There were two people in Tokyo that had no hesitation about handing their children over to a demon. Those were the parents of Ai and Makoto, the two children who had been fortunate enough to tame for themselves a Small Demon Digimon called Impmon, who was now their partner and constant companion. Meeting him for the first time had been startling, and it had taken some time to get used to his presence in the house, but their children's absolute trust in him had finally rubbed off on them. Now he was a valued member of the household, particularly because he could always be counted upon to look after the children when the parents wanted a night off.
"Don't let them stay up past nine," the mother told him.
"All right, all right."
"Don't let them get into the junk food," the father cautioned.
"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya."
"Don't let them watch too much television," said the mother.
"Don't let them make too much of a mess," the father added.
"I know! Enough with the rules already! I know how to take care of the kids!" Impmon snapped.
"All right, then. Have a fun time!" said the parents.
"Yeah, you too," he answered without enthusiasm. As the door closed, he muttered, "Don't stay up late, no junk food, no TV, no mess, and they want us to have a fun time! Sheesh. You'd think they'd never spent any time around kids or somethin'."
He shuffled off to Ai and Makoto's playroom, where they were busy building with blocks. They turned to look at him as he entered.
"Well," he said, "your mom 'n' dad just took off to have fun without us and left me babysitting you two. So it looks like we're on our own for the night."
The announcement was met with rapturous squeals, and Impmon tried not to look too pleased. Ai and Makoto were a pair of twins, as cute and precocious as children came, and Impmon adored them. Impmon himself was aloof, irascible, and often downright rude, and they adored him, too.
"All right, all right, put a sock in it already!" he said, as they both tried to hug him at once. "Sheesh, they ain't been gone five minutes and already I'm gettin' a headache. So, what do you kids wanna do tonight, huh?"
"Movie, movie!" Ai shouted.
"Popcorn, popcorn!" Makoto cheered.
"Movie and popcorn!" Ai declared.
"Okay, I think we can do that," said Impmon. "There's gotta be some popcorn 'round here somewhere. Let's go have a look."
The little group marched into the kitchen and went in search of popcorn. Makoto found a half-empty box of microwaveable packages in the kitchen cupboard. It was just a little above his head, and he had to stand on his tiptoes and reach as high as he could before he could grab it. He pulled it out, along with a number of other boxes and cans that had been jammed in next to it, spilling them onto the floor with a loud clatter.
"Mako-chan!" sighed Impmon in annoyance, rolling his green eyes.
"Gomen nasai, Impmon-chan," said the little boy.
"It's okay," Impmon muttered. "I guess we can clean it up."
Impmon went to work picking up the scattered containers, while the twins took care of the more urgent and interesting job of making popcorn. The microwave, like most other important things in the house, had been put out of their reach. However, their parents seldom counted on the ingenuity and determination of the pair, particularly since they had started learning how to work in tandem instead of competing with each other. Everything was out of the reach of one small child, but almost nothing was beyond what the two of them could when they put their minds to it. Impmon watched them out of the corner of his eye as Ai knelt to help Makoto clamber up to the counter where the microwave sat. He pushed the button that made the door open, ducked as it swung out over his head, and put in two bags of popcorn. Then he pushed the door shut again and began hitting buttons.
*Smart kids,* Impmon thought with approval. *Well, they should be! They're my Tamers, after all. They musta learned it from me.*
He revised his opinion a short while later, when he felt something tugging at the tip of his tail. He turned to see Ai standing behind him with a deerlike expression of innocence that somehow made his heart drop into his stomach.
"Impmon-chan," she said, "the popcorn stopped popping."
"Huh?" said Impmon.
He turned to look at the microwave. Inside, three bags of popcorn were competing with each other for space, and the counter on the microwave continued to tick. Impmon stared as he read the timer. He blinked.
"You aren't supposed to put the popcorn in for half an hour!" he yelled.
"There were three bags," said Makoto. "They need more time to cook."
"More time to cook," Ai agreed.
"Not that much time!"
Impmon made a wild dash and just barely managed to jump onto the counter. He banged the OPEN button and was nearly knocked back to the floor as the door sprung outwards. He made a grab for the popcorn inside and realized that he was already a little bit late, and that the bags had definitely been overheated.
"Ow, hot!" he yelped.
He dropped the bags to the floor, shaking his burned hand and hopping around until he lost his balance and fell down himself. The twins squealed and ran to his side.
"You okay, Impmon-chan?" they asked in unison.
"Yeah, fine," he muttered. "Nothing to it."
