Daisuke climbed carefully down the staircase, blinking at the sudden shift in lighting as he stepped out of the plane. Slung over his shoulder was a battered duffel bag containing a few sets of clean clothes, his toothbrush, a few comic books, and a small, wide-eyed creature that peered curiously through the zipper.
"Are we there yet?" he asked.
"Yeah, we're here," Daisuke hissed back, "and don't talk! There are people around!"
"Oops. Sorry," said Chibimon. "I'm just excited! This is a real adventure, huh, Daisuke?"
"Sure is! And it's going to be a real adventure getting you through the baggage check. You're going to have to hop out of that bag before it goes through the x-ray."
Waiting until they were sure no one was looking, Daisuke slipped his Digimon partner out of his bag and tucked him under his arm. As they approached the gate, Chibimon assumed a button-eyed stare, allowing himself to hang limp.
"What's that thing?" asked a baggage checker, glaring suspiciously at the little blue creature.
Daisuke gave the man his best no-speak-English look and answered in Japanese.
"It's a Digimon, idiot, what do you think?" he said pleasantly. As he'd expected, the bag checker responded with a look of confusion.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"This is my partner," Daisuke replied, still wearing his vacant grin and chattering away in his native tongue. "He may look little and cute, but if I say the word, he'll turn into a giant dinosaur and bite your head off, so you'd better let us through." All this was said in a friendly tone, leaving the meaning lost on the man he was speaking to. Daisuke could feel Chibimon twitching as he tried not to laugh and spoil his disguise.
Just then, a blonde-haired boy separated himself from the crowd of airport commuters and dashed up to Daisuke's side.
"Hey!" he shouted cheerfully. "I was wondering when you'd show up. What's going on here?"
"He won't tell me what that thing is," said the baggage man.
"Oh, that," said the boy. "That's just a stuffed animal. He can't sleep without it."
"Are you sure?" asked the man. "It looks awfully real..."
"It's Japanese. Can't you tell? Much better craftsmanship than you get over here in America - seamless laser sealing and all that. They don't even need to sew them together anymore, see?" He grabbed Chibimon and held him up to display the fact that he was not sewn together, while the baggage man made faces of confusion. "So, now that you've seen that, I guess there's not a problem anymore, so we'd better get moving. Bye! Come on, Daisuke." He grabbed his friend and began dragging him away. Daisuke waved to the still-staring man with a free hand and called out one last bit of Japanese gibberish.
"So long, sucker!"
"Don't do that," his friend scolded. "For all you know, there's a translator around here, or something."
"Sorry," said Daisuke, lapsing into English. "Thanks for the save, Wallace. I owe you one."
"Don't worry, I'll collect sooner or later," Wallace replied. With a wicked twinkle in his eye, he added, "Maybe you could set me up for a date with Hikari..."
"Don't - start - that - again!" Daisuke growled.
Wallace laughed. "I'm kidding!"
"So am I," answered Daisuke, grinning back at him.
"Does that mean I can have that date, then?"
Daisuke aimed a mock-punch at Wallace, but the blonde danced out of the way and made a dash for the airport doors, with Daisuke charging after him. They sprinted through the crowds and out to the parking lot until they gained the safety of a taxi parked at the curb, and they piled in, panting and laughing.
"Well, welcome to New York," said Wallace. "I still can't believe your parents said you could spend the weekend with me. I thought you didn't get along with them very well."
"I don't," Daisuke replied. "Lucky for me, my grandparents outnumber my parents two to one. I fed them some sob story about the great friends I'd met here in America and how sad it was that I'd never see them again, and they couldn't get me out of the country fast enough." Daisuke paused. "Wait a minute, that didn't sound right."
Wallace laughed. "Looks like I'm in for an interesting weekend! Hey, I forgot to tell you, I was planning on getting together with a few of the guys from school this weekend. Hope you don't mind."
"Mind? Why should I mind?" asked Daisuke. "The more the merrier, right?"
"Ordinarily," Wallace replied, "but I haven't exactly told my friends about the Digimon yet. It's hard enough hiding Lopmon and Terriermon from them, but with your Chibimon added to the mix..."
