Ken answered the phone with a feeling of apprehension. Ever since the fall of Belial Myotismon and the opening of the Digital Gate, all the Digidestined had become a target for all manner of reporters, writers, talk show hosts, and talent agents, all looking to benefit a little from the children's meteoric fame. All of them had gotten thoroughly sick of it, but fortunately the media buzz was finally starting to die down. Even so, Ken was still feeling distrustful of telephones. Because of his role in the story and his already well-established fame, he had been a favorite target for all kinds of attention, to the point where he had more than once asked his parents if he couldn't run away to the Digital World for a few more months. Ready for anything, he picked up the receiver.
"Hello?" he said warily.
"Hi, Ken, this is Hikari."
"Oh, hi!" he answered, relaxing at once. "What's up?"
"I've got a little question for you," she said. "Kind of a strange question, but..."
"Well, go ahead. I'm listening."
"Okay. Does your apartment allow pets?"
"Huh?" said Ken, momentarily nonplused. "I think they do. I mean, I think they'd be a little annoyed if I tried to keep a German shepherd in here, but I don't think they'd mind a hamster or something."
"How about a cat?" she asked.
"I think cats are allowed," he answered. "Why?"
"Well, we always thought my cat Miko was a boy, but a while ago he got out, and he must not have been a boy after all, because he had kittens."
"Ah, I see. That does sound like a problem," said Ken.
"It is," said Hikari. "We can't keep them. We've already got to take care of Miko, not to mention Gatomon and Agumon. Even if we had room for them, we can't really deal with having six more mouths to feed, so... Ken, would you like a kitten?"
"Um," he said. "I don't know, really. I don't think I've ever had a pet before. I'd have to ask my parents."
"Oh, I'm sure they wouldn't mind," said Hikari persuasively. "Cats are really no trouble. They're much quieter and easier to take care of than dogs. They practically take care of themselves. Besides, you know your parents would never say you couldn't have something you really wanted."
"That's true," said Ken. There had been a time when he'd have given anything to have his parents notice him; these days, they were so glad to have him home and alive that he was nearly looking back on the old days with nostalgia... almost. Even if they could get cloying at times, it was nice to feel his parents loved him. He supposed they'd find a happy medium eventually. He hoped so, anyway. "I can ask."
"Ask soon," Hikari replied. "I really want to find a good home for them. If we can't, they might have to be sent to the pound - or put down. I couldn't stand it if that happened."
Ken winced; he didn't like that idea any himself.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "Can I come over and look at them? If I see one I like, maybe I'll keep it."
"That would be great!" Hikari enthused. "They're just about old enough to leave their mother now, so you can take it home right away. None of the others has seen them yet, so you can have the pick of the litter."
"Great," he said. "I'll ask my parents, and I'll call back and tell you what they say."
"Thanks, Ken! You're the best," Hikari replied.
"No problem," he answered. "Bye, Hikari."
He hung up the phone, thinking. Ten minutes ago, he'd had nothing to do with those kittens; now he'd feel personally guilty if anything happened to them because he hadn't been able to care for one.
*I guess there are disadvantages to being the Child of Kindness,* he mused. *Oh, well, here goes nothing.*
Composing his features into his best puppy-dog look, he went into the living room, where his parents were relaxing. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Mom, Dad... can I have a kitten?"
Hikari answered the door and ushered Ken inside.
"I'm so glad you could help," she said. "If there's anyone in the world I'd trust with one of these, it's you."
"So where are they?" asked Ken, looking around as if he expected kittens to be waiting in ambush under the furniture.
"In my room," Hikari replied. "One of them ruined one of Taichi's soccer jerseys, so they're not allowed out anymore."
"I see," said Ken. He wondered if he shouldn't have considered this a little more thoroughly beforehand.
Hikari ushered him over to the door to her room and opened it carefully. In the corner of the room, he could see a cardboard box, where Miko herself was resting at ease, with a pair of her progeny settled against her side. The others were scampering around on the floor, chasing and wrestling with each other or batting small objects around. Gatomon was perched on Hikari's bed, looking down at the little creatures who were living in her territory. The humans crept inside carefully to make sure no one escaped.
