In separate parts of the country, there are two young men named Akiyama. One, older, lives on the island of Honshu, in the Greater Tokyo Area. The other, younger, lives on the island of Kyushu, in Fukuoka Prefecture. They don't look alike and have entirely opposite temperaments, so no one would suspect that they are brothers. The only way to know is to ask one of them, though the older brother, Ren, refuses flat-out to talk about his family, while the younger, Ryo, can only offer a polite but closed explanation that their family matters are private.
Their father, Toshio, was originally from Kyushu but had met their mother while studying in Hokkaido. Khynika Zakharova had been older and stern from surviving the Soviet Union, but she was highly intelligent, which had attracted him to her—one thing they learned later with their sons was that there was a trend for Akiyama men to be attracted to intelligent people. Ren's birth had been a surprise if only because Khynika didn't see the point in telling her husband about her pregnancy; Russian tradition dictated that men weren't involved in such things. Ten years later, Ryo's birth was somehow just as much of a surprise.
Khynika did all she could to pass on her heritage to her sons, all while teaching them the importance of survival. She'd grown up in the shadow of the KGB, knowing it was crucial to appear compliant despite questioning authority and to be wary of whom to trust. The boys had mixed results. Ryo was better at controlling his temper, at keeping out of fights, at avoiding unwanted attention, and at defusing tense situations. Ren was better at Russian. When the former failed him, the latter always helped him win an argument with his brother.
Of course, neither one of them was anywhere near fluent, but Khynika never had the heart to correct them. Mostly because she enjoyed a private laugh whenever they mangled the language.
As for what they learned from their father, if nothing else, Ren took after him the most. Ryo physically looked more like their mother and thanks to some of his friendships, had managed to master the mask that Ren couldn't maintain. Toshio was more easily frustrated, and Ren not only took that from him, but he was the source of a good amount of that frustration. He wanted more freedom to be his own man and had developed a bit of the wanderlust that ran rampant in the Zakharov family. His father, on the other hand, argued that he was aimless and impatient, failing to plan for the future.
The argument erupted full-scale one night when Ryo was about ten. He'd been engrossed in a videogame one minute, then torn out of it the next by the angry shouts between his father and brother. Ryo only saw Ren storm past their mother, who didn't stop him as he walked out the door and never looked back.
"And you don't stop him?" Toshio asked.
She only gave him a quirk of her eyebrow and asked, "What would that have solved, solnyshko? He would have left sooner or later. Better now before he resents us more for it."
It took a week for Ren to find a cheap apartment outside Tamachi. He dropped out of university and began looking for a job. He barely had enough money to get by, but for the first time in his life, he felt free.
His cell phone was still on his family's plan; he'd have to get his own once he'd earned enough. But it would be good enough for a quick call. He brought up his mother's number and waited for someone to pick up.
He was surprised for a moment to hear Ryo's voice. But it really shouldn't have been much of a surprise; he hadn't even said goodbye to his brother before walking out. Repressing his surprise and guilt, he answered, "Yeah. Where's Mat'?"
"She's out right now," Ryo answered before going silent a moment. Finally he asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Ren said as casually as he could manage. "You know me."
The awkward silence returned, longer this time. Finally, Ren said, "Let her know I'm coming to pick up my things tonight."
"Okay. Good luck."
"Yeah," Ren answered before hanging up. But the moment he ended the call, he felt himself sinking with the weight of emotions he didn't want to admit to. It had been hard hiding everything just while on the phone. He dreaded having to actually see Ryo in person.
He'd just have to hope that Ryo wasn't there when he stopped by. Otherwise, he'd probably have to start a fight just to deal with the guilt.
It was one of the few times when Ryo could take a break, but he didn't let himself relax. He knew what it said about his state of mind that he was staying in Osamu's room, but it let him run to Ken at a moment's notice, so he ignored his own thoughts.
It had been a bad few weeks. Osamu was gone. Ken was sick. Ryo was barely holding on.
He didn't look to see who was calling when his phone rang. He just answered in a dead voice, "Hello?"
"Ryo?" Ren sounded surprised, even worried, at Ryo's voice. Given how much more distant they'd become over the past two years since he'd left, Ryo knew he sounded like hell.
"Did Ma tell you what was going on?" he guessed.
"Yeah," Ren answered. "Thought I should check for myself, make sure you didn't collapse next."
He said it sarcastically with the usual lack of concern he spoke with. But Ryo knew that Ren only got at his most blasé when he did care, and he smiled gratefully.
"Dad wants to move to Fukuoka," he said reluctantly.
"Might be a good idea," Ren admitted. "Get away from it all."