"It won't be a problem," Daisuke replied. "Chibimon's good at hiding. He hides from Jun, and she's always trying to stick her nose in my business."
"Well, if you're sure," said Wallace, settling back into his seat.
The ride to Wallace's house took over an hour, but Daisuke hardly noticed the passing of time. Wallace lived outside the city, in a house that overlooked the cold ocean. The only things Daisuke had ever heard about New York had to do with New York City and its wonders, and it surprised him to hear that the state had plenty of wild land, too. Wallace explained to him that his parents had both grown up in the wide spaces of Colorado and had wanted a place far from city traffic and clutter. They liked their windswept dunes and the view of ever-shifting blue-grey water. By the time they reached their destination, the Japanese boy was so excited to see the place, one would have thought he was on his way to Disneyland instead of a simple house on a hill.
At last they arrived, and Wallace paid for his trip and sent the taxi driver on his way. Then the two boys were left standing at the end of a winding driveway.
"Come on," said Wallace. "From here, we hike."
"Couldn't he have taken us all the way there?" Daisuke griped, lifting his travel bag. "I carried this thing all the way from Japan, you know."
"You didn't walk from Japan. You rode in a nice, air-conditioned plane," Wallace correct. "And here I thought you were this star athlete, too. Can't even carry a duffel bag up a little hill..."
"I am an athlete!" said Daisuke.
"Oh, yeah? Then catch me!" Wallace turned and sprinted up the driveway.
Daisuke yelped protests about unfairness and scurried after him, with Chibimon scurrying behind and giggling. In very little time, Daisuke had caught up to his friend and was matching him stride for stride, even when Wallace leaned into his dash and began running in earnest. Daisuke waited just long enough to make sure Wallace saw the impish grin he was sending his way, and then put on a final spurt of speed and pulled ahead of the blonde boy, tossing his duffel bag to him as he passed. Wallace, startled, caught the bag and nearly fell over as he was thrown out of stride. Daisuke laughed, jogging along backwards to watch his friend's discomfiture.
"Who's the athlete now?" he called.
Wallace, who had stopped running, flashed a grin of his own. "At least I'm not about to fall on my butt."
Just at that moment, Daisuke's foot caught in a rut in the road, and he toppled over backwards. Chibimon tried to stifle giggles.
"I warned you," said Wallace, sauntering over to give his friend a hand up. "We keep meaning to fix that hole. Someone could have an accident."
Daisuke, remarkably, did not come back with a snappy retort, or any retort at all. He was tilting his head as far backwards as it would go, trying to get a better look at the house he had glimpsed upside-down. He flipped himself over, brushing dust off his clothes without bothering to really look at them. His eyes were focused firmly ahead of him.
"Is that it?" he asked.
"That's it," Wallace replied. "I know it's not much. We had to pay so much for the land that we didn't have a lot left to build with."
"It's awesome!" Daisuke enthused. "Man, that's almost three times as big as our apartment! You've got all that space to yourselves?"
Wallace didn't reply, but he blushed a bit and grinned, pleased. He tried to think of some clever remark to cover his flattered embarrassment, but as it turned out, he didn't have to. While he stood there thinking, two small shapes darted out of the grass and tackled him, and he allowed himself to be thrown to the ground and hugged by a pair of floppy-eared animals. They had the features of dogs, but their proportions were more like a human baby's. Both of them had huge ears that dragged the ground and flipped around weightlessly at the slightest movement. One was a pale yellow color, marked here and there with pale green, while the other was brown and pink.
"Hi, Wallace!" they called out. "Hi, Daisuke! Hi, Chibimon!"
"Hey, guys!" Daisuke replied. "Hey, Terriermon, is that your brother? He's a lot littler than the last time I saw him."
"This is Lopmon," Wallace replied. "He's Wendimon's Rookie form - much cuter this way. Easier to hide from Mom and Dad, too."
"I'll bet," Daisuke replied, shooting a glance at Chibimon. "In-Trainings are hard enough to deal with."
While the boys were talking, the Digimon were investigating each other. Lopmon had trotted up to Chibimon and was sniffing him curiously.
"Do I know you?" he asked.
