Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon. No matter how hard I try!

Author's Note: One month later! Not bad, eh? I posted another story that I'm doing for a Digimon Challenge called The Lost Tamer. I'll be trying to alternate updates between the two stories from now on, but that one's mostly for fun, while this one is my baby. We'll see how it goes. If you're interested, go check it out. Don't forget that I answer review questions on the Digital Connections Forum under the thread titled "Blurring Boundaries: And so it begins..." If you've asked a question, that's where you'll find the answer. That's also where I keep readers updated on whether or not I'll be updating. This chapter is longer than the previous one, so I hope you all enjoy it! The story's really moving along now...

Enjoy!


Chapter Seventeen

"Veemon, digivolve!" Davis cried.

"Don't you think I tried that already!?" his panicked digimon replied.

Veemon was waving his arms rapidly as if hoping that if he did so enough times, he would spontaneously grow wings. Davis was very tempted to try the same thing, especially as his words sunk in. Veemon had tried digivolving into ExVeemon, and it had failed. Something was wrong. He wasn't going to be able to spontaneously grow wings in his champion form and whisk them out of the sky. That meant they only had two options: 1) Davis either had to come up with some brilliant plan within the next twenty seconds or 2) they would both become very interesting grass stains on the canyon floor.

Think, Davis, think!

The fog came to an abrupt end allowing Davis to see the ground rapidly getting closer and closer as he and Veemon fell to their supposed deaths. A lightning strike had cut off Stingmon and Ken's attempt to reach them, and Davis wasn't sure where Aquilamon and the girls were, but he somehow knew that they weren't anywhere close enough for a rescue. He thought back to how thick the fog was, how loud the lightning rang in his ears, and he knew that it was possible that not a single person besides Ken was even aware that he was in trouble.

Davis knew that if he didn't come up with something quick, he and Veemon were going to become very handsome pancakes on the swiftly approaching ground.

"Davis, do something!" Veemon yelled desperately.

He did the first thing that came to mind; knowing that it was a long shot and that it would probably not work, he reached for his belt and ripped off his D-3 to point at Veemon.

"Digi-Armor Energize!" he shouted.

Unexpectedly, a bright light exploded around Veemon.

"Veemon armor digivolve to… Raidramon!"

It wasn't a moment too soon. Davis shook off his shock and grabbed onto Raidramon's back armor frantically just as a streak of lightning shot toward their falling forms. Raidramon spun around midair, sending them into barrel roll that threatened to make Davis sick, and caught the lightning strike on the sword-horn protruding from his forehead. The horn acted as a lightning rod and absorbed the electricity. The loud crack of energy from the strike was still enough to make Davis go deaf for a few seconds, but at least he wasn't going to be a fried pancake when they hit the ground.

Raidramon turned them so that they were pointed to the canyon floor, and Davis swore that he could feel them start to fall even faster. He squeezed his eyes shut and started to say his goodbyes to the world when Raidramon shouted, "Hold on, Davis!" He didn't know what his plan was, but he moved from just holding onto his armor to wrapping his arms around Raidramon's neck instead just as he shouted, "Thunder Blast!"

Davis yelped as he felt them stop midair, even maybe fly upward a few inches, as a ball of blue lightning shot out of Raidramon's mouth. It crashed into the ground below them, creating a small crater, just as they started to fall again. Raidramon shouted, "Thunder Blast!" Again, they were thrown back a few inches, as the electricity was shot out. That's when Davis finally caught on. Raidramon was using his attack to slow their descent. He wanted to whoop and call him the smartest digimon ever, but all he did was hold onto him tighter.

Besides, they were still coming in way too fast.

"Thunder Blast! Thunder Blast! Thunder Blast! Brace yourself, Davis!"

He didn't need to be told twice.

They crashed into the ground with enough force to create a crater of their own, and Davis was thrown from Rairdramon's back. His feet went flying over his head, and for a moment, the world was upside down, before he somersaulted and landed feet first on the dirt floor several feet away. Pain shot up from his ankles as he continued his fall, landing on his face where something plastic cracked, and then tumbling over himself several times before he finally came to a stop.

He must have blacked out, because the next thing he knew, people were yelling all around him. He groaned as he became aware of the pain, and he forced his eyes open to stare up into the face of his childhood idol, Tai Kamiya.

"Davis, are you okay!?" Tai asked, his face ashen with worry.

"…Ow," was all he could manage.

"Can you sit up?" Sora asked.