"But I can't," Ryo protested. "Ken needs me, especially with Osamu…"
"But if you have to, I guess you can stay at my place for a little while," Ren interrupted. "I'll talk to Mat' about it."
"Thanks," Ryo said. "I'm staying at Ken's right now, but I'll keep that in mind." Then, to continue the façade that Ren was only doing this out of obligation, he added, "If I have to."
"If you do, there's a girl I've been seeing who might stop by once in a while. So don't do anything stupid."
Discussing anyone's love life right now should have been painful, but this was Ryo's brother. If Ren felt obligated to be cool and aloof, Ryo felt obligated to tease him about his girlfriend.
"Ew, forget it. I don't want to know what's going on with you two."
The Russian word for "idiot" was a common insult between them, and Ryo playfully complained, "No fair. You know I'm terrible at Russian."
"And it's the only way I can keep you from being stupid around Eri," Ren answered easily.
There was a definite note of amusement in Ren's voice as he said, "You actually pronounced that one right this time. Mat' must be proud."
"Shut up." He wasn't going to try that in Russian and invite more teasing.
"I'll stop by with some food," Ren said, easily ignoring Ryo's indignant reply. "Eri made lotus root."
Now, Ryo couldn't help but grin. Ren having a girlfriend was going to be fun."Really, Renkon?"
"Love you too," Ryo answered before hanging up. It felt good winning an argument with him for once.
Eri had the courtesy to wait until Ren had hung up before pointing out, "I never made lotus root."
"Guess we'll just have to pick some up," Ren said casually, grabbing their helmets.
As they got on his bike, Eri had to smirk. "You can be an affectionate person when you want to, can't you, Renkon?"
He rolled his eyes and tried to ignore what was going to be an irritating new nickname. The things he went through for family. Ryo owed him big for this.
Ryo owed him big.
When the finals of the D-1 Grand Prix Digimon Tournament had come to town, Ren had been content to ignore it. He didn't know when the Digimon phenomenon became so popular, and to be perfectly honest, he didn't care. It was just a passing fad among kids and teenagers, and like everything else, if it didn't directly affect him, he didn't worry about it. But somehow, Ryo had gotten interested in it and had sailed through the local competitions. Now, it was the national levels, and he was one of the last two finalists.
Which of course meant that his family had to be there for him and one of his hobbies, so Ren had to suffer in the audience of a card game and steadfastly ignore his father, just to wish his kid brother luck.
This was even worse than enduring Eri's embarrassing new nickname for him for a month and a half. This was torture.
Khynika was an unwilling buffer between her husband and elder son, sitting between them so they wouldn't argue. At least, that was the theory. In practice, however, it wasn't working quite as well.
"It's been three years now," Toshio pointed out. "When are you going to grow up and actually do something with your life?"
"Seems like I've done pretty well on my own," Ren argued, ignoring how his mother just rolled her eyes.
"By surviving those fights you pick all the time!" Toshio hissed. "You have to do more than just survive. You have to actually make a living. You lost three jobs after high school—how many have you lost now?"
"If you have to fight, can you do it somewhere else?" Khynika asked dryly. "People are beginning to stare."
"You don't have to worry," Ren insisted. "I'm only here as a favor. Once it's over, you're not going to see me again."
Khynika sighed in annoyance and ignored them both. It was just her luck that the two most stubborn men on the planet were part of her family.
And although he couldn't see what was going on in the audience, Ryo had a feeling that a fight or three had broken out between his father and brother. It was only inevitable after all; with the extreme reluctance Ren had shown to coming to the game, the long-standing arguments between them, and the final blow-up that resulted in him leaving, it was a volatile situation. It was probably a miracle that Ryo couldn't hear the yelling—a miracle or his mother, whichever seemed more likely.
But he pushed all these thoughts aside as he focused on his battle—no, game; he couldn't be thinking of it as something as serious as that. The girl he was playing against was young but good, having built a strong deck of powerful Digimon. But it seemed to be her weakness, Ryo noticed. She focused too much on strength and power; there was little in the way of creativity in her strategy, and that was a massive limitation. Ryo had a good mix of Digimon, plug-ins, and his personal favorites, the device cards. When he saw her place down her final card, he knew this was his chance. He used his King Device on his Knightmon and ended his turn. The girl stared at his cards in shock, but she knew the same as he did; he'd won.
"Good game," Ryo said to her as they announced him as the winner. He held out his hand, but she was hesitant to take it. He couldn't quite hold it against her; she was still young, and she didn't know enough to realize that there was a lot more in life than losing a card game. But finally, she shook his hand, and he grinned. "No hard feelings?"
"Right," she answered flatly, still smarting. Oh well, she'd get over it with time.