"One, two, three, four, five... and there's six over there," Hikari counted. "Good. One of them got out yesterday and it took two hours to find it."
Ken was only half-listening. He'd knelt on the floor to get a better look at the little animals that were scampering around. Kittens weren't something he had a lot of experience with, but he had to admit, they were appealing little creatures. A few of them, showing true catly curiosity, came up to inspect him. He looked back, examining each in turn. Most of them seemed to be variations of their mother: two white ones with orange tabby markings, another whose markings were a darker brown, one pure marmalade tabby, one calico, and one... One was different. It was a glossy blue-black all over, without so much as a hint of any lighter color.
*One dark one in the bunch,* thought Ken. He watched as the black kitten trotted closer to him on its too-big paws, its fluffy wisp of a tail held straight up, its blue eyes bright with interest. Ken reached out his hand to it, offering his fingers for inspection. The kitten sniffed them and found them acceptable, rubbing against his hand, letting him stroke its silky fur.
"That's the one you want," Hikari informed him.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"Because I know things," she replied. "And I know that kitten. There's something special about that one. Besides, he's the only one we've been able to housebreak."
"Good enough for me," said Ken. He made a surreptitious check under the kitten's tail; even so, he got the distinct feeling it looked insulted at the intrusion. "This one's a boy. No kittens."
"I wish someone had told me how to figure that out before all this happened," Hikari replied. "Not that they aren't cute, but six kittens is a lot of trouble. Do you know anyone else who wants a kitten?"
"Hm. Try Iori," Ken replied. "His mom loves animals; she won't care if he wants a cat."
"That's a good idea. I'll do that. Thanks, Ken," Hikari said. "So, is that the one you want?"
Ken looked down at the black kitten. It was still rubbing against his hand and purring so loudly he swore he could see it vibrate. "I don't think he's going to give me a choice."
Hikari looked down at the little cat. "Yeah, he really does like you. He never does that to me."
"I think I'll keep him," Ken declared. "Has he got a name?"
Hikari shrugged. "I've just been calling him Kuro - because he's the only black one, you know. You can change it, though, if you want."
"Kuro neko," murmured Ken. "It almost sounds right. I suppose that will do for now. Is that okay for you, little guy?"
The kitten cheeped at him, and he laughed. Hikari smiled.
"He's talkative," she said. "Sometimes I'd almost swear he knows what I'm talking about. Here, I'll see if I can find a box or something for him."
A few moments later, Ken was presented with a cardboard box with some holes punched in the top, lined with paper towels.
"Best I can do," Hikari said. "It doesn't take that long to get back to your place, though, does it?"
"Not that long," said Ken, "but you had better behave yourself!"
That last was addressed to the kitten, who simply blinked at him innocently. Ken put the cat in the box. It did not try to escape, as he'd been afraid it would. It simply sat in the box, purring and kneading at the paper towels.
"Must remind him of home," he said, glancing back at Miko's box in the corner.
Hikari nodded. "Cats like dark, enclosed spaces. If you leave him in there, he'll probably go to sleep."
Ken nodded and closed up the box. Peeking through the air holes, he could see that the kitten was indeed settling himself into a corner and, to all appearances, getting ready for a long nap.
"Thanks, Hikari," said Ken. "I'll take good care of him."
"I know you will," Hikari replied. "And thank you, Ken. This means a lot to me."
Ken took the subway home, keeping careful guard over the box in his lap. He was surprised that the kitten didn't seem more bothered by all the noise, but it remained still most of the time, only becoming nervous when Ken had to navigate his fragile cargo through the crowds at the station. Once they found a seat, the rumbling of the train seemed to soothe the little animal, and it curled up and went to sleep.
Once they arrived back at his apartment, he released the cat from its captivity, gently lifting it out of the box and setting it on the living room floor. It blinked sleepily for a few seconds, then pricked up its ears and whiskers as it took in its new surroundings. It began wandering around the room, investigating rugs and furniture. Ken's father came in.
"So, that's the new cat," he said. "I was expecting an older one."