Davis found to his immense relief (and everybody else's, it looked like) that he could. He sat there for a moment trying to piece together what happened and get his bearings straight as he looked around at the area. It looked like all twelve digimon and eight human partners had managed to make it to the ground. Birdramon, Hawkmon, and Wormmon were all back in their rookie forms, and Yolei was busy wrapping up Hawkmon's wing with some bandages. Gomamon had digivolved to Ikkakumon, and he, along with Rairdramon (who looked a little scuffed up, but otherwise okay) and Kabuterimon were using their respective horns as lightning rods as they redirected the lightning that was still trying to electrocute the digimon and digidestined sitting on the canyon floor.

He turned to look at Tai. "Is everybody okay?"

Tai frowned. "I don't know. Are you okay?"

Joe pushed Tai aside. "Let me see," he said before Davis could respond.

He pulled out a pen light and shined it right in Davis's eyes. The gogglehead yelped and turned away from the sudden light. That was when he realized he actually wasn't wearing his goggles anymore. Joe just grabbed his face and forced him to look at him as he checked him over, an unhappy pout on Davis's face all the while. After several long annoying minutes, Joe finally nodded satisfied.

"He seems okay," he said.

"Yeah, thanks for that," Davis mumbled, rubbing at his eyes.

"He's lucky he has a hard head," Patamon said with a grin.

"…Davis…?" Wormmon said quietly. "I'm really sorry."

Davis looked over at the digimon before grinning widely. "Aww, don't worry about it. I'll just tell Veemon that he needs to lose a few pounds!"

"I heard that!" Rairdramon called out over his shoulder.

"What I'd like to know is what happened!" Hawkmon said from Yolei's lap.

"Yeah, why didn't Veemon just digivolve into ExVeemon?" Armadillomon asked.

"You probably would have had a softer landing," Gabumon added.

Davis looked over at Rairdramon who was looking back over at the group with a somewhat hurt expression. Davis offered a reassuring smile that seemed to lift his spirits before he went into an explanation about how Veemon had been unable to digivolve. Everybody stared at him confused.

"Unable to digivolve?" Biyomon asked. "But me, Hawkmon, Wormmon, and Kabuterimon were fine!"

"I don't know what to tell you," Davis said defensively. "But it's not Veemon's fault!"

"Nobody's saying it is, Davis," Tai said calmly, putting a hand on his shoulder. "We're just trying to figure out what happened."

"Yeah," Palmon added. "What made Veemon different from the rest?"

"Maybe nothing," Joe said thoughtfully. He was staring above their heads at the dark, ominous fog that still hung overhead. "None of our digimon actually tried to digivolve while we were inside the fog. Maybe it's some sort of inhibitor."

"Joe," Mimi said sweetly, taking his hand as she stared up into his face, "maybe you could try speaking in a language we can understand?"

Joe blinked before blushing lightly at the look he was getting from his girlfriend. He cleared his throat. "What I mean is… maybe something about the fog was making it impossible for Veemon to digivolve. Davis, do you remember if you were outside of the fog when Veemon armor digivolved?"

Davis was barely following along with the doctor's words, but he gave a small shake of his head. "I was a bit too preoccupied with becoming Davis, the ultra-flat one."

"Well, it doesn't matter now, does it?" Sora asked. "Davis is fine and so are all of we, and the fog is way up there."

"I'd agree, but…"

"Just spit it out, Joe!" Patamon said.

Joe still seemed hesitant, but he finally said, "Where did the fog come from?"

Yolei gasped. "You don't think… from the World of Dreams?"

He winced. "I don't think anything. I just know that if we run into this while we're on our way to try to save TK…"

"It could be big problems for us if we reach him, and we can't even digivolve," Tai finished, finally catching on.

Davis gulped. Patamon's ears drooped in worry.

Tai shook off the moment and forced a smile as he held out a hand to Davis. "C'mon, let's get you up."

Davis took Tai's hand, and he was hauled to his feet. He landed on one foot and moved to shift his weight to the other when – pain. He nearly crumpled back to the ground and was only saved by Tai and Ken's quick reflexes. Joe returned to his side in a flash.

"Davis?" Ken asked, worriedly, giving his friend a once over to try to figure out what just happened.

He forced on a smile through a pain as he found his balance back on his good leg. "I'm good," he lied through a laugh, "just stood up too quickly." The grimace that crossed his face threatened to give him away, so he barreled on, "What's Izzy doing?"

He hadn't even spotted or heard Izzy yet, but Izzy loved theoretical discussions and hadn't said a word since he had woken up. That meant that Izzy was most likely doing something. Something important. That was Izzy's style. Plus, it seemed like a safe conversation topic. Tai was still staring at Davis with concern before he finally let him go and stepped aside to look over his shoulder toward the computer genius.

