind of thing as you are. Oh, yes. I'm glad someone is laughing."

Daisuke stepped away from Ken, leaning on the sinks instead. He decided to go for the Martyr Pose, wondering what reaction it would draw out of Ken, hoping for an abject apology, for weakness, for something... What he really wanted (but didn't know that he wanted) was to know that it was in his power to hurt Ken, although that was something he had never purposefully done before.

Fear of loss made Daisuke desperate, and foolish. During Daisuke's speech, Ken bristled apoplectically, drawing himself up very straight and inhaling, taking in a large volume of air in order to puff himself up even more. His face turned purple with the held breath, which combined with his hair, eyes, and clothes to give him an oddly monochromatic look. Lesser boys might splutter at such hurtful and untrue accusations from a dear friend... especially a friend for whom a torch has been carried for a very, very long time.

Ken was not a lesser boy. Exhaling suddenly, he growled...actually growled! This was not just a picturesque description. Ken actually bared his teeth and looked remarkably fell. "How dare you? "

Daisuke did not fully appreciate what he was doing to Ken. "Ooohh... that bothers you? Good. Maybe you'll stop seeing Hikari then. Because I don't like it, and won't stand for it. Not if you still want to be my friend."

And there you go-- the Ultimatum.

"You idiot." Ken raged. "Idiot! Don't you see that it's not Hikari I want? It's you!"

Having been preparing himself to shoot down any objections instantly, Daisuke paused with his mouth open. His hand, which was half lifted and with his pointing finger up ready to jab, suddenly froze mid-motion. He was stunned.

For his part, Ken's eyes widened as the import of what he'd just confessed hit him.

Did I seriously just blurt that out? That?? Seriously?

The last time he'd felt this appalled at himself was when he'd been defeated as the Digimon Kaizer.

"...strike that?" Ken added, in a markedly less angry voice. Almost, a quivering voice.

Daisuke slowly relaxed his fingers and outstretched arm, pulling it back and then letting it drop. After a moment he closed his mouth, swallowing, gulping. His eyes too had widened, but his gaze had also become unfocused and he started looking at a point on the floor just to the side of Ken's feet. Uh. Wow. He absolutely had no idea what to say.

Before his silence could become meaningful, Ken spoke up, correcting himself almost instantly. "No, don't. Don't strike it. I… I have a confession?"

"A-another one?" Daisuke managed.

Ken was shaking.

The answer was long in coming. Daisuke fell back absently, retreating to his sinks so that he could lean on them. This time not to pose, just… he needed to think. Ken only looked sexy, right? He wasn't actually sexual… right? And the idea of Ken wanting him? Preposterous. Absurd. Wrongful, though he didn't dwell on why it felt that way. For a very brief moment Daisuke toyed with the idea that Ken was jerking his chain, but that idea was dismissed with contemptuous prejudice. Ken wouldn't do anything like that. What he said had to be true. Had to be… except it was also totally impossible. Maybe Veemon had used some magical tricks on Ken when Daisuke wasn't looking. Although why, or how, Veemon would do such a thing was an open question.

As for Ken…

When Ken finally spoke, he pitched his voice as low as possible, a trick he'd learned to mask whatever emotions he wanted to hide. "I'm gay."

"No shit."

"Yeah." Neither boy was looking directly at the other.

And this was where Ken waited. He waited for Daisuke to say something, small or awkward, it didn't matter. Or maybe it would be okay if Daisuke just moved, or looked up at him, or gave some kind of cue as to what he was feeling. Any cue, that would be okay. Ken felt exceptionally stupid, and as the moment dragged on, he began to feel hated and rejected as well. I broke him. Daisuke is not hardly breathing. He must be disgusted with me.

Ken waited some more.

And some more.

One last chance. I do think so...

Tallness was not an advantage for someone who wished to communicate vulnerability. Awkwardly, Ken reached forward for the second time that night, and cupped Daisuke's non-moving face in his not-to-be-trembling hand. Amazingly, Ken really wasn't trembling, but touched Daisuke like a full-grown man might. An experienced man, a knowing man... things that Ken technically was not, and feared that he never would be. He tilted Daisuke's face up, wanting to look into Daisuke's eyes, but Daisuke kept looking downwards. Of course, he looked adorable like that, but adorable and attainable were two very different things.

Daisuke might as well have been in Antarctica for all that Ken felt that he was getting through to him.

"Daisuke?"

And still, nothing: no reaction, no change. Daisuke appeared to be locked in stasis. And then, just when everything seemed most tense... a toilet flushed.

Apparently, a witness had been present, an unknown stranger who had been silent throughout the whole exchange... and who had decided that this moment was as good as any for announcing his presence. Daisuke stepped back reflexively. Ken's hand stayed suspended in the air for a moment, and then he fell back as well.

Ken's eyes darted to the line of stalls, but his desperation was too strong, the sense of Daisuke's skin under his touch too fresh in his mind. Feeling reckless, Ken pushed the point. "Perhaps... I do... love... you. What do you think about that?" Such a careless risk, with such horrible timing. But in a way, Ken welcomed the presence of the stranger. If he could admit his feelings like this, in front of the world... then those feelings were real. He had often wondered before, doubted whether it was even possible to love someone who had never shared a moment of honest intimacy with him.

Now he knew.

"You really are gay," was Daisuke's non-brilliant response. Things took a while for him to process, and the reality of his suspicions, and Ken's confession, was finally sinking in.

"Yes..." Ken said, faltering. This was just remarkably and horrifyingly painful. He doesn't like it… or me. I'm such a fool. I never should have told him.

A cough from the stall. Apparently, the unseen stranger was uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation, despite his earlier eagerness to listen in silently. Daisuke began to blush, and Ken's embarrassment grew more and more acute.

It's all over.

"I need to go," Ken said at last, wanting to spare Daisuke the indignity of turning him down. I can give him that, at least. Without waiting for an answer, without pausing to look any deeper into those pretty brown eyes, afraid to see the rejection confirmed... Ken fled.

Daisuke stood still, vaguely catatonic as all these revelations washed over him. The sound of the bathroom door slamming revived him a bit, and he looked that way curiously. It occurred to him that he should be doing something. Following Ken! But instead, all he did was lift his hand to touch his cheek, to hold in the warmth of Ken's touch a little longer. That was... nice. In a bit of a trance, Daisuke turned towards the door, intending to find Ken and see if he would touch him again. Very nice.

"Faggot." The stranger in the stall hissed quietly. "Fucking pansy fag."

Daisuke's eyebrows furled. He was still in a state, but something about the rude declaration triggered instincts in him, reflex actions that did not require much tertiary brain function for assessment. "What did you say?" he asked absently, still turned towards the exit, but paused.

"You heard me. Your friend is a piece of work, pal. I'm surprised you were so nice to that pathetic faggy loser."

Loser...loser... I let him leave. Daisuke wondered, and then reality descended. Above all, for as long as he could remember, it had been Daisuke's chosen duty to defend Ken against all comers. Insults against Ken had been distressingly common, in those early days after the Dark Spore had been overcome and Ken had to struggle with the pain of building himself up to genius levels from scratch. People had been so cruel then. Delighting in the humiliation of the child prodigy. And Ken had been all alone...