"This one's mature for his age," answered Ken, watching as the kitten tried to climb on top of the coffee table. When it realized it couldn't jump that high, it instead scrambled up the side of the sofa and jumped across the gap.
"I see," said Mr. Ichijouji. "Well, your mother's gone to get some things for it. You're responsible for housebreaking it."
"Hikari says this one's house trained already," answered Ken, "but I'll keep a close eye on him anyway."
"Have you named it yet?" his father asked.
Ken nodded. "He's called Kuro. Hey, stop that!"
He picked up the cat, who had been pawing at the magazines, pushing them out of their neat stacks.
"Come on, cat," he said. "There's someone I want you to meet."
Scooping up the kitten, he carried it into his room. The kitten didn't seem to mind the treatment; it sat in his hands and purred contentedly.
*I'm glad this thing's so agreeable,* Ken thought. *I've never had a cat before, but I think I'm starting to like this one already.*
He shut his door and set the kitten on the floor. It looked around, blinking curiously, and began looking around again. Ken kept an eye on it while it explored, making sure it didn't get stuck anywhere or lose itself under any furniture. The rest of his attention was occupied by a lump in his bed, which he prodded.
"Hey, Wormmon, wake up!"
The lump under the blankets twitched and began creeping into view. He looked up at Ken with his brilliant blue eyes.
"Did you get it?" he asked.
"Sure did," said Ken. "Come on down and meet him."
"It doesn't scratch, does it?" Wormmon asked nervously.
"He hasn't yet," Ken replied. "Don't worry - he's just a baby. You're bigger than he is. He'll probably be more afraid of you than the other way around."
"I'm not used to cats," said Wormmon distrustfully, but he allowed Ken to set him on the floor to be introduced to his new roommate. The cat, catching sight of the activity, padded over to see what was going on. Then it caught sight of Wormmon and froze. It bushed its fur and cheeped at him.
"Now, stop that!" Ken scolded. "It's only Wormmon. He won't hurt you."
The kitten turned to look at Ken, chirping its confusion.
"Okay, so he's a little out of the ordinary," said Ken. "That doesn't mean you should be afraid of him. Wormmon's my best friend in the world! Honestly, he's got a heart of gold. He wouldn't hurt a fly."
The kitten blinked, looking for all the world like he was thinking over what he'd been told. Then, with deliberate steps, he walked over to Wormmon and touched noses with him. Wormmon sat very still. The kitten rubbed against him and gave a tentative purr, and Wormmon's beak parted in a caterpillar smile. Ken laughed.
"See, I told you!" he said.
"I like him," said Wormmon. "He's cute."
"Yeah, I like him, too," Ken agreed. He smiled at the kitten, who had now settled against Wormmon's side and looked to be getting ready for a nap. "I think I'm going to like having a cat."
The cat grew up quickly, so fast that Ken was sure he could blink and find that it had grown a size larger while his eyes were closed. It gradually lost its kittenish softness, growing into its ears and feet and taking on the grace and sleekness its breed was noted for. Its eyes lost their kittenish blueness, but never quite shaded into anything more catlike. They simply darkened to a deep blue-violet. People laughed about how it was that pets looked like their owners, but there was definitely something almost eerie about the likeness between the dark, graceful boy and his sleek black cat with eyes that exactly matched his.
Ken didn't have any reply to those kinds of remarks. The most he could say was that Hikari had told him this cat was special, and that was enough for him. Certainly the way the cat acted bore witness to the fact. He seemed to be remarkably intelligent, particularly when it came to manipulating things in his environment - on a morning when Ken overslept and forgot to feed him, he'd pulled the cabinet door open and pushed cans of cat food onto the floor until someone had come to see what the noise was. He also had an uncanny way of seeming to listen when people spoke to him. He had only to be told "no" once, and he would stop whatever he was doing and quietly walk away - most of the time.
"Perhaps he's got some Siamese in him somewhere," Ken's father suggested. Someone had left the door to the cat's favorite napping closet shut, and he was trying to rectify that mistake by climbing up on a table and stretching out his paw to tug at the door handle. "They're supposed to be very clever cats, aren't they? I'm sure I heard that somewhere."