As it turned out, Davis had guessed correctly. Izzy was standing in front of what could only be described as three ripples in space. Davis rubbed his eyes several times trying to make sure he was seeing correctly, but the spatial distortions did not disappear. It was like someone had taken a knife to the air and sliced a jagged line straight down the middle three times. Each tear was spastic and unsteady, shaking with energy almost as if breathing. Every so often, purple lightning would shoot out of one of the portals, and Gatomon would leap into the air, intercepting it with her tail ring. It would deflect off of the piece of digizoid and shoot up into the heavy clouds overhead where it would dissipate.

"What in the Digiworld is that?" Davis breathed.

"That is what Izzy is trying to figure out," Sora answered, frowning over at the scene.

"It's worse than we thought," Yolei said. "Gennai spoke as if he assumed there was only one portal down here, but we find three."

"But they could all just lead to the World of Dreams, right?" Mimi asked, tugging on her pink hair anxiously.

"They could," Ken agreed slowly. "But do we really want to take the chance?"

"What do you mean?" Davis asked. "It can't be that bad, can it?"

He was still half leaning on Ken, and he was grateful that his best friend hadn't called him out on it yet. He wasn't sure if he was ready to try his foot again yet. It was the same ankle that he had broken at the beginning of the school year. He was pretty sure that his doctor had just had a heart attack somewhere thanks to his reckless action. He was not looking forward to his next checkup.

"Ah, you never got the multiple portal speech, did you?" Tai asked with a wince.

Davis blinked. "TK talked about it once, about how there were multiple worlds, and if they all collided…"

"Darkness," Patamon finished quietly.

"Yeah, there is that," Tai agreed. "But I was talking about the other talk."

Yolei blinked. "What other talk?"

Mimi made a face. "Oh, he's just talking about the one where Gennai told us that there could be a world out there where we are the Digimon or where we swap skins or any other number of creepy combinations!"

Yolei squealed in distaste.

"Well, I say," Hawkmon said, "that rather sounds like fun!"

She glared at him and poked him in the side. "Don't even think about it."

"I wouldn't dream of it, Yolei," he said with a slight pout.

"So…" Davis started with a confused expression on his face, "how do we know which one to choose?"

"That's what Izzy is trying to figure out now," Joe said. "But this isn't like last time, he doesn't have his laptop, and we don't even have cards to guide us the right way."

Tai looked up at the storm raging overhead. "Luckily, our digimon can hold out for a while, but I don't want to stay out here any longer than we have to, especially if the fog could mess with our ability to digivolve. But Izzy'll figure it out. I know he will."

"He has to," Patamon whispered.

Davis gave the digimon a pitying look that was cut off when he felt Ken shift next to him. He raised his gaze to look at his best friend, and he grimaced upon seeing the look on his face. For a moment, he thought Ken was going to call him out on irritating his sports injury from the fall. That was the last thing he needed right now. Everybody needed to focus on the problem at hand, which was TK, not his ankle that started to act up. But then he realized that the look on Ken's face was not urging him to speak up but rather… apologetic?

"Dude, why are you staring at me like that?" he asked bluntly.

Ken winced. "I… I found these. I thought you might want them even though they're… you know…"

Davis looked down and felt his stomach twist uncomfortably into knots in his abdomen. There, clutched pathetically in Ken's trembling hand, crumpled and in several pieces with an entire lens missing, were Davis's goggles.

x X x

From within the abandoned hospital room, it was hard to tell the time. There was no clock hanging on the wall or a window to glance outside. Jim wasn't sure if he had been in here for forty minutes or forty hours, but he was more likely to lean to somewhere in between since his stomach was rumbling with hunger, but he wasn't about to fall over in exhaustion just yet. For being a room that was trying to remain completely under the radar of every other person in the hospital, they had quite a lot of foot traffic coming and going as the Izumis, Mrs Takaishi, and Mr Ishida constantly left and returned for various errands. Dr Kinjo had come and gone a few times, though he seemed to be spending most of his time in TK's room instead of this one, probably to avoid too many questions being asked.

Or maybe he was still fighting with the moral implications of what he was doing. Jim really hoped that wasn't the case. The last thing they needed was to suddenly have to deal with the police knocking down their doors for illegal use of hospital space and who knows how many other felonies they were committing.

"What's the deal with your dad?"

