A/N: This is a (hopefully) short story I've had in mind for a while. I've based it on the beginning of the Dark Blues story arc in Axess, and intend to try to introduce an original character into the existing plot to explore both Ijuin Enzan's and the OC's personalities and reactions to certain fundamental questions about humans and Net Navis.

I have written this OC several times before (in unpublished stories), but each time was more Mary Sue than the last. I hope this time will be different, and I welcome all constructive criticism about characterization and plotting. Please enjoy.

He missed Blues.

It wasn't as bad as he'd thought it would be. It was certainly not as bad as that first morning when he'd woken up to an empty PET beeping and, for the first time in his methodical life, couldn't force himself out of bed. After those initial few days, and after being beaten roundly about the head by an irate Hikari Netto, Ijuin Enzan had made a resolution to get on with life as cheerfully as possible and, failing that, to never let Netto suspect that he wasn't. He was doing fairly well on both counts.

Nevertheless, he still missed Blues. Although the initial guilt and self-loathing he felt at his actions had slowly faded, Enzan could not shake the growing sense of loss that replaced it. It refused to confront him openly, but nipped at him from his PET's empty screen, from the silences that went unbroken, and from the other thousand and one things he'd previously taken for granted. Blues hadn't been deleted, but he was most certainly gone, and Enzan had never before realized just how much he had come to rely on the Navi - or how much he cared - before that nearly-failed mission and the Dark Chip. Now, too often, he found himself missing Blues' familiar input, and the realization that Blues was now something to be dreaded never became easier to accept, however many times he caught himself thinking…

Enzan slowly realized he was re-reading the document in his hand for the third time without taking in a word. He shook his head violently, dispersing the wandering thoughts crowding his mind; now, during official work, was not the time for pondering. Commissioner Kifune had been gracious enough to refuse to accept Enzan's resignation from the Net Saviors, and Enzan had felt that the least he could do, even if he could no longer fight, was to take on extra work in order to make sure he wasn't simply a burden in the fight against Nebula. So here he was.

He focused his attention on the papers with some effort. The first few pages were the familiar reports on Nebula activity, but following them came official statements from foreign Net Savior branches, sent in response to the Commissioner's request for assistance. Enzan scanned them quickly; they were similar, sympathetic to Japan's losing one of its two strongest fighting Navis, apologetic for not being able to send help, and heartfelt in their wishing the Japanese Net Saviors the best of luck – Enzan set them down, feeling not a little resentful. What was the point of empty goodwill? He knew he was being irrational; other nations were fighting against Nebula as well and needed all of their manpower, but at the moment he couldn't bring himself to be quite so understanding.

Still, he could not be discourteous. Enzan sighed and began to draft the first of several well-worded, genial replies almost mechanically, letting his diplomatic training do the writing for him. It was easy work, if slightly mindless, and it was not until he had read through half of the fifth letter that he realized that something was different. Ameroupe's letter had not apologized at all for its sender's inability to send assistance to Japan. In fact…

"Commissioner!" Enzan called into the next office.

He had moved to get up from his desk, but this was made unnecessary when Commissioner Kifune appeared from the adjacent door a few moments later, positively beaming like a green-suited Santa. "You've discovered Ameroupe's reply, I see."

"I have." Enzan replied, somewhat surprised. If the Commissioner already knew, had he been trying to surprise Enzan with good news? He nonetheless pressed on. "The Ameroupe Net Saviors are recommending to us a…programming specialist?"

"A good one, from what my colleagues have told me." Kifune said, striding across the room to inspect the letter Enzan held. "Ah, yes - here. Interesting, really. You see, the Ameroupe government holds an annual national Netbattle and Programming talent search, and the winners get the opportunity to work with Ameroupe Net Saviors on various projects. One winner this year expressed an especially keen interest in Japan's research, especially Cross Fusion, and since Ameroupe didn't really need-"

"Please hold on a moment."

Kifune blinked. Enzan muttered a mental, and profuse, apology; he would normally never have interrupted the Commissioner, but he was starting to feel increasing dread with every word his superior spoke. The last time the Japanese Net Saviors had taken such a recommendation in, Dr. Regal was the result, and his eventual betrayal had been directly responsible for the failed mission that forced Enzan to take drastic measures. He had lost Blues then to the Dark Chip; the thought of taking that risk again was unspeakable.

"Sir, I don't believe this is a good idea." Enzan went on, resolutely, forcing the painful recollections back into the recesses of his mind. "I would have no such doubts about an Ameroupe Net Savior, but this specialist is essentially a civilian, possibly not even professionally recognized, and we have no assurance that he or she is not actually a Nebula agent in disguise. I ask you…please reconsider."

The Commissioner stared at him for a long moment, and Enzan silently braced himself for a scolding - for challenging a superior's authority, for doubting the Commissioner, or for simply being stubborn. He did not expect Kifune to start laughing.

"I knew you would pick up on the details, Enzan-kun."

The Commissioner produced a small file from his coat pocket, still chuckling, and handed it to Enzan. "Here. This is the full background check that both the Ameroupe government and Net Saviors conducted on their recommendation, both before and after the competition. I've found it thorough, but if you do not believe this specialist to be trustworthy or useful, I will notify Ameroupe immediately. You have my word."

Enzan took the file slowly. Kifune suddenly grew serious. "Enzan-kun, you will probably be the one working most closely with this specialist. Although I requested assistance in general, I did so with your talents in mind, so that whoever we received would be able to complement your abilities in fighting against Nebula and strengthening our technology. And although I can't officially say this, I know your highest priority is returning Blues to normal, and I hope you'll be able to accomplish this with the help of this Ameroupe specialist. Your decision is the one that matters here, so please read this file thoroughly. I trust your judgment."

"…Thank you, sir." Enzan replied quietly. "I will."

Commissioner Kifune clapped him on the back and left. Enzan gazed at the file for a moment longer, his hands almost shaking. That the Commissioner still had faith in him, even after what had happened, meant more to him than his superior would probably ever know. He would be cautious to the utmost degree, but if possible, he would not lose this opportunity to be useful again, to assist in fighting, maybe even to take the first step towards getting Blues back. At that thought, Enzan almost berated himself for being too optimistic, but thought better of it; now, after needing hope for so long and finally receiving it, was not the time.

He opened the file.