"Maybe so. It would explain the eye color, anyway. Siamese have those blue-purple eyes like that," Ken replied. "Here, Kaeru, let me get that for you."
"Kaeru?" Mr. Ichijouji repeated. "I thought his name was Kuro."
"Was it? Maybe it was," said Ken, "but this is what I call him now. He answers to it, anyway."
"Strange name for a cat," his father remarked.
"I think it's about right," Ken replied. "He returns. You know, the cat came back and all that kind of thing. Cats are supposed to have nine lives - they're always coming back." Seeing his father was giving him a puzzled stare, he shrugged and finished with, "Anyway, I like it."
Kaeru, knowing he was being talked about, began preening his fur. Ken went over and stroked the cat's head. The cat showed some signs of having a longhair somewhere in his ancestry, and there were some places where he just couldn't seem to keep his fur going in the right direction. Ken smoothed his pet's fur, and it purred gratefully at the attention. It crawled up Ken's arm to perch on his shoulder, affectionately nuzzling his ear.
"Stop that! It tickles!" Ken protested.
The cat rubbed his face one last time and became still, instead giving all his attention to keeping his balance as Ken began to walk to the kitchen. As he'd expected, his mother and Wormmon were both there, chatting with each other. Mrs. Ichijouji might have been a bit startled at having her son introduce an oversized insect to her as his best friend, but she had long ago gotten over any discomfiture she might feel around him. Just the fact that her son cared about this creature was enough for her. He was willing to fight to the death for Ken's sake, and that automatically endeared him to her, but once they got to know each other, they had learned friendship and mutual respect as well. Wormmon was industrious by nature; he didn't like sitting around doing nothing when there was anything going on that he could help with. To Mrs. Ichijouji, a giant talking caterpillar was certainly a surprise, but a talking caterpillar that could cook and do housework was nothing short of a godsend.
"Hi, Mama. Hi, Wormmon," Ken greeted them.
"Hello, dear," his mother replied. "What are you up to?"
"Not much, just getting a snack," he replied, going through the cabinets in search of edibles. "I'm going to start on my homework in a bit. Want to help, Wormmon?"
"Do you mind if I don't?" asked Wormmon, looking at Ken plaintively. "We were going to bake a cake!"
Ken laughed. "Well, don't let me stop you from doing that! You were never much good at calculus, anyway. Come to think of it, I don't care for it much myself, these days, but I'll get it done somehow. Call me when your cake's ready."
He went back to his room and began going through his books. Kaeru, sensing what Ken was up to, hopped down from his shoulder and jumped onto the desk, shoving some pencils out of the way to make room for himself. He folded himself up into a legless bundle and watched as Ken set out books, papers, and a calculator and picked one of the pencils off the floor.
"Okay," said Ken, trying to organize himself. "Math, English, Japanese, Science. Which first?"
Kaeru turned to rub his jaw on the corner of the nearest book, the Science textbook. Ken shrugged. With the powers of the Dark Spores neutralized, he was no longer the wonder student he'd once been, and he'd asked his parents to transfer him to the same school where Daisuke and the others went, partly to be closer to his friends and partly so he could have a more realistic workload. He was still a good student, though, and Science was one of his best subjects. It was a funny chance that the cat should choose his favorite subject for him, but it was as good a way of deciding as any. All right, he'd do that. He flipped the book open and began answering the questions at the back of the chapter. These were easy enough, multiple choice, so he worked in silence for a while, neatly marking down his answers in his notebook.
"All right," he muttered, staring at question 36. "This should be easy enough; why don't I remember the answer to this?"
Kaeru, who had been dozing, opened his eyes and crept over to see what Ken was talking about. He looked at the book for a moment, and then rubbed his jaw against Ken's pencil, pushing it over the book until its tip was resting on the page. Ken looked down. By some odd coincidence, he was now pointing to the letter "A" for question 17, which happened to be the right answer. He laughed a little.
"You're a smart cat, but I did that question already," he said. "I'm on number 36 now. Got any ideas?"