Jim nearly jumped out of his skin. He had completely forgotten that Jun Motomiya was still in the room, and he spun toward the girl who seemed to be quite entranced in monitoring Matt's vitals. When Jim didn't answer right away, she turned toward him with a curious look paired with a knowing smile.

"Yoohoo!" she called out, waving a hand in his direction. "Did you hear me?"

He blinked from behind his glasses a few times before he managed, "Uh, yeah, I did… Why do you ask?"

"Dr Kido is only the most renowned doctor in Japan, but we're relying on a total stranger to help us with this," Jun pointed out. "There's a story there."

Jim winced but made no move to answer her; he wasn't sure how to answer her.

That didn't seem to deter Jun at all. She just put a thoughtful finger to her chin as she said, "Let's see… if I can guess on the first try, you owe me lunch. Not from the hospital cafeteria."

He blinked. "What…?"

"I'm thinking absent father, realistic man, not a big believer in the Digital World, which means he's probably not a big fan of your career choice, because you're the Digital World Researcher, right?"

Jun spoke as if she made it all up off the top of her head, but she was right on every single point, leaving Jim with a gaping-mouth shocked look. He was frozen as he stared at her, and Jun just smiled as if she had been expecting this reaction all along.

"You owe me lunch," she sing-songed.

She moved about checking Matt's IVs that were feeding him the fluids that he was unable to take in himself in his comatose state. Then, she moved to the machine hooked up to him and hummed to herself as she double-checked the numbers and cross-referenced them with the numbers that Dr Kinjo had written down on a piece of paper earlier. Jim still had not moved from his frozen state.

"How… how did you…?" he finally managed.

"I'm good at reading people," she said as if that explained everything.

It really didn't.

Apparently satisfied with all of Matt's vitals and IVs, she grabbed his hand and moved it to lie across his stomach instead. "Move over, Matty-boy," she said before propping herself up on the edge of Matt's bed.

"Why are you doing this?" Jim blurted out.

Jun stared at him for a long moment, as if she were trying to decide what he was asking, before she smiled as she tilted her head. "Davis is the biggest pain in the butt you'll ever meet," she said with a long-suffering sigh. Then, with a touch of affection, she continued, "But he's… Davis. And he's the only one I got. I have to do my part in making sure he doesn't totally screw all of this up somehow." Then, brighter, she tacked on, "Plus, it's good practice!"

"Practice?" Jim repeated.

"For when I'm a nurse!"

Jim blinked several times. "You're going to be a nurse?"

"I know, a perfect fit, right?" Jun said with a bright (and slightly clueless) smile. "I've always been really good at reading people, especially to know when they're lying, and now I can just pair that with a little medical knowledge… I mean, I had to take biology twice before I passed it, but I did and that's all that matters."

"Uh…"

"I know, Davis never mentioned it," she said with a big sigh, "but he can be a bit clueless sometimes. I don't even think he knows what grade he's in half the time!"

Jim at least managed a small laugh at that even as he wondered if Jun realized how well that description fit for her as well. He didn't think that was necessarily a bad thing, though. As much as he would really rather not have her as his nurse ever, he also decided that her personality – at the very least – could do wonders on keeping even the crankiest people upbeat. That had to count for something.

"So, that's how you knew about my dad," he realized, "because you heard about him through your school."

"Nope," she said brightly. "That was all a guess. Like I said, I'm really good at reading people. You're not getting out of our date, Jim Kido!"

Jim blinked. Date?

"It must have been really brave of you to give up your established career to chase something your dad doesn't even believe in," Jun continued without needing any prompting. "Is that why you're doing this?"

For a moment, Jim just stared at her. Jun spoke so quickly, changing subjects without even pausing, that she left Jim in the dust. He had a hard time keeping up with her, but with her face so open and without any sort of guard, he felt compelled to try to meet her word for word. Considering her speed, he knew that was impossible, but the least he could do was give her something back. He removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shirt as he finally spoke.

"My mom died when Joe was really little," Jim admitted. "I don't think Joe even really remembers her… or anything really before she died, but Dad… He wasn't always the workaholic he is now. He used to be different, fun-loving, really made the idea of being a doctor something to be proud of… That is, until medicine failed to save Mom, and suddenly being a doctor was just a job, a job that he expected Joe and I to follow in his footsteps in and be just as good as. By the time Joe was a digidestined, I was looking for a way out, and when Joe tried to tell Dad what he did, how he saved the world, he thought Joe just had way too active of an imagination, and the Digital World became a forbidden topic in the Kido household." He stared off at nothing, a far off look on his face. "But I always knew… I had been there; I had seen the whole thing. I knew what Joe did, and I knew that I wanted to know more. When I met Dr Takenouchi, I took the chance and left my job, went to go study under him instead. Dad was furious. He thought I was delusional." He winced a bit. "He thinks Dr Takenouchi is delusional. There's a reason they've never met."

