A/N: This little bit of nonsense was a plot bunny—basically a "reading is good" PSA focusing on Impmon. For some reason, I figured this character would object for silly reasons. As dynamic as he is a character, I feel like all his ranting about Digimon pride were NOT simply rooted in insecurity. It is one of those things that the main brain behind Digimon Tamers insisted on in his notes all the time—Digimon are fundamentally Digimon, ergo, not human. This thing threatened to grow seriously out of control, because it made me think about how writing is communication, and the theme of communication runs very thick in the Digimon Tamers series—and playing around with that theme in this world after the series finale could be really interesting—but I almost seriously derailed myself. So I cut this thing back a bit to focus on the silly PSA bit. I can't say I'm super happy with it, and it is a child of plot bunny as much as it was of me procrastinating on studying. Constructive criticism is always appreciated! Hope you enjoy!
Oh, note that 'Terada' seems to be a common fannon last name for Ai and Makoto, as they don't have an official one in cannon, which is why I'm using it.
"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant, and interesting."—Aldous Huxley
To Light a Fire
July sucked. The air was thick, damp and disgusting, like a sweaty gym sock, and if the sticky heat that threatened to suck your insides out through the soles of your feet didn't have you soaked then the nasty blood-warm drizzle that just started up would. At first Impmon was panicky at the stifling heat—it was like trying to breathe underwater!—but eventually decided that getting that worked up required a little too much energy. He'd be inside lolling around in front of a fan or something, but he still didn't like the idea of being in the house by himself when his Tamers mother was the only other person there. Better just to wait for their school to get out and surprise them when they got back.
Although he'd kill for one of those frozen orange juice cubes he knew were sitting in the freezer...no wait, Ai had let Mako have the last one the night before. Nuts!
He wondered if there was a way he could communicate with Mrs. Terada to convince her to get more orange juice next time she went to the market without actually talking to her face to face. He wasn't scared of his Tamers parents, or nothing, he was just…waiting for the perfect window of opportunity. That's right.
He was right about to hop over the sign that marked the entrance of Shinjuku Central Park when he noticed something that hadn't been there before. A big piece of paper, bright yellow and printed with bold black characters had been taped neatly to the front. Impmon glanced around. Most paper out in this heat was buckling or curling under the heat and wetness. This had been put here recently.
Welp, not like he could read it anyway. Still, it paid to notice. On his way in, he noticed that there were not as many people as usual lollygagging around the park. Weird, he kind of expected more—there was a water fountain to play in, after all.
He made sure to climb a tree that was close enough to the fountain so that if the breeze allowed it he'd get a facefull of nice cold mist before settling on a thick shady branch and flopping on his belly. Even the bark of the branch he was lying on felt uncomfortably warm and gross, but it'd do for now. He briefly considered going to Guilmon's little hideout to see if it was any cooler there, but banished the thought. He didn't really feel like moving anymore, and there was no fountain-mist where Guilmon was…on this note, Impmon found himself shifting without thinking into a more comfortable position before drifting off into sleep.
"You'd better not be wasting my time."
"I swear, boss!"
"You saw one? A Digimon?"
"What else could it be?"
"Yeah, whatever. Show me." Goro tried hard to inject as much exasperation in his voice as possible, shoving his left hand in his pocket and jangling the coins he and his two lackies beat off some kids in the park earlier that afternoon. He didn't want Kouta or Yoshiro to think he was too interested and that Kouta had the one up on him.
He couldn't deny his interest, though. Like pretty much everyone else in the country, he'd seen images of Digimon on the news from a few months ago, but he thought that the government had said there'd be no more Digimon after that. So how could Kouta have seen one?
Then again, he thought with a grin, tapping his pole against his back. He didin't have a knife, but this pipe was broken off and sharp—and he liked it that way, it made him feel more dangerous and cool—since when has the government told the truth about anything?