How did I find out? Daisuke wondered, as he slipped into the stall right next to where the insult had originated. Oh yeah... Miyako and her Infinite Gossipnet. Daisuke scrambled up onto the toilet seat, and peered down at a suddenly terrified man who was pulling up his pants. I targeted them all, and somehow I won every brawl. The look on Daisuke's face was truly evil, as he bounced a bit, trying to figure out a way to tumble into the next stall. They really left him alone after that. Damn straight.

Daisuke sighed. "I'm coming on in, you know. Defend yourself if you can." The man barely had a second to breathe, before Daisuke jumped, grappled, and rolled into the little sanctuary. One arm landed just shy of the toilet water, but the bulk of his body slammed into the rude gentleman, knocking the wind out of him and practically winning the fight without having thrown a single punch.

No-one insults my Ken-chan.

MY Ken-chan.

Damn it all to hell, maybe I do love that fucker.

. + .

"We're here."

"Mmm, yeah. Ken?"

After leaving the bathroom, Ken collected his emotions with almost frightening efficiency, planning to deal with them after the situation with Hikari was sorted out. His pain was like that of a bleeding ulcer… nothing to feel, really, except a growing sense of anemia and fatigue. Normally Ken was one of those fortunate boys to boast "high color" in his cheeks, a peachy permanent blush on his immaculately textured skin. But after his encounter with Daisuke, that color had fled, and even Hikari had noticed the difference.

Ken couldn't bear to stay in the restaurant for one second longer then he had to, knowing that Daisuke was doing some suffering or…something… in the bathroom. So when Hikari made comment about Ken's geisha-like pallor, he seized upon it as a marvelous excuse. Claiming nausea, he asked if it would be alright to leave early.

Hikari, ever the understanding sweetheart, was quick to oblige.

The walk home back to Hikari's place had been pretty uneventful, besides Hikari's frequent re-assessments of Ken's healthfulness. Ken wanted to slip into a fugue state, to forget everything and just run away. But down that road lay danger… the Kaizer might find him in that kind of weakness.

Ken did a lot of sighing, and he thought a lot about Daisuke, even though he tried very diligently not to.

"Ken?"

And so. Standing in front of Hikari's apartment complex, half suspecting that Tai was spying the exchange from a terrace high above, Ken attempted to give Hikari his all. After all, she didn't deserve to be a party to this deception… especially since he suspected that he was going to be foolish and hurt her some before the night ended. Fallback girl, fallback girl… Ken thought to himself in a dead, singsong way, as he tried to look deep into Hikari's hopeful eyes.

"Yes?" Ken answered at last.

Hikari looked down, abashedly twisting her leg at the heel, looking like a very young girl. "I don't know how it was for you…but the experiment…I liked it. Thanks for asking me out."

"It was…good…for me too." Well, what else could he say?

At this point, Hikari would have had to have been fending off kisses from most any other boy who might have spent some quality time with her. But not Ken—she felt like she was the aggressor, having to extract every little reluctant speck of emotion. And subconsciously, this was exactly how she always intended it to be… not just with Ken, but with any boy who she might have dared to like. She never framed her desires in terms of Safety, but in truth, she never allowed herself to experience any speck of romantic affiliation without first reassuring herself that nothing sticky or unglamorous might be the result.

So, feeling safe, she took Ken's hand. "We should…do it again sometimes."

"Maybe." Noncommittal, noncommittal! Ken shouldn't have said that, especially not to Hikari… if he said "I don't know" or "Hmmm," that would have sufficed for a No and Hikari would have understood. She was too familiar with the forms of rejection, having been the Rejecter in many of these little confessionary interludes. Her heart certainly would not be crushed…bruised, yes…but not crushed. And if Ken had had the temerity to say "Of course!" or "How about next weekend," then he would have revealed himself to be a man of Feelings and immediately Hikari's sense of attraction to him would have cooled. The Republic of Yes was not a place that she visited often.

"Mmm?" Hikari murmured, and then did something very bold… she led Ken's hand to her side, and placed his palm just over her waist. And then, she reached up and pulled Ken into a kiss.

It should be noted that the only kind of loving that Hikari approved of was of the elegant sort. So, when she placed her lips on Ken, it was with a closed mouth and not in the French style. She wanted to give Ken something beautiful, something chaste.

This is not what Ken took, however.

Emotionally strung out, desperate for affirmation, and above all, greedily desiring to cease considering himself a Repulsive Creature…Ken decided to go for it. Maybe Hikari's sweetness could erase the shame of Daisuke's rejection. Without considering the possible consequences, Ken decided to kiss Hikari like he had always dreamed of with Daisuke: lips parted, eyes closed, and deeply. Not so much French as Greek: an immoderate style of kiss from a country fraught with passionate lovers.

Needless to say, there was tongue involved.

Ken had never kissed anyone before, and Hikari had never been kissed before like this. She was not appreciating of Ken's natural aptitude, of his forceful touch, of the way that he bent her backwards and practically dared her to breathe. He was everywhere, in her face, and she was overwhelmed. She tried to push him away, but he was far to strong for that, and so she balled up her fists and began to hit him.

It took Ken a few seconds to understand what the pounding on his chest was all about, but as soon as he did, he pulled back, looking confused.

"No, no, no! This is impossible!"

"Hhhuh?" Ken said, huskily. He was beginning to wonder if there might be something to the whole bisexual thing, but that was only because he was mistaking his own breathlessness and quickened pulse for desire. Later he would re-evaluate this and classify it as Understandable Confusion following his first mouth-to-mouth. Much later…right now he felt unpleasant and was back to Repulsive. The whole world hates me. I can't do anything right.

"What the hell was that? Were you trying to impale me?" Hikari said, wiping off the kiss using the back of her hand, angry and pugnacious, as if spoiling for a fight. Which probably she was. She had wanted Ken to kiss her, but not like that. She had wanted Ken to desire her, but not like that.

"I'm sorry… I'm so sorry..." he said brokenly, the instinctive response of boys everywhere when confronted with female derision.

"Did you think I'd like that? Did you, did you!?" She resumed pounding on his chest in frustration. "You had no right."

Ken looked down at her, not knowing what to say, and so he said what first popped into his head. "I'm sorry…but, you see… I needed to know…I needed to try…"

"What did you need to know?" Hikari shouted, not caring that she was making a scene. Anything it took, anything at all, to show the world that she was no slut, no oversexual hussy: this was her goal.

Oh, fuck it…Daisuke knows…surely I can tell her, reprehensible monster that I am. "I…oh, Hikari, I'm sorry…so sorry…I think I'm gay…"

Hikari's mouth fell open, and she stopped moving. Guardian of the Crest of Light, the Eighth Child, child of prophecy, child of destiny…she paused, paused, paused.

And then she slapped him.

"Get out of here! You heard me! Leave, you jerk! How could you do this…to me?" Ken looked at her, and tried to interject, but she started to push him away. "Go! Now! You are cruel and a liar. You hurt me! Go! For the love of…"

Hikari then turned around, and stormed into her apartment complex, not wanting Ken to see the tears, a sign of weakness, an emblem of her willingness to desire him and her deep sense of betrayal. The door slammed behind her, and Ken was left alone in the lamplight, which wasn't enough to hide that he was surrounded by darkness.

"I…I… want to die," Ken said brokenly, unconsciously echoing Daisuke's statement from earlier.

Ken knew what he needed to do.

. + .

How did the words go again?

Oh yeah.

"Well, she got her daddy's car and cruises to Hamburgerstan now..."