The last comment was just a side comment to Jun who had been listening with rapt attention the entire time.

"That doesn't really explain why you're doing this," she pointed out. "There are probably other ways that you could be helping other than revisiting an old career."

"I never hated being a doctor," Jim said. "In fact… I rather liked it. It just wasn't my calling."

Jun smiled as if she knew something that he didn't, but before he could ask her what that was about, the door to the room opened. Jim spun around, his heart hammering anxiously in his chest, and dodged out of the way just in time to avoid being mowed down by a hysterical dark-haired woman. It took him a few moments as he watched her rush to Kari's bedside – and noting the similarities in facial structures and the shape of the eyes – before he recognized her as Mrs Kamiya.

"Kari!" she cried as she stared down at her unconscious daughter with wide teary eyes. She looked around the room frantically and asked, "Tai? Where's Tai!? How could he let her do this? Where is he!? Oh, Kari!"

Mr Kamiya came up behind her and gently rubbed her back, attempting to offer some silent comfort.

"He's in the Digital World already, Mrs Kamiya," Jim explained softly. "Possibly already in the Dream World. We're not sure."

Whether she heard him or not, it wasn't clear. She just turned in her husband's arms and started to cry against his chest. He held her to him without a word. Jim looked over at Jun who was blinking at the couple before she turned to look at him. She pointed toward the door, and he nodded before following her out into the hall. He still had no idea what time it was, but now seemed as good a time as any for their lunch date. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding.

"That's the one part I did hate," he admitted, picking up their previous conversation where they had left off. He glanced over his shoulder back toward the room just before they turned the corner. "Delivering the bad news."

Jun just nodded, not needing him to elaborate.

x X x

Ken stared down at Davis, feeling guilty for something that he didn't even have any control over. Davis sat and stared miserably at his broken goggles like he had lost an old friend. Ken didn't have the heart to interrupt him, but he also didn't feel right leaving his best friend's side. So, he just stood there, waiting for him to say something to show that he was going to be okay. Not that Ken had any doubt, but the reassurance would be nice.

"This sucks," Davis muttered before pocketing the broken goggles.

Finally. Something.

"Davis," Ken said quietly to get his attention.

Davis looked up at him, and Ken fidgeted nervously under his friend's stare. He already looked pretty dejected, and the last thing he wanted to do was make his life a bit harder, but…

"About your ankle…?"

The gogglehead groaned. "This day just keeps getting better and better."

Ken frowned. "You did hurt it again, didn't you? It wasn't just my imagination."

"I'm fine," Davis said waving it off.

"You need to tell somebody," Ken continued, refusing to let his best friend's flippancy get to him. "Ignoring it will only make it worse. Somebody should wrap it for you. It'll at least make it easier for you to walk on."

"I just need to stay off of it for a few minutes, that's all!" Davis protested. Then, quieter, he added, "…Ken, please?"

The former boy genius blinked as he saw something in Davis's eyes that he hadn't seen in quite a while: vulnerability. Even when Davis had been hurt and lying in the soccer field all those weeks ago, he had been strong and unwavering, so to see that expression on his face as he practically begged him not to say anything left Ken in an uncomfortable position. Going against his better judgment, he nodded slowly, and Davis let out a sigh of relief.

"Let it rest," he said lamely, knowing that was the best he was going to get out of him.

That careless grin back in place, Davis saluted him. Ken hesitated for a moment long before he finally walked away from him, not knowing what else to say. He didn't understand what all was going on inside Davis's head right now, and he wasn't sure if he ever would. Sometimes Davis was so strong that it was easy to forget that even he had off days, but today seemed like a really bad day to have an off day.

Shaking himself of his concern, Ken joined the gathered digidestined and digimon who weren't on lightning duty. Everybody was gathered around Izzy who was pacing back and forth in front of the three tears in space. Every so often, Gatomon would leap up to catch a lightning strike with her tail ring. Armadillomon was in on the action, too. Having discovered that his shell could be used to repel the lightning as well, he was leaping into the air, curling into a ball, and taking the lightning strikes that Gatomon missed. It had become something of a game. Patamon, Wormmon, Gabumon, and Hawkmon were applauding at every spectacular save.

"Izzy, we can't sit here all day!" Tai said. His eyebrow was twitching with impatience. "My sister needs us!"