Actually, he'd be feeling pretty dangerous and cool already, even if he didn't have his broken pipe. For one, his two lackies weren't nearly as tall or as big as he was, and his pipe was much more impressive than their old baseball bats. But more importantly on the way in, he'd spotted a warning sign taped to the entrance sign of the park, warning the gentle masses about a "suspicious gang of Yankees" and to "be very careful, as these delinquents have already beaten and robbed several people." There were some added bits about how the police were looking for them, but Goro didn't bother to read the rest.
"Over here, boss!"
His two cronies were standing under one of the trees near the fountain, pointing upwards. He ran over and stared up. He blinked.
"Where is it?"
"Right over there, on that middle-ish branch. Shh, I think it's sleeping!"
Goro made a dismissive noise. Best not to get his hopes up, who knows what Kouta actually saw, it was probably just a cat or something…he looked up.
Whatever it was kind of in the shadows, but the first thing he noticed was a tail, dangling over the side of the branch. His eyes initially wanted to tell him it was a cat or something, but first off, there were no purple cats, and none that were roughly the size of a little kid.
After the initial shock wore off—"It's little!"
"Who cares?" Youshiro's voice was shrill with excitement, "It's a real live Digimon!"
"Exactly, idiot!" Goro snapped. He straightened, putting his hands behind his head, smirking. "I'll bet its worth something. A lot, probably. Get it."
Kouta stared at him. "You want us to grab that thing?"
Youshiro nodded, "Some of those things can shoot fire and explosives, boss!"
Goro snorted at them, "Yeah, the big ones! You're gonna tell me you're afraid of that little thing? You guys are pathetic. But I'm gonna catch that thing and with whatever I get from it have a nice time in Kabuki-cho, and if you don't want any of that action, fine by me."
After a little hemming and hawing, both of his lackeys agreed. They weren't afraid of that thing! Yeah right. Well, whatever. First, they needed something to catch it with. After casting around for a little while, they found a homeless guy with a tatty cloth bag that seemed about the right size.
Goro decided that he'd need to get a camera from somewhere and take picture before he sold the thing. He liked the idea of being known as the guy who defeated a Digimon with nothing but a broken pipe. Now that was badass.
"Hey, Yoshiro, give me that mace you swiped off your sister!" he demanded. Youshiro was surprised, no doubt he was recalling the time that Goro had derided the mace as a stupid girly weapon, but if the little man had any brains he wouldn't remind him of that out loud.
Impmon found himself startled into the waking world by a burst of pain—the horrible ringing kind that happened because you didn't brace for it—and the stomach-leaping-into-mouth sensation of falling. Someone had grabbed his tail, and his eyes weren't even open when he bashed his head on the ground.
He'd barely opened them when something long and sharp was on a crash course for his face. Instinct kicked in—he dodged the blow and made sure he had the tree to his back before glaring balefully at his attackers, face scrunched in a snarl.
They were three…humans? Kids—or were they adults? It was kind of hard to tell, but they were at least older than Rika and Takato and the older tamers. The one in the middle had crappily bleached hair that made his head look like was on fire. He was smelly, and gripping a long broken piece of pipe that looked pretty sharp. The two goons on the side were smaller, and holding baseball bats. One had positioned himself just behind the tree, and the closer one had a bag.
"What's the big idea? Who do you ugly clowns think you are?"
"It talks!" One of the little ones said. Impmon frowned.
"Of course I talk! I'm more surprised to find that you guys have the brains to form a simple sentence, if you're stupid enough to attack me! Do you have any idea how easy it would be for me to reduce you to little piles of scorched moron? But," he lit one of his fingers and allowed himself a smirk—he noticed that all three of them flinched, which was good—"I'll be a gracious host and let you losers run while you can!" he flung the fireball at their feet, where it popped and singed the grass.
None of the thugs moved. Impmon frowned. A year ago, he might have gone in fireballs blazing, but now that didn't seem like such a great idea. The fighting instinct was there pushing against the already thin confines of his self-control, but beating up humans seemed like both a bad idea and a waste of time.