"This is Chibimon," Terriermon answered. "You've met him before, but you don't remember him because he wasn't this little last time you saw him. He's one of the Digimon who got the virus out of you, remember?"
"Oh, yeah!" said Lopmon, his ears flopping in surprise. "You were a lot bigger than last time I saw you."
"So were you!" Chibimon retorted.
Lopmon laughed and jumped into the air, turning a backflip and landing on his brother's shoulders. While the surprised Terriermon tried to keep his balance, Lopmon spread his ears and assumed what he obviously though was a scary face.
"Ooga booga booga!" he shouted, waving his tiny claws threateningly. "I'm coming to get you!"
Terriermon burst into a fit of giggles, overbalancing and toppling into the grass. Lopmon was supported for a moment by his parachute-like ears, but then they gave out with a whumph, dropping him on top of his brother, and Chibimon tackled them both. They tussled with each other, yelping as they tried to disentangle themselves, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
"Looks like they'll get along just fine," Wallace replied. "Come on, let's not stand out here all day. It's going to be dark before long, and we haven't had any dinner yet."
"Dinner!" squealed the 'mons, running around in jubilant circles and turning excited cartwheels.
"Come on, Chibimon!" called Lopmon. "It's this way! Wallace's mom made fried chicken! We could smell it! You're going to have to hide under the table to get it, though..."
Beckoning, the dog-mon's scampered off through the grass, closely followed by an eager blue shape.
"Better hurry," Wallace advised, "or they'll find a way to eat it all, even if my mom's watching."
The boys finished their dash up the hill, vaulted up a small set of wooden steps, and arrived, panting, on Wallace's front porch. While they were still catching their breath, the door was opened by a plump blonde woman with a wide smile.
"Oh, there you are! I was beginning to wonder," she greeted. "It's so nice to meet you, dear. How was your flight? Did you have any problems? Don't just sit there, come inside and make yourself at home..."
"Mom, this is Daisuke," said Wallace, cutting off the flow of chatter. "Daisuke, this is my mom. Mom, don't talk so fast. Daisuke's from Japan, remember? English isn't his first language. He won't be able to understand you if you don't speak clearly."
"Oh," she said. "Well... Tell him from me that we're glad to have him here, and to act just like he would at home."
Wallace nodded and began shoving Daisuke through the front door before she could think of anything else to say.
"My English is just fine," muttered Daisuke.
"I know that," Wallace replied, "but if I didn't say something, she would have talked your ear off. Trust me."
They made their way through a hallway that had obviously been cleaned in anticipation of company (Daisuke could catch a faint whiff of floor wax and furniture polish) and into a pleasant little kitchen full of knickknacks and chintzy curtains. It also contained a round wooden table that was currently displaying a collection of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, macaroni salad... Daisuke's stomach reminded him pointedly about the number of hours it had been since his last meal and the quality of airline food.
"Your father and I have already eaten," Wallace's mother continued, "so you two help yourselves."
"Thanks, Mom!" Wallace grinned at his mother and plopped into a chair, gesturing for Daisuke to do the same. She watched long enough to make sure everything was all right, and then wandered off. As soon as she was gone, three noses appeared from under the table.
"Can we have some?" asked Chibimon, his wide brown eyes pleading.
Daisuke laughed. "Of course! Help yourself!"
Taking this as a signal, all three Digimon clambered onto the tabletop and sat down among the plates, grabbing whatever came closest to hand, while the boys did much the same.
A few minutes later, Wallace's mother saw the two boys emerge from the kitchen, and she went in to collect the leftovers... only to discover that there weren't any. Not only had every scrap vanished, but it looked as if the plates had been licked clean. She did not notice the Digimon smugly licking their fingers beneath the table.
"You must have been hungry," she said in faint disbelief.
"Yup! Traveling is hard work," Daisuke replied.
"Oh, so you do speak English!" she said. "I wondered. So, was everything all right?"
"Yeah, it was fine," said Wallace, "and of course he speaks English. He's not stupid. Come on, Daisuke, let's go up to my room."
