a/n: whoops, I just realized I uploaded the first chapter this morning without appending an author's note, which might make the story hella confusing to those who don't know all the background. This fic is an AU of Tamers, taking place after the canon Wonderswan Digimon games, where Ryo is the main protagonist fighting Millenniummon alongside Ken Ichijouji—all of which takes place in the world of Adventure, including Taichi and the other Chosen Children/Digidestined. At the end of Ryo's last adventure, he goes through a portal to another world, ending up in the world of Tamers with Takato and the others. It's weird, but I'm not making any of it up. The AU element here is that in canon, he doesn't contact anyone from his own world before he leaves and everyone assumes he's died. In this story, however...well, read the summary. Enjoy.
LEGENDARY TAMER, ENIAC said, its voice echoing indefinitely throughout the boundless realm that was its home. BY YOUR DEFEAT OF MILLENNIUMMON, YOU HAVE SAVED AN INFINITE NUMBER OF WORLDS FROM CERTAIN ANNIHILATION. I THANK YOU FOR YOUR BRAVERY AND PERSEVERANCE.
Ryo nodded numbly at the words, mostly out of a sense of obligation. He didn't feel like much of a legendary tamer right now. Mostly he felt exhausted, angry and used; if it weren't for the weight of Monodramon's egg resting in his arms, he might have started storming around looking for something to hit.
Instead he stood stock-still, empty and drained. He wasn't sure exactly what it was that he wanted, in compensation for his grueling ordeal with Millenniummon. Maybe he didn't want anything. But it definitely wasn't thanks.
"ENIAC," Ryo began suddenly, as a new thought struck him. "Those portals I used to go between worlds—are any of them still open? Besides the one that leads back home."
There was a pause before the computer entity spoke again. Whether it was busy calculating, or simply hesitant to answer, Ryo wasn't sure.
THERE IS ONE PORTAL OPEN, ENIAC said. I CANNOT SAY FOR CERTAIN WHAT LIES BEYOND IT. WILL YOU VENTURE THERE, INSTEAD OF RETURNING HOME, LEGENDARY TAMER?
Feeling relieved that it wasn't trying to dissuade him, Ryo considered his answer carefully. "I'm not sure," he admitted, staring down at the egg in his hands. "I mean, I know it must be crazy—the idea that I wouldn't want to go back, after all that happened...but..."
But I don't.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ENIAC said, contributing nothing that would influence Ryo's decision one way or another. BUT YOU MUST CHOOSE SOON, LEGENDARY TAMER. THE OPENED PORTAL WILL NOT REMAIN SO FOR LONG.
Ryo nodded. He'd have to think quickly.
So why leave? He still wasn't sure exactly why it was, that the possibility of another world had struck him with such clarity in the first place. It wasn't as though he had nothing left for him in his own world. After all, didn't he have friends, people that he cared about? And what about his family?
Well, his family was an easy one. Ryo's parents had always kept their distance, never being cruel, but also not so involved in his life that he wouldn't be able to bear the pain of leaving them. He'd been a latchkey child through and through from the beginning, which probably had something to do with his easy success at adapting to the harshness and solitude of the Digital World. Ryo racked his brains and quickly reached the conclusion that his fondest memories of his father were those of borrowing the man's laptop, surfing the web to meet new friends from all around the world.
And on the subject of his so-called 'friends'—Ryo narrowed his eyes, recalling recent events that had half-convinced him already that perhaps it wouldn't be so hard, to leave everyone he had ever known behind. Taichi and the others had tricked him. They had lied to him about the tournament, about everything. Even now, the shock of that betrayal burned, and Ryo didn't think he'd be ready to speak to the Chosen Children again for a long, long while, if it ever happened. The Chosen Children had dragged Ryo away from Ken's bedside while the boy was very nearly dying of illness, just so he could fight against Millenniummon again; they hadn't even had the decency to be honest with him about it from the start.
Recalling suddenly the artificial likeness of his friend that Millenniummon had sent, the one that called itself "Digimon Kaiser"—Ryo felt his pulse quicken unexpectedly in his chest. The last he'd seen of Ken, the boy had been recovering in bed from a strange illness he'd contracted after protecting Ryo from Millenniummon's final attack. There was something wrong with his neck, something Millenniummon had done to him, but neither Wormmon nor Gennai had been able to determine the cause. Ryo was fairly sure he'd lived, but that wasn't the thing that worried him.
"ENIAC," Ryo said suddenly. "Those counterfeit tamers I fought, the ones sent by Millenniummon...they weren't actually real, were they?"
THEY WERE NOT REAL, IN THE SENSE THAT THEIR CLAIMED IDENTITIES WERE FALSEHOODS, ENIAC replied. THE PROJECTIONS YOU FOUGHT WERE CLONES, SENT BY MILLENNIUMMON TO HINDER YOUR PROGRESS. HOWEVER, ALL OF THEM APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN BASED UPON REAL HUMANS.
"I know that!" Ryo snapped impatiently. "What I'm asking you is, regarding those clones that were versions of people from the future—the one of the Kaiser—that's not actually what's going to happen to Ken, is it?"
ENIAC was silent for a long moment. Ryo's heart sank.
FUTURE EVENTS CANNOT BE ASSUMED TO BE ABSOLUTE, the computer finally said, sounding reluctant to commit to a straightforward yes or no. AS I HAVE STATED, THE CLONE CALLED "DIGIMON KAISER" WAS NOT THE TRUE KEN ICHIJOUJI. HOWEVER, THE CLONE COULD HAVE BEEN BASED UPON A REAL VERSION OF HIM, FROM EVENTS THAT HAVE NOT YET TRANSPIRED. MILLENNIUMMON'S POWERS WOULD HAVE GRANTED HIM ACCESS TO ANY KNOWLEDGE OF THE BOY'S OLDER SELF, IF HE HAD DESIRED IT.