These guys weren't worth the effort anyway. Some humans were so thick it made him feel dumber just to think about it—gave the good ones a bad name!
He snorted with contempt. "What, you so scared o' me you can't run away? Eh, whatever. I got better things to do than beat up on a bunch of bullies. Catch ya never!"
He made as if to vault over the Fire-Head's head, but at the arc of his leap, something shiny flashed and there was a hissing sound, followed by a stabbing, red-hot pain in his eyes. He yelped and flinched mid-leap—the contortion wrecked his trajectory and send him crashing to the ground.
How did they do that? What did they do to him? He started to turn around, snarling, when something sharp scraped between his shoulder blades, raking a gash through fur and flesh. He could already feel the blood welling up, stinging and hot.
"The bag, Youshiro, the bag!"
He forced his eyes open, watering and blurry just in time to see a dark shape envelop the rest of his vision. Adrenaline surged through his veins—these guys asked for it!
"Infernal Funnel!" The bag exploded into little flames, the small concussive wave at least had the effect of forcing his attackers back. Impmon snarled, squinting as he advanced. These guys had asked for it, and now, he was going to let them have it—
Something furry grabbed him from behind and spirited him away with a leap and a flash.
"Why did you do that? I coulda handled those guys no problem and with one arm tied behind my back!"
"Don't rub your eyes. That will only make it worse. Here. Open them." Cold water splashed onto his nose and very determinedly shut eyes, causing him to splutter as he inhaled some of the water. "I have no doubt you could have dealt with them. That's the problem. Rika and the others want us to keep a low profile for now. Attacking human children isn't the best way to go about that."
"They started it," Impmon muttered. He cracked a painful eye open and splashed in more water. It stung, and he still couldn't see very well, but at least now he could at least squint. As far as he could tell, Renamon had spirited them away under a bridge on the bank of a canal, if the damp concrete and shade over his head were any sign. "While we're at it, it seems kinda convenient you were right there—I'm startin' to sense a pattern here." Halfway through this thought he'd started gesticulating at her with his fist, but he'd stopped, as the movement aggravated the wound on his back. Well that was just perfect, it was completely out of his reach.
"Let me see that." Renamon said. He could see the blurry outline of her paw reaching for him. He flinched away.
"Huh? What for, I can hardly feel it."
"I hardly think that that boy's broken pipe was sanitary, and in this heat it wouldn't take long for your wound to get infected. You don't want to go home to your Tamers with an infected gash, do you?"
Any further resistance on Impmon's part was both futile and halfhearted at best. Most of his friends had seen him far more vulnerable and injured than this before. Besides, Rika and Renamon had personally carried him out of near-death situations on at least two occasions, so this wasn't that big a deal. But a guy had to maintain at least some semblance of dignity!
He felt like a newborn kitten—Renamon had removed his bandana and was holding him against her chest to keep him steady while she cleaned the cut. Her tongue was velvety and cool compared to the hot sticky blood and needly pain.
One day he'd like to help one of them for a change. He'd played hero a grand total of once in his life successfully, and the second time he'd tried, well…
"So, you gonna clue me in, toots? Why were you followin' me this time?"
"I wasn't following you," Renamon replied between licks, "I came to warn you." She paused, long enough to pull a crumpled piece of paper out of her sleeve before resuming her task. "It seems I didn't make it in time to keep you out of trouble."
It was that yellow sign at the entrance to the park.
Impmon felt his face flush a little. "Um, well, that's just great. Thanks for that."
He felt no physical change in Renamon, but her voice betrayed a light note of surprise. "You can't read?"
Impmon squirmed. "Ahh, who needs reading? Humans, that's who. Digimon don't need squiggles on paper to get their point across! Besides, I seem to have done just fine without it the whole time I've been here!"
"Impmon," Renamon said, smoothing the fur on his back. It felt a lot cleaner, now, "Do you agree that this world is your home?"
