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Thread: Encryption (Digimon - WizGato)

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    Default Encryption (Digimon - WizGato)

    So I don't know if this was in response to Digimon Tri coming out, or if because I wanted to write a Digimon story for a long while and finally came up with an idea. Or maybe it's because there's just a bit of a lack of (new) Wizardmon/Gatomon stories on the web. Whatever the reason, here I am, and I seem a bit excited about it. It's a little weird, honestly, but if an idea really sticks with me and doesn't easily shake off after a while (usually within a week or two), then I go for it. Probably helps I was running off ideas on a couple of people, and they were all "Alright, cool," so yeah. I feel like the story's going to feel a little different from my previous stories, but I guess we'll see if my premonition's correct.

    Also keep in mind that even though Tri has been on my mind for a while now, to the point that this story basically is taking place in the exact same time-frame (2005), and its expected airdate is sometime in April (hopefully), this is not going to be my rendition of Tri whatsoever. Just want to get that out of the way. I have just as many speculations as the next Digimon fan, but they and the season have nothing to do with this story, so moving on.

    The story is posted under my lilpurplebird account.

    Got nothing else to say, sorry. I hope you enjoy, and I'll do my very best to keep the characters in character, as I feel that'll be my biggest challenge in this story.

    Disclaimer: Digimon © Toei Animation

    Rated R foroccasional language, violence, and sexual content

    *~*~*~*



    Encryption

    After six years and a well-intended wish that doesn’t go as planned, two old friends strive to restore what was lost. But to do so, the past has to be confronted, bringing to light some secrets that were best left forgotten.

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    If there was ever a concept of Hell in the Digital World, Myotismon's castle was the foundation. Light and hope were snuffed out from its premises, never to be renewed. All kinds of evil were encouraged within the walls to strengthen the dark, leaving very little room for those few who latched onto their light to let it bloom. Many succumbed to the despair, giving themselves to the eternal servitude of the master, in which death was the only release. It was obvious no goodness and sanity could have survived, even if they put up a fight on the way out.

    In the never-ending maze of madness, one small chamber served as a safe haven from the outside world. Designed from the inside to block out the copious evils clawing at the door and the wails of the damned, two Digimon regularly found their temporary peace, a way to recuperate from the day. Anything they wanted out of their systems, they did it there, knowing the other was supportive.

    They were “friends”, so they say. In public, they put up a front in blending in with the rest of them, the concept of “friendship” unknown to them. In person, painful as it could be, they opened themselves up to each other, with varying degrees of success.

    Gatomon growled from the sting, her arm jerking sharply and knocking the bottle out of Wizardmon's hand. “Don't touch me with that stuff!” she hissed, glowering at him past her bleary vision.

    The Wizard Digimon picked it back up, frowning deeply at the crack on the lip. “Please don't break my medicine,” he sighed, setting it aside. “It's getting harder to come by.”

    “Whatever happened to your 'magic healing' powers?” she spat out, her eyes boring into his skull.

    He disparagingly glanced up, resuming his dressing of her wound. “It requires strength and good health from the healer,” he softly explained, scarcely moving his stitched lips. “Given how deep and numerous your wounds are, I am able to make them shallow before passing out.”

    She “tch”ed through her teeth, flexing her claws. “It's better than nothing.”

    Wizardmon pressed his thumbs on the bandage before gesturing for her to turn around. Gatomon did so, still shooting him a scowl and thumping her tail agitatedly along his torso. Clearing his throat in warning, he soaked a rag with medicine to clean the open cuts. The feline let out another brief yowl, her ears flattened against her cranium and fur bristled.

    “Damn him!” she cursed, pounding on the bed. “It's all his damn fault, and he knows it! Bastard's going to pay for it!”

    Shaking his head at her exclamations, the sorcerer peered at the wounds and clicked his tongue. “I'll have to seal that up.”

    The feline stood at attention, glancing over her shoulder. “What're you mumbling back there?”

    Excusing himself for a moment, Wizardmon picked up the only light source in the room and strolled over to his battered cabinet. After a quick skim along the shelves, he pulled out a small tube that he unscrewed between his fingers. “Straighten your back, Gatomon,” he commanded, kneeling back down. “And grab onto something for once.”

    Brows knitting, she reached behind to snatch his arms, jutting her chin out when he grimaced up at her. “You weren't specific,” she coolly retorted.

    Although growing impatient with her, he wasn't in the mood to argue. Shrugging back his shoulders, he guided her paws to them to allow her ballast, then laid a hand on her back, thumb and forefinger parallel to the wound. Gently squeezing out a clear, off-white gel, he began lightly applying it to the lesion, immediately biting back his own groans of pain from her clawing into his shoulders. She began to squirm and arch, forcing him to press his forehead between her shoulder blades to hold her still.

    “AHH! It still burns, Wizardmon!”

    “Suck it up for a minute,” he grunted, struggling to steady his hand as he began slowly pinching the wound closed.

    Gatomon writhed in discomfort, kicking and swearing in between gasps. Her tail swiped at him once before he caught it in his teeth to hold it still, which only made her move more in having two places on her body stinging. Pushing it slightly away allowed him to close his lips over the appendage, a little discomforted at it being caught in the stitches, but quickly overlooked it to refocus on her back.

    “I'm gonna kill him for this!” she snarled out, her arms trembling under her weight. “Batboy should be the one with these wounds, not me!”

    Wizardmon ignored the small snaps of static atop of his head, letting out a hum at the halfway point. By now her screams of agony were limited to angry moans, though she wasn't settling down and her back muscles kept twitching. He eyed the thick bloody rivulet trickling down and staining her fur, feeling his own anger rise up inside.

    He didn't know who to hate the most: Myotismon for his brutal methods in torturing her and savoring every moment of it; DemiDevimon for framing her to save his own skin over something he clearly caused (although he wasn't exempt from the punishment); or himself for eavesdropping, but was unable to step in before the whippings started. As temperamental as Gatomon could be at times, it was rare she ever deserved the punishment lashed out at her, and even then, it was still too inhumane to be justified. He had only been there for a few months, but oh, were those few months long and painful. All the cruelties of the world under one roof, and even more he couldn't have ever imagined, designed to break spirits and dash hopes—he couldn't believe she had endured it for as long as she did.

    The moment the wound was sealed, Wizardmon dropped the medicine and released her tail with a sigh, shivering as it skimmed along his lips. Her claws loosened their grip on him, but she remained rested on him, her voice reduced to soft pants and whimpers. After blindly searching for the bandages, he skillfully wrapped them around her, her figure quivering each time his fingers grazed her front. Once he secured it in the back, he carefully leaned away to catch her and cradle her, scanning his gaze over to find tears pricking at the corners of her eyes.

    Gingerly, Gatomon raised her limp hands to rest on his own, her head lolling over to lean against him. “Thanks, Wiz,” she mumbled, her eyelids fluttering shut. “Sorry for screaming like that, and making you mad.”

    He lightly shook his head. “I could never be mad at you,” he whispered, more noticeably weary than earlier. “I can get irritated, but it's not the same as being angry.”

    A frown creased her brows and lips. “Why do you put up with me?”

    “That's what friends are for. I'll be here for you.”

    Wizardmon drank in her deep eyes when she gazed up at him, adoring how they shone in the dim light. “Even when I'm at my nastiest?”

    “Of course. Sometimes, you just need to release some steam.” He gently gave a single headbutt. “It's not good for your health otherwise.”

    The tiniest of smiles was angelic in nature, and she bumped her nose to his cheek. “I'll make it up to you,” she breathed into his skin, “just give the word.”

    He lightly scratched under her chin, watching her tilt back as a quiet purr vibrated to life in her throat. “I'll let you know.”

    The flickering light of hope in their hearts rekindled, the two unlikeliest of friends remained in his room for the remainder of the night, not yet willing to let each other go like it was their last time.

    *~*~*

    As her sleep had been light, Gatomon's eyes blinked open to stare blankly at the bright sunlight still leaking through. A prickle running down her neck caused her to shiver, her claws snagging into the mattress before she quickly pulled off her gloves to pry them out. Grabbing the headboard, she pulled herself up, then covered her face when a wave of nausea hit her.

    “Another one,” she moaned, thinking back to her dream that still lingered in reach; no, it was a memory. Never before had she been afflicted with snippets of memories, coming one after the other. Because of its sporadic behavior, they were at first waved off as what Kari called “fever dreams”, as she had fallen sick that night she returned for her biweekly stay in the human world—they were suspecting it was a “flu”, whatever it was. But within a few days, it became perfectly clear (or as clear as her dizzy mind would allow) that these so-called “fever dreams” were too real, too nostalgic to be such things.

    Of course, when she had brought it up to her partner, Kari had a hard time believing the dreams and her sudden illness were one and the same. Not that she could blame her, since it seemed more like a coincidence than anything else. She didn't completely blow it off, though, so she had encouraged Gatomon to tell her in person, or at least write down any and all dreams she had that week. As she was currently at her school, the feline had to struggle to climb down the bed and onto the desk below where a notebook was laid open.

    It was hard to grip a pen when she was both sick and had her gloves off, but she didn't want to make that journey back. Her grasp on the human writing system was basic, but she hoped she was able to convey it on paper, and be able to at least get it across normally when read. Kari had helped with the previous dreams when she was here to hear them, something she was a little grateful for.

    Once she dropped the utensil, Gatomon sat back against the boards to close her eyes and breathe. “How bothersome,” she grumbled, rubbing her temples.

    Her breath hitched when there came a quiet rap at the door, and Kari's mother, Yuuko, poked her head in. “Oh, you're up,” she said, then frowned down at the family cat as it pushed its way in. “I'm heading out to the mart, is there anything I can get you?”

    Gatomon had always felt indifferent to the woman despite Kari saying she was considered part of the family. The existence of Digimon had been known to the public for the past couple of years, but it was still obvious the adults weren't used to them. Yuuko would at least smile in her direction to show she had no problems with having her visiting (more-so than with Agumon, anyway), but it was evident from the subtle leaning posture she wasn't quite as open to them.

    Wanting to be polite, she flashed a weak smile and shook her head. “I don't want to trouble you with that, Mrs. Kamiya.”

    A worried look was visible on her face before she sighed. “Well, if you insist, I'll leave out some medicine and water, then. I'll be back in about an hour or two.” She closed the door and several moments later, after listening to her arrange some items beyond the wood, Gatomon heard the front entrance snap shut, leaving her alone with the cat.

    Slowly breathing through her nose, she dropped her gaze to the orange and white feline, engaging in a silent staring contest. Miko seemed to act like she was a rival when it came to the family's attention, mainly Kari's, yet was wise to keep her distance. The Vaccine Digimon figured she was too different from real-world cats to be considered a “threat”, but it was rare for Miko to get within a couple meters.

    “I bet you don't ever have to put up with what I go through,” she muttered, a twinge of jealousy at the thought.

    Miko still continued to stare.

    Scoffing, Gatomon forced herself to climb off the desk, ears twitching when the cat let out a low, warning growl in her throat. Ignoring her, she plodded to the screen door, disappearing behind the curtain to gaze up at the sky. Not a cloud was in sight in the washed-out open space, and the glass when she rested her paw on it was very warm. So she slept in until the afternoon again, although she had a fuzzy recollection of Kari feeling her forehead.

    “Poor Gatomon,” was what she had said. And indeed, she felt sorry for herself.

    Waving her tail above her head, she watched the tail ring gleam with every movement. She had it for as long as she could remember, and yet it looked better off than she on a good day. Licking her paw, she smoothed out the lavender tuft, then peered at her reflection, noticing her drooping whiskers and sunken eyes when she pulled at her bottom eyelid. Her irises were dull, not a highlight to be seen even when tilting her head about. Turning to the side, she outlined her body shape, wondering if she was losing weight. Though as she thought on it more, that couldn't be true, a Digimon's appearance only changes with evolution or other circumstances. Even after being exposed to the real world for as long as she had been, not once had she gained or lost weight.

    Whatever she was stricken with was taking some toll on her, second only to what she went through as Myotismon's henchman.

    Gingerly making her way back, she frowned at Miko for laying in the chair and leapt up to the desk instead. Picking up the notebook, she flipped through the previous couple of pages to scan them, watching the scenes play out in her head clear as day. The more she read, the sicker she felt herself becoming, but couldn't stop.