"Poor Impmon-chan," said Ai. "You burnt your finger. I'll kiss it and make it all better."
She planted a young child's slightly sticky kiss on his hand, and he gave her just enough time to let her finish properly before pulling away.
"Cut it out," he said, making a heroic effort not to blush.
The children giggled.
"Movie now!" said Makoto.
"Yeah, let's watch the movie!" Ai agreed.
"All right, all right, already. Ya don't hafta make an issue of it," said Impmon. He got up, trying to collect himself and the still-steaming popcorn bags, handling them with care. "What'd you think you needed three bags of popcorn for, anyway?"
"One for each of us," Makoto explained.
"We don't need one for each of us," said Impmon. "Neither of you are gonna eat a whole bag by yourself. Sheesh."
The kids didn't pay attention. They had taken their popcorn and trooped into the den where the television was. Makoto burrowed through a shelf full of videotapes, crawling around on the floor as he peered at them all. Finally, he selected one, and the little group settled in for some movie watching, sprawling comfortably on the floor with their snacks.
It was only a few minutes into the movie before Impmon was yawning. He had seen Tonari No Totoro several times already, and hadn't been wild about it the first time - his preference in movies ran to something a little more action-oriented - but the kids liked it, so he had to watch it anyway. It was unfortunate that the kids had also seen it several times already, and since the novelty had worn off, he would have been a fool to expect them to keep their eyes on it for more than a few minutes. However, Impmon was no fool, and he knew these kids, so he ignored the movie and kept an eye out for trouble.
The trouble started almost at once. Ai, who had the longer attention span of the two, was thoroughly enthralled by the depiction of the soot sprites and wasn't looking at much else. Makoto, however, was already bored. He stirred the popcorn around in its bag, then chose a piece and flicked it at his sister's ear. Boink.
Ai squeaked and glared at her brother, who was contriving to look innocent. Out of his sight, Impmon was pointing frantically at him. Ai pretended to be fooled, but as soon as Makoto wasn't looking, she flicked a piece of popcorn back at him. Boink. He yelped and glared at her, and she laughed aloud at him. He seized a handful of popcorn and threw it at her, and she retaliated with both hands, showering him with yellow-tinted fluff. Before Impmon knew what had happened, the two of them were having an all-out war, hurling popcorn around without much care for aim. Fortunately, it couldn't last very long, as they only had limited ammunition. Unfortunately...
"Look at this mess!" Impmon yelped. "Your mom 'n' dad told me not to let you make a mess, and you went and did it anyway!"
"We'll clean it!" they chorused.
Movie forgotten, they went to work scooping together the popcorn, Makoto shoving it around like a small bulldozer while his sister came along behind, meticulously picking up the pieces he missed and creeping under furniture for strays. Within moments, their efficient cleaning had made the room spotless, except for a large pile of popcorn in the middle of the floor.
"What do we do with it?" asked Ai.
"I'm not going to eat it," said Makoto. "It's been on the floor."
"We can't throw it away. That's a waste," Ai replied.
"Hey, Impmon-chan," Makoto said, "want some popcorn?"
Impmon considered. He still had memories of wandering the streets, making do with whatever he could find. He'd been able to bum a few pieces of stale bread from Guilmon from time to time, and he'd convinced one half-blind little old lady that he was a cat long enough to acquire some scraps, but still, he remembered what it was like to be hungry. He had as much of an appetite as any young Digimon, and he wasn't about to turn up his little black nose at warm fresh popcorn just because it had been on the clean carpet a little while. After all, he had been told not to let the children have too much junk food...
"Aw, what the heck," he said. He sat down and began happily shoving popcorn into his mouth.
For a while, it was peaceful. The children seemed to have used up their restlessness in their food fight, and were now perfectly content to watch the movie. Impmon ignored it, the food being much more interesting. He made it vanish in a remarkably short time, considering his size. He yawned. The movie was boring, and with all that warm food inside him, something was telling him that now would be a very good time for a little nap... He was asleep almost before he finished thinking about it, with his head pillowed on an empty popcorn bag.
He was jolted awake sometime later by the sound of an explosion, and he looked up in alarm. Past events had given him a distrust of explosions, even when he was the one causing them, and now he looked around frantically for the source of the sound. A quick inspection revealed that the twins had finished their movie, and had now turned on their video game machine and were in the process of destroying an alien fleet. They laughed and high-fived each other as the mothership went up in flames. Impmon sighed in relief. Then he caught sight of the nearest clock and yelped.