Impmon twitched his head as if he was going to turn and look at her to answer, but decided against it. Not like he could see anyways. Renamon continued, "If so, don't you think it's important to learn its ways? That sign I brought is a warning against hoodlums in the park. Had you known, you might not be in this situation right now.
To survive in the Digital World, we had to become what we had to in order to survive. Now that we are here, we must change again. Reading is an important skill."
His tail twitched. He was a Digimon. But in living in the human world—with his Tamers, as he should, he had found himself changing. It was not only easier to stifle violent impulses, it become almost second nature. He no longer felt like he had to prove his strength to the world because he had it now, and even Calumon didn't make him puff up with aggression. Even the hunger to load data had dulled. But as much trouble as those things sometimes were, he wasn't sure they'd ever really go away, nor was he sure he wanted them to. Fighting was part of what they were.
Before his reformation—and even after it—he still liked to keep an eye on what his friends were up to, but one that still managed to make his fur stand up was Terriermon. He still didn't really love the guy—and he was certain that this feeling was mutual—even though they both respected each other as teammates and allies. But watching Terriermon reading a book with Henry, or letting Suzie dress him up like a doll, or even learning computers with his Tamer, typing, or using the phone— it all just seemed so uncanny, and weird to watch. "I just wish that for once, they could do a little changin' for us."
"I'm surprised you'd say that after everything you've witnessed. Here," she put him down and stood. "It shouldn't get infected now. Can you see?"
"I can see just fine." he could see well enough, he guessed. His eyes still stung like the bejesus but he could see. Blurilly. But he could see.
"I'll leave you with a little secret, Impmon. Humans and Digimon have one very important thing in common," There was an infuriating smile in her voice and whatever she said next was gonna be a doozy, "We both evolve. Think on that." She flicked her tail at him before launching herself into the air and disappearing.
Impmon was struck dumb for a few seconds by this, but quickly regained himself and chased after her for a few steps, shaking his fist at the air (but not too much so he didn't rip his back open again).
"WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH READING?"
Of course they'd bring back a hiragana chart today. Of course they would.
He helped them roll it out and stick it up on the bedroom wall, but after that, all they wanted to do was play some game that would help them remember the characters. The most unpleasant aspect of all this was that they assumed from the get-go that Impmon could read, and did he want to help them?
He didn't have the heart—or guts—to tell them he couldn't, and tried to change the subject.
It was eight o' clock PM now. They'd long forgotten about the hiragana chart, and were currently engrossed in pursuit of the arts. Bright sheets of construction paper with clumsy shapes cut out of them lay scattered across the floor, crayons rolled around whenever a child shifted and there were lots crumpled pieces of tape stuck to the kiddy scissors. Impmon could tell that Ai and Mako were getting tired—the comfortable silence had stretched for almost six minutes, and every now and then one of them would rub a tired little fist into their eye and return earnestly back to the drawing, as if to convince themselves they weren't getting sleepy.
Impmon had spent enough time trying to draw something and got bored with his lame attempts—he wasn't sure what to draw today anyway—and passed the time looking over Ai's shoulder and peeling the wrapper off of a stumpy turquoise crayon.
Mako yawned. Yup, there was the tipping point, "Hey, maybe we should start putting some of this stuff away, champ?" Impmon suggested hopping over to him. He didn't want the kids waking up in the morning and stepping all over their crayons.
There was the initial floodgates of protest against bed time, and cries of indignation that no, he wasn't tired at all, but after a little coaxing, and the transformation of "clean up" into a competitive race to see who could grab the most crayons and put them in the box fastest, he'd secured the boy's compliance.
Ai, on the other hand, "Okay, Ai, ready?"
"'m signing…my…name," Ai said with a determined little frown, the tip of her tongue sticking out in concentration. She was mashing the end of her crayon into the corner of the drawing, as if she expected it to run away or something.