    Why? she mused to herself. Why have these past dreams been nothing but memories?

    Looking at the calendar, she took notice of the month: September. A month prior was an anniversary they had reminisced on for years, though more for a different reason now than before. Anyone else would say it was coincidence, and she could believe them if it wasn't so distressing.

    No... it can't be because of that...

    Six years had passed, and yet it was now she has been bombarded with memories?

    Gatomon didn't know how to feel as she let the notebook slip from her grasp. How could something make so much sense while still leaving her with unanswered questions? It wasn't possible.

    Forcing herself to stand, she pulled her gloves through the railing and stumbled to the door, opening it with her tail. She thought about taking the medicine when she glanced up at the countertop, but with her insides churning as they were, she didn't want to bother. From behind, she heard Miko let out a quiet meow, in a language she never understood. Just as she touched the doorknob, she looked over her shoulder to watch the cat pause and sit on her haunches.

    “It must be nice to have no worries,” she muttered, half at the animal and half to herself, then slipped outside.

    The artificial noises of the city from the beep of a mobile to the distant honk from a car muddled with her thoughts as she made her way past crowds that rarely gave her a second look. It had to have been a mistake to go out for a walk on all fours in the late-summer heat, her large ears only did so much with her fever. She was a little grateful her being a Digimon meant she had no limits in staying cool like the real-world animals, only it didn't stop the sweat from getting in her eyes. Stopping in shade to constantly lap and rub herself clean never made it any better, and running was not an option in her condition.

    Her mind drifted to how Kari had always said the Odaiba district wasn't as large as it seemed, that they could cover it all by foot non-stop in a day, with less time by train. Aside from her illness slowing her down, Gatomon could believe her if her past experience in running around the district six years ago had been more pleasant. As much as there was a special charm to the island, it was still difficult to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about flashbacks.

    The short trip to the Fuji Television studios was like second nature to the Champion Digimon, she scarcely had to think on where to turn or cross the street. It overlooked the surrounding district, the metallic ball she was the most focused on blinding in the sun. The humans did a fantastic job repairing it, she had to admit. They were a rather unstoppable species, even if they were forgetful.

    Ducking her head, Gatomon slinked inside, keeping a lookout for security and other workers. Though she could get Hiroaki Ishida's blessing, she didn't know where his office was, and didn't want to interrupt his busy schedule for such a trivial matter. There was also that possibility he or someone else would chaperone her to the spherical office, which her inner pride wouldn't allow. Besides, she knew her way up without having to resort to a map.

    It was, in the meantime, easy to forget the television station was large with many floors. What was like a walk in the park quickly turned into running a marathon—despite speed-walking most of the time. It was tiresome to climb, her vertigo causing her to rest every other corridor in between sneaking past or hiding from the employees. Her mind screamed at her to find Ishida and get his help, but she persistently refused, wanting to approach this herself, and as soon as possible. She couldn't tell time at this point, slowly bringing herself to believe she had been there well into the afternoon. Yuuko was probably home by now, perhaps wondering about where she went, if she cared.

    Gatomon noticed her pacing picked up when she turned down a familiar hallway and saw the farthest wall had a slight curve to it. Past it, she knew she'd have to climb a staircase to get to the top office, where she hoped whomever was usually working in there would be out. They may have known the DigiDestineds visited every year, still, it was always on the third of August, not any other day where they didn't have leeway without permission. But far as she knew, they weren't fond of Digimon, if they knew of their existence. A bipedal, talking cat wasn't normal, after all.

    Silently cursing the lack of blinds as the sunlight burned the back of her neck, she reached the door at last, only to be discouraged to find it wouldn't open. “Damn... they're in there,” she murmured, leaning up against the wall. Sighing, she stared out at the windows, her vision slightly wavering. “It figures it wouldn't be that easy...”

    Her fur stood on end as the door instantly opened, shooting out her paws to catch it and hold it in place as two people walked out without a glance, mulling over documents. She slipped in while she caught her breath, sticking to the right wall as she made her way around to the far windows. It luckily wasn't a large room, and had enough objects for quick hiding places if she needed them. Annoyed she had to still put up with glaring, she briefly turned her back in the direction of the sun while keeping the landing within her sight. She noticed wilted flowers in a vase by the desk, immediately recognizing them as the roses Kari had brought.

    Somehow, it rubbed Gatomon the wrong way to see them in such a state. For one thing, they were for Wizardmon. The other shouldn't have been that surprising as it had been a month, but she couldn't understand how it was the roses were so off-color from their vibrant red despite being in water and constant sunlight. Nevertheless, they were Wizardmon's, not the office person's.

    Biting her lip and putting pressure to her temple, the feline leaned up against the glass, falling to her knees. The inside of her ear was heating up, but she had stopped caring about the sun by then and focused on steadying her breathing. Why was she letting such a little thing bother her? She didn't come here to lament over the roses, even though she kind of had expected them to be in the room, preferably untouched.

    But she couldn't blame the office workers. They probably didn't know the significance of the place they worked in. It was possible they took in the roses every year to find some use for them. Far as she knew, they were decent human beings, just oblivious.

    “It hurts,” she breathed out, brows furrowing tight enough for her scrunched eyes to twitch. “Why... why does it hurt? I don't understand...”

    Then a cloud rolled over the sun, and just like that, her aches were going away, and her muscles relaxing. She slowly lifted her head, able to gaze past her curled reflection out at the landing. Even after six years, she could still recall the scene down to the smallest of details, from Myotismon's wicked smirk as he shot his Grisly Wing at her and Kari to a horrified Tai calling for his sister. She remembered how her determination to protect Kari shattered to make room for her devastation at Wizardmon being torn apart before her eyes, and how the weight of his body reverberated through her feet and up into her core. His quiet rasp of a voice telling her he had no regrets for what he did broke her heart, him smiling through his tears only serving to hasten it.

    But what did her in was the realization he thought of her. She was the last he saw before his eyes closed forever, her name carried on his dying breath. He may not have known her all of his life, but he would be damned if it ended without her.

    Be that as it may, it was like he never left. And that hurt her more than watching him die.

    All of her tears for him had been shed over the years, and yet Gatomon felt she still had a few drops left for him. She couldn't physically weep on a whim, however, as she knew it would slow the healing process if she gave in. She came to accept he was gone, came to terms with letting him go.

    So why couldn't he?

    “Wizardmon,” she quietly started with his name, “if you're here... please listen.”

    It was a little odd to wait for a few moments, but within that time, the atmosphere changed. She couldn't put her claw on it if she could, though she could have sworn she felt the sensation someone, or something was intently listening. It was a peculiar notion she couldn't shake off.

    With an intake of breath, she continued, “It's been six years. Kari is entering high school soon, and Tai is about to leave home when he graduates, so I was told. Myotismon is gone, and all's right with the world. I'm a big digi-cat, I can take care of myself now. So please... cross over. I promise I won't forget you and all you've done, but I have—need to live on without you.”

    Gatomon had heard accounts of people feeling better after telling off their demons, anything from believing they could accomplish goals to a mind at peace. It was sometimes quick, other times a long process, but it was doable. She had always wondered what it would be like for her to be liberated from her past, to move forward in long, even strides instead of the gaits she currently had. Closing her eyes, she waited, counting to ten slowly in her head before opening them back up.

    Nothing changed. The only difference was her heart being weighed down, and that wasn't the good feeling she was looking for.

    Flexing her claws, she tried again, her voice tense, “Wizardmon, you can't be here forever. Please leave this world, and never look back.”

    Still nothing. Maybe she needed to see him, and tell him to his face?

    Hesitantly glancing over her shoulder was one of the most disappointing moments of her life, and her self-doubt gleefully chastised her for it. Just what did she expect? There was no reason for him to show himself to her even if he was in the room. One time didn't open any doors for her to see him whenever she wanted.

    Flashing a smirk, she dryly chuckled. “I'm such a fool.”

    It was then the people from before entered the room, startling her from her thoughts. Shit.

    “Hey, where'd that cat come from?!” one exclaimed, pointing at her, papers strewing everywhere.

    Gatomon bounded for the door on all fours, passing them as a blur. She sped down the stairs and out the way she came, no longer caring about being seen. The buzzing of a working environment soon droned with a furor of people shouting out there was a cat, and others stumbling in attempt to not step on her. If she caught the attention of Ishida in all the confusion, she wouldn't have known. Perhaps later if he ever approached her, or Matt brought it up in passing, she could laugh it off.

    Even after clearing the front doors, she kept on running into the crowd, darting between legs before scurrying up the first tree she saw. The people below looked up at her for a moment before continuing on towards their destination, and the bustling city went back to normal. Gatomon clawed nervously at the bark as the adrenaline made its way out of her system, feeling her fur lay down flat. Her eyes steadily refocused in the shade, although she continued to squint, watching a streetlight turn colors and hearing the low melody give its signal. Not wanting to wait for the next time, she hopped down, making a few humans jump back in the process, and jogged to join the crossing, still swerving between feet. Her ear twitched at a growing grumble of the throng and strangely loud pulsing hum of the lights above, but chose to ignore it to turn at a corner.

    The walk on the way home wasn't any different to the point it was irksome just how widespread it was. Somehow, everywhere she turned had someone complaining about their phone or laptop acting up, or a shopkeeper banging on their TV or radio. This wasn't the city noise she was used to, it was suspicious the more she encountered and thought on it. Typically, electronics went on the fritz each time a Digimon evolved, or was gathering energy. Yet she was the only other Digimon in the block, it was obvious she was interfering with everything—for some odd reason.

    Though she could've sworn as she passed by sets of televisions something flickered past the screens. She would've stayed longer to investigate had people not started murmuring and crowding around, making her nervous. Feeling a headache coming on, she kept her head down and picked up speed for the apartments.

    The moment she knew she was alone in front of the door, Gatomon stood up and swiped sweat off her brow, glancing out at the city as she entered the apartment. “That was spooky,” she muttered, resting in the doorway for a moment.

    Miko's hissing as she darted out of the room caught her attention first before she heard static, and she walked in to look at the television, blinking at how the little light and digital clock were flickering. Her ears swiveled to the air conditioner as it sputtered and clicked, then for the microwave as it hummed. As the moment sunk in, she let out a quiet gasp and stumbled into the computer room to look on in awe as the screen sparked to life, and scrambled messages scrolled into view.

    A chill ran up her spine, suddenly sensing a presence in the air. “A Digimon...”

    The muffled beeping of a D-Terminal sounded on the other side of the apartment, and without another thought the feline ran into Kari's room. Standing on tip-toe, she yanked open the top drawer and pulled it out, her brows furrowed in anxiety. “It better be from Tai, T.K., I'll even take Davis,” she muttered darkly, the fur on the back of her neck prickling. “Just be from someone I know.”

    Flipping up the cover, she pressed a couple of buttons, and then her eyes widened.

    Go to the World of Dreams.

    Gatomon nearly dropped it, shaking her head. “Not possible... it's been sealed off. I-I'm sure of it.” She searched for a name of the sender, the pangs of panic in her chest. “No way...”

    She let out a small yelp from another alert, but quickly opened up the new message.

    It's open in the Digital World.

    A lump caught in her throat. “This is a joke... It's not a hop, skip, and jump away, it's another world...” Going through the inbox, she looked for any previous messages Kari may have had that would answer everything. It was so unlike of her to play a prank on her; Tai, maybe, but not Kari. If it was any of the other DigiDestined, it was rather out-of-line.

    Gatomon contemplated on sending notes asking if they had received any strange e-mails, or even if any Digimon came through under their radars. It was as though she were at a loss for words, unsure how to approach it without being too suspicious. She could pass it off as her being delusional from her illness, it just seemed a bit too far-fetched, and no one would really believe it. (And upon reviewing it in her head, her friends not believing in her clearly-false delusions came off as odd.)

    Growling in frustration, she moved to drop the D-Terminal back into the drawer when Kari's D-3 turned on. Upon taking it out, her ear flicked from the unmistakeable beep of the Digi-Port booting up, and she involuntarily swallowed. Fighting against her hesitation, the feline made her way across the front room, devices in hand. The electronics were still acting up, making her grow more uneasy with every passing second. Something was just off about everything.

    Entering the computer room, she eyed the Digi-Port, noticing the coordinates had been set in. She couldn't recall which sector it was, as nothing looked remotely unique or even familiar about the canyon, yet she couldn't help thinking it suspicious the gate had been prepared. The longer she stared, the more apparent there was flickering, a sign that threw her off.