Much to his surprise, Kaeru pushed the pencil again, landing its point on letter "C" for question 36. Ken stared. It looked like the right answer to him. He looked at the cat, who blinked innocently and purred.
"This is entirely weird," he said. "What kind of cat are you?"
"Meow!" Kaeru replied.
Ken felt himself going a little pale; his pet's strange way of answering when he was spoken to was not a comfortable thing right now.
"This has to be a coincidence," he said. "I mean, I'm used to Wormmon talking to me, but you're a cat. You're nothing special, just a cat, just an ordinary housecat that chases strings and eats catfood... You're not supposed to be able to understand me when I'm talking to you, so quit looking at me like that!"
It had to be his imagination that made the cat look as if its feelings had been hurt. It gave him a look that he interpreted as, "I was only trying to help," and curled up into a ball again, closing its eyes and rather pointedly going back to sleep. Ken shook himself.
"I must be going crazy," he said. "I'm letting my imagination run away with me. You're just a smart cat who likes playing with pencils. That's all."
The cat opened its eyes and looked at him steadily. Ken stared back. He was sure he had read somewhere that animals didn't like meeting a human's gaze straight on, but this one was definitely looking into his eyes, giving him no choice but to look back into its. Once again, he was struck by how intelligent those eyes were, almost human, so much like his own. Ken shivered.
"You're weird," he said.
"Meow," Kaeru replied.
"And don't talk back to me," said Ken. "I just don't want to hear it right now."
The cat obediently said nothing. He curled up in his place but continued to watch Ken work. For a while, it was silent, as Ken tried to get his mind back on his homework. He scribbled in his notepad for a few minutes. Then he stared at the book a moment. He looked at the cat.
"You wouldn't happen to know the answer to number forty-three, would you?"
When Ken got his homework back, he was surprised he was not more surprised that he'd gotten every question right. He decided to accept his good luck and not make too much of a deal over it. After all, who was going to believe he had a cat that could do homework? Even he thought it was ridiculous, but every time he sat down to work, the cat would appear, sitting next to him and prodding him whenever he got stuck, and somehow, it was always right. At first, he tried to pass it off as a coincidence. Then he gave up on trying to call it a coincidence and just accepted that if he could travel to other dimensions, meet talking animals and demons, and save the world, he could have a cat who could read. Why not? Certainly weirder things had happened. What he didn't know was that even weirder things were going to happen.
It started with a birthday party, of sorts. This particular party was a small and fairly quiet affair. There were no decorations or party favors. There would be no music or games and very little actual celebrating. There were only three people in attendance, and the birthday boy himself would not be attending.
"Do you go through this every year?" asked Wormmon, watching as Ken's mother set the table.
"Ever since Osamu died, anyway," Ken replied. "It's kind of our way to remember him, to spend a day thinking about him and doing some of the things he liked to do. It's a little depressing, but I'm starting to see why it's a good idea. It's better than pretending he was never here at all and maybe forgetting about him."
"You never told me much about your brother," said Wormmon. "Except that you were jealous of him, and that he died and you felt bad."
"I wasn't jealous all the time," said Ken. "Sometimes I was proud to know I had a brother like that who was so special. And he could be nice to me. When he wasn't doing his work, he'd play games with me and make soap water to blow bubbles with. We had a lot of fun together." He sat back on the sofa and looked dreamily up at the ceiling. "I wonder what he'd think of me now, after all I've been through..."
Kaeru wandered through the room and jumped onto his chest, settling down contentedly and kneading his shirt. Ken smiled a little.
"Yeah, I know you like me," he said. "Still, you weren't there when I went through all the rough stuff. If you had been there, you might have other ideas, cat."
"Meow?" Kaeru asked.
Ken stared at the cat. "That's the first time I've ever heard a cat ask a question before. Well, I guess I could tell you. You seem to understand a lot..."
Wormmon listened with some surprise as Ken began spelling out his adventures in the Digital World. He'd heard Ken talk about his past before, to friends and parents, but he'd never heard Ken be this frank about it. He was usually so secretive, especially about the darkest parts of his life, but now here he was, baring all the details to a cat. He was saying things Wormmon himself had never heard before, and he was surprised. Why would he do that? Maybe because he didn't have anything to fear from an animal; Kaeru might be smarter than your average cat, but he couldn't pass judgement on him the way a human or a Digimon could. No matter what horrors Ken was describing, Kaeru just sat there and purred, watching him steadily with his intense violet eyes.