Ai looked up from the game. "Impmon-chan, you're awake!"
"And you're supposed to be asleep!" he retorted. "You were supposed to be asleep a half hour ago!"
"We're not tired," said Makoto. "Mom and dad won't know."
He pushed the button to start a new game. Impmon went and turned the video game machine off. Two pairs of wide brown eyes turned accusingly on him, and he cringed.
"C'mon, now, don't gimme that look," he said. "I promised your mom 'n' dad you'd be in bed by nine. You don't want me to break my promise, do you?"
"Awww..." they complained.
"Scoot!" Impmon commanded.
They scooted. He marched after them, tail held high in self-righteous annoyance. He found them scrambling around trying to get into their pajamas, and he helped Ai get her buttons fastened.
"Don't forget to brush your teeth," he shouted at Makoto.
"I don't want to!"
Impmon smacked his forehead in frustration. "Oh, for cryin' out loud! C'mon. We'll all do it at once and save time. Not like we ain't runnin' late as it is..."
They all tromped into the bathroom and brushed their teeth. Impmon had his very own toothbrush, something he'd never imagined he'd have or want. He still didn't really want it, but it made the kids more cooperative if he did whatever they were supposed to be doing. They were currently belying their reluctance to brush their teeth by making a big show of it, blowing bubbles and making faces in the mirror and to all appearances having a wonderful time. Impmon watched them bemusedly. He had decided a long time ago that children were good for companionship but impossible to understand. He finally herded them into their room and set about putting them to bed... or trying too.
"I want a bedtime snack," said Makoto.
"I want a snack, too!" Ai chimed in.
Impmon made a face. "You already had popcorn. What else do you need?"
"You ate the popcorn," Makoto pointed out.
"Ate it all up," Ai agreed.
"Oh," said Impmon, blushing. "Yeah, I guess so. Okay, okay, what do you guys want?"
"Cookies!" Makoto cheered.
"Milk and cookies!" shouted Ai.
"All right, all right. Anything to get you two to settle down and go to sleep," Impmon muttered.
He went into the kitchen and began hunting around for the required edibles. The house had not been set up for his convenience, and it was only through a lot of impressive gymnastics that he was able to collect plates and glasses from their cabinets, milk from the fridge, and cookies from the cookie jar without having something get broken, spilled, or dropping himself on the floor. When he was finally done, he walked back into the room and found the children back to building with blocks again.
"Now what are you doing?" he demanded.
"Waiting for you," said Ai innocently.
"Oh," he said. "Well, anyway, here are your cookies and milk, and I hope you're grateful for them."
"Arigato, Impmon-chan!" they chanted in unison.
They ate their snacks. Impmon, seeing he was not going to be getting any help, cleaned up the blocks and put them away, muttering quietly to himself. By the time he was done, the twins were finished with their bedtime snack and were finally starting to settle down. Then...
"We have to brush our teeth again," Ai said.
"Do we have to?" said Makoto.
She nodded. "Have to do it."
So Impmon followed them into the bathroom and helped them go through the routine all over again. Makoto seemed to find the idea of brushing his teeth twice in one night funny; he kept giggling and spluttering toothpaste all over the place. Impmon found a washcloth and cleaned everything up. They went back into the bedroom.
"Are you finally ready to sleep?" he asked.
The twins nodded.
"Impmon-chan," said Ai, "will you sleep in my bed tonight?"
Makoto pouted. "I wanted him with me."
"I asked first!"
An argument started. Impmon sighed deeply.
"QUIET!" he shouted.
The twins were quiet.
"You're fightin' over me again," he said. "You promised you wouldn't do that."
Two head bowed in shame. "Gomen nasai, Impmon-chan."
"That's better," said Impmon. "C'mon, I got an idea."
With some help from the twins, he pushed their bedrolls across the floor until they were touching each other. He settled down between them.
"There," he said. "Now I can sleep in both your beds. Happy now?"
"Yeah!" the kids cheered. They crawled into their beds and snuggled up next to him. He squirmed around trying to find a way to lie where he wasn't being crowded.
"Impmon-chan?" said Makoto.
"Now what is it?" he asked.
"Tell us a story!"
"I don't know no stories." He did know stories. He knew exactly which story they wanted to hear, too; like most small children, they insisted on hearing it over and over again until even he was starting to get tired, and the story was about himself.
"Story, story!" said Ai, not to be discouraged.
"Our favorite story!" Makoto insisted.
"Oh, all right, all right! Have it your way," he said. "What story do you want?"