The boys scampered upstairs and into the safety of Wallace's room. Daisuke noted that a sleeping bag had been set out on the floor across from Wallace's bed. The room was a well- furnished one, from a boy's point of view: there was a nice TV set, a VCR, and a collection of video game machines. Once they were safely inside, Wallace went and opened a window, and a few minutes later, three small Digimon scampered inside.
"Hey, this is nice!" said Chibimon, bouncing around on Wallace's bed.
"That's mine," Wallace informed him, catching the 'mon in midair. "It's crowded enough in this bed with me and two Digimon. You and your buddy are sleeping on the floor... You don't mind, do you, Daisuke?"
"Nah, this is fine," said Daisuke, flopping down on the sleeping bag. "Makes me feel right at home. Anyway, it's too early to worry about sleeping."
"Well, there's lots of other stuff to do. You want to watch a movie or something?"
Daisuke was investigating the video games. "Hey, I've got this game at home! Only I don't think yours is in Japanese."
"Bet I can still beat you at it."
"Yeah, in your dreams! I am the master at this game - no way are you beating me."
"All right, that's it," said Wallace. He put the game in the machine and flipped the TV set on. "You'd better be ready to eat your words."
"You show him, Wallace!" Terriermon and Lopmon cheered.
"Teach him who's boss, Daisuke!" said Chibimon.
Downstairs, Wallace's mother listened to the noises upstairs with a certain amount of wonderment. It was amazing, she thought, the sound effects these new video games had - if she hadn't known better, she would have sworn the strange little voices she was hearing were real.
Daisuke greeted the next day with a feeling of eagerness. It was a beautiful sunny morning, just warm enough to make going outside sound like a good idea, and he had interesting new countryside to explore and a good friend or four to keep him company. His feeling of well- being was further emphasized by the fact that he'd beaten Wallace soundly in their video game tournament, despite the fact that Wallace insisted he'd found a way to cheat.
Much of that first day was spent outside, as Wallace proudly showed off the wild place where he lived. Daisuke was intrigued by this place that was so completely unlike his skyscraper- filled home. Nor did it bear anything more than a passing resemblance to the Digital World's unique scenery. It was more open, more empty, with no landmarks but the flat blue ocean, the waving grasses, and a stand of trees on a nearby hill that waved mysteriously in the cool ocean wind. The boys and their Digimon passed the time wandering the hills, amusing themselves by having a rather lopsided soccer game over the rolling terrain, laughing as the ball would abruptly change its course and go spinning off in some other odd direction. When they were all hot and sweaty and tired, they trooped back into the house again for cold sodas and movie-viewing.
Wallace's friends arrived a few hours into the afternoon. They were a cheery looking bunch who greeted Wallace with shouts and high-fives, and Wallace spent a few minutes joking around with them before he remembered to introduce his guest.
"Guys, this is Daisuke," he said. "He's one of my friends from Japan."
"Hey, Daisuke," said one of the visitors, a heavyset boy with sandy hair. "I am Stan the Man! This is my boy Romaine, and that over there is Hawk."
Daisuke looked at Romaine and Hawk. Romaine was dark skinned and dark eyed, with a white-toothed smile that suggested mischief. Hawk was thin and bespectacled and looked less like a hawk than anything Daisuke had ever seen.
"Peter Hawkins, actually," said Hawk, pushing his glasses up his nose.
"Hi, Stan," said Daisuke dutifully. "Hi, Romaine. Hi, Hawk. Nice to meet you."
Stan gave Daisuke a thoughtful look and drew Wallace aside.
"You sure this is your friend?" he asked. "He looks like he's a couple french fries short of a Happy Meal to me."
"He's not as bad as all that," said Wallace. "He's a good guy, and he's bailed me out of some hairy scrapes, so be nice to him! Got it?"
"Sure, sure," said Stan. "No problem. So, like... Hey, Daisuke, you're from Japan, right? Do you really eat with chopsticks and sleep on the floor and all that stuff?"
"I sleep in a bed," said Daisuke, "but yeah, I do eat with chopsticks. Even soup!"
"How do you eat soup with chopsticks?" asked Hawk curiously.
"Very carefully," answered Daisuke with a grin.
"So, are we going to hang around talking all day or what?" asked Romaine. "Let's go watch TV or something."