*I think this cat is really good for Ken,* Wormmon decided. *He seems so relaxed...*
"Ken, dinner is almost ready!" Mrs. Ichijouji called.
"All right! Be there in a minute!" Ken called back.
He got up carefully, giving Kaeru a chance to scamper onto his shoulder, while Wormmon perched on the other. Ken had been teased by a few of his friends about being a walking menagerie, but the cat just seemed to love riding around on his loyal human, and how could Ken possibly go anywhere without his partner? Once everyone was situated, the three of them wandered into the kitchen to see what was cooking.
"Something smells good!" Wormmon said.
"Sushi," Ken replied. "Osamu's favorite. We only had it on special occasions. I can remember him begging to have it for dinner when we were a kid. I think he would have had it every day if someone would let him. Always sushi and wasabi! I don't know how he stood the stuff." He made a grab for one of the sushi rolls and got his hand smacked by his mother.
"Not until everyone else sits down," she told him.
"All right, all right," said Ken. "I'll behave! Really!"
He sat down, and Wormmon took his place next to him. He was a member of the family now, and he had his own plate like everyone else, with a special cup with a lid designed to be convenient for his vertical beak. The cat tried to get off of Ken's shoulder and sit on the table like Wormmon, but Ken caught him and put him on the floor.
"Sorry, cat," he said. "Cats eat on the floor, remember?"
Kaeru gave him a dirty look and walked off sulking.
The rest of the family took their places around the table. Mr. Ichijouji said a few words in memory of Osamu. Kaeru meowed loudly.
"I think someone would rather get on to the food," said Ken, trying not to laugh. Normally talking about his brother made him depressed, but the idea of a cat interrupting his father's speech was somehow very funny.
"All right, all right," said his father. "Itadakimasu!"
They all settled in to eat. Kaeru pranced around under the table, weaving his tail around the legs of chairs and people, looking hopefully up at the humans and purring like a motorboat. Finally, tired of the annoyance, Ken picked up a little bit of fish and offered it to the cat.
"Is this what you're looking for?" he asked.
Kaeru scampered toward the proffered treat with his whiskers pricked eagerly forward. However, when he reached it, he sniffed it over carefully, looked back at Ken, and meowed again.
"What's your problem?" Ken asked. "This is perfectly good fish! Lots of cats would love to have a taste of this."
"Meow!" said Kaeru, clearly not interested in what other cats want.
"Well, your loss, then," said Ken.
He straightened up and prepared to go back to his meal. As he did, the cat leaped into his lap and jumped onto the table.
"Hey!" Ken yelped.
He made a grab for the cat, but it slipped through his hands and trotted to the other end of the table, putting his nose into Mr. Ichijouji's plate and beginning to lap at the food, purring loudly.
"What the-?" Mr. Ichijouji exclaimed. "Can you beat that? He's eating the wasabi? Hey, you, get out of that!"
He captured Kaeru and put him on the floor, along with the sushi he'd been eating. Ken watched his pet with a thoughtful expression. He took the bit of fish he'd offered, put a dab of wasabi on it, and offered it again. Kaeru looked up at him, accepted the treat eagerly, and went back to eating.
"I don't believe it," said Ken. "It's the wasabi! I never heard of a cat eating wasabi before."
"Cats are individualists," said his mother. "My cousin has one that likes grapefruit. There's just no understanding them."
"I guess so," said Ken. "Kaeru, take it easy. You're going to get sick, eating all that."
Kaeru blinked benignly and went on with what he was doing.
"Well, your problem, then," Ken replied.
He went back to eating, but something was teasing in the back of his mind, making it hard to enjoy the meal. As soon as he felt he could get away with it, he excused himself and retreated to his room. His parents assumed it was because, as usual, thoughts of his lost brother were making him moody. It was true, he was thinking about his brother, but not the way they thought. Kaeru followed him, abandoning the remains of his food. Ken closed the door and sat down at his desk chair, staring at the cat. Kaeru stared back.