"Your story," said Ai. "The one about how you came home."
"I'll start!" said Makoto. "You came home from the Digital World, and you found our note, right? The one we left you."
"Yeah, I did," Impmon answered. "So I figured, what the heck, I'd go looking for you, just to make sure you kids were okay. Trouble was, nobody would tell me where you were. Kept tryin' to ask, and everybody'd run away like they was scared or somethin'. Finally I met this one guy..."
He went on with his story, with the children hanging on every word, occasionally adding in bits of the story as he came to the bits they liked.
"That's when I gave you the laser!" said Makoto.
"I gave him something, too!" Ai piped up.
"Did too," said Ai. "I gave him a kiss. And you remembered, didn't you, Impmon?"
"Yeah, whatever," he answered, blushing. "And then I went off to help the other Digimon fight those monster things."
"You evolved," said Makoto.
"You ain't kiddin'," Impmon agreed. "Beelzemon Blast Mode, the coolest Digimon ever to stalk the streets, if I say so myself."
"The coolest," Makoto agreed. "You used my gun, too, didn't you?"
"Mm hm. Blew that monster sky-high. Ba-boom!" Impmon illustrated, pitching a ball of fire across the room that landed harmlessly in the trash can and fizzled out with a dull phut. The children laughed and applauded.
"Good story!" they cheered.
"Yeah, yeah, sure," he said. "Are you gonna go to sleep now or what?"
"We'll sleep," they said agreeably. They settled down in their places, and Impmon wiggled free long enough to turn off the lights, tuck them in comfortably, and crawl into bed between them. In a few minutes, they were all sound asleep.
It was very, very dark, with only a weird reddish glow to provide any light to the world. Beelzemon walked the streets of the city, dumbstruck at the desolation that was all around him. The buildings were reduced to charred hulks, empty of all life. Everyone had fled the terror of the D-Reaper. Beelzemon was puzzled. Where were the Tamers? Weren't they supposed to be fighting it? The realization was slowly dawning on him - they weren't going to fight the D- Reaper, because he'd destroyed them all. That was his bargain with Chatsuramon, that he would kill the Tamers in exchange for his powers... but what good were they against the D-Reaper? He couldn't stand up to it alone, no matter what power he had.
Even while that thought was coming clear to him, another sound caught his attention. Somewhere up ahead, voices were shouting. He began running as fast as his feet would carry him, racing up the streets and around a corner, and then skidded to a halt as an ugly sight met him. standing at the other end of the street were Ai and Makoto, petrified by the sight of the eerie red blob that was creeping towards them.
"Impmon-chan! Impmon-chan, where are you?" Ai wailed.
"Ai! I'm coming!" he shouted back, rushing toward him.
The children turned toward his voice, and their faces contorted in fear.
"A monster!" Makoto wailed. "Go away! Leave us alone!"
"But..." he stammered. "Don't you recognize me? It's me, Mako-chan. Impmon."
"You're not my Impmon-chan," the little boy accused. "Go away! You're a monster!"
"Leave us alone!" Ai sobbed. "I want Impmon-chan!"
Beelzemon tried to move toward them, but the children shied away, moving closer to that hideous red mass. He could only stand and watch helplessly as it crept towards them, engulfing them as they struggled to escape, screaming to the very end for Impmon to come save them...
Impmon jerked awake, panting. Next to him, the children stirred.
"Nightmare?" Ai asked him.
"Nightmare," he answered shakily. "Man, what a nightmare."
"Aww, poor Impmon-chan!" the children exclaimed. They both hugged him tightly.
"Aw, shucks... Hey, c'mon, cut it out... Seriously, stop that, I can't breathe here..."
They released their hold on him, and he took a few steadying breaths.
"You okay now?" asked Makoto.
"Yeah, I think I'm okay," he answered. "Hey... You two wouldn't ever be scared of me, would you?"
"Why would we be afraid?" asked Ai.
"I dunno," he said with a shrug. "Just 'cause."
"We'd never be afraid of you," said Makoto.
"Yeah," said Ai. "We love you, Impmon."
"Thanks," he said. "Just this once, I needed to hear that."
The children settled back down, closing their eyes and slipping back into dreams. Impmon stayed awake a while, letting himself be soothed by the sounds of their breathing.
"I love you too, kids," he said quietly. "Just... don't let it get around, 'kay? I've got a rep to maintain."
Then he, too, closed his eyes and went back to sleep, while the children dreamed peacefully of a dark-winged angel who watched over them.