After narrowly escaping both juvenile arrest and the damning wrath of his cousin, Daisuke was strolling down the center of the road with nary a care in the world, singing loudly, obnoxiously, and only barely on-key. The same sorts of people who smiled at Ken and Hikari as they passed preferred to roll their eyes at the undersized little punk who dominated the scene now.

"Seems she forgot the library like she told the old man now..."

Daisuke was haunted, simply haunted, by the memory of Ken's bare-handed touch of his cheek.

"And the radio is blast and rocks like a roaming chariot race now..."

Daisuke touched his face, smiled, grinned. Laughed. Ken.

"So she'll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes that teebird away..."

Ken had escaped his clutches by running off with Hikari, but Daisuke had no doubts that Ken was at this very moment giving Hikari a somber and moving confession of his homosexuality, followed by a related confession regarding his eternal love for Daisuke, confessions for which Hikari would of course undoubtedly be deeply moved. He could see it now... Hikari would be sitting next to Ken on a bench somewhere, patting him on the back, saying "there, there, Daisuke is obviously crazy about you, go home and call him so that you can make out and then have mad crazy sex together."

That would probably take a little time. So Daisuke was taking something of a detour on his way over to Ken's place, picking up supplies.

Fortunately Ken's taste, which had awesomely taken him to Daisuke's cousin's restaurant, had also landed them all in Shibuya as well. Ken would have to take Hikari all the way back to Odaiba before circling back home, so that would give Daisuke even more time to dick around. Shibuya was all fancy and hip, just like Daisuke would expect from awesome sexy Ken. There were lots of stores, and therefore lots of opportunities for commerce.

First stop, the florist!

Sadly not Sora's though, where he could probably sweet-talk her into giving him a Digidestined Discount. Daisuke stepped into a small and hopefully not outrageously overpriced little shop some ways down the main strip in the fashion district.

"Welcome!"

A dainty girl with pretty dark hair, creamy white skin, and kissably pouty lips was standing behind the counter, greeting him with a shy smile. Daisuke grinned: just his type!

Except that he was no longer on the market. Her loss-- he looked away quickly, walking over to a display of different flower types. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea, and he knew he was seven different kinds of irresistible so it was best to be wary.

It would be thoughtful to get something that reminded him of Ken, so Daisuke wandered over to where the blue and gold and purple flowers were. Ken colors, all. "Do you have any lilacs?" he asked casually, naming off the first and only purple flower he could think of.

"Lilacs don't do well in hothouses, I'm sorry," the girl said, bowing her head a bit in apology. " How about violets? Violets are so sweet and pretty..."

"Yeah?"

The girl stepped out from behind the counter and kind of floated over to Daisuke, leading him over where the violets were, arranged in bouquets, vases, as well as growing in cute little pots. "Yes. See here?"

Daisuke nodded. It was all overwhelmingly adorable. "Um... "

"May I ask what they are for? I can help you better if I know."

"Uh..."

Maybe flowers were a stupid idea. Who bought flowers for boys? That was totally ga...

Gay. Daisuke looked down, blushing. Oh yeah.

The pretty florist was simply standing there, waiting with a patient and angelic look on her face, as if she had all day. Daisuke thought about it for a while. "...someone I like," he said after carefully considering his pronouns.

"I see," the girl said with a bright and encouraging smile. "So you want to tell her how you feel? Will this be the first time?"

Yes and yes, except for the "her." Daisuke nodded, and if it were possible for him to feel more mortified he would never know. It felt like he was somehow obscurely slandering Ken by omission. Ken, I'm sorry, you're not a girl! You're a totally hot and sexy boy! Not girly at all! Somehow that made him feel even worse, like he was just patronizingly lying to Ken in his mind, because if he was being brutally honest he'd have to admit that Ken did have a few girly moments. Not many, not hardly at all, but sometimes... rarely... yes. Ken I am so sorry!!!

"Very good," the girl said, having paused to give Daisuke a smile that was a bit more honest, if bemused. "I think that something simple and spontaneous feeling would be best." She became thoughtful and picked up one vase, and then another, before discarding the idea of a vase altogether and going for a medium sized bouquet instead. "What do you think of this?"

Crap. He was being all charming without even meaning to!

"I'll take it!"

He pulled out his credit card from his wallet and then held it out with both hands, bowing his head down and closing his eyes tight.

The girl took the card from him carefully, and then walked over to ring up the purchase and then wrap it in some kind of tasteful shit. Daisuke watched all of this out of the corner of his eyes after he dared open them again, and when his credit card was returned he mumbled some incoherent thanks and raced out of the flower shop, almost forgetting his flowers so he had to run back in to fetch them before running out again.

That was one thing down.

. + .

Ken fumbled in the dark, trying to find the cords to pull back the blinds… There.

His parent's place, which sometimes he was able to think of as home, flooded with the cool light of a nearly full moon. The light was clean, but deceptively so, a seemingly pure glow only faintly contaminated with artificial city lights welling up from below. The nightly coagulation of a million small pollutions.

This sucks.

For a time Ken remained near the window, eyes unfocused as he uncaringly scanned the bloated sky. Few stars could be seen; it was bad enough that the city light obscured them, but on nights like this with the moon it was somehow even worse, stealing all the attention and pressing down the sky until it was woolen and superflat, as shallow and as empty as his own abandoned heart. He was glad that his parents were gone for the weekend, for this allowed him to contemplate his rejectedness in peace.

Ken held up his hands, watching the play of shadows as he moved.

Nights like this reminded him of why he'd sought solace and refuge in the Digital World, all so long ago during his brief and tragic reign as the Digimon Kaiser. In the Digital World, Ken could find stars whenever he wished, and even after he'd given up his corrupt ambitions he'd never abandoned the occasional need to escape, to spend long nights with only Wormmon as company, just looking up. Here on earth, stars were scarce, and even the planets seemed subdued.

Light wasn't always a good thing.

Sometimes-- it was a stain.

Light-- Ken didn't bother to think of it as a metaphor for Hikari, because he never seriously considered himself as an exemplar of Kindness either. It wasn't really his style to employ cruelty towards his friends as a defense against his own feelings of worthlessness, anyway… these thought of light as pollution and stain were not intended to be little mental jabs at Hikari, but rather a bite at his own hopefulness. Light-- in his mind, it stood for goodness… and the truth. Slowly, mechanically, Ken twined the cord for the blinds around his hands, tangling and untangling the separate lines between each of his fingers.

What was I thinking? Perhaps they will accept me eventually, the way that Miyako and Takeru have. But it will never be the same… Takeru proved that.

Takeru. Astute, observant Takeru… he figured it out almost from day one.

Being the basically honest, good person that he was, Takeru had found a way to let Ken know about his suspicions without being offensive or intrusive about it. Ken had found it embarrassing anyway, and had bristled in his embarrassment, afraid that maybe he gave off the dreaded gay "vibe," complete with lisp and swish behavior. Of course this was not the case, but when he articulated these concerns to Takeru he'd been subjected to a lecture on his own prejudices, as if a homosexual person could be homophobic. But this turned out to be exactly the case. Ken loathed himself, and loathed his own sexuality even more.

The window faced east. Ken pressed he forehead to the glass, looking down. It was a boring night; few people were out, and nothing was happening. The moon was rising, and therefore shining directly in his face, and made it harder to pick out the details near the horizon, off where Odaiba would be.