"All right," said Ken. "We need to have a talk, cat."
"Meow," said Kaeru agreeably.
"I can't figure you out," Ken said. "I mean, I know Hikari said you were special and I know she knows about these things, but... some of the stuff you're doing is just plain impossible, and its crazy, and it's starting to scare me."
The cat looked sympathetic - no, it didn't, Ken corrected firmly. It didn't look sympathetic because it was just a cat, and it couldn't possibly know what he was talking about, much less respond to it. It was just a cat... a really smart cat that got all the correct answers on his homework and seemed to listen when he was spoken to...
"Is it just a coincidence?" Ken asked. "Do you really tell me the answers? Am I just imagining that you're listening to me? If it's not a coincidence, say something."
"Meow!" said Kaeru.
Ken shook his head. "That doesn't prove anything. You're always meowing at me like that. You do that anytime anyone talks to you... It's because you're part Siamese; those make a lot of noise. They're smart, and they have those blue eyes like you do."
Kaeru tilted his head a bit, making the lamplight catch his eyes. In that lighting, it was very hard to deny that his eyes were violet, a shade Ken had never seen in any cat's eyes before. Ken shook himself again; he wanted so much to believe it was a trick of the light...
*He was eating the wasabi,* said some detached voice in Ken's mind. *Whoever heard of a cat doing that? Even I don't eat that stuff... Osamu always loved it, though...*
The more he tried not to think of it, the more his brain kept giving him reasons why he should think, think and believe...
*Why did I call him Kaeru? It is a weird name for a cat... 'To return'... What if he came back? They say cats have nine lives - I wonder what number this one's on...*
"No!" he said. "I can't keep thinking like this, or I'm going to go crazy! This can't be possible... It's not..."
The cat got up and began rubbing against Ken's legs, meowing piteously. The thought that the cat actually realized he was in distress and was trying to comfort him made him break down, and he dropped to the floor and cried. The cat put his paws on Ken's knee so he could stand up and lick his face. Gradually, Ken got hold of himself.
"Can I really believe this?" he asked the cat.
The cat blinked wisely. Ken sighed.
"All right, let's try this again," he said. "Who are you really?"
The cat turned around and made a jump for Ken's dresser, sitting down next to the framed photograph of Osamu. He sat and waited as Ken stared at him, comparing their blue-black hair and violet eyes, the way the cat's fur never quite seemed to lie flat...
"You are him, then?" Ken whispered.
The cat blinked again and purred.
Ken took a deep breath and let it out. "Oh... Well, that explains a lot."
The cat didn't say anything, and Ken was grateful. He sat there, trying to absorb it and convince himself that he really wasn't going crazy. Gradually, the feeling of disbelief faded away to wonderment, an awe that the people he loved and needed most somehow kept finding their way back to him, maybe not in the forms he remembered him, but...
*Osamu always had to work so hard,* he thought. *He always had someone expecting him to do more and better, to top whatever he'd done to get in the papers last week... and he was only a kid like me, then. I remember how that feels. It must be nice not to have any more worries...*
"I'll bet you like being a cat," he said. "It's exactly what you deserve - a chance to relax and to have everyone make a fuss over you just for being you, for a change."
The cat purred, and Ken smiled.
"Let's not tell Mama and Papa about this, all right?" he said. "They freaked bad enough about Wormmon; I don't know what they'd make of this."
The cat slicked his whiskers back and closed his eyes; Ken could have sworn he was smiling.
"All right. Our secret," he said. "I might tell Wormmon, though. He'll understand. Digimon are special that way... Speaking of which, he's going to be worried about me if I don't get back to him soon. Want to come?"
The cat hopped down from the dresser and went to curl up on Ken's bed. Ken smiled.
"All right, you get your rest," he said. "I'll see you later, all right?"
"Meow..." said the cat sleepily.
Still smiling, Ken went to the door, and flipped out the light, leaving the room in soft darkness.
"Goodnight, Osamu," he said.