    “That can't be good...” Grasping the D-3 in her paw, she hopped up on the chair as though she was sizing up an opponent. Thrusting it close to the screen, she called out, “Digi-Port, open!”

    The message on the side blinked thrice before it turned green, and light streamed out as she was pulled inside. Flying through the data stream of runes and spheres of light, Gatomon felt her body quickly and painlessly go through a conversion in preparation for the Digital World. The transport was momentary, and any forms of physical weight were non-existent in the drift—except she knew there was another presence with her.

    The end of the line upon her, once she regained her balance, the feline gazed up at the tall canyon cliffs, and it suddenly hit her. She did recognize this place, although it had been years ago, and she had been too preoccupied in her desire to destroy MaloMyotismon to take in her surroundings at the time. Gatomon cast her eyes about in a search: a rift, rippling, discoloration, anything to tip her off to the World of Dreams. Likewise in the real world, it was afternoon where she was, the sun mercifully less bright here.

    Shivering from a downdraft, she moved forward just as a glow from her tail caught her eye. She gaped at her ring tilted in the breeze, watching it rhythmically pulse with white light. Mesmerized, she took another few steps and let out a gasp when it intensified. Glancing about in awe, the small cat decided to quickly backtrack as an experiment, and immediately was fascinated the moment it dimmed.

    “It has to be a coincidence,” she breathed out a chuckle.

    With her tail as her guide, Gatomon advanced on, Kari's devices clutched to her chest. Unsure what to look for, she let her mind wander and reflect on the past few minutes. She didn't know how to make heads or tails of it, and she had been through a number of bizarre events in her life—and she accounted it for both the digital and human worlds. Thinking on how it may have all started, she couldn't decide on her talking to Wizardmon like he was there, or her spontaneously leaving the house in her ill state. For all she knew, she was sleepwalking with an odd out-of-body experience. Or the sun fried her brain cells despite having been inside most of the week.

    It suddenly dawned on her her headache was gone, and yet she still shambled on in a dreamlike state. Perhaps she was cured when she entered the Digital World? If it was that easy all along, she wouldn't have been so miserable. Or what if she had carried around a virus and it manifested itself as thus according to the real world standards? But then where would she have picked it up, and why did it take a while to stricken her?

    And now her headache came back trying to piece it all together. She mentally gave herself a sarcastic pat on the back for such a feat.

    Without warning, the ring flashed a bright light, bringing out a startled cry from her as she shut her eyes and curled in on herself. A vibration on her chest and shrill electronic screech caused her to drop package, peeking out beneath her lashes to see the D-3 was the source, the screen a menacing red. Gatomon waited for any other reaction from the device or her tail ring, cautiously standing and glancing around when none came.

    Then she stepped around the items and the top half of her tail vanished.

    Immediately pulling it back, she waited until she caught her breath to stretch her hand out and raised it up, her claws disappearing before her eyes. Shooting one more look behind her, she scooped up the D-3 and jumped into the abstract world beyond her comprehension. It was exactly how she remembered it, and yet it was still very alien to her. Turning for another glance, she found she had entered through a pixelated hole, perhaps the same one from the battle three years ago.

    Grateful her ears would be spared, Gatomon noticed her ring had dulled back to normal, and she frowned. “Well... I guess I'm okay,” she assured herself, staring down at Kari's device. “Nothing bad's going to happen again, right?”

    Closing her eyes and taking in a breath, she carefully recited her words in her mind, not wanting to make any mistakes. “I don't know what's going on in the slightest,” she slowly started, casting her gaze up at the endless sea of blurring colors and clashing shapes. “I never thought I'd ever come back here... I guess even in my delusions, I couldn't ignore the cryptic messages I got today. It hurts to say it—well, again—but I speak from the heart.”

    Gatomon clutched the D-3 when it vibrated in her hold once more, bracing herself for it to go off again. “My dear friend, Wizardmon, can't linger in the human world any longer. I don't know how the real world's afterlife works, but he needs to cross over so he can find peace. And so can I.”

    No sooner had the words come out of her mouth did a beam of pink light shoot out of the screen. Speechless, she watched with wide eyes as what appeared to be a stream of static data pulled itself out of the device and circled around her. Then she tensed in place with a gasp, suddenly growing weak in the knees as a weight was lifted from her. Immediately she was hit with fatigue, and a wave of nausea swept her up. Vision wavering, she blearily struggled to keep with the data as the two streams winded together to combine and swooped outside of the World of Dreams. Getting to her feet, the feline staggered to the exit, leaning against the edge as she fought to lift her head.

    Some yards away, the pieces of data reconfigured from the feet-up, and upon peering through the fog obscuring her sight, she was able to tell the figure had its back facing her. The wind blowing through the canyon was able to flutter the tattered cloak even before it finished, the underside covered in white rune patterns. It being out of the way revealed a gloved hand clutching a crooked, wooden sun staff hanging on the side. A loose dirty-blonde ponytail came next when a large, purple hat to match obscured the rest of it.

    The whole time she watched, Gatomon was able to soak in the scene, and she felt her eyes lighten up as her jaw dropped. Her grip on the D-3 lessened enough for it to fall over the edge with a clatter, the light fading away. Throat tightening up, she choked down the rising lump enough for her to breathe out the first thing on her mind.

    “...Wizardmon?”
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 1st April 2016 at 7:27 AM. Reason: adding banner
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  2. #2
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    I seem to have a habit of writing more slice-of-life moments than just sticking to anything general. I don't know, guess I just liking writing dialogue, so I can't help myself. As I said before, my challenge for this story are the characters as it appears I'm combining both original and English dub personalities... which is weird. So even if the Digimon are fine, it's the humans I worry about at times. So here's to hoping I did Tai and Kari okay.

    Enjoy!

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    “It can't be...”

    The wind came to a gentle stop, which went unnoticed to Gatomon while she tried to comprehend what she was seeing. Back still facing her, the Digimon looked himself over, stretching out an arm and flexing his fingers, and twirling the staff in a full circle where sparks of blue electricity came to life. Then lowering it, he turned his body towards her, locking gazes. Her heart threatening to squeeze out its life, the feline shakily propped herself over the edge of the two worlds, and held out her arms to aid in her balance. Timidly, she began her approach, refusing to break eye-contact from the familiar sea of green.

    “No... I don't understand...”

    The growing conflicted emotions fought for her utmost attention. With one step she was joyous, the next she became terrified, and then furious. It was a vicious cycle.

    “There's no way,” she continued to whisper, eyes stinging from budding tears. “You're... you're...”

    He, too, made his advances, his long strides almost smooth like he was walking on air. She could sense the newfound, enigmatic energy he was emitting even before she could had a good grasp of her current situation. The more he neared, the faster and harder her heart beat against her breast, and her lungs and voice threatened to give out on her.

    “Proof... I need proof...” Vainly trying to steady her arm, she reached out, only to jerk it back and freeze when he mimicked her movements. “No!” she suddenly shouted, her fear taking hold of her. “You're dead! I-It's just going to go through me!”

    Unaffected by her abruptness, Wizardmon came upon her, and released his staff to take her by the left paw, his green irises twinkling. “I am long overdue on my debt, my dear Gatomon.”

    She could no longer hold back. Gatomon grasped tighter as she threw herself into his chest to cry, still shaking her head. “W-Wizardmon... you big dope!”

    He laid his hand on her head, his gentle laughs rolling through her. “Let it all out, Gatomon. I'm here for you.”

    And she did, starting by pounding her fist on him as she cried harder, sobbing on her words. “Jerk! Y... You jerk!

    *~*~*

    “Kari, how come you're not eating?”

    Almost forcibly, the addressed brunette gave a small smile at the young man before her. “You worry too much, T.K.,” she said, then ate a small piece of sausage.

    Davis then cut in before T.K. could open his mouth again, holding out his paper bag. “I can trade you my lunch, if it'll make you feel better,” he offered, a hopeful grin on his face.

    His young dragon Digimon pouted, leaning over him in a vain attempt to reach it. “Hey, my share's in there!” DemiVeemon whined, stubs for hands flailing.

    Quickly glancing inside, Davis' face blanked out. “You ate over half of my lunch!”

    “Keep it down, our voices carry,” Yolei warned, her glasses gleaming over when she pushed them up her nose. Her Poromon only stared in disregard on her lap, nibbling at his portion.

    “You're too kind, Davis,” Kari told him, her smile unchanged.

    T.K. slightly rolled his eyes, shaking his head in amusement. “You're too nice, Kari,” he interjected as a joke. Patamon agreed with a nod where he perched on his shoulder.

    “Hey, kindness is a virtue!” Davis piped up, puffing out his chest and pounding his fist to it. “I worked real hard to be as kind and caring as I am now.” He then bopped DemiVeemon on the head before he could rummage through the bag.

    A breeze kicked up across the rooftop, and with a hand raised to hold back a lock of hair, Kari Kamiya turned her head. She focused her umber gaze past the fence and over the school grounds toward the edge of the city, squinting from the gleam of the spherical Fuji TV office. Her cheerful mask relaxed on her face as she became lost to her thoughts.

    Her friends immediately took notice, giving each other wary glances. It hadn't been the first time she was looking out to where the apartments were. “Are you sure you're okay?” T.K. quietly inquired, combing back his bangs.

    Dropping her eyes, still in a far-away look, she sighed. “I'm just a little worried, is all.”

    “Hey, cheer up,” the bespectacled girl encouraged, beaming. “I'm sure whatever Gatomon has will pass through her system soon.”

    “It's not just that she's sick.”

    “She can take care of herself,” the blonde boy stated, handing his Digimon another sandwich. “It's not like she'll get up and wander.”

    A shadow fell across her face. “Well...”

    The group slowly leaned in with bated breath. “She leaves the apartment?” Patamon spoke, his ears drooping.

    Kari nodded once. “Since Dad's on a business trip, and Mom doesn't check up on her regularly, we don't know when she does it. But it's obvious because she tracks in dirt and complains about the heat.”

    “Does she ever say where she goes?” Yolei questioned, arms tightening around a now-flailing Poromon.

    “Not really. Seems to be a different place each and every time, though.”

    “What kind of sickness causes people to get up and wander?” Davis noted, visibly puzzled. “What if it's just a regular cold, but it affects Digimon differently?”

    “Good question.” T.K. sat back to fold his arms. “Our colds and viruses do differ from that of the DigiWorld.”

    “She's been having fever dreams,” Kari added in a mutter.

    The lavender-locked girl scrunched her nose. “Ew, that can't be good.”

    “She's insisted otherwise, but I think those dreams in particular have been...,” the brunette paused for a moment to find a word, “...off.”

    Davis mimicked his best friend and rival's posture. “Well, duh, that's the point of fever dreams,” he spouted out. “They're bothersome, they make no sense, and when you wake up, you're just in a daze for a while. And hungry.”

    “Your experience is different, Davis,” Yolei said in a flat tone.

    Shaking her head, Kari gripped her bento lunch. “That's not it...”

    Much to the auburn-haired boy's disapproval, T.K. leaned in to pat the girl on the hand. “Don't worry about it right now, Kari,” he assured her, giving a nod and smile. “I'm sure Gatomon will get better soon.”

    In response, Kari mirrored his expression and looked at her friends. “Sure... let's hope.”

    “Hey, can I pat your hand, too, Kari?” Davis asked in a near plea. Though everyone else rolled their eyes and groaned, they were also unsurprised when she allowed him to as well.

    *~*~*

    “Sorry for calling you names, Wizardmon.”

    “It's fine. Although you've got quite a vocabulary.”

    Neither of them had kept track of time, their thoughts too preoccupied ever since the reunion. Sitting side-by-side on top of the canyon, the two Digimon were content in gazing up at the sky, although they would lock eyes when addressing one-another. Even after her cry and all of the hugs her strength would allow, Gatomon was still finding it hard to believe she was in the presence of her best friend again, talking and just playing catch-up. She made the effort to hide it from him, but she was very anxious the encounter was all a dream, and she was passed out at home, or even in the Digital World. He may have been as physical as can be, yet what was raising a flag in her mind was just how little he had changed.

    Not that she had expected Wizardmon to change in death, although it made her wonder if that was because she had grown. There were six years worth of memories she had made without him, and she didn't feel her attempts to close that gap were working. He may have been interested in her life up to that point, even so, she didn't feel that was the “catching up” she had in mind.