The ceremony that came after was a little embarrassing—the trophy and accolades and sudden nickname of "Digimon King" for his strategy. He felt much better once he managed to escape to his family. Sure, the tension between his dad and Ren was thick enough to cut with a knife, but at least they were all together and Ren and Toshio were trying not to make a scene.
"Good job," Khynika applauded. "A little flashy, but you played your game well."
Ryo smiled and rubbed the back of his head. "Thanks, Ma."
"Not bad, I guess," Ren agreed, and this time, Ryo realized that he wasn't trying to act aloof—he was trying his hardest not to sound rude. He probably had been bored out of his mind.
Somehow, it was touching.
"Thanks," he said again. "Are you coming to the hotel with us?"
"Can't," he answered. "I promised Eri I would meet her for dinner, and I'm late enough as it is."
Ryo watched their father bite back a comment—whether about Ren's attitude or his girlfriend, he didn't know—and quickly replied, "I'm sure she'll understand. But go ahead. Thanks for coming."
Ren nodded as he started making his way out. Toshio sighed in frustration, and Khynika began talking to Ryo about something else entirely, once again ignoring the family drama. So maybe the Akiyama family wasn't perfect. At the very least, they were there when it counted.
It was strangely hard to focus on everything. School, chores—somehow, it all was beginning to blur into background noise, and Ryo couldn't find any interest in them. It felt like something was calling him, deep inside, but he just couldn't seem to answer it.
Sighing in frustration, he set aside his math homework and called Ren. Maybe he couldn't talk to him about this strange anxiety, but at the very least, it could relieve some of the tension.
"What is it?"
Ryo stopped in surprise at Ren's terse greeting. Admittedly, his brother was far from the politest person in the world, but this was a little rude even for him.
"Nothing, really," Ryo answered. "I just thought I should call."
"If that's it, then you can hang up now."
Something was definitely wrong. Sure, they had their fights, but Ren never shut down like this before. Ryo racked his brain trying to figure out just what was going on. It couldn't be the arguments Ren had had with their father during the card tournament a couple of weeks ago; he hadn't seemed that upset when he left, and he was just too bad at hiding his anger.
Another possibility hit him, and he carefully asked, "Did something happen between you and Eri?"
His question wasn't careful enough. Ren was silent, barely breathing, and Ryo knew he was right, but it was the wrong thing to say. He was about to apologize when Ren finally answered.
"Let me know how things are going between you and that boy with the glasses you used to see all the time."
Blind pain surged within Ryo, and he almost choked on the memories and sorrow they brought up. Ren knew what had happened to Osamu, so how could he… Too hurt to bother arguing, he hung up, doing what he could to avoid crying. He hadn't cried in years, not even when Osamu had died, and he wasn't going to start now.
Ren hung up soon after, knowing he'd done what he needed to get Ryo off the phone, but it didn't bring him any satisfaction. His hands were shaking in rage and despair, and it was all he could do to take Eri's hand gently.
He traced his finger over her ring; she hadn't taken it off once since he'd gotten it for her. She'd started talking about marriage and everything that should have scared him, but he felt a lot stronger as long as he had her with him. Now that man had taken it all away, giving him nothing but a deck of cards and the Monster that left her in this coma. And the words: "Those who don't fight won't survive." Eri couldn't fight, but he would fight for her. This was his promise.
With some regret, he slipped the ring off her finger, as a reminder to himself of what he had to fight for and why he had to win. He would survive to give it back to her one day, the day she finally woke. But until then, the newly born Kamen Rider Knight would fight for that wish, no matter the cost.
He'd been stupid to lower his guard. Whether it was the all-nighters spent chasing a lead or the Monster being just that damn good, Ren couldn't justify the blow to his head that had knocked him senseless.
He wasn't out for long, and fortunately when he came to, Darkwing was attacking the Monster. That was a good sign—as long as Ren held the contract card, the creature that had nearly killed Eri would obey his will. It was the monster who started it all that worried him, Kanzaki Shiro. Ren had spent the past few weeks tracking the only lead to him he'd found—a rumor about a younger sister—when the Monster had attacked him. At first, he thought it might have been a good thing, that he was close enough that Kanzaki had to try to stop him, but he soon changed his mind when he realized he was outclassed and overwhelmed.
After leaving the battle to Darkwing for a bit, Ren scanned his Final Vent card and attacked. It destroyed the Monster, allowing Darkwing to consume its energy; the contract Monster would become stronger, but the Kamen Rider still had a long way to go.
Ren staggered out of the Mirror World, feeling pain and exhaustion attack him in a dizzying rush. He barely noticed the young woman staring at him in shock before he collapsed where he was, his vision going black. The girl rushed over to him, pleading with him to stay awake as she tried to phone for help, but he didn't have the strength to keep his eyes open.
