[AN: I started this sketch before I even finished "Rain", but I just never seemed able to finish it until now. Six months has to be some kind of record, right?

Reminder: each sketch, piece, etc. stands alone as a work (unless otherwise indicated). So this can been seen as a prequel to "Rain" or it could exist in completely different timeline.]

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elements –fire
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I see it in my nightmares.

That surging body of gray, never motionless. Its eddies swirling, the tide reaching. Waiting. Waiting for me.

The others greet me as one of them now. No questioning of motives, no suspicion. I had joined them, and that was enough.

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Shades of orange, red, and yellow swirled together, melding into one another in the timeless dance of flames around their blue center. A golden aura. The chill of the night was just beginning to set in, the crisp biting air chipping away at the warmth.

The fire crackled, spitting out burning embers and swirls of sparks into the air. Six faces. Six pairs of eyes turned inwards towards themselves.

"Maybe it's time to turn in. It's getting late."

The suggestion was greeted with silence. Takeru cleared his throat, ready to repeat himself when suddenly, Iori stood up, his voice accompanied by a loud crack bursting from the fire. "Hai." Nodding solemnly at the taller boy, he walked off in the direction of his bedroll without another word, his partner trailing slightly behind in the same fashion.

Iori's voice awakened the others from their dream-like states. Miyako clambered over the fallen log being used as a bench. Hikari reached for the proffered hand of the tall blond as Daisuke hesitantly placed a hand on Ken's shoulder. Ken smiled, but shook his head, opting to stay in the cold. He waved for Dai to join the others. Daisuke was about to sit back down next to his best friend when Ken shook his head again, this time more emphatically. The dried, fallen leaves littering the floor rustled loudly in protest against being stepped on by four sets of feet in search for their respective beds.

"Oyasumi nasai."

"Sweet dreams."

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It had been a long time since the others had gone inside.

He had grown accustomed to the silence of the night, with only the waves and the flickering of the fire as company. Strangely surreal, it remained vibrant in the height of the breeze, intemporal in every essence it chased. But it wasn't the warmth of the flames, or the ever-shifting pattern of light that drove him to stay awake. For Ken, it was the darkness.

He stared into it, wondering why it had never left his soul. He was no longer evil, but he could not deny the way it tugged at him Especially when it was dark, or he was alone, like tonight. Daisuke, in his clumsy but well-meaning manner would never feel its touch. Iori, so young and innocent, was too wise beyond his years to follow that path. Miyako was too loud to let anything, much less evil, ferment in the shadows of her heart. And of course, Takeru and Hikari: the living embodiments of Light and Hope. They couldn't even dream of that dark sweetness.

In the darkness of the night, he didn't have to hide behind the mask of a grateful and redeemed follower, for fear of anyone seeing his true self. He, who had not won the internal battle against evil, but was still fighting the uphill battle. 

He shivered in the crisp night air, but the cold was welcome, the goosebumps on his arms pleasantly contrasting with his heat-infused face, bathed in the glow of the fire. It felt nice to breathe deeply, for once.

Snap.

Ken startled at the noise behind him, whirled to confront whatever wild creature had found its way towards the warmth of the campfire, but instead found a yawning brown-haired girl.

Hikari smiled at him, rubbing her tired eyes as she stepped over the log and sat down next to him. "What time is it now?" she mumbled, shredding the blanket of silence.

He didn't answer and she didn't press for a reply. Then, the unexpected: "You too?"

He turned sharply to look at her, wondering if she really knew or even… He shook his head. No, this was one of the Digidestined; this was Hikari. She couldn't possibly.

She smiled at him again, but this time there was an infinite sadness so strong it hit him in a wave. In the time he had watched Digidestined, both as an enemy exploiting their weaknesses and as an ally, he had seen those brown doe-like eyes fill with happiness, with surprise, with innocence, with laughter, even with rage. But never had he glimpsed the tiredness and hopelessness of a veteran, who had been fighting in the war for far too long and had given up dreams of seeing home again, that filled them now.

"You hear it too, don't you?" She whispered, looking towards him –staring not at him, but past him into the darkness.

As she spoke the words, Ken became aware of the crashing of waves, the hissing of surf in the background, a sound that had been there all night, had kept him awake but remained unnamed until now.

"The Dark Ocean," answered Ken hoarsely. It wasn't a question, but a statement.

Hikari nodded, her eyes fixed at a point beyond the trees that existed only within her own mind. Her voice shook slightly, "It's coming for me. Always here…never gone…why won't it leave?" Her voice had dropped to a dead whisper, but her final words were expelled with enough force that he heard it as loudly as if she had shouted. He had never heard that tone aloud before, only in the depths of his soul, that mixture of anger and pain and despair. Her breath came out harsh, rasping loudly in the still night, sending faint puffs of white steam trailing up to the sky.

Ken had always feared physical contact, had shunned the intimacy, the closeness. But now, he did not hesitate to put his hand over her shaking ones. He did not offer his hand in comfort, but to share her pain. A pain, which he once thought was his alone, but now a link between the two of them. Hikari's breathing gradually slowed down and finally, she was able to take a deep breath.

Ken withdrew his hand awkwardly and Hikari flashed him a smile of gratitude. Yagami Hikari was not a beautiful girl by most boys' standards, but her smile infused her face with a sort of glow that was not all together earthly.

Silence fell again in the clearing as the two of them sat watching the fire. Suddenly, "Isn't it pretty? It's every color the sun has, only less painful to look at."

Slightly surprised by the sudden comment, Ken only stared. Hikari, seeming not to notice his lack of response, continued, "But destructive."

Ken's eyes narrowed as he processed this strange turn in conversation. Slowly and deliberately, he added, "Even destructive things are beautiful, making their attraction all the deadlier. But there's a reason for them. Like the fire. It destroys, to grow more in the turn of things."

Her voice scarcely more than a whisper, "How many flames would it take to change someone?"

Ken had often wondered that himself. How many deeds, how many prayers does it take sinners to redeem themselves? And the question that haunted him the most: was redemption even possible? Unable to voice his innermost fears, even to someone like Hikari, Ken merely shrugged with a lightness he did not feel. "It depends on the person."

She turned to him, her eyes reflecting the flames in a mirror of rich darkness, coalescing almost atramentously against the backdrop of sky. "We've had more than our share, I'd say."

She left for her tent again, abandoning him to his fears

…and hopes. Had they? Or was it just a hope, a fervent wish, on her part? In the dark of the pre-dawn night, it was impossible to imagine that the shadows were gone. But, looking into the fire, he found it easier to believe that one day, it might be enough.

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It never leaves. Always there, waiting.

The path towards the light is harder than the descent into darkness.

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