    Unsure where else to go from there, the cat made an awkward change of topic she was still confused about. “You... didn't wish to be here, did you?”

    He shook his head, not the least surprised or fazed by her question. “I agreed with you at the station.” His response still made her heart leap into her throat despite it being very much like him to say. “You see, the concept of time is meaningless when you're dead, it just passes you by if you so much as reflect on it. However, it felt like an eternity to the point of madness that I no longer wanted to be there. It was like a godsend when you came by and told me to go, as that was one of my worries holding me back. And yet...” His voice cutting off, Wizardmon sighed and shrugged.

    “You couldn't cross over,” Gatomon quietly finished for him.

    “It was as if I was rejected over and over again.”

    She frowned, watching his crestfallen expression as he skimmed a finger along the staff. Because of his cowl, it was subtle, albeit she knew him well-enough to catch it. “Could it be it's because you're not of the human world?”

    He lifted his eyes in thought. “Perhaps.”

    A suspicious question shortly nipped at her the moment her paw bumped into Kari's D-Terminal, and she couldn't help leaning in. “Hey, how'd you know about the World of Dreams?”

    He then teasingly averted his gaze, a thumb to his chin. It was a gesture she was both displeased and relieved to see.

    “Wizardmon, if you don't know, just say you don't know,” she said in as deadpanned a tone as she could muster.

    “I don't know.”

    His blunt reply nearly made her laugh. “Don't lie, you know something!”

    “I read your mind.”

    “How can you read minds as a ghost?” she immediately shot it down.

    “I picked it up from your conversations.” He was quick as always. She had always been told he could read her like a book despite her constantly waving it off. Whatever the reason may be, even if it was one trait of being a magician, it was like he knew the right words to say.

    His statement did bring her to pause and think on it otherwise. “Did we talk about it out loud over the years?” she curiously wondered.

    With a smile in his eyes, Wizardmon added, “Or did I learn of it through a possessed Oikawa?”

    She had almost forgotten about the man, yet it only brought out more questions. As much as she was having fun bouncing off of him, Gatomon was starting to feel a headache coming on. “You could've just said 'I'm magic', and I would've left it alone.”

    “No, you wouldn't.”

    She could only groan, briefly massaging her temple. “So how'd you get here, anyway?” she purposefully changed topics, ending their game.

    After having his fill in teasing her, the mage shifted to rest an arm on his knee. “Digivices are nifty gadgets. They can store data, did you know that?”

    Gatomon's ears flicked. “Oh, really? I knew the D-Terminal can store digi-eggs, but... wait...” The feline put a paw to her mouth in thought, quickly thinking back to the television station. “I didn't have either of Kari's D-3 or D-Terminal on me,” she muttered, giving him a suspicious glance.

    Wizardmon sheepishly looked away, rubbing at his neck. “Please don't take this the wrong way, Gatomon,” he began apologizing, “but I ended up... sharing space with you for a bit.”

    An abrupt, uncomfortable silence fell upon them. Gatomon started to wonder if she would've thought about something else had he now brought attention to his awkward wording, though the implications were making her squirm. Thinking back on any of the possible opportunities while at Fuji TV, she steadily came to the realization her walk back home wasn't as coincidental as she had thought. It didn't make her feel any less uneasy at the idea her best friend had pseudo-possessed her, however.

    “...you were inside me?” she whispered out, fighting back a shiver when she said it.

    He was modest in locking eyes with her. “I was a ghost, even if you couldn't see me. As it turns out, if both parties will it, a ghost can inhabit a body.”

    His hurried explanation still didn't calm the flush Gatomon could feel rise to her face. She contemplated using her ears to hide behind, if they were large enough to do so.

    “Are you alright, by the way?” he asked in worry, his voice slightly cracking.

    Her eyes darted back-and-forth nervously. “Wh-What makes you say that?”

    “When you came by earlier, you looked pale, and now your face is red.” He leaned in some, a movement that made her jump a little. “How long have you been ill?”

    She then remembered her sickness. “Since the start of this week—it came out of nowhere, too. It's been awful, I'm dizzy all the time, I have a fever that won't go down, and...”

    Gatomon paused the moment a familiar scene flashed in her mind, beginning to drift into a daze the more she lingered on it. She could feel her blood run cold, getting closer to remembering how it felt then to be held protectively in his arms, trying to forget all of that day. In the present, he was close enough that she could return to that moment of bliss, yet remained hesitant, not wanting to ruin the mood for such an intimate gesture.

    He just returned, she could sense her mind chastise. Making such a selfish request was inappropriate, and she knew it.

    “...and I've been having dreams,” she reluctantly finished, a flutter in her stomach.

    If Wizardmon had caught on, he didn't express it. “What kind of dreams?”

    “Memories.” She cautiously glanced up at him, watching his irises soften. “They were too real to be fever dreams like Kari said.”

    The longer he stared, the more Gatomon shivered and repeatedly avoided his gaze. “Have you dreamed of the past prior to this?” he queried.

    Six years was too long of a memory archive to go through and see if she had. She wouldn't have doubted it otherwise, even if she continually had dreamed of the past every day. “From what I can remember, I have, but it wasn't like this. When it came to this week, it was almost like with every dream I had, the worse I got.”

    Wizardmon slowly nodded, rubbing his chin through his cowl. “Fascinating...”

    Her look hardened; why did he have to find her so intriguing today? “You wouldn't happen to know anything about it?” she threw out a guess.

    “I do not.”

    It figured. He may be smart, but it wasn't like he knew everything. “It's still weird either way you look at it.”

    He shrugged as he used his staff to stand up and dusted himself off. “Well, since you're not feeling well, no use in us staying.”

    Agreeing, Gatomon grabbed Kari's devices and got to her feet. “Say, I didn't see any old electronics lying around when I got here.”

    “What do you need one for?”

    “That's usually how we go back and forth. I just have to point the D-3 at it, and it'll take us home.”

    Looking around, Wizardmon just scratched his head and Gatomon raised her brows. “How did you get here, then?” he asked.

    “Uh... I just came here.”

    “You just need one, right?” With a snap of his fingers, the wizard produced in a puff of light a small, old model television set.

    Smiling, the feline gestured for him to put it down, and she held the D-3 to the screen. “Gotta get in range, Wizardmon, or it'll miss you.”

    He crouched beside her just as static came to life. Turning the dial a few times until the computer room appeared, she pushed a button on the digivice and a glow surrounded them. They were pulled in together, and like during her arrival, Gatomon felt her body begin to turn more physical. It was a sensation she was used to, though she couldn't help wondering what Wizardmon thought of it as he studied his surroundings.

    The first sound that reached her ears when they landed was Miko's yowl, and the cat ran out of the room. Her scowl was brief until she looked up at her friend, who was scanning the room in intrigue. “Welcome home, Wizardmon,” she greeted him, spreading out her arms.

    A puzzled look was in his eyes. “It's not much, but at least these living quarters are bigger than back in Myotismon's castle.”

    She had spoken too soon. “It's just the computer room. C'mere.” Waving her paw, she led him out into the front room where she could just see Miko's tail twitching behind the couch. “Kari and Tai live here with their parents. Their rooms are over there.”

    Wizardmon appeared more pleased. “Much better, but I had expected it to be bigger.”

    “I'm not gonna bother,” she grumbled, crossing the apartment for Kari's room. She took one last look at the digivice and D-Terminal to make sure they were turned off before returning them to the desk.

    “Oh, is this the Kamiya pet?”

    “Uh oh...” Gatomon quickly back-tracked to where the mage was standing, staring at an arched Miko. “Um, Wizardmon, just come sit over here for now. Miko's not used to sudden company. And, er... she's been acting up since I left.”

    He complied, still casting his eyes about the place. “Do all humans live in these buildings, I wonder?”

    “Uh, I think in this district they do.” When he took his hat off at the table, she offered, “You hungry?”

    As if on cue, a loud growl came from his direction. They stared at each other in near-surprise before he eased up with a chuckle. “Now that you mention it, I actually am.”

    Smiling as well, she went to the refrigerator. “I think there's still some leftovers from last night that I can heat up if you like.”

    “It honestly doesn't matter,” he replied, still beaming as he laid his staff against the counter. “Anything sounds good at this point.”

    Shrugging in agreement, Gatomon noticed upon opening it there were a few items added she didn't recall seeing from last night. Then she remembered Yuuko from however-long-ago, and her countenance began to fall at the thought. She couldn't have been at Fuji TV for that long, so the woman had to have returned when she was in the Digital World. It made her wonder if she had looked in Kari's room to check up on her, or if she just left on another errand without a thought. Glancing over at the countertop to find the water and medicine were still there, it only further pricked at her mind.

    “I knew it,” she grumbled. “She doesn't care...”

    “Is something wrong, Gatomon?”

    Shaking her head, she pulled out plastic-wrapped sandwiches, briefly remembering they were Kari and Tai's lunches before shrugging it off. Joining the sage at the table, she unwrapped the food and split it between them only to sit back to watch. Wizardmon gawked at the sandwiches for an uncomfortable long period, a subtle crease in his brow as he loosened his cowl for it to hang around his neck, revealing his stitched frown. When he reached for a sandwich, his hand was noticeably shaking.

    “What's the matter, Wizardmon?” Gatomon asked, suddenly worried.

    He glanced up at her, shoulders tense. “It's nothing.” He hesitated for another moment. “I suppose I just have forgotten what it's like to have food.”

    Her ears lowered, staring at her share. “I can't imagine how that must feel...”

    Lifting her gaze up, she found his small smile emitted warmth, like it was magic. “It'll be okay, Gatomon,” he quietly assured her. “Give me a few days, and I'll bounce right back.”

    His positive response brought her out of doubt. “You always were resilient,” she recalled, lips curled in a teasing smirk.

    They snickered in unison, and Wizardmon was able to bite on his first morsel in years. In her own encouraging way, Gatomon started to eat as well, fighting back more tears of joy when his face lightened up. “Ah... what do you know? Human food is no different from that in the Digital World.”

    Remembering the drinks, she excused herself to get them. “Except it's leagues ahead of what we had at Myotismon's castle,” she corrected after swallowing, shaking a claw at him.

    He ducked his head to laugh. “I'm eating, Gatomon, don't remind me,” he chastised between breaths.

    Before long, it was as though Wizardmon had always been there as they joked and resumed their walk down memory lane. Gatomon took quick notice of his improved complexion, but chose not to bring it up, wanting to soak it in the more they talked. Freedom during their time in the Digital World was rare, so they never had a light-hearted, free conversation much like in their present state. Her friend had always acted self-conscious about his emotions even in private, so never had she dreamed he had such a personality behind his cloak. It could be because they were alone in the house, or the dread of Myotismon's influence was far behind them.

    Whatever was the reason, she came to like this sudden change, finding it a breath of fresh air from earlier. Wizardmon was still Wizardmon, of course, but now more out-going, and even charismatic with his words. The way his voice rose and fell on just the right notes captivated her enough she found herself not speaking as much. And she didn't mind at all.

    Then she blinked and realized they were just staring at each other, Wizardmon perched on his arm like she. His smile broadened the moment she became flustered. “What was on your mind there, Gatomon?” he inquired, a hint of a tease in his tone.

    “Er... stuff,” she could only mumble out, nervously averting her eyes.

    He hummed in interest. “You looked like you were into it. Mind giving me a hint?”

    Just when she opened her mouth to express her refusal in telling him, her ears perked up from the front door creaking open. “I'm home!” called in the voice of Tai Kamiya, bringing her eyes to widen and look at the clock.

    Swerving nervously off the chair, Gatomon hopped onto the countertop closest to the entrance as Wizardmon hastened on his collar and knocked over his hat in the process. Just as he ducked to grab it, the young man strolled around the corner, bag swung over his shoulder. “Welcome home, Tai!” she greeted, trying to calm her trembling. “You're early!”

    “Hey, you're looking better!” he noted with a grin, setting down package before ruffling her fur. She gave a small pout and gentle swipe, watching him walk around into the small kitchen. “You doing okay?”

    “Yeah, just slept all day.” She did a double-take over her shoulder when her friend sat back up, dusting off his hat.

    “Good, good.” Tai searched inside the cupboards to pull out a snack, then brought a finger to his lips turning with a wink. “Don't tell Mom I skimped out on lunch again. Hey, Wizardmon.”