"Aw, we've been watching TV all afternoon already," Daisuke said. "Is there something else we could do?"
"I've got a deck of cards," Stan offered. "You play poker in Japan?"
"I happen to be an expert," said Daisuke, drawing himself up proudly.
"Is that so? I've gotta see this," said Stan.
They began trooping off to find a suitable place for card-playing, but Wallace caught Daisuke's elbow and held him back.
"I'd keep an eye on Stan, if I were you," he said.
"Why?" asked Daisuke. "Does he cheat at cards or something?"
"Well, yeah, but that's not what I'm worried about," Wallace replied. "Stan's, well... kind of a practical joker. He likes to pull tricks on people he doesn't think are as smart as he is."
"He must not pull too many, then."
"Ha, ha. Cute. Listen, Daisuke, I think he's planning something. You might want to watch yourself."
Daisuke shrugged. "No problem. Don't worry so much, Wallace. I've got that guy's number. He won't pull anything on me."
"I wouldn't be so sure..."
"There's no problem. Trust me."
Wallace was not entirely sure he trusted Daisuke's judgement that much. He was even less certain in the wake of the poker game, in which Daisuke managed to lose spectacularly. Wallace was somewhat unsettled by the loss, but Daisuke didn't seem to care. He laughed and joked around as easily as if he was winning. Finally, after Stan had beaten them all a few times, and the game was starting to lose its appeal, the game began winding down and the talk turned to other matters.
"Hey," said Daisuke, "I'm not trying to be rude or anything, but shouldn't you guys be going home or something? It's starting to get dark out there."
"Actually," Wallace replied, "they're staying the night. They won't be leaving until tomorrow morning."
"We're going camping," Hawk informed him.
"Camping?" Daisuke repeated eagerly.
"Yeah, camping," said Stan. "Don't they go camping where you come from?"
"Sure we go camping," Daisuke replied. "I just haven't been in a while. Where are we going to go camping?"
"Remember those trees we were looking at earlier?" asked Wallace. "The ones up on the hill? That's where we're going. There's a little clearing up there where Mom and Dad let me spend the night sometimes, when the weather is good."
"We all brought sleeping bags," said Romaine. "We're going to stay up there and make s'mores and tell ghost stories and stuff."
"Of course you know," Stan said, "there are wild animals up in that woods. City kid like you might be scared."
There was an edge to Stan's voice, but either Daisuke totally missed it or he didn't really care. He laughed.
"They haven't invented a wild animal that scares me," he said. "I can handle a lot more than some stupid animal."
"Daisuke, I think you should keep your mouth shut," said Wallace in Japanese. "The more you show off, the more he's going to want to make a fool of you."
"No worries," Daisuke replied. "I've got it all under control."
Wallace shrugged. He liked Daisuke and didn't really want to see him come to grief, but if he was determined not to listen... well, maybe he deserved whatever was coming.
So, as the sun slid towards the horizon, the five boys (accompanied by three small shadows) trekked out toward the trees, dragging their camping paraphernalia and joking with each other. If Wallace did not joke as much as he might have normally, nobody really noticed amid the party atmosphere. The day had lived up to its promise, and now the sky was clear and spangled with stars, their light augmented by a thin sliver of moon. Crickets chirped, and a soft wind rushed by, making the trees sigh mysteriously. It was a perfect night to go camping, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as they set up camp and lit a small fire. They made s'mores, as promised, and told their stories. Romaine proved to be very talented at telling ghost stories, and everyone was so caught up in the tales that they didn't notice if two of their members kept slipping bits of food into the shrubbery.
"There he was," Romaine was saying, "all alone, walking through the woods, with nothing but moonlight to help him find his way. He had no idea where the trail was anymore. All he could do was to keep walking, hoping to see something that looked familiar, but all the trees looked just the same. Suddenly, he heard a sound..."
An owl hooted loudly, and more than one person jumped. Stan laughed.
"See?" he said, pointing at Daisuke. "I knew you were afraid of wild animals!"
"I am not!" he protested. "I was just surprised, that's all."
"No way, you were scared!" Hawk jeered.
"Shut up, Hawk," said Wallace. "You jumped, too. I saw you do it."