"I know that, Tai!" Izzy snapped. "But do I need to remind you what could happen if we choose the wrong portal?"

Tai groaned in frustration. "I know that, but we're wasting time."

Izzy sighed. "If only I had my laptop…"

"Well, you don't," Sora said as gently as she could. "Maybe there's only one thing we can do."

"What's that, Sora?" Biyomon asked.

"Split up."

An outcry of What! immediately responded to her words. Joe raised his hands for silence and everybody fell quiet once more, eyes on the doctor-in-training.

"I don't like it either," he admitted, "but maybe Sora's right."

"Joe, you can't be serious!" Palmon asked, scandalized.

Mimi took Joe's hand as she stared up into his face. "Do you really think that's a good idea?"

He shrugged. "It might be our only option. Izzy and Tai are both right. We can't stand to waste any more time, but there's no way to know for sure which portal to take."

"Thanks a lot for the help, Gennai!" Agumon harrumphed as he crossed his arms over his chest.

Tai's face twitched, as if trying to stretch into a smile, before he sighed. "I guess that's that, then. We're splitting up."

Ken's stomach twisted uncomfortably at the idea. With only eight of the digidestined here and three portals to choose from, that means that they were going to be split into two teams of three and one team of two. And without knowing where the other two portals led to, they could end up having to go on two extra rescue missions as soon as they got TK, Matt, Cody, and Kari out of there, assuming that they would have enough manpower to do it in the first place. Factoring in the time difference between the Real World and the World of Dreams, it could end up taking them days, possibly weeks before that rescue mission could even take place…

He wanted to shout, put his foot down, give an irrevocable no to this idea, but he couldn't seem to find his voice. Without Davis at his best and able to back him up to his fullest, he felt powerless. He glanced around, desperate for someone to feel the same as him, but most of the digidestined seemed resigned to their fates. Even Yolei, as wonderfully stubborn as she could be sometimes, was putting on her battle face, ready to take on whatever challenge was ahead of her – and that challenge did not include fighting against this plan that Ken feared was positively suicidal.

"The left portal."

The voice came out nowhere but was so clear that Ken nearly leapt out of his skin in his haste to turn around. Nobody was there. The only person behind him at all was Davis who still sat several feet away from the group. Patamon had extracted himself from the show of watching Gatomon and Armadillomon's acrobatics to give him some company instead. If Ken wasn't covered from head to toe in chills, he would have found the scene cute. He was almost ready to let it go, assume that it had just been a trick of the wind, when he heard it again:

"The one you want is the left portal. The portal to the World of Dreams."

Ken spun around, trying to find the source, but there was nothing and nobody unusual around. Nobody else was even reacting to it either. It was pretty clear from the total non-reaction from the other digidestined that he was the only person hearing this voice. That didn't exactly make him feel any better.

"Ken?"

He nearly jumped again before realizing that this voice was different. He looked down at his feet and found Wormmon staring up at him with a concerned expression.

"Ken, you're pale," he pointed out. "You don't look well. Is everything okay?"

He reached down and picked him up into his arms. "I don't know Wormmon," he admitted, hugging him close. "I… I thought I heard something…"

His eyes widened. "You're not hearing voices again, are you?"

Ken's face colored with shame. Please, he thought desperately, not that again.

Before he could respond, Tai called out to get everybody's attention. He was putting everybody into their groups and assigning them which portal they were going to go through. Ken felt his stomach clench uncomfortably again.

"Listen to me, Ken. It's the left portal. You have to hurry."

Throwing all caution to the wind, Ken cried, "WAIT!" Everybody froze before turning to stare at him. He went red under their stares, but he knew that he couldn't back down now. "It's the left portal. That's the one we want."

Yolei stepped up to him. "Uh… not to doubt you or anything, but how do you know that?"

"Yes, Ken," Hawkmon said, coming to his partner's aid, "tell us. The knowledge does seem quite random!"

"I… I don't know," he said. He didn't feel like trying to explain the voice he heard; he didn't think it would make his words sound that much more believable. "I just do. It's the left portal."

"If you're wrong…" Tai started.

"I'm not wrong!" Ken snapped with a lot more conviction than he realized he had.

"If Ken says it's the left one, then it's the left one," Davis said suddenly from his side.

When he had moved to join the group, Ken wasn't sure, but he had never been more grateful for Davis's support than in that moment.

Tai turned to Izzy. "What do you think?"

"I think we should listen to him," Izzy said.

Ken blinked in surprised. "You do?"

He smiled. "Staying together is always the preferable option, and if somebody has some idea on which one we should choose, we should listen to it." He winced and turned to Sora. "No offense."