Would it even have mattered if he'd had the dreaded lisp? Oh, Takeru's insights had been invaluable, extremely so. "Oh Ken," he'd said, sighing and playing with his hair. "I'm way more froofy than you. It's the curse of blondes everywhere." Ken remembered Takeru's lazy self-confidence, his encouraging grin. "Really, you should be jealous." And he was-- had been then, and still was now.

From that point on, Takeru has offered himself up as a sounding board and secret confidant. Takeru always seemed to know what Ken was feeling even before he did, especially when it came to his feelings towards Daisuke. They'd never talked about it, not directly, because Takeru was too polite to bring it up so long as he himself remained loath to discuss it. But with all the recent events with Ken asking out Hikari, they'd talked a few times, and it was telling how often Takeru had skillfully managed to work the conversation around to Daisuke's Suffering, something which Miyako had also been all too happy to keep him updated about. They'd hardly discussed the topic of Hikari at all.

And that was a part of the problem. It was too one sided. Too contingent on Ken's gayness.

If I were straight, not even Takeru would be so indulgent towards my self-absorbed tendencies.

After all, didn't Takeru have a direct and personal investment in Hikari's romantic life? Ken had never been fooled by Takeru's general casual good humor and seeming indifference. But it never came up.

It never came up, because to Takeru, Ken was his "gay friend," and the rules were different than they would be if Ken had simply been a friend, minus the gay.

Takeru was endlessly kind, supportive, and genuine. In many ways, his friendship with Takeru was ideal. To be completely accepted for what he was—beyond wonderful. But… and this was a huge "but"… he was tired of being set apart. Heterosexual people could just be themselves, with sexuality just a small fragment of their personality. To be homosexual meant being defined by sexuality.... and all other aspects of his personality seemed to take second place to that.

Ken was tired of being a fascinating specimen for people like Miyako to dissect, or for people like Takeru to champion. He was tired of being the "safe" friend for someone like Hikari to date.

And he was tired, very tired, of being the idealized, castrated monk of Daisuke's fantasies.

I miss him already.

Hikari would come around. She was a decent person, really decent, and moreover it wasn't her fault that she'd been grossed out by Ken's inept, stupid kissing. In fact, the very fact of his gayness would help to heal the wound, he was sure of it; in the end she'd probably be the one apologizing to him, sorry for being so hard on an inexperienced gay virgin who was even worse at intimacy than she was.

Just thinking about it made him cringe; her resentment would be more bearable than her understanding, because it was undignified and sad that she'd place him in a special exempt category just because he was abnormal. Ken's eyes strayed to the corner cabinet in the living room, where his father kept his liquor.

I just want to be myself. Not gay, just myself.

Except that he didn't, really. There was nothing he was more tired of than being Ichijouji Ken.

Poor Daisuke. He probably would never understand why their friendship had to end. Worse, he'd probably never see how he himself would precipitate the end.

He won't touch me anymore. He won't. He'll be afraid that I am thinking of him lustfully... which will be true, after all... and after a while he'll become so uncomfortable that he will seek out reasons to avoid me. Not consciously, of course... he would never give up on our friendship. Never.

But it will become pale and distant and he will never understand why.

Ken stepped out of the light, and into the shadows.

Who cares if it's "normal?" Who cares if I can't "help it?" People will treat me differently. Daisuke… he will too.

This is killing me.

To the world, Ichijouji Ken and his sexuality were one and the same. It wasn't true, but it didn't matter, because both were screwed.

Time to get fucked.

. + .

"Seventeen... god damn..."

Daisuke might have had more to say on the subject, but he was almost completely out of breath. Obviously he was being punished for some serious mischief from a previous life, to have to climb nineteen flights whenever he visited Ken. Nineteen whole flights!

Maybe it was nice to have an apartment in the sky for people who didn't have Daisuke's issues. Being claustrophobic sucked. Especially in the city, where elevators seemed to be an ubiquitous mode of transportation. He couldn't use them, they were totally out, so whenever he wanted some face to face time with Leafmon or something, he had to make this wretched, purgatorial ascent. The only good thing about it was Ken.

Ken had always known about this quirk of his and was deeply amused by it. But Ken was also the only one who would routinely take the stairs with him... everyone else would just meet him up top wherever they were going.

"Eight... teen..."

Belialvamdemon would have a field day with this bullshit, was what Ken would sometimes say after a particularly harrowing trek. I wonder why this never came up in his audit of your fears, he'd say, grumbling but in a good-natured way that pretty much meant "I love you Daisuke!" as Daisuke now realized. It was just another example of Ken's shining perfection.

I'll make it up to you, Ken! We'll climb to unbelievable heights together, higher than Mount Fuji, higher even then these nineteen fucking floors of doom!

Oh, he was totally aroused now. Daisuke took a deep whiff from his violets, stopping on the landing at the nineteenth floor, wanting to catch his breath so that he wouldn't come across as totally lame when he swept Ken up in his arms for a really sexy gay kiss. Disappointingly, the violets didn't have much of a scent, but they still looked quite pretty and the purple was still very Ken-like. Daisuke had other presents too.

It wasn't like Daisuke was opposed to the idea of being gay. He just never thought about it before, no matter how hard Miyako hounded him on the topic. His track record spoke for itself, or so he thought, and besides, didn't most gay people know they were gay from age two or something? Miyako had also tried to get him to consider bisexuality, which was at least plausible, but when he'd tried to imagine getting it on with some generic dude, the idea never aroused him. It seemed totally pointless, actually, as he'd been eager to point out to a disappointed Miyako, who always seemed to want him to try it for some obscure and perverted reason.

Except... Miyako, I'm totally going to kill you. She knew! She had to. What a little shit.

As if it wouldn't totally change everything if it were Ken.

His thoughts detoured into brief fantasy. What if all those times Ken and Daisuke would roughhouse, what if Ken's looks and touches hadn't spoke of mere casual interest, but desire? It had always seemed implausible to him that Ken found anything about him to admire, and yet he did. What if that admiration was something even more ridiculous, like lust?

Of course he wanted Ken, and wanted to be with him. Of course. He just didn't know it until now.

Few suspected that Daisuke was self-aware enough to know that he was a little shit too, a screwball and a screwoff combined, with an added dash of spooniness just for flavor. Ken knew it, though. Ken always understood even Daisuke's corniest gestures, taking them in the spirit intended and not bothering to pay tribute to the trampled social niceties and occasional devious mayhem that Daisuke was always leaving in his wake.

As his breath evened out to normalcy, Daisuke was finally able to hear the faint sound of music leaking into the stairwell. It sounded like piano, and it sounded a little familiar too.

What's this?

Stepping out into the hallway, the strains of a vivid melody became stronger, and it struck him with an odd sense of déjà vu, of familiarity tugging at the edges of his memory. That sounded like... Ken.

But it sounded so sad.

What business did Ken have sounding so sad?

Daisuke stopped just in front of the door, shifting his violets and chocolates and little UFO catcher plushes and other highly romantic and appropriate items under one arm. That... wasn't right. Normally he'd knock, or barge in loudly, or maybe sing a little tune, but the music was holding him back from the grand gestures. Cautiously, instead, Daisuke tried the door handle, and exhaled a little in relief to discover that it was unlocked. He slid the door open silently, sneaking in.