    The two Champion Digimon were speechless as the former leader opened the fridge to pop open the milk carton to drink out of. He swallowed down two gulps before he choked on his drink with wide eyes, whipping his head around. His face blanched the moment he met the sorcerer's gaze.

    “W-Wizardmon?!” he sharply gasped, hands trembling when he set the carton down by the sink.

    Wizardmon gave a nod. “Welcome back, Tai Kamiya.” Gatomon only nervously laughed, tapping her claws together.

    Tai pointed back and forth between the two, even briefly at the dishes still on the table, before snagging at his wild hair. “Oh, the heat's getting to me,” he groaned out, quickly downing another gulp, neglecting his milk mustache. “I'm seeing things already.”

    “Um... maybe you need to lie down,” she suggested, standing up to gesture to the couch. “It's been a long day.”

    He shot a bemused glance her way, then walked over. “Gatomon, can we talk?”

    Her ears lowering, she looked to Wizardmon for guidance, although he only shrugged, just at much of a loss as she. Lips a thin line, she nodded and jumped down, walking into the nearest room with Tai. He nearly swung the door shut when he crouched to her level.

    “What's the deal here, Gatomon?” he inquired in a demanding tone. “What's going on?”

    “I... um... I'm just as confused as you are, Tai,” she carefully started out, rubbing under her nose to signal Tai to clean himself, which he caught onto. “I went to the World of Dreams, and—”

    He nearly fell back. “Huh?! I thought that was closed off after the fight with MaloMyotismon!”

    “No, it's still open. You just... kinda have to know where to step in.”

    While Tai had a brain under all of that hair, it was clear he was trying to make sense of it. “What did you do?” his voice lowered, almost to an accusatory level.

    Taking a breath, she looked him square in the eyes. “I... accidentally took his data there in the hopes I could get him to pass on. His ghost didn't belong here, and I wanted him to have peace. That was all I wanted, I didn't expect him to come back like he did. I mean... yeah, maybe he would've reconfigured at some point, and he'd be at Primary Village instead. But it's like he just bypassed the egg and other stages. And I don't know why.”

    It didn't look like Tai was buying it. “How do I know you didn't befriend another Wizardmon in the DigiWorld and invited him here?”

    She couldn't blame him for not believing her, but it was almost insulting he thought she was being a trickster. “He said your name.”

    “You could've told him that.”

    “It's not like you and I are that close, Tai. I'd have gushed on more about Kari than about you.”

    He lifted a finger to counter it, but then dropped his hand. “Touché. But that doesn't prove this is the same Wizardmon who died years ago.”

    Gatomon's insides grew cold when he said that word. “W-Well then, I won't prove it to you. I'll let Wizardmon do the talking.”

    Curtly nodding, Tai stood up and exited the room first. She hurried after him to jump into the nearest chair while he slipped into another, staring across at Wizardmon. He sat up straighter as though to make himself look more imposing. “Alright, Gatomon and I have had a long talk.”

    “I could tell.”

    “Being a smart-aleck, eh? Alright then, try this out for size.” He swept an arm over the table to clear space, and leaned over it with lowered brows. “Guess my age.”

    The feline felt the want to smack him that very moment.

    It was hard to tell if Wizardmon had caught on, even though he was strangely at attention. “You are three years older than Kari, although I never caught her age.”

    Tai narrowed his eyes. “How'd you know about my sister?”

    “Good grief,” Gatomon grumbled to herself behind her glove, vainly trying to keep from being upset.

    “I was the one who delivered Gatomon, and the tag and crest to her.” His fluid response was followed by an all-knowing gleam in his eye, a look Tai didn't seem to notice.

    “How did a normal Digimon like you learn about the crests?” the young man demanded, pointing a finger at him. “Where were you on the morn of the first of August, 1999, when seven children entered the Digital World?”

    “What kind of question is that?” she hissed through her claws, near-incredulous.

    “I do not know what this 'August' is,” Wizardmon answered, expression unchanged.

    Gatomon jumped when Tai smacked the tabletop with his palm. “Ah ha! Only a true Digimon would say that!”

    Her fur still on end, she shot daggers in his direction. “What the hell was the point of all this?!”

    Smirking, the boy cheekily winked. “All I know is he's a Wizardmon, but not the Wizardmon.”

    She came close to dropping face-first on the table in her frustration. “This is going nowhere. Why can't you be serious about this, Tai? Why don't you believe me?”

    “Ah, I don't blame Tai for not believing I am the same one from 1999,” Wizardmon relented, waving a hand. “I only did entrust to him Kari's digivice, but never talked to him after that. He was distrusting then, too, and I understand completely. He didn't know then his sister was the eighth child Myotismon had searched for, but he still came to her protection like a good older brother should.” He met Tai's intrigued gaze. “You were a brash, but still level-headed young man with the fate of two worlds on your shoulders. Even with the evil vanquished, you still can't trust everyone who enters your life, and my sacrifice still wouldn't have made a difference in that regard. But to see you in the group of DigiDestined who came to remember me was an honor.”

    The two were in reverent awe, faces softening as his words sank in. Tai leaned back with folded arms and in thought, while Gatomon, still in amazement, couldn't help but smile.

    The mage then gestured with a nod. “I see you gave up those goggles. But you still need a haircut.”

    Suddenly, the DigiDestined let out a laugh and threw his hands behind his head. “I'm convinced. You had me worried there for a moment, Gatomon.”

    “Oh, so now you believe me?!” she snapped, eyes sharpened and fangs bared.

    Wizardmon shook his head in amusement. “You haven't changed a bit, Tai Kamiya.”

    Grinning mischievously, Tai clasped his hands and sat forward. “So, the World of Dreams brought you back, eh?”

    “So it seems.”

    Gatomon sunk down in the chair, massaging her temples. “U-U-Ugh, my head hurts...”

    She gasped when the door opened, and Kari called in, “I'm home!”

    “Oh, she's back already? Hey, Kari, you won't believe this!” Tai immediately greeted, throwing his head back for a look, a big grin on his face.

    Oh no, I forgot! “No-no-no-Kari-wait!” the white cat squeaked out, hurriedly running over after purposefully smacking him with her tail.

    The girl blinked, frozen in the middle of pulling her shoes off. “Are you okay, Gatomon?” she inquired. “Shouldn't you be resting?”

    Waving her paws around, she nervously chuckled. “U-Um... is it okay if we talk outside very quick?”

    Kari frowned, putting her hands on her hips. “What did you do?” she jumped to an accusation.

    Like brother, like sister, Gatomon found herself comparing. Taking in a quick deep breath, she met her confused, but disappointed stare. “Erm... can you promise not to freak out, or faint, or whatnot?”

    “Why?”

    Beyond the counter came the scrape of a chair, and the Digimon tensed up, finding herself not ready for what was coming. Keeping her gaze on her partner the moment his presence came up, she watched the girl drop everything, from her bag to her jaw, as her eyes widened in shock. Tears welled up, her hands covered her mouth, her head shook in near-disbelief— it was exactly as Gatomon predicted. When she stepped forward, it was clunky, and she had to ballast herself on the wall.

    “Y-You... it's you?”

    The feline averted her gaze in shame once Wizardmon laid a hand on her shoulder. “You're looking well, Kari Kamiya.”

    A sob ripped out of her throat, and she stumbled in to throw her arms around him, even giving her Digimon a surprise squeeze. “Oh my God, it is!” she cried out, then smiled down at her partner. “Gatomon...! I'm so happy for you!”

    Her self-doubts melted away when she returned the hug, struggling to hold back tears.

    *~*~*

    Until Yuuko came home, the reunion mainly consisted of Wizardmon asking the children about what had happened three years prior, starting from his appearing to give his warning. Gatomon couldn't figure out how he was able to be so invested in their story (which was somewhat cluttered), though she convinced herself it was because they were the DigiDestined. He had for a long time been interested in them and their adventures, captivated at the thought of human children being responsible for the wellbeing of two worlds and yet were still able to live normal, happy lives. While disheartened the tags and crests were no longer tangible, he was allowed to analyze their digivices, a feat she figured would last all night if he was given the chance.

    “Has the concept of the digivice been around even before we came to the DigiWorld?” Kari asked after dinner, staring at her device when it was returned to her.

    Wizardmon's visit hadn't yet been revealed to Mrs. Kamiya for a number of factors, mainly him being a Digimon and an unprepared visitor. He at least was understanding and seemed fairly content to have time to himself for study, although Gatomon was against the idea. Tai and Kari, in the meantime, found it an opportunity to learn more about their devices.

    “In correspondence with the legend of the DigiDestined, yes.” He gently smiled down at his friend as she looked through his notes, visibly puzzled. “Though I don't recall anything of digivices changing design, I must say, it's an interesting parallel to digivolution.”

    “Mine and T.K.'s changed when we found our digi-eggs.”

    “The one in the D-Terminal?”

    Kari nodded. “It was for Armor Digivolution. We hadn't thought much of it then, but perhaps they changed to better accommodate the new evolution.”

    “Fascinating.”

    Gatomon didn't think it was, but she kept her mouth shut as she handed the notes to Tai.

    “Can all Digimon be affected by the digivice?”

    “In theory, yes,” Wizardmon said. “If it's a source of unlimited energy, it may have long-lasting effects to those with no partners. It may even allow for digivolution in a shorter amount of time.”

    “So wait, it's technically not needed, then?” Tai spoke up, looking at Gatomon when he did. “If Gatomon could naturally digivolve to her current stage without the need of a digivice, then so can Agumon?”

    She slightly pouted, not wanting to be in the spotlight. “I think we can agree my case was an exception.”

    “It's true regardless,” the mage responded, raising a brow. “Unless Agumon is exposed to a similar environment, his will take longer due to the amount of energy it takes to maintain a stage. It's why higher-leveled Digimon are harder to come by.”

    “Well, looks like we discovered why Agumon eats so much,” the young man joked, which earned him a roll of the eyes from his sister.

    A quiet rap at the door alerted Wizardmon to step behind it (even though Gatomon had pointed at the curtains), and Yuuko poked her head in. “You sure are talkative tonight,” she observed, casting her eyes about. “The bath's ready for you, Kari.”

    “Thanks, Mom. I'll just be a minute.”

    “And Tai, why aren't you studying? Don't you have mock exams coming up?”

    He ran a hand through his hair as he stood up to exit the room. “I already had them,” he said, face serious.

    “You look confident for someone who's always at soccer club,” Yuuko stated banteringly. Smiling at her daughter, she shot another glance around the room before closing the door.

    Sighing, Kari got up and headed for the balcony door. “It's clear out tonight. Want to stargaze later, Gatomon? Wizardmon?”

    The two Digimon took a look outside, though only Gatomon nodded at her. “I'd like to.”

    The girl moved to leave, but then knelt down to feel her forehead and ears. “Hmm... I think you should still take some medicine before bed,” she quietly suggested.

    Feeling her cheeks, the feline frowned. “Still that bad, huh?”

    “Not really.” With a nod for them to go ahead, she watched them step out, noticing Gatomon had a light skip to her before she hopped onto the wall. Shrugging it off, Kari set her D-3 on her desk, then eyed her D-Terminal, finding it was still on. “I got a message?” she mused, flipping the cover.

    Looking at her inbox, she did a double-take. While Davis' newest message was unopened, there were two blanks beneath his name. Brows knitting in suspicion, she clicked on them, and went back-and-forth in confusion.

    “Is this digicode?”

    With the moon positioned somewhere behind the apartment building, and the city lights in a soft glow, the cluster of stars winked down with little disruption. There was little wind, the voices of crickets carried over in its place for warmth. Gatomon swayed her tail in time to the tune, a tranquil resonance emitting from her tail ring.

    “I've never noticed how similar, yet so different the night sky is to ours.”

    She flicked an ear turning to gaze up at her friend. He was glued to the sky, carefully searching in what she recognized as a method of memorizing. Quietly resounding in her throat, she turned her attention to the cityscape. “Yeah, takes a while,” she breathed out, a smile twitching on her lips. “It's much better back in the DigiWorld, if you ask me.”

    “Do the humans have constellations?”

    “They do, but I only know of the Little and Big Dippers.”

    Wizardmon chuckled. “Interesting names.”