She held up her hands. "None taken. I definitely prefer having a direction than walking in blindly."

Tai nodded. "Okay. Then, it's agreed. We're all going into the left one."

Yolei joined Ken on his other side and took his hand into her own. She smiled up at him, her face radiating pride and complete and utter trust. Ken felt his stomach do flip flops like it often did when he was around his girlfriend. Even though they had been dating for a while, it still felt so new and fragile, like anything he did could end it at any moment. And yet Yolei always remained faithfully at his side. Her sure hoped this wasn't the decision that did them in.

That did them all in.

"Everybody, gather up!" Tai announced.

The two champions and one armor digimon backed up, tightening the circle around them as everybody gathered in front of the left most tear in space. Tai held up his digivice and the other seven digidestined followed his action, Ken among them. Light surrounded them as Ikkakumon, Kabuterimon, and Raidramon de-digivolved, and everybody's digivices activated as they were sucked into the portal. As Ken felt a tug on his naval, he couldn't help but hope that he was right.

If you are who I think you are… I really hope you weren't lying… I really hope you're on our side… I hope you really are just trying to give us a helping hand instead of lead us astray… We could really use a little bit of help right now, and I don't want to be the one that causes us to fail… Please, please, be on our side…

Oikawa.

x X x

TK sent a furtive glance toward the door where Kari had disappeared two seconds ago before he returned his attention onto his brother. "If you have something to say, then say it," he mumbled, sounding embarrassed.

Matt immediately understood why. Even after Matt had interrupted the kiss (a scene that he would never be able to wash from his mind, thank you very much), the two brand new lovebirds had gotten lost gazing into each other's eyes. As far as they were concerned in that moment, nobody else beyond the dream balcony even existed. Matt was pretty sure that he could have slipped away without either of them noticing or even remembering he had ever been there, but he wanted to talk to TK, even more so after catching him kissing Kari.

He wasn't exactly upset by what he had caught them doing. Though he initially had a moment of thinking that they were both too young for dating, he realized that he was pretty off base with that, especially considering his own dating history. Somewhere between summer camp seven years ago and a traumatic basketball injury, TK had grown up, and Kari had refused to be left behind. Now, they were choosing to continue growing together, and Matt couldn't fault them for that. He couldn't even be surprised. Hadn't it only been four days ago that he had been ribbing TK about this very crush? He should have been ecstatic. He just hadn't expected it to happen so soon, and especially not right now in the middle of everything going on.

"What do you want me to say?" Matt asked.

"Well, you aren't happy," TK sighed, disappointed.

Matt closed his eyes. They were sitting on the lone desk in the room. Matt's back was to the perpendicular wall, one leg stretched out across the desk while the other was bent so that his knee could act as an armrest. TK sat at his feet on the edge of the desk with his legs hanging over the side. He was hunched over, the heels of his palms bracing him there, as he stared down at his dangling feet.

"That's not it," Matt finally muttered.

"Then what?" TK asked, sending him a lost look. "I've been stuck in this world for what feels like forever, chased by blobs of darkness, felt like I lost my mind, had my worst nightmares come to life, and finally something good comes out of it… and you're acting like I did something wrong."

"You didn't do anything wrong," Matt said immediately. "It's just… is now really the best time to be thinking about that?"

"I might not have a later, Matt!" TK said.

Matt felt his blood run cold. "Don't say things like that, TK…"

"Why not?" he asked, his voice heated. "It's true! You know it is! And I just… I just couldn't stand the thought of her never knowing…"

His voice started to tremble with repressed emotion, and Matt immediately moved so that he was sitting hip-to-hip with his baby brother. He put an arm around him and watched the top of his bowed golden head worriedly.

"It's okay, TK. Just… calm down," he told him.

"I am calm," TK said, sounding a bit like a petulant child.

Matt almost smiled. Almost. "Whatever you say."

TK took several deep breaths before he finally seemed to get himself under control. He brought his arm up and wiped his sleeve surreptitiously across his face. He sniffled quietly and looked up at his big brother with turquoise eyes.

"I'm not mad," Matt offered.

"I know," he said. "And I know this isn't exactly… ideal… or normal… or how I ever pictured it happening, but…" His expression turned into a grimace as he seemed to realize just how strange this entire situation was, and he gave a helpless shrug, unable to say anymore.

"No," Matt agreed, "but… it's memorable? I'll give you that."

TK rolled his eyes.

"And," he continued with a wide grin, "it's pretty ironic when you think about it. Kari is literally the girl of your dreams."