The lights were off. Daisuke stooped to slip off his shoes one at a time, placing each down with unusual care. Even if he didn't know where the piano was, following the music to its source would not be hard since Ken was playing so loudly, pounding the keys in this vicious biting way which suggested barely repressed aggression and filled with a sense of frustrated mourning. And the music continued to sound sad, looping back on itself and tugging irritatingly at Daisuke's memories.

So Ken was in the living room. Daisuke went there directly, moving slowly so as to be careful in the dim light. He didn't want to disturb Ken until he was ready, but moreover he didn't want to accidentally crush the flowers, which even to his untrained eye looked delicate.

And there Ken was, sitting at the piano, a small upright. Ken's back was to Daisuke, and for some reason he wasn't wearing any pants... for a sick moment Daisuke thought he might be naked down below, but then he realized that Ken was still in his boxers and he didn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Whatever was going on here, it was a sight worth seeing.

Daisuke knew this room so well. In some ways it felt more like home then home did. There were all of Mrs. Ichijouji's pictures on the walls, photographs and cheesy art, and the bookshelves were full of the sorts of thinks Ken's parents liked to read. Mr. Ichijouji was partial to war histories, while Mrs. Ichijouji had a more varied collection of popular novels, cookbooks, and lots of stuff having to do with Japanese culture including a few books of poetry and classics such as "The Tale of Genji." There was an understated pride in everything Ken's parent's owned, and everything was clean and in its proper place.

Except a few things that weren't. There was a mess of clothes piled up in the corner, which Daisuke presumed to be Ken's pants and suit coat and whatever else Ken had found too constraining for the piano. And then there was the large bottle of sake perched reckless on top of the piano... coasterless.

Ken was painting a picture with his music, using the timeless medium of sound, and even Daisuke wasn't so dumb that he couldn't realize that it was not a happy one.

Why was Ken so sad?

The music was transfixing. Enthralling in its emotionality, it almost hurt to listen to it. It continued to nag him, because he knew that he'd heard this piece before, and he knew that it had some meaning specific to him. Daisuke's pause at the threshold of the room had extended into full blown reverie.

To watch Ken play was to observe asymmetry at its height. The left hand touched on the low notes, rumbling through a cyclical phrase of sound… rolling, repetitious, flowing with the chord shifts to create a complicated background tapestry upon which the right hand picked out a song. The right hand, favored by the gods and man… it touched the high notes, never crossing the central C. For most people, the right hand was stronger, more supple… this was the hand that drummed out the counterpoint, which was yet again the thesis of the piece.

And again, Daisuke could just recognize the music, almost placing it, but he didn't know the when. He didn't know the why.

. + .

Ken was remembering.

It was another time: half a year following the final battle with Belialvamdemon. It was another place: Tamachi.

Once this had been his den of triumph. Now it was his principle source of hell on earth.

"Aw, the genius is about to grace us with a concert."

"I wonder how he can find the time, working so hard to get all those Cs."

"How insulting. Didn't he get a B recently?"

"He did! I know! That just makes it all the more amazing that he has found the time to play. Hurry, we've got to reserve seats before they're all taken!"

Ken remembered how he'd let the door slam behind him, the only satisfaction he'd give his tormentors. The practice room doors didn't lock, so it was possible that they could come in and harass him at any time. But at least they were soundproofed, which meant that so long as he was alone, he could keep out the painful commentary.

More importantly, the room kept in critical evidence of Ken's humiliating downfall.

I can't play. I can't perform. I can't win. Not anymore.

Once, Ken had ruled this school, holding his classmates' awe and respect. Now he had neither, and although he had lost all taste to win back their admiration, he had reasons of his own for wanting to succeed.

No more photographic memory. No more unnatural dexterity. No more easy triumphs.

He spread out the sheets of music in front of him and then looked at his fingers, cursing them and their ability to forget skills that they had so long ago mastered.

All I have now is fear. I didn't have that before, the fear.

Losing music probably was the smallest thing that Ken had to mourn, but it was also one of his most public failures. Losing soccer supremacy and judo mastery also hurt him publicly, but at least with soccer, when he lost it was with a team, and with judo his failures were witnessed only by other students of the art, and moreover judo taught respect for failure, and had given him ways to fail gracefully. Not so with the piano: it was a performative art, meant to entertain. Meant to impress.

He used to be so good. Piano wasn't the only skill he was torturing himself over, but to be able to perform ably would help his pride so much. His pride had become a microscopic and practically non-existent thing following Belialvamdemon's fall. And like all Ichijoujis, he was very attached to his pride, even though he was quite aware that this was not an advantageous feature.

I shouldn't feel as if removing the Dark Spore's influence also took away everything about me that was admirable. But I do.

As usual, Ken's hand strayed to the back of his neck, as it did whenever he thought about the Dark Spore. He had no mark on his skin to commemorate his taint, but that didn't change the fact that the Spore still resided with him, and would stay there until he died and maybe even beyond. It was a kind of parasite, and just because it lay dormant for now that didn't mean that he no longer felt tethered to its influence. Hope was such a faraway prospect, and grew dimmer daily. Who was to say that the Spore might not sprout once more, feeding off his absolute despair? It only seemed a matter of time.

He was so alone in Tamachi. He suspected that someday, perhaps someday soon, his friendships with the other Chosen Children would fade, and that he would become bitter and unlikable and completely, utterly alone.

Ken sighed as he positioned his hands over the keyboard, and began to play.

Daisuke. It was for Daisuke that he did this. Daisuke was the one he most wanted to impress.

No, correction. Daisuke was the only one he truly wanted to impress.

Already, Daisuke had turned his experience in the Digital World into an unqualified success for himself. Increased confidence had made him more able to concentrate in school, more sure of himself around his family, more alluring to all the girls he knew. Daisuke seemed to be like a rising star, destined for greatness, whereas Ken bitterly concluded that his own star had long ago set.

What if Daisuke realizes this, and abandons me at the last? I wouldn't blame him… but it sure as hell would kill me.

Ken lost himself to his practice, not so overwhelmed with frustration that he was anywhere near quitting in despair. He played and played, the muscles in his fingers slowly limbering up through the repetitions. It felt good to be so lost. He knew he wasn't talented anymore, but at least he had drive, and he was using that drive to transform himself into a different sort of prodigy... the kind that works.

He continued to play, fully occupied by the slow process of improvement. And so, it was completely a shock to him when, after stopping in the middle of a particularly difficult movement, that the pause filled with the sound of clapping.

"What's the name of that piece?"

Ken flinched as soon as he heard the clapping, a tiny flinch he hoped went unnoticed, but then he registered the voice. A familiar voice, not mocking.

Ken whirled around breathlessly. "Daisuke?" And then he took note of Daisuke's shamefully bedraggled appearance. "Oh, Daisuke."

His friend was dirty, with a few cuts on his face, crusting blood on his nose, what looked to be the beginnings of a black eye, and several other more minor contusions and scrapes hardly worth noting in the overall scheme of things. But Daisuke was grinning, looking ridiculously proud of himself. Was this abnormal? Normal? Ken could hardly tell, anymore. One day a genius, the next not... all certainties had been washed away.

"The piece?" Daisuke was saying, crossing his skinny arms as he attempted to prompt Ken to answer his conversational opener. Even his clothes looked like they had bruises. Daisuke sniffed, and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand, smearing blood onto it. "What's it called?"

"Doesn't matter," Ken responded. "Let's talk about you for a moment, if you please."

"What's to talk about?" Daisuke shrugged, feigning innocence.