He woke a few times, but he was barely lucid. Once or twice, he managed to register that he was in a hospital and that the girl was keeping watch over him, but the concussion and exhaustion always claimed him soon after.
It was the phone ringing that brought him out of his sleep this time, and only because he'd conditioned himself to answer it whenever he heard it. Without opening his eyes, he felt around for his phone, trying to find it before it stopped ringing and left whatever message that might be about Eri behind for a later time.
"Hello?" an unfamiliar voice asked as the ringing ceased. Ren forced himself to open his eyes to see a barely familiar young woman answering his phone. "Yes, just a minute." She held the phone over to him.
He struggled to find the strength to take the phone from her and hold it up to his ear. His voice was weak and hoarse as he said, "Hello?"
"Ren?" Even in the haze of his concussed mind, he recognized Ryo's voice. "You sound terrible—what happened? Are you okay?"
It didn't take long for the Russian to come back to him; it was always easy to recall. "Durak."
Now, there was amusement in Ryo's voice as he admitted, "If you're feeling well enough to insult me, I guess you're all right."
"Why did you call?" Ren asked. It had been months since they'd last spoken, ever since their last argument.
Ryo sounded regretful as he confessed, "I wanted you to know that I understand what you were talking about with Osamu. It took me a while, but I realized you weren't trying to hurt me."
What had he... Right, he'd brought up Ryo's friend during the argument. Maybe he had meant to hurt Ryo, make him realize just how painful it was to never let yourself forget, to make that memory live because what's barely there hurts so much worse than what's gone.
"Ren?" Ryo asked again. "Are you…"
"Fine," Ren managed, not quite sure if he was responding to Ryo's question or his confession.
"Okay," Ryo answered hesitantly. "Either way, I wanted to make sure you knew. Prastite."
Ryo hung up after that, and Ren almost thought that something was wrong, but his head still felt clouded and sore and his eyes still heavy.
The girl took the phone from him and set it on a table nearby. It was hard to focus again, and he could feel himself slipping back into sleep.
"Your name's Ren?" she asked. "I'm Yui. When you wake up, there's something I want to ask you."
On the edge of a world away, Ryo set down his phone for the last time and gathered his cards. Cyberdramon growled next to him, and he could imagine he could hear Millenniumon's criticism behind it.
"Call it human sentimentality," he admitted. "It might be the last time I ever speak to him again. I wanted to leave without hard feelings. After all, it's just going to be harder from here." It was personal experience that made him realize what had happened to Ren those months ago, and he knew another loss, no matter how distant, would be even more painful. But they were Akiyamas, and this was all they knew.
Without another glance behind him, Ryo stepped into the digital fog beside his partner and disappeared.
The Digital World was different from anything Ryo had ever seen in his life. It was a wild, dangerous place where he would be killed if he wasn't careful. Cyberdramon was savage and brutal, constantly seeking the next enemy, all the while unaware of the enemy within him.
And yet, Ryo wouldn't trade it for anything. For the first time in his life, he felt like he was home.
The hospital released Ren the next day, with strict orders that he was to rest to recover from his injury and sleep debt. He planned on ignoring the advice, but pretending to agree got him out of the hospital at least. It would probably be harder to escape the cautious worry of Kanzaki Yui, now that she'd appointed herself his keeper, but it was something he could live with. He'd managed to find who he was looking for, and if he had her on his side, he had an advantage over other Riders and over Kanzaki himself.
But now a phone call threatened to put all of that in jeopardy.
The number wasn't familiar, so Ren didn't expect anyone familiar when he answered, "Hello?"
His father's voice was a big surprise, along with the words: "Ryo's gone missing."
"What?" Ren asked. That was impossible; he'd just talked to him. There was no way Ryo could just vanish so soon.
"Your number was the last call on his phone. Do you know what happened to him?"
"No," he replied truthfully. Shock and the seriousness of the situation kept him calm and let him ask, "Do you need me to come down?"
"It's too far a drive. Just stay there, and we'll let you know what's going on."
"No," Ren insisted, mentally calculating how much money he'd saved. Despite the low-paying jobs he kept getting fired from thanks to his attitude and his need to run off to fight Monsters, he still had a decent amount saved up from when Eri was still awake. It would be more than enough for a plane ticket. "I'll make the next flight."
Toshio was silent for a moment, as if remembering that he and his son didn't get along. Finally, he said, "All right. Let us know when your plane's set to arrive. Your mother will probably pick you up."
"All right," Ren answered, hanging up. It figured that just when he'd gotten close to something, chaos snatched it away. For a moment, he wondered if Kanzaki had done this, had sent a Monster after Ryo as revenge for Ren finding Yui, but he dismissed the thought. Ryo had called; none of the Monster victims had gotten that chance.