    She cracked a smirk as well, then cast her eyes to the stars for a scan. “Let's see... they're over there.” She pointed a claw between the two constellations, looking over. “Do you see them?”

    “What do they look like?”

    “Ladles.”

    He laughed some more. “Of course.”

    “One of them has what they call the North Star,” she stated, “but I can't remember which one.”

    “Let me guess: it's exactly north?”

    Gatomon shook in mirth, then sighed. “They say it'll lead you home if you ever get lost.”

    She shrunk back a little when Wizardmon leaned in, his cheek nearly touching hers. “Sounds like a reliable star,” he whispered, his eyes twinkling in enrapture.

    Wrinkling her nose and tilting her head opposite of his, she returned her gaze to the constellations. “I wish I had one when I first hatched...”

    She felt a gasp die in her throat the moment he rubbed her ear, shivering at his touch. “Of course you did, Gatomon,” he said, voice still quiet. “You just couldn't find her, because you didn't know where to look.”

    Her eyes scrunched shut, Gatomon rapidly shook her head to throw him off, her fur puffing up around her neck. Clearing her throat and smoothing down her ear, she muttered, “I guess.”

    She could sense his smile when he pulled away. “I'm glad the stars in your life have become bright. Even if one dims, others are there in its place.”

    A sudden jolt in her heart brought Gatomon to swerve for him just as he jumped to levitate. “Ah—hold on!”

    He turned to her, brows raised. “Yes?”

    Out of anxiety, she dropped her eyes and ears. “Um... I-I... I don't know how to say this,” she mumbled, trying to quickly think of how to piece words together.

    Wizardmon floated down to her level, but kept his distance. “No need to force yourself,” he said, his tone gentle. “If you need to think on it, I'm not going anywhere.”

    The feline fought down a shudder when she met his gaze. “No, erm...”

    Even with the mechanical drone of the city, it was as though silence fell upon them. The light of the apartments should have been distracting, yet they shone just right on his face, bringing out a more physical appearance to his already-mystical presence. It was still troublesome for her to comprehend what had happened that afternoon, at how a single moment led to the two presently chatting on a balcony and not seem out of place. It wasn't like anything grandiose had happened that brought them together that day when all they did was talk. There was no fighting evil, no searching, no misconceptions of any kind. It was just as if he had always been there.

    If anything, because of how smoothly things came and went, it was more like a dream. And like all dreams, it had to come to an end, although she hoped for there to be closure this time.

    “Wizardmon... I never got to tell you, but... erm...” Gatomon glanced away for a moment, still hesitant. “Six years ago... I want to thank you for all you did. You made it possible for... um, well, who knows if I would've learned Kari was my partner on my own. Who knows if she and everyone else would've lived long enough for that to happen, or...” Shaking her head to toss such “what-if” thoughts away, she lifted her eyes for an attentive stare as though it to be the last time she could see him. “You didn't have to. You were under no obligation to fight my battles, yet there you were. Because of you, I remembered my purpose and found courage to stand up to Myotismon. I got to break free, and live... I'm living a future I never knew I could have.”

    In a daring move, the feline Digimon reached out for him, not bothering to steady her trembling. When he returned the gesture, his fingers rested between the claws and gently squeezed. The pressure of his hand through their gloves was a sensation she couldn't recall ever feeling, yet missed dearly. It was oddly comforting.

    Rocking it to-and-fro, she gave a small smile. “So... thank you, Wizardmon.”

    A twinkle in his eye, Wizardmon repositioned his hand just as he bowed in. It was only for a moment, and though he was shielded behind his hat and the cowl was still in place, Gatomon felt the contours of his lips lay on the back of her paw before it was released. She touched the spot when he straightened up, and began to slowly ascend.

    “Tell Kari not to wait for me,” he said, a smile in his voice.

    “Where are you off to?”

    “Out for a night on the town.” Wizardmon winked. “I've been stuck in the same place for six years. I need some fresh air, and tonight's perfect for such an occasion.”

    Gatomon gaped up at him before her lips pursed and brows furrowed. “You're gonna get caught. People aren't used to Digimon yet.”

    He then gestured to himself, turning every which way and even shaking his staff. “Have you forgotten I'm a master of disguise?”

    “I haven't forgotten you're full of it.”

    Shaking his head as he laughed, the magician flew off north where the bipedal feline watched him vanish into the night, though not before throwing his cloak around himself. Sighing through her nose, Gatomon returned to staring at the stars, steadily losing herself in a daze.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 9th February 2016 at 8:15 AM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  3. #3
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    I feel I got a little too carried away in this chapter, but the ideas just kept coming, and I was liking them and wanted to put them in as early as possible with the other ideas I already had planned. So sorry for the split post. But my biggest worry, as I've said before, are the characters, mainly the DigiDestined.

    Enjoy!

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    Walking through the dark corridors, Gatomon kept her sharp eyes fixated before her as she passed Digimon, many of whom shrunk back to give her room. Having never made it an option to memorize every new recruit or veteran servant, her reputation in the castle made it easier for her to tell from a glance those who were afraid of her, and those who would return her sneer. Respect was hard to come by to begin with, although she had not once cared about others' opinions just as long as Myotismon was pleased.

    “Hey, who's the beauty?”

    “Don't look at her if you want to live.”

    Sniffing, she ignored the huddled Gazimon and Vegiemon (whoever spoke first must have been new), and hopped down the stairs. The mess hall was still filling up with henchman consisting of those either sneaked away or got off from duty for supper, and the smell accompanying them was unappealing, but far from ill-inducing. At the entranceway, Gatomon cast her stare about, studying whatever slop it was for that night. It wasn't looking any different from last night's, she noted.

    Strolling through the tables, knowing she was turning heads, she crossed an aisle for one near a wall. Leaning on an elbow, she ignored the glares its occupants were giving her. “How's it taste?” she asked the one Numemon, nodding at his tray.

    “Like always: shit.” He still gobbled it down, though the slug was looking purple around the eyes.

    “Why should you care?” a Gizamon grunted, giving her a cautious look. “You never eat here anymore. Not since that wizard pansy joined, anyway.”

    She shot over a leer, her fur slightly bristled. “You don't have to be rude about it,” she hissed.

    “What's so rude about telling the truth?”

    “I'll feed you to the DarkTyrannomon the next time you mouth off to me.” Sneering, she marched away, taking care to smack the Digimon with her tail.

    “You bitch!”

    Gatomon only huffed, straightening her stance and swinging her long appendage about. Chortles were making their rounds as she passed by, and through the clamor, she heard, “Do it, I dare you.”

    A mischievous (or stupid, it was hard to tell) Bakemon then pinched her backside, and she immediately spun on her heels. “LIGHTNING PAW!” she yowled, landing a punch to his face and throwing him past her direction. The table nearly snapped from the landing, the plates and food flying much to the vexation of the Digimon. In response to the scene and their expletive shouts, the room briefly grew alive with louder laughter and whistles, even though she silenced those nearby with a look and growl.

    Once the feline left the mess hall, she slipped for an outside exit to fume. Without consideration for what any of the higher-ups or Myotismon was going to think for destroying property, she kicked at the wall hard enough to push bricks in. “Pigs! All of them!” she snarled.

    “That's not very lady-mon-like of you.”

    She swerved her glare over, ears flattened against her cranium. “Can it, Wizardmon! They piss me off is all!”

    The Wizard Digimon stepped up to her, slowly shaking his head. “You shouldn't have to put up with all that harassment.”

    Gritting her teeth, Gatomon kicked the wall again. It had been scarcely half a year since his arrival, and it was like he was too naďve to catch on. “I'm used to it. I can take care of myself.”

    “I know, but I worry about you, Gatomon.”

    With one more punch for a good chip, she walked toward the grounds, Wizardmon following suit. “Don't be, it's the norm around here. Do you know of the names they call you?”

    He let out a scoff of acknowledgement, a response she imagined came with a roll of the eyes. “I know of them. Is that what this is all about?”

    It was half-true, though Gatomon didn't want to talk about the harassing again. “It's because you don't act like them,” she muttered. “Even DemiDevimon will make a comment about me every now and then, and he hates my guts.”

    “How do we know he's not the real pansy?”

    She paused in her tracks to think on it. Glancing up at her friend knowingly, she raised her brows. “Hmm. That's a good point.”

    Wizardmon gave his trademark gentle smile, hitting his quota for the day. As tired as he looked at times, with exception of the night he joined, she couldn't think of a day he had passed on it. “You tell me not to worry about you, and yet here you worry about me.”

    Her whiskers twitched when she wrinkled her nose, turning her head to avoid his gaze. “'S none of your business...” she mumbled, trying to fight back her chagrin.

    Her eat flitted when he knelt down, laying his hand on her head. Slowly but surely, he stroked her ear, a gesture that never failed to relax her. “...not out here,” was her quiet sigh, leaning against him. “We'll be seen.”

    “I say let them, unless you worry it'll affect your reputation.”

    Lifting her eyes, she noticed how close he had gotten, at how the shade of his hat fell upon her with a single tilt of the head. At this angle, Gatomon could just about see the corners of his mouth peeking out as a visible stitched beam. And peering closer, it appeared his emerald irises had a glow to them beneath his straw-colored bangs—

    “OH MY GOD!”

    An abrupt scream broke into her dream, and Gatomon quickly sat up, blearily staring over to find Yuuko pressed up against a wall, a broom clutched in hand. Wizardmon was sitting across staring at her in confusion, a book in his hands. “HOW DID YOU GET IN MY DAUGHTER'S ROOM?!”

    Now awake, she jumped onto the floor and stepped in between them just as Kari got up. “Mrs. Kamiya, wait! He's just a friend!”

    She didn't look convinced. “Thi-Th-This man's a friend?!”

    “Ah, Mom, it's okay! He's with Gatomon!” The girl climbed off over the railing to go up to her frightened mother. “He's a Digimon.”

    “There's more of them, you say?!”

    Wizardmon stood and took off his hat for a formal bow. “I apologize for the intrusion, I mean your daughter no harm.”

    Yuuko's skepticism made it clear she was having a hard time piecing things together. Upon shooting the two anxious glances where both of them nodded, her daughter coaxed her into lowering the broom. “Well... if Kari says it's okay... pardon me.” Deeply inhaling, she hurried out of the room.

    Gatomon let out a breath she had been holding, then turned to her friend. “How'd you get in?” she hissed, brows furrowed. “No, how long have you been here?”

    Fixing his hat, Wizardmon replied, “About a half-hour.”

    Kari sighed as well, giving them a defeated look. “Sorry, guys, forgot to mention Mom sometimes sweeps the balcony in the mornings when she waters the plants.”

    Tai suddenly barged into the room, his school uniform disheveled. “Kari, I heard Mom scream! Are you okay?” he panted out.

    “We're fine. But now we'll have to clear things up with her.” With a nervous laugh, she gestured to the mage.

    The young man looked over. “Oh, hey, I was wondering where you were. Were you in Kari's room all night?”

    “No, I arrived a little while ago.”

    “Alright, since I'm up now, I need to change.” After shooing her brother away, she moved for the glass door, noticing the secured lock. “Wizardmon, how did you come in?”

    “Don't bother, Kari, he's just going to say 'magic'.” Biting back a yawn, feline scratched at an ear until she did a double-take to what Wizardmon was holding. Eyes widening, she swiped it from his loose grip to quickly toss it inside the desk drawer.

    “Gatomon, what is it?” her partner asked.

    “Do not scold her, I was in the wrong to look at it.” Gatomon frowned at his defense.

    Kari pursed her lips upon noticing the notebook wasn't in its place. “Okay...” Unlocking it, she held it open for Wizardmon to step out, though she blinked when her Digimon left with him. Shrugging in neutrality, she closed it and fixed the curtains.

    Gatomon hopped onto the veranda wall to look out at the bay, shivering in the gentle breeze. She slowly breathed in attempt to clear her mind, finding herself relieved yesterday's memories were strong. Even on that positive note, she still didn't want to look at him when she muttered, “How much did you read?”

    His response sounded remorseful. “I only managed to translate the first page before Mrs. Kamiya came in.”

    She tried to recall the first dream she had Kari write down, knowing she had a few dreams from that time. After a few moments, flashes of herself frightfully clinging to an amused Wizardmon in mid-flight came to mind, the remembrance inducing a small smirk. “I'm sorry about that, I get kind of secretive about dreams. I forgot that we share memories.”