"I never asked you to do this for me, you know."

"That's funny." Daisuke took his dirty hand, the one with the blood smeared on the back, and pointed his index finger into his ear, making a screwing/cleaning motion. He became ostentatiously confused. "For a second there, it sounded like you thought I gave a damn about things like that."

"What if I asked you to stop?"

Daisuke had fingers in both ears now. "I'm sorry, my ears seem to be broken." He raised his voice obnoxiously, too.

Ken closed his eyes, and sighed. "It won't help."

"Totally deaf now."

"Daisuke?"

"What?"

"... see, I knew you were listening."

Silence. Ken opened his eyes once more, wanting to witness the way that Daisuke fought against his native urge to crack wise. It was worth seeing. Daisuke opened his mouth, then shut it, then opened it again, and then made a face. He usually lost these sorts of battles, but not always.

"Mm... It's called Selective Hearing Brokenness. Look it up."

Lose. Although for Ken, it was a win.

Of late, Ken had come to realize that everything Daisuke did ended up being a win. For him.

Daisuke was even amazing when he looked like hell, and acted like an ass.

"I can take care of myself," Ken said quietly, looking down and to the side.

"Oh really?" Daisuke removed his fingers from his ears, wiping his hands off on his pants legs and then sniffing, again. He might still have a bit of bleeding in his nose, at that. Daisuke's voice became very dry. "Against geniuses, sure. But can you protect yourself from morons?"

Not when he'd become one himself. Ken shrunk into himself, hunching down and bowing his head in shame. He didn't have the right to protect himself from the truth. "I'll survive."

"Are you taking bets?"

Ken gritted his teeth, but after some internal turmoil, all he did was shake his head. "No." He couldn't help sounding a bit short; didn't Daisuke know that it hurt him, hurt him, to have to see Daisuke in pain? And that it was even worse when he knew it was all for his sake? All this joking around was becoming rather tasteless.

Daisuke sniffed, a really loud sucking noise which was almost a snort. He cupped a hand up under his chin. "Almost lost that one!" Daisuke then spat into his hand. It was a blood clot, mixed with saliva. He held it out towards Ken. "See?"

Okay, he couldn't help it. Ken made a face. That was disgusting. And yet... he smiled a little, too. It was also so Daisuke. "Get that away from me." He held up his hands as if in surrender, or in warding. "Now."

Knowing a trump when he had one, Daisuke just kept waving his hand around in front of Ken's face, swinging it like a sideways pendulum, and then sweeping it around like a plane. "Only if you promise to shut up about the things I do on my free time to help rid the world of morons." His voice became pious. "I'm just doing my part."

"Uh... I..." Ken floundered for a moment. Was Daisuke really threatening him with nose blood? And worse, was that actually going to work? All signs pointed to yes. Ken gave up. "Fine. Just go wash your hands." And then, before Daisuke could move, with lightning quickness he pulled out a tissue from his pocket. "Here, use this." Ken pointed at the door handle.

Daisuke grinned at him, a conspiratorial sly grin of utter happiness. "Of course. I do everything my Ken-chan tells me to do."

Except, of course, when afflicted with Selective Hearing Brokenness.

Ken watched in silence as Daisuke bounced out of the room, and found that he couldn't turn back to his music. He was just too distracted. Why did Daisuke keep doing this? This was Ken's war.

And yet, every day after school for a few weeks now, Daisuke showed up to terrorize his classmates, somehow unerringly and carefully selecting out the most stubborn and cruel of them, and beating them up. One by one, or sometimes en masse, although Daisuke didn't always fare so well then. Nevertheless, word was getting around, which was why Ken had been able to enter the practice room with nothing other than quiet sniggers following him, and why he had not been disturbed-- well, not by anyone other than Daisuke, that was.

As tactics went, it was... direct. Ken never would have selected this approach to deal with his bullies. But Daisuke would, and had... and it was working better than anything he'd thought to try.

"My Ken-chan." That was what Daisuke called him.

Ken felt his face grow warm. It was unbearable, how warm and happy Daisuke made him, sometimes.

It didn't take long for Daisuke to go and come back, this time bringing with him his bookbag. The bag didn't appear damaged at all, so Daisuke must have stashed it somewhere before initiating his guerrilla assault. "I'm back!" he announced, coming over to sit next to Ken at the piano bench.

"Welcome back."

"Here." Daisuke dug through his bag, tossing a grungy, spiral bound notebook Ken's way.

Ken opened it up, and discovered lots of doodles, of Gundam fighters and Godzilla, of Imperialdramons and Chibimons. "What's this?"

"My Work," Daisuke intoned with mock-seriousness. "You can't be the only Chosen One with skills, you know…"

Ken found pictures of the Chosen Children, a few lightly sketched images of himself and the others. The most recent was an exquisitely detailed portrait of Iori looking stern. "This is very good…" he said, surprised.

"What? Oh, that. Iori is so easy. He doesn't move for shit."

"No, but I mean it. This is really good." Ken brushed a few strands of his dark hair out of his face, as he leaned forward to examine the picture more closely. "You should do this. For real."

Daisuke gave Ken a strange look. "But isn't that what I'm doing?"

"I mean you should practice. Work on it. I don't know, take lessons or go to classes. Something."

"Me, practice?" Daisuke laughed, but he made more space for himself on the bench next to Ken, playfully scooching Ken out of the way until the taller boy only had about six inches of space to hold on to. "Hmm…You really think so?"

"I know so."

Daisuke leaned into Ken, trying to press him all the way off the bench, pleased when his friend finally began to push back, participating in the game at last. "So… are you going to play for me or am I going to have to become violent?"

Ken slid around quickly, while Daisuke remained on the bench, facing away from the piano. "Okay. But stop crowding me." With a little flutter in his heart, knowing that he was nowhere near good enough to play for an audience, Ken began. He hit the round chords of the piece cleanly, if somewhat slowly. Having Daisuke there, pressed into his arm (but not exactly hampering his performance)… well, that made a difference. With Daisuke around, hope didn't feel like it was far away, at all.

After he had finished, Ken and Daisuke shared a silent moment, leaning on each other for comfort, for the sake of an alliance that was perfectly suited to them both. "…what was the name of that song, again?" Daisuke asked at last.

Ken turned to look at Daisuke, and then smiled. "The Heart Asks Pleasure First."

Daisuke returned the smile. "I'll remember that."

. + .

It was nearly enough to make him go nuts, the almost-but-not-really remembering.

But what if…

Daisuke tried to reinvent the song as he might have heard it in the past, slowing the melody, imagining it with more mistakes studded throughout. Not with less passion, but definitely with less expertise. A younger Ken, who had to reach just slightly to get his feet to work the stops… Ken without the smarts… a Ken raped of his borrowed gifts, genius no more…

And then, Daisuke knew.

He circled the room slowly, placing his gifts down one by one on the couch while Ken soldiered on, but after a moment of hesitation he kept the flowers, and turned again to stand and watch Ken play.

His bottom lip trembled, and so he bit it.

Watching Ken suffer always hurt him, and this time left him at a loss. All of his outsized plans, all of his silly fantasies... that amounted to nothing, really.

Oh Ken. I'm so sorry.

The music stopped. "I know you're there," Ken said, without turning.

Daisuke looked down. He was so used to Ken's seeming prescience that he didn't find it at all unnerving. Ken had explained it to him, once. I just notice things, he had said. After a moment, Daisuke walked over to the piano, standing near Ken but not sitting down. He placed the flowers down on the piano.