TK went beat red before shoving Matt off the desk without warning. Matt yelped and barely managed to keep his footing before he started to laugh at the expression on his little brother's pouting face.

"You're not funny," he deadpanned.

Matt grinned. "I think I'm hilarious. In fact, I was thinking of opening my concerts with a standup comedy routine to get things going from now on."

TK cracked a smile. "You might want to stick with your day job." Then, looking a lot more uncertain, he added quietly, "Are you sure you're okay with this?"

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"You just seemed…" TK gave a one-shoulder shrug, unsure of how to describe it.

Matt sighed, though, knowing exactly what he meant. "Yeah, I know, Teeks. Sorry about that. I just… I don't want to see you do anything that you'll regret."

He gave him a confused look. "Like what?"

"Like…"

Matt hesitated. Should he even say anything at all? TK still had a pleasant glow in his cheeks from the kiss earlier, and talking about Kari, no matter the context, was putting a sparkle in his eyes that made Matt feel like he was threatening to kick his puppy. He knew it was irrational. After all, TK didn't even own a puppy, and it's not like he'd ever kick Patamon. But still… He didn't like being the one to bump TK off of Cloud 9 right after he had what Matt could only assume was his first kiss. But he'd started this, so he might as well finish it.

"I don't want this to ruin your friendship with Kari." He paused. "…Or Davis."

TK winced like the idea had just hit him, and he looked down at his feet miserably, successfully making Matt feel like the biggest jerk on the planet. Way to rain on his brother's parade. Matt opened his mouth to somehow rectify what he had just said, maybe backtrack a bit, but TK beat him to it. He let out a long sigh before looking up at Matt with a puppy-dog expression that really should not have been effective at nearly sixteen years old but melted Matt's heart just the same.

"Can't I just worry about all of that… later?" he asked hopefully. "I don't want to hurt Davis, and I definitely don't want to ruin my friendship with Kari, but…"

Matt smiled. "If you're happy," and TK nodded eagerly to show that he was, "then I'm sure it will all work out."

TK smiled back at him, and he opened his mouth to say something else when the entire building suddenly shook. Matt caught the wall to keep from toppling over, and TK fell from the desk, barely managing to catch himself on the edge with his hands before he hit the ground. The shaking came to an abrupt stop, and the brothers stared at each other wide eyed.

"What was that?" TK asked.

"Earthquake?" Matt guessed.

"In a dream?"

There was something in his expression that let Matt know that he knew exactly what was going on; he was just reluctant to say anything out of fear of being right. Matt felt himself go pale. That meant it could only be one thing…

"TK!"

Kari barreled into the room, Cody right behind her, and TK threw himself from the desk to catch her in his arms. Puppetmon's Mansion shook again, the very foundation trembling with the movement, and the four digidestined screamed as they were thrown off their feet. Matt finally understood what was going on as the floor beneath them started to slant. TK held onto Kari tightly as the floor proceeded to wobble the other way. Cody lost his balance, and Matt reached out to catch Cody around the chest before he went sliding across the floor into the opposite wall.

"Got you!" he said.

"What's going on?" Cody exclaimed.

"Puppetmon's Mansion," Kari said, her hands fisted into the front of TK's shirt. "It's alive."

Cody's green eyes widened in alarm.

"For the record," TK said, "I did say it was a bad idea to come in here!"

Any retort was cut off as all four of them felt their stomachs drop out beneath them as the strangest feeling of vertigo took over. Matt looked out the glass door, out across the balcony, and watched with mounting horror as Puppetmon's Mansion stood with them still inside of it. From where he was currently holding onto the wall with one hand and Cody with the other, he couldn't see exactly how high they were, but if memory served correctly, they had just gained about a dozen stories in height. Several feet in front of him, TK suddenly tensed.

"Shadows," he muttered.

Matt turned to where he was staring to see shadows literally leaking into the room like water. Having not been afraid of the dark since he was at least two, the sudden fear he felt at the sight was nothing short of irrational. But considering the way the shadows were moving across the floor as if searching for something, stretching out like fingers reaching for its favorite toy, Matt also figured it was completely warranted. He and Cody scrambled backwards away from the darkness creeping toward them, and he saw TK throw himself to his feet out of the corner of his eye. He ran to the balcony doorway before coming to a sudden stop as the color left his face.

"She's here," he whispered.

The suspense was too much. Matt got to his feet and joined his brother at the balcony archway. He felt his blood run cold. There, hovering several hundred feet away on a sea of darkness, high above the treetop, was the digimon of nightmares. Nocnitmon.