Turning to Yui, he said, "Something's come up, and I have to take care of it. Where can I call you?"
"Here," she said, reaching for his phone. "I'll put in my cell number. If I don't answer that, you can also call my aunt's home phone—I live with her at her teahouse, Atori. She's out of town, so I'm minding the shop."
Once he'd gotten the numbers, he took out money and headed to the airport. Within a few hours, he'd gotten on a plane and landed in Fukuoka Airport. It didn't take long to find his mother outside, waiting for him.
"Privet, Mat'," he greeted in Russian.
She gave him a sardonic smile. "Your accent is as atrocious as always."
"You like me butchering the language too much to want me to improve," he challenged, equally as sarcastic; it was the one lesson from her that he had mastered.
"It's one of my joys," she admitted. They hugged briefly; neither was very affectionate, but with the crisis going on and the circumstances of Ren's last two departures, they felt they owed it to one another. Once they'd let go, Khynika raised an eyebrow at the prominent bruising to Ren's face. "I see you still enjoy getting into trouble."
Ren shrugged, replying, "Trouble always knows where to find me." It was only half a lie; in the past year, he'd actually tried to give up starting fights, and in the case of Rider battles, he didn't have a say in what was going to attack and when. And it wasn't like he could tell her about transforming into a masked warrior and fighting dangerous monsters alongside a monster of his own. While she might believe him if only because he wasn't that bad a liar, he didn't want to draw more people into this than he needed to.
She took his secrecy in stride, if only because she'd taught him not to reveal too much about himself, and led him to the car. "Your father called the police to investigate, even though I told him it wouldn't help."
He wasn't at all surprised at her lack of trust of authority, but it seemed like she knew more than she was letting on—probable, given how she'd raised them. "Do you know what happened?"
She shrugged, only answering, "Ryo's changed too suddenly in spurts over the past few years. He's not the same boy he was when you left. Something must be behind it." As Ren began to digest this information, she gave him a critical look and said, "It looks like you've changed too, since we last met."
He had to turn away from her gaze. He'd forgotten how sharp she was. When he was a kid, he'd never managed to hide anything from her, and only part of that had been because of his difficulty hiding his emotions. He would have to tread carefully to keep her from learning about the Rider War.
It was a bit of culture shock to see his parents' home. He'd changed apartments twice in the past couple of years, moving to whichever complex he could afford in whatever part of the city he worked in. His current apartment was a fairly nice one near Seimeiin University—a home for him and Eri when they could get married. Now, the symbolism was so stifling that he was only ever there to sleep; traveling, working, and fighting to avoid it. He'd almost forgotten what it was like to set down somewhere permanently.
And the house in Fukuoka was definitely meant to be a permanent home. It was almost similar to the old house in Tokyo, though smaller, as if they'd come to terms with the fact that the family had gotten smaller. Either way, the message of the house was the same: it was meant to put an end to the wanderlust. Ren suddenly understood why Ryo had left.
He was a stranger when he walked inside, even though Toshio and Khynika introduced him to the police as their older son, who had remained in Tokyo when they moved. He answered their questions as best as he could, admitting that he'd been half-asleep when Ryo had last called him and hadn't realized there was anything wrong. When the police asked where he was that night, he said that he'd been in the hospital.
"And what were you doing in the hospital?" a detective asked, clearly taking note of his bruises.
Before he even had the chance to answer, Khynika gave him a pointed look. "It was a motorcycle accident, wasn't it? Your father told you not to buy that bike."
The harsh tone of her voice and the critical, motherly glare would fool the police, but Ren could see through her lie. She respected his privacy too much to ask him what had really happened, and because she trusted him, she was willing to help him come up with a believable cover story.
His mother lying to the police. Strange comforts of home.
"Yeah," he admitted casually, as if he were still trying to ignore his parents' criticisms. That part came easy, and sure enough, it made his father sigh in exasperation.
Without any more questions and with even littler evidence, the detectives could only offer their condolences and promise to continue the investigation. Toshio saw them out while Khynika and Ren shared an understanding glance.
"I'd better go," Ren insisted. "My plane leaves in the morning."
Toshio was hesitant, but with one of his sons missing and the other living his own life in another part of the country, he had to offer, "You can stay here for the night, if you want."
Ren paused. He should, if only to ease his parents' minds and see if any new information about Ryo came in. And it would be cheaper than a hotel. But the atmosphere was suffocating—worse than his apartment and worse than when he'd still been living with them. This place would never be home.
"Thanks, but I really should go. Let me know if you find anything."