    To her surprise, he chuckled. “I imagine it's better now, but you have always had a rocky memory.” When she turned to him, the all-knowing gleam in his eye gave her slight heartache from her acting up. “I understand why you wanted to write them down.”

    Dropping her gaze, she half-heartedly shrugged. “They just bothered me that much, is all...”

    It was true, though she couldn't bring herself to admit it went deeper than that. Despite the oddity of them suddenly manifesting themselves so many years later, the nostalgia was enough for her to look forward to remembering more. She had never completely forgotten her time spent with Wizardmon all those years ago, but the details weren't strong until recently. From what she had heard about dreams, if they weren't archived memories or a way for the brain to amuse itself during the night, they were of desires.

    So what was it about the memories she desired? Was it a way to tell her to write them down so she wouldn't forget like he said? As much as she didn't want to remember her time at Myotismon's castle, it was true he had been her only light of hope in that digital hell. If he hadn't been there, her misery would've been through the roof if she never gave in to the darkness. Forgetting her worst memories of her life would mean forgetting how she found happiness.

    “I noticed reading the first one that it wasn't from your perspective.”

    Gatomon blinked up at him. “What do you mean by that?”

    He leaned up against the wall, briefly tapping his temple. “Memories are unique in that they differ from person to person,” he explained. “Even if the two were in the exact same place at the same time, you are going to get two different perspectives based on thought and emotion. There's also the chance one of the two, if not both, may end up twisting the experience to be something it never was.”

    The feline stared, trying to piece it together. “So what are you getting at? They're still my memories, right?”

    He briefly nodded. “You were there, after all. However, though you say these are your memories, you're looking at it through a different perspective. Reading that memory word-for-word was like I was the one reliving it.”

    As it sank in, Gatomon started to shake enough she had to sit and grip the edge of the wall. Her brows furrowed as she thought back to the dream—the memory—attempting to draw connections from how it manifested and why. Why that particular memory of her first flight with Wizardmon? She didn't have that much fun by the end of it, although she remembered he had a blast. What had led up to that moment was more-or-less random even with her throw-away line of wondering what it was like to “sit and ride on a cloud”. DemiDevimon and his goons took a good month to get their mockery of the incident out of their systems, and the flights (once her shock had worn off) since were done in secret, and were more pleasant.

    “So I'm curious, Gatomon.” She hesitated to look at him when he stepped next to her, and bowed in as he lowered his voice. “How did you know exactly what I was feeling at that particular moment?”

    It helped he wasn't demanding, but she couldn't bring herself to answer. They remained quiet, gazes intently locked blue-on-green where she found herself unable to look away. It was like she was caught under a spell and the only way it could break was if she spoke.

    No, that was an unfair assumption. Wizardmon would never manipulate her in such a way, so for all she knew, her pride was getting the best of her, or she was just stuck on an answer. How legit was the question, she wondered. Did he really expect her to have an answer, or was it just an observation? She couldn't seem to read his expression to know how to break the silence.

    Within that moment, he closed space to brush foreheads, and an unintentional gasp escaped her as she tensed. Her eyes scrunched shut as her lips pressed in a thin line, holding in a breath. It was a reaction she immediately began to regret, but not knowing why.

    “Your fever's breaking,” he announced in the same tone, although she could hear the hint of a smile.

    Gatomon finally turned her head, growing flustered. “R-Really?”

    He pulled away. “And you said you were sick all week. Fascinating...”

    The door opened before she could say anything else. “You guys in the mood for breakfast?”

    At the word, the feline's stomach growled, and she immediately jumped down. She was inwardly grateful for the interruption, now gaining an excuse to recover her composure. “Only if Tai's making it today,” she joked, her way of hiding her humiliation.

    Kari caught it, and laughed as she led them in.

    *~*~*

    Even after all of the clearing up, Yuuko still reeled during breakfast, hardly eating as Wizardmon gave his story. Tai and Kari found themselves impressed at how easily he swayed her, while Gatomon let the moment wash over her, knowing every word he spoke by heart. She allowed her mind to wander at the table, going anywhere from minutes ago on the balcony, to thinking about how worried the other Digimon were the past week, to wondering where Miko was.

    “Okay... it's starting to make sense now,” Mrs. Kamiya hesitantly sighed a few moments after the magician finished. Her head kept bobbing as she processed it all, looking between her children and the Digimon, lips a thin line. “Oh-kay, then. I...” She half-shrugged, half-threw her hands up. “I guess I owe you an apology, Mr. Wizard. Mon, mon, Wizardmon.”

    Tai ended up snorting in his rice. “Good work, Wizardmon. You got my mom to rap.”

    Wizardmon took the joke compliment a little too literal. “That's not a good sign, is it?”

    “No, you're fine,” Kari stepped in before her brother could say another word. “It's just been a while since Mom was last this... accepting.”

    “That's not true!” Yuuko blurted out, laying a hand on her chest. “I welcomed Gatomon and Agyuumon with open arms.”

    “Agumon.”

    “My bad. See, he doesn't come around much, but as much as he's endearing, he eats more than my son does,” she then calmly blabbed to the magician, who just politely sat there as he watched the poor woman look like she had a slight mental lapse. “And it's great and all, the more the merrier to eat my recipes, but I don't have enough room to make a banquet to keep that dino-belly of his full. And my husband's not happy to have him around anyway because then it means he gets less—”

    “Mom, calm down,” her eldest said, having gotten up to clasp her shoulders. “And thanks for the food, but Kari and I got to get going.” He gave an aside gesture toward the door, the signal Kari and Gatomon immediately jumped on.

    “Thanks for the food!” they quickly said in unison, and made their way to the exit.

    “Oh, Gatomon, you're coming?” Kari noted as she threw her bag over her shoulders. “Feeling better?”

    The feline nodded. “I don't want the others to keep worrying.”

    The girl smiled, glancing over at Wizardmon when he approached. “Well, unfortunately I can't fit the both of you into my bag. We're meeting at the park later this afternoon, you can join us there.”

    “Kari, do you have a lunch?” her mother spoke up, still sounding out of it.

    Perking up, she slipped around into the kitchen. Rolling her shoulders back and tail stiffening, Gatomon glanced up at her friend, visibly amused. “Thanks for not bringing up the whole 'death and rebirth' part,” she whispered out, rocking on her heels. “Made it more believable.”

    He sheepishly fiddled with his staff. “I'm currently reciting over how I'm to explain the hypnotism when it wears off,” he muttered. “Let's hope she doesn't talk to the neighbors today.”

    “...eh?”

    “Alright, you two, Tai says we can go on ahead,” Kari announced, skipping back into place to put her shoes on. “See you, Mom!”

    “Have a good day, all.”

    Gatomon shot Wizardmon a blank look as they left, moving to all fours at her partner's side. The “tsuku-tsuku” of cicadas accompanied them into the city, helping further accentuate the warm breeze and lazy clouds. With exception of a few small children turning their heads as they passed, people walked by like every other day. The ambience confused the feline more than it did to relax her.

    “Has September always been this... normal?” she slowly asked, swiveling her ears about each time they passed a tree.

    “It has been all week.” Kari then deeply frowned. “I knew you were leaving the apartment...”

    Ashamed, Gatomon hopped onto a wall to scamper ahead to the far corner. Whipping her tail about, she glanced over to the television station, fur steadily rising as she intently focused her attention on the observatory. She couldn't put her claw on it, but somehow looking at it made her uneasy for the first in a long time. Her eyes narrowed, she turned back to her friends as they approached.

    “Hey, Kari, can you not tell the others about Wizardmon?” she requested, her voice low.

    The girl tilted her gaze to the wizard, brows raised. “If that's alright with him.” Gatomon noticed from her current angle he barely reached her chest, his pointed hat making up for the difference. And suddenly she began to realize just how short in stature he was, something she had believed was normal as Myotismon was freakishly tall himself.

    Such a thought didn't seem to bother him as he made eye-contact. “If you feel it'll disturb everyone's studies, I agree.”

    The feline gave him a double-take once she took in what he said. “That's your biggest concern?”

    Kari smiled at the two, lifting a finger to her lips. “Okay then, I won't tell. And speaking of, we'll have to part here, T.K. and the others should be here soon.”

    After a quick glimpse behind, Gatomon said, “Just tell them I'm feeling better, so I'll be at the park.”

    Her partner nodded in agreement. “Sure. Stay out of trouble, you two.”

    A mischievous glint shone in Wizardmon's eye when he looked over. “Well, at least one of us will.”

    Flustered, she snapped, “Hey, what're you implying?!”

    Kari giggled, and with a wave, ran off around the corner. Gatomon watched her disappear into the crowd, even sweeping a look over in the off-chance she would spot the boy or Patamon. Turning back to her friend, she let out a calm breath.

    “We should get away from the crowds,” she suggested, sticking to the wall as they walked back the way they came.

    “Good plan. I saw a pathway we can take.”

    She decided to bound ahead to maintain a short distance from him, mainly in attempt to draw less attention to themselves—not that it helped as passing people still stole glances. Normally she wasn't bothered it, yet she couldn't help thinking about Wizardmon. Both times she looked at him, he didn't show any noticeable signs he was growing awkward, and she didn't want to bring it up to him. It was jumping to conclusions, of course, but she wasn't sure how used to crowds he was.

    “About this morning,” she carefully alluded to breakfast, “I don't blame you for the hypnotism. Mrs. Kamiya really hasn't... taken a liken to us that well.”

    “It's not permanent,” he reminded her. “It'll wear off soon, though by then, there won't be a need for me to return to the apartment.”

    Gatomon then blinked. “Where did you sleep last night, by the way?”

    “I didn't.” She didn't like that he smiled when he answered. “I roamed Odaiba as I said.”

    Even though she shouldn't have been surprised, it still rubbed her the wrong way just how calmly and openly he said it. It wasn't anything new of him be so engrossed into studying he forgot to sleep, a habit she had always known him to have, and traveling was the same way. She still recalled memories of him returning to the castle from successful reconnaissance or recruiting missions days ahead of schedule (one of few reasons why it was Myotismon had kept him around), and then always wondered how he had energy to work or even go out again. While she hadn't thought of it the first time, it became recurring enough and she eventually regularly escorted him, which was how she discovered it and disapproved of it.

    Regardless of how little her opinion changed, the image of him flying around the district brought her some content. “I guess after being dead, sleep's the last thing you want. It must be pretty... um...” Slowing, she raised a paw to her mouth and averted her eyes, realizing what she was saying.

    “Unnecessary? Odd? Frightening?”

    Shivering at how nonchalant the response was, she timidly shot her gaze back to him. “...I wasn't going to say any of that...”

    “I know.” His assurance didn't make her feel better. “It's a little jarring, but it's not drastic.”

    Frowning, she stood on two feet to look down on him. Her lieutenant years may have passed, but it was like second nature to be enforcing whenever she wanted to make herself clear. “Please promise you will tonight,” she obliged. “I don't want you collapsing on us.”

    He gave a deep nod that looked like a bow. “I shall once I find a place to sleep.”

    While still shaking off the odd feeling, she mentally face-palmed. “Oh, crap, I forgot about that...”

    He smiled. “To be frank, I have plans on returning to the Digital World, but if you want me to stay another night, I will do so.”

    Flexing her claws and tilting her head to the side, she sat back on her haunches. “Do what you want.”

    A line of small schoolchildren then rounded a corner ahead of them. At the sight of Wizardmon, they suddenly let out cheers and squeals, and scampered over to crowd him. Gatomon poised to swipe in warning as a child pushed nearer in, but they ignored her.

    “A magician, magician!” was their repeated chant, arms thrown in the air.

    A woman assumed to be their caretaker jogged up to them. “Children, come away and leave him be!” she scolded.

    To the feline's surprise, he just raised a hand. “No need to worry, it's part of my duty to entertain.”

    “Can you pull a rabbit out of your hat?” a rosy boy blurted out.

    Something sparked to life in Wizardmon's eyes at the request. “I can do better than a rabbit.” Taking off his hat, he flipped it about to show it was empty, then reached inside.

    Before Gatomon could yelp, she felt herself being pulled backward by her scruff into brief darkness, only to pop out dazed, centimeters away from the wide-eyed stares of the children. One reached out to jab his finger into her cheek, and she flailed about in the magician's hold with a yell. Then she was lightly flipped up, and he swept his hat over her as though to catch her, and instead found herself comically landing directly behind the caretaker as the children cheered.