Impmon sagged involuntarily at this, but before he could say anything in response, Mako tapped his shoulder—they never, ever pulled on him anymore—and pointed out the window.
Standing on the next roof over, looking in, was Renamon. Silhouetted by the setting sun, her fur seemed to catch fire around the edges, and even from here her eyes caught the dying light like a couple of lanterns. Her arms were folded, and her head was tipped down expectantly.
"It's Renamon!" Mako said pointing with glee.
"Sure is," Impmon grumbled. "Better go see what she wants."
"When will you be back?" Ai's asked, tilting her head. Impmon smiled at her, hopping up onto the windowsill. Whatever Renamon wanted, he wished that she'd had the decency to wait another twenty minutes. If he was going to go out at night, he usually waited until after the kids were asleep.
"I'll be back before you wake up in the morning. Be good while I'm gone!"
As soon as he turned away, his smile disappeared and in its place a frown of not-quite-annoyance shifted into place. Although, as soon as he'd reached the roof Renamon was standing on, she turned to leap away. He followed her into the gathering dark.
"What do you see?"
"A crappy part of town."
"Do you know its name?"
"Why does that matter?"
Impmon knew exactly where they were. They were in the eastern part of town, where the neon lights shone harsh and bright all night, but he couldn't help but notice that the brightest lights were red. Throngs of people surged down there, one big stream of rowdy humans. Outside shops or whatever these establishments were, there were half-naked human girls holding signs and calling out to passerby like alley cats, while dark men lurked in the shadows with red-rimmed eyes like sharks. In the darker places still, smell and quiet voice of human despair, choked underneath all the noise.
Impmon understood, like any Digimon, that the mantra "survival of the fittest" did not simply apply to the Digital World. He and Renamon had spoken of it once, on a lazy afternoon. Humans for the most part at least were ashamed of that sort of brutality, and it had taken Leomon's death and nearly his own to become ashamed of it as well. But lurking under human "society", this raw, ugly nature existed, and fed on the weak and desperate.
He knew. This was one of the places he'd come to after abandoning Ai and Mako. He tried not to think of those days anymore, but being here brought those memories bubbling to the surface again. He couldn't say he understood the types of cruelty humans inflicted on each other, but he did understand what it was to prey on the weak. He knew what that looked like very well.
"Few things have greater power in the real world than the written name."
"I don't get it."
"Are you sure—Beelzemon?"
He blinked at the force in her tone. He was a little too confused to be really angry, and to be honest, he was getting a little freaked out. Her face was focused, intense made more so by the red lights playing off her face like flickering fire.
"Have you lost your mind? I'm not Beelzemon right now. Don't call me that!"
Renamon's face softened almost imperceptibly. She went back to observing the crowds throbbing below.
"Now you see." No, now I'm starting to get annoyed, Impmon thought angrily, tapping his tail against the roof. "All language is a process of naming. However Digimon don't need to write names down—because we and the Digital World we came from constantly change, especially Digimon with Tamers. For us, a name is simply a description of our current state of being. It's as simple as describing you as Impmon now, Beelzemon in times of need, alive, or dead." She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
Impmon barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes, opting to rest his chin on his hand in what he hoped was a 'I'm not confused, I'm humoring you because I feel like it' sort of way. "Earlier today you were trying to tell me about how much we and humans have in common."
"Humans names sometimes change according to their custom in a manner that is similar to Digimon, but this is not always the case," Renamon said. "Usually, a human name is permanent. It becomes that person's stamp for the rest of their life, their mark. People, like Digimon change, but their given names do not. Usually. Which is why," she straightened, "They write them down. And that should tell you something."
"Well, I can't hear it, so teach me, sensei," he mocked, "Although I've gotta say, I've had just about enough of your riddles."
Did nothing faze her? She didn't look the slightest bit ruffled at the dig. That is, until she freakin' disappeared from right underneath his eyes, reappearing a roof away.