"Daisuke. My beautiful Daisuke. Have you come to torment me some more?"

Ken's voice was sticky, and slurred from the sake.

"...I'm just here to say hi." And to kiss you, but that didn't feel like quite the right thing to say just yet, so he didn't.

Ken laughed, and raised his hand up in the air while limply pointing it at....nothing in particular. Casually, Ken let it hang in front of his face as he tried to remember what he wanted to do with it. "Of course." After a pause, he pointed at the sake. "Help yourself."

Might as well. Daisuke grabbed the bottle, taking a large swig and setting it back down. He then placed his hand on the top of Ken's head, surprised with how fluidly the silky hair moved between his fingers. His hands couldn't help but slide down to the tips, and his fingers brushed against the side of Ken's face, clipping the angle of his jaw and his earlobe.

Oh, Ken was so pretty. Just so pretty.

"Even better." Ken tilted his head back, his eyes bleary and unfocused as he looked up at Daisuke. "Fuck around with me first. I'd like that."

That caught Daisuke's breath. Ken might be drunk, but that didn't mean what he was saying wasn't intentional. It sounded so bitter. "Oh, Ken," Daisuke whispered. Is that what you think I do?

Ken noticed things.

"I love you," Daisuke said.

"Ha! I knew that already," Ken said, snorting. "No need to apologize, I already know."

Very slowly, Daisuke brushed back Ken's hair. Ken was sitting up rod-straight, and didn't move away from Daisuke's touch. There was a lump in Daisuke's throat, now. Ken noticed things. He was always one step ahead, always just out of reach. It was hard to keep up. It always had been. "Ken," he said, helplessly.

"It's not the same," Ken continued. The look in his eyes became calculating. "You can kiss me if that will help you feel better."

Always pulling the rug out from under him, cutting him off. "I want to," he said, not making any move to do so.

He did, however, continue to stroke Ken's hair, which was just so pretty.

The look of calculation became a pout, but then Ken's eyes lit up as if he'd come up with a new plan. Which undoubtedly, he had. Ken started tugging on Daisuke's sleeve, urging him to sit down, to join him. "Here. Sit. Sit next to me. Let's play." Ken was laughing, giggling, as he posed his fingers, and resumed the song he'd halted upon noticing Daisuke's presence.

Daisuke tried to place his hand on Ken's thigh, or on his waist, but Ken merely swatted him away, and continued to play. He's so drunk…

Taking another long shot of sake, swallowing and swallowing as he counted to three, Daisuke listened. Ken's music slurred as much as his speech, alcohol transforming it into gorgeous noise. If he's this drunk I don't have a lot of options. Carefully Daisuke placed the sake bottle back on the piano, wincing as it shook slightly along with the tempo. He leaned in, whispering in Ken's ear. "I need you." He swallowed. "I want you."

"Please." Ken lifted his hands from the keys, and everything became still. He might as well have said "spare me."

Ken noticed things. Daisuke didn't.

"It's true."

"Don't lie."

Fortunately, there was more to Daisuke than his obliviousness.

Daisuke acted.

Quickly Daisuke grabbed Ken's nearest hand, gripping it tightly before Ken could have a chance to squirm out of it. I guess that means there's just one thing for me to do. "I can't hear you," he said brightly, just before he tackled Ken to the floor.

Daisuke acted. Ken didn't.

Ken smiled up at him, his smile unfocused, sad, and bitter. "Selective Hearing Brokenness?" In the moonlight Ken appeared translucent, fragile. "You should really get that taken care of."

"Stop that. Listen." Daisuke swallowed. Laying full over Ken's body, the thin boy radiating a surprising degree of warmth, he felt a stabbing thrill in his gut. "I need you." He tried to catch Ken's eye, staring hard and frowning intently. "I really do."

"So?" Ken thwarted Daisuke's provocative glance by closing his eyes tightly, still with that mocking little smile. "You don't need what I want. Stop humoring me."

"You will listen to me, Ichijouji." Daisuke said through gritted teeth, his voice husky with his desires and frustration. "I did not reject you earlier. I was just surprised. So why the fuck are you acting like this? How dare you assume that I just came here to use you?"

"Hikari did…" Ken looked to the side, his cultured refinement shining through, even now. Even drunk. "I kissed her."

What? They... kissed?

I won't be first?

Daisuke shook his head sharply, shaking off the sense of betrayal those words tempted him to feel. If anyone was at fault for this whole farcical evening, it was him.

Ken continued. "She rejected me. Because of the kiss. She... didn't like it, at all. Of all the things, I didn't expect..." Ken coughed, voice trailing off before he rallied. "She didn't deserve that. I don't deserve you. Whatever you think you want, I guarantee you'll leave disgusted. So don't bother."

"Hikari is delusional." Daisuke said, surprised at how calm and soothing his own voice sounded. "Let's not talk about her. I have a little confession of my own." He rearranged himself, sitting up a little with his hands down on either side of Ken's head, looking down with locked arms. And began.

"You love me? I love you too." He stole a quick kiss, pressing his lips swiftly on one of Ken's cheeks and retreating before Ken could protest. "You need me? Me too." He kissed the other cheek. "You can't live without me? You'd better not, you fucking bastard." Daisuke then kissed Ken's forehead. "I don't know about a lot of things but I know this: if you don't let me kiss you, honestly, right this minute, I'm going to wring your fucking neck."

Throughout this speech, Ken's eyes opened wider and wider, and in the dim light his pupils seemed filled with anxious shadows. It was difficult to imagine Ken looking any more beautiful then he did in his day-to-day existence, but Daisuke was pleased to no end to find that this was indeed possible now. This is a side of Ken that no one has seen, besides me.

"Kiss me, then." Ken said, his voice not really all that deep, but with all the power and control that any boy might desire, despite the sake sliding through his veins. Ken closed those eyes, shutting out the light… and Daisuke took his chances, took a breath, and plunged right in.

Lips ever so slightly trembling, body stiff, Ken shuddered as Daisuke opened his mouth onto Ken's. The kiss was lingering and slow, seductive and fetching, and very hesitant on Ken's part. Almost too nervous, which Daisuke supposed could be chalked up to inexperience as well as whatever frigid nonsense Hikari had punished him with.

Oh, how Daisuke cherished that hesitation! But it frustrated him, too. Ken didn't know what to do with himself, not exactly, and whatever natural sense he might have had was banished with Hikari's vote of no confidence.

She tore you down. That is my fault. I'm sorry.

Slowly, gently, Daisuke drew him out. Only when Ken had relaxed enough to part his lips did Daisuke draw back, and he looked down with a reassuring smile. Time to check in.

Ken opened his eyes, unable to hide a sense of worry despite the fact that he was panting.

"Are you okay?" Daisuke asked.

"I like this very much," Ken confessed. "Mmm...why did you stop? Am I doing something wrong?"

"Not at all." Daisuke kissed the tip of Ken's nose, just so. And he kissed his lips. And then he stroked Ken's sides with a searching hand. "Not at all."

I'll build you back up again.

Ken moaned.

. + .

The kissing went on for some time, possibly forever. Daisuke-- Daisuke!-- was kissing him, teaching him how while at the same drawing such pleasure out of it that Ken could hardly believe this was really happening.