"I was not scared," said Daisuke. "Laugh all you want. I'm brave than any of you all."
"Oh, yeah?" said Stan. "Prove it!"
Stan considered a moment, then beckoned to his cronies, and they all leaned together to whisper while Wallace and Daisuke watched them.
"We've got it," said Romaine at length. "If you really want to prove how brave you are, you can go out and catch us a snipe."
"A snipe?" Daisuke repeated blankly. "What the heck's a snipe?"
"It's this little animal that lives out in the woods," said Hawk. "It only comes out when it's really dark."
"That's right," said Stan. "The only way to catch one is to sit in the woods, really still, and go 'Snipe, snipe, snipe!' like that. Then, when it comes to see what's making all the noise, you throw a bag over it's head."
"Sounds easy enough," said Daisuke. "All right, I'll do it."
"Daisuke, I don't know if that's such a good-" Wallace began, but Stan cut him off.
"He'll do just fine," said Stan. "Don't worry about it! We'll all be right here if anything goes wrong."
"I'll be okay," said Daisuke. "Just gimme a few of those candy bars for the road. I'll catch a snipe in no time flat."
Wallace did not feel that confident, but he was overruled by the rest of his friends, so he sighed and went along with it. Daisuke would learn his lesson. He was also getting the last of the chocolate, which in Wallace's opinion made up for the whole thing. With his bag slung over his shoulder and the candy in his back pocket, he trudged off into the dark woods. They heard him rustling through the underbrush, and then silence. A few minutes later, they heard Daisuke calling loudly, "Snipe, snipe, snipe! Snipe, snipe, snipe!" Stan and his friends sniggered uncontrollably.
"That wasn't very funny," said Wallace.
"Yeah, well, he deserved it," Stan replied. "Bragging like that... he won't think he's so cool when he comes back empty-handed. Anybody stupid enough to fall for that old gag..."
"Maybe so," said Wallace, but he still didn't feel too good about it.
The next morning, they awoke to find a cheery and wide-awake Daisuke sitting next to the remains of the fire, watching to see if they were ready to get up yet. Wallace was the first to wake up and spot him.
"Glad to see you made it back in one piece," he said, carefully crawling out of his sleeping bag and stretching.
"Sure I did. I thought you knew me better than that," Daisuke replied.
"Gave up on the snipe-hunting, huh?" said Romaine.
"Nope," answered Daisuke, grinning. "It just doesn't take me long to catch a snipe."
"Huh?" said Hawk sleepily. "But there's no such thing as a-"
"Shut up," said Stan. "What do you mean, it doesn't take you long to catch a snipe?"
"I mean," Daisuke said patiently, "it doesn't take me long to catch a snipe. It only took me a couple hours, so then I came back here and went to sleep again."
"Oh," said Stan. "So... where is it?"
Daisuke pointed to his bag. As they watched, it gave a small wiggle. Hawk jumped backwards a bit.
"I don't believe it," said Stan. "It's just a squirrel or something."
"Don't be stupid," Romaine told him. "He's not going to catch a squirrel out there carrying on like that."
"Oh, yeah? Then let's open it up and see what's in there."
Before anyone could make a move, Stan had walked over and unzipped the bag. A small blue creature jumped out.
"Snipe!" said Chibimon, blinking his huge brown eyes up at them. "Snipe, snipe, snipe!"
There was a moment of stunned silence. Daisuke grinned.
"See?" he said to Wallace. "I told you I had it all figured out."
Wallace's parents drove Daisuke to the airport later that day. He'd been given a hero's goodbye by Wallace's friends, with many invitations to come back and visit again soon.
"I've got to admit, that was a pretty slick stunt you pulled," said Wallace.
"One of my better moves," said Daisuke. "Chibimon gets all the credit for acting talent... and it was his idea to take all the candy with us."
"I should have known!" Wallace laughed. "Well, I have to say, it's been interesting... and fun. Bet Japan is going to look quiet after this."
"Oh, we stay pretty busy," said Daisuke. "But I don't think I'm going to get too bored."
"Really? How's that?"
"Because, when I get home, I'm going to take Takeru out and teach him how to hunt snipes!"