She dragged him back to the entrance of this crappy district, back where a bright red sign screamed that it was the entrance, bringing the two sides of the alley and welcoming those who passed beneath it inside.
"The written word is a gateway, Impmon," Renamon said, looking down at the sign. "This sign tells you the name of this place. Kabuki-cho. It is—"
"I don't need you to tell me about this place. I already know."
"Then, you know what to say to your Tamers, when you warn them of places like these when they are old enough to wander." There was something flinty in her voice, but Impmon was too full of bluster to really take notice until it was too late.
"Well—of course, but, I could just tell them, 'don't go near that place in the east'—"
Renamon didn't snarl. She didn't yell. But her voice was cold and sharp, like a file that had been left in the snow. She turned to look at him, and now her eyes gleamed. "Do you honestly believe that is good enough? What about Ruppongi? 2chome? Susukino? Can you warn them of those places, too? You might have been to these places before, and know them by sight and sense, but can you convey that to them in any kind of meaningful way, unless you know their names? If something were ever to happen to them would you know what to do? Where to take them? You can't read signs. Or even labels in a first aid kit.
Your Tamers are children. If something were to happen to them at home, with you as Impmon, say—choking or poison through ignorance—would you be able to call a human healer?"
Impmon leaped to his feet, teeth bared. Her words stung more than the cut on his back, and remembering her hand in helping that wound heal made it worse. His face flushed and his fur bristled along his spine. He could feel it bubbling up in his guts, extending to every limb to the ends of his claws.
She might as well have attacked him.
"Are you implyin' I don't take my job as their partner seriously?" he growled, "Are you sayin' I can't protect them?"
Renamon didn't answer. She just continued to look at him, eyes bright with the fiery lights below. Then he blinked, and she had gone.
With the fighting instinct aroused and no outlet, Impmon found himself shooting fireballs into the air and stomping on rooftops, getting a tiny bit of satisfaction out of the noise he was making, but not enough to sooth his injured pride.
What was the big deal about reading? He'd never needed it before. He couldn't even picture himself doing it, sitting there on a couch with a book like Terriermon, soft and squishy as a stuffed animal. Next thing he knew Renamon would be trying to get them all to wear pants or something…!
He kicked a chimney with more force than he'd anticipated, crunching his claws and knocking himself over the edge of the building in the process, sending him plummeting into a dark alley.
He landed on a pile of damp boxes and trash with a hollow, wet ripping sound.
His foot still hurt more than his head. He climbed unsteadily to his feet and leaned his hand against the wall as his eyes struggled to adjust to the contrast of blaring neon lights and heavy shadow.
He blinked. Scrawled in spray paint all along the walls, were what were unmistakably words. He ran his gloved hand over the markings. What was the big deal about reading and writing?
It just occurred to him that he was curious about who these scribblings were for. Why had they been written? He would never know. But in that moment, he realized that these words spoke of another side of the real world he didn't understand, and couldn't know. And for the first time, he found himself honestly curious.
He climbed back on top of the roof. His body felt all tingly with a new sensation he wasn't sure he could describe in words—part anticipation, part dread, part excitement: the decision was made, and it send his stomach churning.
A note had been the gateway to his Tamers, after all.
The next day was a Saturday, and with the weather improving, the Terada family had decided to take the little ones to Ueno Park to enjoy the flowers. The opportunity was too good (or bad, depending on which side of the mood swing pendulum Impmon could decide on for more than a second), so Impmon set off on his mission. He knew exactly where he was going, but he nearly gave up three times on the way there. He felt like a magnet being pushed towards its equivalent side, sliding away and around his destination, but after a few hours of hemming and hawing and dawdling, he bit the bullet and climbed up to the forty-seventh floor.
He half-hoped the person he was looking for wouldn't be there, but fate was having none of that. Impmon sighed inwardly, grit his teeth, and tapped on the window.
"Um…hey, Terriermon. I—I need to ask you a favor."