He'd dreamed of this for so long. The first time Ken had ever witnessed Daisuke kiss a girl, he remembered the complex morass of feelings he'd felt-- the jealousy, of course, but also anxiety, a quickening of the pulse, a sick desire to be her coupled with a twinned desire to destroy all rivals. It didn't help that of all of their set, Ken was the last to have been allowed this dubious honor... Daisuke had never been all that ashamed about acting out his public displays for anyone else, but with Ken he had been embarrassed to allow him to see it, shielding him in a way that made Ken feel singled out, almost slighted, and therefore it had been a complete accident when it finally occurred.

Nor had there been any consolation in the indisputable fact that the girl in question bore an uncanny level of resemblance to himself. Knowing that he'd be Daisuke's type if only he were a girl was not a fact to inspire confidence, let alone hope.

It just didn't seem real.

After all, all of this, everything... it felt like an unreal dream. Maybe he was drunk, or maybe this wasn't even happening at all, and any second now he would blink and wake and discover himself all alone.

Ken was used to being punished in his dreams.

But as Daisuke continued to feel him up and kiss him down, making him hard, Ken couldn't shake the suspicion that maybe this was all real, that he wasn't being punished, that there would be no price to pay. No price, other than that of his unending devotion, a commodity Ken never found in short supply.

Being drunk always made Ken think in cosmic, nearly metaphysical terms, while giving him a certain lag in his response time to real life events.

So when Daisuke started to grab at him, trying to pull Ken into a more upright sitting position, Ken just kind of shook it off at first, bringing his hands up at last to hold Daisuke still, pressing them on either side of Daisuke's head (over his intermittently functional ears) to try to hold him in place. "Up, up," Daisuke was saying, vainly pressing his hands against the floor, but Ken was stronger even while drunk, and so Daisuke just laughed and let Ken finish kissing him before restating his demands, waiting until they finally took.

"Huh?" Ken wondered at last, panting just as Daisuke was panting, as he let go of Daisuke's head to look up at him with confusion, just wanting to melt into his friend and Jogress partner and now... what? What was Daisuke to him, now? The question in his mind distracted him even more than Daisuke's perplexing command. Ken touched the sides of Daisuke's face with his fingertips, admiring the way the blue light darkened Daisuke's eyes and made his skin all the more dusky, blotting out the ruddy, almost candy color from his hair and making it seem dark as well. "Up?"

"Yes, up you go." Daisuke pulled Ken up by the shoulders, tender but decisive, and Ken was so sloshed that he felt like he was made of liquid, the sudden movement disorienting and dizzying, head drooping like that of a wilted flower until he turned slowly to look at Daisuke with half-closed eyes and wavering focus. Daisuke kept him steadied, though, and even though his vision sometimes doubled, Ken couldn't miss his winsome smile. "Oh Ken, how much did you drink?"

"Enough."

"Does enough mean half the bottle?" Daisuke looked up and over Ken's shoulder, looking at the piano for some reason even though Ken couldn't really decide what that reason was.

"Amounts are irrelevant," Ken found himself saying, feeling a bout of cleverness come over him. He was so smart, sometimes. "Physiological response to alcohol is dependant not only on body mass but also innate and learned tolerance, modified further by one's overall state of health and whether and how much I have eaten today, also related to mood I think although I doubt there have been any studies published on the subject." Daisuke kissed his cheek. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason." Daisuke laughed again, and then licked his cheek. Licked it! What was that? Ken licked his own lips, and then felt the wet spot left by Daisuke's tongue by moving his fingers from Daisuke's face to his own. "I think you've answered my question anyway," Daisuke murmured.

"How is that an answer?" Ken wondered. "I just told you, there is no answer!" But Daisuke was just looking at him with such fondness, brushing back Ken's hair from his face-- that felt devilishly good, by the way-- that Ken relented. "I am so in love with you, Daisuke. I suppose I could quantify that if you wanted..."

Not only was Daisuke adorable, Ken also adored him. It worked out perfectly. Like an equation.

"Yeah, why don't you?" One of Daisuke's arms was around his back, continuing to hold him up, while Daisuke dipped his head to Ken's neck, which he began to kiss.

Oh, Ken liked that. He closed his eyes, aroused. He would really like to get his mouth down on Daisuke's... "I want you to fuck me for every minute of every day for the next seventy years." That sounded about right.

"Wow, that's a lot of love." Daisuke was touching Ken's belly under his shirt, fingers inching upwards in a crawling motion until he got hold of one of Ken's nipples, squeezing gently. "I expect you to do some of the work, though, it can't just be me doing all the fucking..."

True. A good point. "Maybe half?"

"I can live with that." And for a while it was just Daisuke fumbling around under his shirt, continuing to kiss on his neck with little nips and some hard sucks, with Ken absently wondering how he was going to take care of his erection, seeing as how he'd become really stiff and hard and... well, he wanted to know if Daisuke was feeling the same way, actually. They were both breathing fairly hard.

Ken became nervous, and even achieved a little level of sobriety-like clarity as he contemplated his next move. Daisuke really wasn't gay, like he was. Ken knew this. So maybe although kissing was alright, what if Daisuke wouldn't like his penis being touched by a boy? Would it disgust him? Still, Daisuke was feeling him up all over anyway, and although Daisuke's hands hadn't yet strayed to Ken's groin it didn't feel like he was avoiding it, exactly. So, feeling a bit breathless despite his harsh breathing, Ken slid his hand down under Daisuke's thigh, sidling it up slowly until he was cupping Daisuke's junk through the intermediary of his pants. With his thumb, he assessed the position and direction of Daisuke's penis, which seemed to be just about as hard as his own.

What a relief. Ken let loose a sigh of lust and longing as well as one of true relief. Daisuke really did want him.

It was especially satisfying, the way that Daisuke moaned and gripped him, fingers clawing into his chest and side roughly with the intimate touch.

"Mine... oh, oh... you're really mine." It was hard to believe. Ken was almost whispering. "My Daisuke."

Mine.

Even if this isn't real, it doesn't matter. It doesn't, because.

I am never going back.

"Is this okay?" Ken whispered, even though he knew it was, knew it had to be, considering the way that Daisuke thrust against his hand, considering the way that Daisuke practically bit him in the neck he was mauling him so hard, considering the way Daisuke was moaning his name over and over, "Ken, oh Ken, my Ken-chan... oh my god..."

Oh yes, it had to be okay. But he still needed to ask.

Daisuke's love for him had always been such a painful thing for Ken. Ken always had known that Ken was loved by his friend, that Daisuke's love was as complete and as thorough as it was possible for any human to love another. But, Daisuke liked girls. He wasn't gay. There had always been a hope that Daisuke might discover himself to be bisexual, but then there had always been the question: if it was going to happen, why hadn't it by now? What was Daisuke waiting for?

Ken had always had to face the probability that Daisuke's feelings, although almost frighteningly deep, just weren't sexual. That they'd never be sexual.

But maybe Daisuke was just clueless.

Wonderfully, amazingly, beautifully, adorably, sexily clueless.

Ken could be okay with that.

"Take me..." Ken whispered.

For a time, the darkness receded, leaving only the light.

I love you so much.

. + .

Author's Note: Okay, I totally lied. These were not minor changes after all. But after I started digging in to this fic I realized that I didn't just want to band-aid this part, but give it a full tune up from the ground up. You guys, I had so much fun revising this. Thanks for reading and being patient.