It was kinder than he would have been a year ago, and maybe that was why his father didn't argue this time. Giving him a proud smile, Khynika escorted him out, whispering in Russian, "Whatever you've gotten yourself into, remember what I taught you. Watch yourself, understand?"
He gave her a cautious glance, wondering for a moment if she knew what he was doing, but finally, he just answered, "Right."
It didn't matter. She'd taught him to be a survivor, and so he would. If Kanzaki wanted a soldier in his war, he was in for an unpleasant surprise.
Ryo had been surprised when he saw those new Tamers in the Digital World, not to mention learning that one of them had been the girl he'd defeated so long ago at the card tournament and she still had a grudge against him for that. But the kids and their Digimon definitely seemed to have what it took to survive the Digital World, and they truly wanted to protect the real world. It was a refreshing innocence he'd forgotten all about in his battles.
Also, he had to enjoy the way Ruki was annoyed with him all the time. Arguing with her was a lot like arguing with his big brother again, only this time, he was winning.
And maybe it was the nostalgia that made him agree to come with them to the real world, no matter how much the Digital World had become his home. No doubt, the Four Holy Beasts would have insisted he get away from the danger of the D-Reaper, but if it was a danger to this world, it would probably be better to try to fight it and keep it from reaching the real world. But still, it had been almost a year.
He was surprised to see his father waiting for him at the emergence point, and he gave him an awkward smile as Toshio struggled with his irritation at such a casual greeting after disappearing from the world for so long.
He would have liked a chance to visit Ren, but Toshio was insistent on getting him back home as soon as possible. In any case, Ren had moved again, and they hadn't gotten his new address—only that he was living with friends, who'd answered the phone with surprise to hear that his little brother had been missing and now found. But he did get the chance to call before their plane took off.
"Ren?" Ryo checked, straining to hear over the background noise—voices speaking and dishes clattering.
"Ryo?" Ren asked in surprise. "You're back."
"Yeah," Ryo answered with a sheepish grin. "Sorry for making all of you worry."
A voice called for Ren suddenly, and he said, "I can't talk right now. Call me back in a few hours."
Ryo had guessed Ren was working, so he said, "Okay. Paka."
"Paka," Ren replied automatically.
Sanako gave him a suspicious look as he pocketed his phone. "Was that Russian? Since when do you speak another language?"
He ignored the question, not wanting to explain the how he'd learned it. But Shinji and Yui were harder to shake off, and they ganged up on him immediately.
"Was that your little brother?" Shinji asked, as tactless as always. Once or twice in the beginning, Ren had to fight the impulse to use a Russian insult against him, realizing how the habit had become instinct; Sanako might have had a point when she said they were like brothers.
"Yeah," he answered at last, if only because they wouldn't leave him alone until he did. Shinji had picked up his abandoned phone about a month ago when his father had called with the news; Ren had left it behind when he took Eri to the beach before she fell asleep again. It had been an unpleasant change of mood when he came home to his friends hounding him for answers about his brother.
"He's back?" Yui asked. When Ren nodded, she answered, "I'm glad."
"Yeah," Shinji agreed. "Family should stand by each other."
For a moment, they could only stare at Shinji, who blinked uncomfortably in confusion. It had been an innocent remark, but like so many of his statements, it had the weight of ignorant wisdom behind it. They were only here because of everything Kanzaki was trying to do for Yui. And despite everything, they'd formed a close friendship, almost like family themselves…
The thought was scary, but not as bad as it had been when Ren had first met him. Pushing the thought aside, he grabbed a serving tray and shoved it at Shinji. "Take care of that order. And don't spill it."
Immediately, Shinji bristled and argued, "I haven't spilled anything in a long time!"
But Ren was ignoring him, hiding his amusement. It was nice to know that no matter what had changed, he still won all of his arguments. And now, he didn't even have to switch languages to do so.
It was the end of the world.
It was only because of his wish, his vow as a Rider, that Ren picked himself up, forgot about Shinji's blood all over his hands, and left his friend's body to battle Odin. He was running out of time, and the only thing he had left was his wish, and only he could make it come true.
It was the end of the world.
Ryo had been there before, but not like this. Shinjuku was engulfed in the red mass of the D-Reaper, and it was only a matter of time before it deleted both the real and Digital Worlds. Staying where it was safe wasn't an option; he knew now that he was a fighter, and he would fight.
Ren raced through the city on his motorcycle.
Ryo held fast to Cyberdramon as he flew toward the city.
It would have been easy for them to miss each other, had it not been for the empty streets and skies. Tokyo was in danger of a massive invasion from the Mirror World. There wasn't time to evacuate, so people locked down inside their homes. And no planes risked flying near the city, thanks to the D-Reaper in Shinjuku.
It was impossible for them to miss each other.