Ryo gritted his teeth, suppressing a sigh of anger. He'd suspected that answer was coming, but he still didn't want to hear it.
"Damn. If that was Ken…" he began heatedly, but then quickly tapered off, realizing he had no idea what he was trying to say. After all, he didn't have any obligation to Ken Ichijouji—not really. The two of them had been friends, even before the mess with Millenniummon, and they'd made a great tag team in the Digital World, but Ryo could hardly be responsible for what happened to him after he was gone.
Anyway, he reasoned, the clone Millenniummon had sent probably wasn't based on the real Ken anyway, future or otherwise. The Ken that Ryo knew was far too gentle and goodhearted to ever make himself a tyrant over all digimon, and he'd never demonstrated a hint of the clone's staggering arrogance and detachment. Ken had never treated his partner Wormmon with anything less than unconditional love and kindness, Ryo remembered. Millenniummon must have made up the Kaiser completely, just to screw with Ryo's head.
But still...could even Millenniummon have really fabricated a strong persona like that out of nothing?
Ryo wavered, deliberating, then finally spoke. "ENIAC. Before I make my decision, I want to see Ken one last time. Can you get me a connection with him?"
The computer hummed in response. I CAN, ENIAC confirmed. BUT YOUR TIME HERE IS NOT LONG, RYO. SOON THE PORTAL WILL CLOSE, AND YOU WILL HAVE TO DECIDE ONCE AND FOR ALL.
"Well, make it happen, then!" Ryo snapped. "And do it fast!"
He knew he was cutting it close, but this wasn't something he could let go, not in good conscience. With everything that had happened to him the past few hours, Ryo knew it might never have occurred to him to ever spare a thought toward the arrogant clone he'd mistaken for his best friend...but, unfortunately for him, it had occurred to him. And now he couldn't get rid of it.
He was tired of having so much responsibility placed upon his shoulders. He wanted to escape it all, to finally be free of this tiresome destiny that had caused him so much pain. But Ryo owed Ken his life, and more. Ken had always been a good friend to him; Ken would never have betrayed Ryo like Taichi and the others.
Leaving him behind, especially with such a dangerous and uncertain fate, would be unforgivable.
ENIAC directed Ryo to a screen, numbers flashing a program to establish connection he had asked for.
YOUR FRIEND KEN RETURNED TO THE REAL WORLD, SHORTLY AFTER YOU AND HE PARTED WAYS, the computer said, ushering Ryo forward. I HAVE ESTABLISHED A LINK TO ONE OF THE COMPUTERS IN HIS FAMILY'S HOME. IT WILL FALL TO HIM TO RESPOND TO YOUR CALL, HOWEVER.
"Don't worry," Ryo said, peering into the screen with narrowed eyes. "He will."
Already, an impossible, unthinkable idea was beginning to itch its way into the back of Ryo's mind, at the mention of Ken's family...
My older brother is a genius. Everyone loves him more because he's so smart.
When Osamu is around, it's like I don't even exist. I'm just the extra person in the family.
I want to stay here in the Digital World. I don't ever want to go home! I'll bet nobody has even noticed that I'm missing yet!
I wish sometimes that he would just—disappear. If he did, then Mom and Dad would love me, too, right?
I wish you could be my brother, Ryo, not Osamu! He thinks I'm only a bother. That's what everyone thinks...
Ryo knew he was being ridiculous in his thoughts, utterly nonsensical. This idea of his, however faint, was completely out of the question. He'd contact Ken for a minute or two now, just to bid him farewell and dispel any nagging worries—he would make sure the kid was recovering decently, that he was happy, that there was nothing in his behavior that suggested he might one day turn out to become the terrible Digimon Kaiser that Millenniummon had conjured up for his twisted schemes.
And if any of that turned out not to be the case...
Ryo snapped back to attention, as an image of a familiar bedroom appeared onscreen. With a small measure of surprise, he recognized it at once as belonging to Osamu Ichijouji. Somehow, Ryo had managed to forget what would possibly be the biggest obstacle in his plan to contact Ken—namely, that the boy's older brother was the sole proprietor of the one computer in their house. And, to put their relationship in polite terms, Osamu had never been Ryo Akiyama's biggest fan.
Something flickered in the corner of the screen, a moving figure. Ryo caught a quick glimpse of familiar, blue-colored hair, moving out of sight to the side of the door. Which brother did it belong to? The figure was out of range of the monitor, and too far away to see clearly.
There's not much time left, Ryo remembered to himself, stomach sinking. I have to do it now. This can't wait any longer.
He braced himself, taking a deep breath and opening his mouth to speak. "Hey! Ichijouji!" he called loudly nto the screen, heart hammering with anticipation. "Ken, it's me—Akiyama Ryo! Is that you?"
He really didn't want to do this. He might be wasting time he really needed, a chance he'd never get back. Surely Ken would be fine without him. But still he couldn't let it go.
On the screen, Ryo watched the figure start at the sound of his voice. It turned. Approached the monitor, thin, delicate features quickly morphing into an expression of surprise and disbelief.
And Ryo smiled.
"Hi, Ken," he said cheerfully into the monitor, feeling all the tension in his body evaporate at once, like it had never been. "There's something I need to tell you, kind of fast..."