Despite their hurry, they came to a stop. Ren removed his helmet and stared in shock at Ryo and Cyberdramon as Ryo landed and looked at him in confusion. They didn't need to speak to know what the other wanted to ask. It was the same question: What are you doing here?
But there was no time to ask. A swarm of Raydragoon-type Monsters emerged from the windows of nearby buildings, and the battle was on. Without hesitation, both Ryo and Ren took out their card decks, Ryo pulling out his D-Arc and Ren turning to the glass.
If either was surprised at the other's powers, neither showed it. Ryo guided Cyberdramon through the swarm, charged with his device cards. Ren slashed through the Raydragoons as Kamen Rider Knight. It was the prelude to the greatest battles of their lives, and there was no way they were going to lose.
Ryo did what he could to dodge any of the Monsters coming toward him, but even he had to admit it was difficult. In all the years he'd been fighting, he'd never come across a battlefield quite like this before. The Raydragoons were out for blood, specifically human blood, and they did all they could to get past Cyberdramon to attack him.
He prepared to roll out of the way as another came for him, but before he could act, Ren raced in front of him, cutting it in half with his Wing Lancer. Ryo couldn't help but be surprised. He'd always thought of Ren as being like Cyberdramon when it came to a fight—too focused on the enemy to worry about what was happening to someone else.
But now, here he was asking, "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Ryo answered. Recovering quickly from his surprise, he grinned and said, "Nice attack, by the way."
Behind his mask, Ren couldn't help but smile himself. He hadn't expected Ryo to take this whole invasion in stride, much less have the battle instincts to aid Cyberdramon. It looked like their mother was right in saying Ryo wasn't the same boy he'd been three or four years ago.
"We need to finish this," Ryo insisted. "But I don't think I have any cards left that'll work."
"I've got one," Ren said, removing one from his deck.
A fierce wind blew through the battlefield, carrying with it power. It was even enough to get Cyberdramon's attention for the moment, though he continued fighting. Ren's Visor changed form, the sword shattering as it was replaced with a wrist-mounted shield and sword. He placed the card inside the new Visor, which announced its name: [Survive]
Ren's armor changed from navy and silver to blue and gold, strengthening considerably. It was end result of the need for the Riders to fight, win, and survive in more than just the war—it was the power to survive the world. It was everything his life had taught him, every change he'd made along the way.
And as Ryo realized that, he realized that his D-Arc was glowing, as if in response to the power. He and Cyberdramon looked at each other, and at once, they knew what to do. Cyberdramon abandoned his battle and joined his Tamer, who held out his D-Arc before bringing it close to his heart.
A bright light surrounded Ryo, calming, as he felt himself becoming one with Cyberdramon. Cyberdramon's form shattered and became something almost humanlike in appearance, but still clearly a Digimon. The two were one, their powers the same.
Ren realized immediately what had happened to Ryo, and he was amused that Justimon looked somewhat like a Kamen Rider. He could easily recognize the kind of power they had, but it didn't stop him from sarcastically pointing out, "Do you have to announce everything?"
It was Justimon's voice but Ryo's words that said, "For a moment, I thought you felt threatened."
Ren pulled his sword at the same moment Justimon activated his blade. In fluid synchronization, they charged at the Raydragoons, cutting down anything that got in their path. The two warriors, ultimate survivors, relentlessly carved through the invading swarm. It was more than just power on their side; it was desperation. These Monsters were an obstacle between them and their goals, and they weren't about to give in.
The Raydragoons finally decided that they'd had enough and returned to the Mirror World. Justimon watched in confusion as Ren transformed back and walked over to his bike.
"Aren't you going after them?"
"No," Ren answered, putting on his helmet. "I've got bigger things to worry about."
There wasn't much Ryo could say to argue with that. He didn't know what it was that Ren was fighting for, but he could tell it was something important to him. The anger and impatience he'd always had was gone, replaced with something quieter and more intense.
"You've changed," he admitted at last.
Ren looked over at Justimon, forgetting for the moment that his brother had transformed into a completely different being. He remembered the confidence Ryo had as he joined in the battle, the way he'd stayed right in the heart of the fighting to try to take part as much as possible before his Matrix Evolution, and the joy he'd had in the adrenaline rush and thrill of the battle. He was a world away from what he'd once been.
"You too," he agreed.
For the first time, they could see a similarity in each other, realizing that while their paths had been different, the changes they'd taken part in were very similar. They'd had to change their entire perspective on the world, stop being led by beings with questionable goals, and discover what strength really was. They were soldiers, they were survivors, and they were brothers. Somehow, that made it all make sense.
Justimon was turning away, but Ren knew he couldn't just leave it at that.
"I know what I said before," he said, knowing Ryo would remember their last argument and the line he'd crossed. As Justimon looked back at him, he admitted, "I don't hate you. Thought you should know."
"Same," Ryo admitted. "Good luck."
They parted ways, knowing very well it could be the last time they ever saw each other. But if it was, at least they'd said what needed to be said. One less thing to worry about at the end of the world.
It had only been a few months since the D-Reaper, and Ryo couldn't believe how quickly everything seemed to go back to normal. People had been interested for a little while about where he'd been and what he'd done, but it faded into the background soon enough. School started again, and he had to do a lot of catching up to make up for the year he'd spent in the Digital World. He still felt distracted and constricted, but at the very least, he could call the other Tamers to help relieve that. As long as he had them to help him remember that this had happened and it wasn't just a dream, he could survive the real world.
Strangely, though, it wasn't the same with Ren. When he'd tried to call him after things had settled down a bit and asked him how his own fight had gone, Ren didn't have any idea what he was talking about. He didn't even remember their argument about Eri and Osamu and outright said he wouldn't have brought that up under any circumstances. He remembered everything that had happened with Ryo, if vaguely, but it was as if everything that had happened to him in the past year or two had been undone. It was enough for Ryo to wonder if maybe Millenniumon had awakened and tried to change time again, but it seemed unlikely. He wasn't the kind to worry about anyone else Ryo was connected to—he was possessive that way. Either way, Ryo tried not to bring anything up whenever he talked to Ren. Whatever had happened to him that year was painful, and Ryo didn't think he had the right to force him to remember it.
The Digimon Tournaments started again, and once again, Ryo entered. The semifinals were being held in Yokohama, with the finals planned for Shinjuku. He'd managed to get his father to agree to let him go alone, although he did make sure to promise not to disappear into any other worlds without asking permission first—a fact that annoyed Toshio to no end. He just had to find a place to stay in the meantime, so he grabbed his phone and called Ren.
"Ren, I want to ask you a favor."
He could already see the irritated look on Ren's face as he said, "No."
"I just wanted to know if I could stay at your place while the Digimon Tournament is running. You won't have to go this time. I promise."
Ren hesitated and looked over at Eri. They were living in a fairly good apartment now—just good enough for them to start their lives together. She was still in school and he was still working and saving up his money, but it would only be a matter of time before they married, even if there was no formal engagement other than the ring he'd gotten her a couple of years ago.
Ryo was old enough not to be a complete pain, though, and he'd matured a lot in the past few years. He knew how to take care of himself anyway, so Ren wouldn't have to worry about him while he worked nights at Atori.
"Fine," he agreed.
"Don't—" Ren started, but some kind of soft light in the corner of his eye caught his attention. For a moment, he thought he saw something floating by his window, but when he turned to look at it directly, it was gone.
Instead, there was a card left behind on the sill. It was similar to the Digimon trading cards that Ryo played and fought with, only the words "Advent Card" were printed on the reverse. And Ren didn't think there were any Digimon named Darkwing. As he picked it up, he felt something strange—a sense of lost nostalgia.
He held the card as he opened the window and looked out. In the distance, toward the clouds, he could barely make out the shape of a small creature, giggling softly as it flew off.
"Ren? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he answered, looking at his card again. Something was trying to stir inside him, a vague memory that he only had felt once before, when he'd run into that strangely familiar man outside Atori some months ago. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure. What is it?"
Somehow, he felt like if anyone would know, it was Ryo, and he asked, "Is there something I've forgotten?"
Digimon Tamers and Kamen Rider Ryuki are both the property of Toei, with Bandai also owning Digimon and Ishimori Productions also owning Kamen Rider. For the sake of this fic's timeline, I've set Tamers and Ryuki both in 2002. Any and all timeline discrepancies can be blamed on Millenniumon and/or Kanzaki. Or on Digignomes.
Khynika and the name Toshio belong to Ajora, who inspired this whole thing with a drawing called "Akiyama Squared," (deviant art .com/art/Akiyama-Squared-244144021) featuring both Ryo and Ren and their respective monsters' cards. Thank you, Ajora, for being a terrible enabler.
All Russian in this fic came from and , with the insults coming from and . If any of these are wrong, I'm fully prepared to blame Ryo and Ren for being bad at Russian. In case they didn't come across clearly in context, here's a translation guide:
Mat': Mother (since I failed to picture Ren being able to call the formidable Khynika anything less than respectful)
Solnyshko: A term of endearment, literally meaning "sunshine"
Prastite: I'm sorry, formal connotation
Renkon: Not Russian, but a terrible pun. It means "lotus root," since Ren's name means "lotus"—it's what the kanji translates to. The whole scene was a lame joke in Japanese.