    “May I have a volunteer from the crowd?” he announced, and hands shot up. The cat glared over at him, though he dismissed her with a subtle gesture with his fingers to hide. “You, young lady. This way, please.”

    With a huff, Gatomon hopped back onto the wall in time to watch a young girl with pigtails peeking out from under her helmet step forward, cheeks puffed in excitement. “What is your name, miss?”

    “Ami Yoshizawa.”

    Wizardmon then placed his hat over her, smiling at the giggles when it slipped over her eyes. “Leave it be,” he commanded when she moved to fix the hat. He gently tapped his staff on the skull, and the red eyes rolled around. The feline felt a chill run up her spine at the sight, bringing her to crouch and hook her claws into the bricks. “Now, Ami, I want you to think about your favorite toy,” he instructed soothingly. “Don't say it out loud, just imagine it in your mind's eye, and focus on it.”

    The child appeared to be holding her breath, and her figure was tensing. Her classmates leaned in with quiet gasps as Wizardmon watched intently, the wooden sun not once removed from where it hovered over her. His fingers began to slowly draw out shapes as it started to glow, catching the attention of the students.

    “Are you ready, Ami?” he asked, voice still soft, laying his free hand on the skull. “Don't move your head, just tell me.”

    “Ready!” she squeaked out, looking like she was struggling to be still.

    At the very moment the eyes froze, Gatomon flinched from a flash, and he whipped the hat off for a teddy bear to drop onto her head amidst tiny sparks. The girl caught it and let out a surprised yell, hopping in place as she hugged it. “It's my bear! Look, look, this is it!”

    The children let out collective gasps and astonished murmurs, a couple of the girls expressing their recognition of the toy with a unified “No way!”, and an added, “But it's at home!” Even the caretaker was impressed, her hands pressed to her chest.

    Ami held up the stuffed bear to turn it every which way, her eyes wide and sparkling. “So cool...” Gaping up at Wizardmon, she breathed out, “How'd you know?”

    Putting his hat back on, he gave a wink. “I didn't. It was all you.”

    Although she was in awe herself, Gatomon couldn't help shooting him an accusatory look.

    Snapping out of it, the woman then clapped twice for attention. “Alright, children, that was a nice performance, but we need to get going.” When they started to complain, her tone sharpened. “We're running late as it is. Thank the nice man and let's go.”

    After the groans passed, they shouted out a “Thank you, sir!” (though a couple of boys said “Mr. Wizard” instead) and walked off, clamoring about the magic trick. The caretaker gave a brief bow as she followed to herd the children in line, just barely missing the young girl who swerved around and scurried her way back. Shifting her bear in place to rummage through her knapsack, she pulled out a small coin purse and from it a 100 yen coin, which she held out without a word.

    Wizardmon hesitated to take it, at first glancing over to Gatomon as though she held an answer. Ami followed his gaze and gave her a bright smile, revealing she was missing a tooth, then took his hand to push it into his palm and hurried off. Once she blended in, the two Digimon stared at it as he flipped it about, his face lightening up.

    “Such a sweet gesture,” he mused.

    “At least she gave you something,” Gatomon said, scratching at an ear.

    “I didn't expect to get anything.” Shrugging, but still smiling, he tucked it inside his vest for safe-keeping.

    A quiet “hmm” in her throat, she turned to resume their walk. “I think you're a little too easy-going, Wiz. You didn't have to do that.”

    “True, but I didn't want to be rude.”

    Suddenly, the cat found herself being yanked back again, and a second later she came eye-to-eye with Wizardmon. A flush on her face, she shoved herself out of his hold with a growl, immediately separating space between them. “What the hell, Wizardmon?!” she finally choked out, wanting to throttle him.

    She hated he found it amusing enough to laugh at as he put his hat back on. “I apologize, Gatomon. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

    Gatomon shook her head vigorously. “No! You ask me first before you force me to be your assistant!”

    “Well, at least you aren't objected to it.” He stepped up to pet her between the ears.

    She swiped his hand away and returned to the wall, her tail ring clinking. “Another thing, Wizardmon.”

    His hand dropped as he straightened. “Something wrong?”

    Out of uncertainty, she carefully started off with, “About the petting and stuff—” and then her voice caught. Clearing her throat didn't make it better, and she was quickly losing her words.

    He appeared to have understood, his gaze softened as he solemnly bowed his head to obscure his face. “I see. I'm sorry, Gatomon, I didn't know you felt that way.”

    Deep down, she could feel guilt get into a confrontation with her pride. She didn't know how to approach the situation, in how to explain herself to get the misconception cleared up. “No, I liked it when we were friends—I mean, we are friends, but...” After stumbling over her words, she let out an exhale to start again. “It's been six years. Things are different now, and it's kinda weird... and awkward. I just...” She couldn't bring herself to finish her thoughts; already she began to wish he could read her mind.

    Luckily, Wizardmon was quick to catch on. “I understand. I won't lay a hand on you again if that's what you want.”

    “It doesn't mean I don't like it, Wizardmon,” she amended, picking at the wall. “I want us to get used to each other again.”

    “I agree.”

    They stared at each other for a long moment until Gatomon dropped her gaze. Passers-by continued to send quick glances their way, some out of confusion, others in annoyance because Wizardmon was in the middle of the sidewalk. Once he pressed himself up against the wall, she steadily continued on, but kept him in her peripheral vision.

    “So... I guess I'll only walk on the same side you hold your staff?” she muttered, almost as a suggestion.

    He willingly switched hands. “I'll try not to bop you with it.”

    Gatomon snorted on a laugh.

    *~*~*

    They spent their day walking around to take in sights and sounds of a bustling city, in no hurry to get to a destination if they had one in mind. Wizardmon had offered to fly further out if Gatomon was up for it, but the spur-of-the-moment suggestion made her hesitate. In its place, however, he was occasionally stopped by passing children or tourists who mistook him for a street performer, yet he obliged each time whether he got money or not. He never did the same trick twice, a feat that impressed the feline as she oversaw them. Not once did he ask her to be an assistant, which made her both relieved and regretful depending on what he did.

    As much as she enjoyed watching him perform, she couldn't help but feel odd about how calm he was. She recalled the day they had arrived with Myotismon and his army to the real world, and were ordered to scatter out and find the eighth child. Many of them had relied on stealth to get around, though a few like Wizardmon managed to blend into the crowd. She had never known what he did, though as she eyed him the entire day, it gave her a good guess.

    “I didn't get to check last night, but I'd like to make a quick stop someplace.”

    Tongue sticking out, Gatomon diverted her attention from the store window she was using to groom while they had a break. “Is it far?”

    “No, it's just a quick flight there.”

    Her face fell as she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you're just making excuses to go out flying again.”

    He shrugged. “Believe what you want, then.” The Wizard Digimon threw his arm around her and shot up into the air, which startled a nearby couple.

    Gatomon could have snapped at him for laying a hand on her, but upon looking down at the speeding landscape, she didn't feel like dropping even with her soft landings. Slightly pouting, she held tight before closing her eyes and taking in deep breaths. Despite all those years of flying both with Wizardmon and as Angewomon, she still wasn't used to the exhilaration.

    He noticed very quickly. “I'm sorry for not letting you prepare yourself.”

    She shook her head (and almost regretted it). “It's not your fault,” she muttered, peering out of one eye. “So where are we going?”

    He pointed with his staff toward the approaching Rainbow Bridge. “On the battery island.”

    A shock of remembrance brought her to attention, suddenly not liking where it was going. “Why there?” she gasped.

    “Just out of curiosity.”

    She pinched her brows in slight irritation. She should've learned by now to not ask simple questions.

    Within the minute, they landed in a clearing enclosed with trees. Gatomon immediately pulled away with a small shudder, glancing around suspiciously. “It's daytime, but it still gives me the creeps.”

    Wizardmon thought differently. “I see the humans haven't done much to this place.”

    “Is that seriously the first thing you think about every time you see something you remember?”

    He raised a brow at her tone. “Is there a problem?”

    She tensed in place to rub an arm. “Well... no...” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

    He searched her face for a quiet moment before shrugging and walking off, tapping the blunt end of his staff along the grass. “It's just fascinating, is all.”

    With a slight sneer, she plodded after him. “You and your fascination with 'fascinating' can go be fascinated elsewhere,” she grouched. “I don't want to stay here any longer than we have to.”

    “Relax, Gatomon, there is no one nor nothing here anymore.”

    The cat sniffed. “I know that...”

    Reaching a thick patch, a dull “thunk” sounded. Looking like he had made the discovery of a lifetime, Wizardmon felt around and pulled on a rusted door, throwing his weight into it to open up a staircase. Gatomon's fur bristled from a sudden chill, backing away and fighting back a sneeze.

    He tilted his head as he briefly stretched. “If you're not comfortable coming in, you can stand guard,” he simply stated before entering, hovering over the steps. His staff began to softly illuminate as he descended into the shadows.

    She made a noise halfway between hissing and whimpering, then quickly leapt down the stairs to his side. “Just very quick, and then we leave,” she snarled once she stepped up her pacing, eyes sharpened.

    It was deathly quiet underground, the only other sounds echoing off the stone were her footsteps and breaths. Down at the bottom floor were the gates, the padlock and key rested aside, untouched for all these years. Her breath hitched at the sight, suspecting what was beyond the bars.

    Wizardmon took a few moments longer to notice, and a brief chuckle escaped him as he landed. “Has it really been six years?”

    She grumbled under her breath, “We're done, let's go.”

    He kept going, holding the wand further out. “By the gods, it's still there.” He then laughed, and jogged for the gates to push them open. “So he never returned here after that night.”

    Gatomon trembled at the glint of brass and black iron inside the chamber, and hesitantly approached the coffin. Wizardmon still examined it in interest, lightly rapping his knuckles on the lid and sides and looking gleeful. Although she was still uneasy about the hide-out, she found herself in awe at the discovery.

    “I don't believe it,” she rasped out, frowning deeply at the bat insignia.

    The mage then paused at the head to grasp the lid.

    “What are you doing?!”

    He looked at her in surprise as her ricocheted voice faded. Frozen in place, she kept darting her wide eyes between him and the coffin, her fur spiked out. “Gatomon, what has you so spooked?”

    “Y... Y-You don't know what's in there!” she choked out, pointing shakily at it.

    He dropped his hands from the coffin. “It sounded empty. I honestly doubt anything got into it.”

    “You don't know that! And what are you going to do, anyway?!” While she was usually more open to Wizardmon, she hoped the light wasn't as bright on her when she felt tears prick at her eyes.

    His expression fell to that of worry. “Why are you so concerned about this?” he softly asked. “Myotismon is long gone, as you said, there is nothing to fear. It is better us rummaging through his belongings than someone else who doesn't know what they're getting into.”

    She couldn't deny he had a point. It didn't make her feel any better, but it started to lay to rest some of her creeping anxieties. Unable to put together a coherent sentence, Gatomon yielded, though her wavering irises still shone. Stepping around for the other side, she laid her claws on the lid and gave a small, but curt nod. They slid it off together, and she quickly turned away with shut eyes.

    Wizardmon gave a tsk. “Such a shame.”

    Flicking an ear, the cat looked over to find the velvet layer was covered over in dust and cobwebs, complete with seams coming loose. She lightly coughed when he reached down to brush some of it off. Somehow, she half-expected something to start crawling out of the holes from the disturbance.

    “Well, that's that,” he sighed out, patting down his gloves. “Nothing to salvage here.”

    Gatomon sat back on her heels. “That's the reason you came down here?”

    “You never know, Gatomon,” he said with a shrug. “Myotismon always felt inclined to collect things, and keep them for himself.”

    She had forgotten about that. “What were you expecting, a personal computer?”

    Wizardmon laughed. “Jewelery, perhaps.”

    “Like from all those women he drained?” she recalled, raising a claw.

    At the thought, ran his hands along the edges and poked and prodded about. “Nothing.”

    The tiny Champion took notice of his expression as he straightened up. “You look so disappointed.”

    He didn't look like he disagreed when he blinked down at her. “Do I?”

    She wryly smiled. “Now that the excitement of breaking into an ex-boss' old hide-out has worn off, yeah, pretty much.”

    “You look better yourself. It's like you sucked out all of my energy.”

    “Like a vampire?”

    He wagged a finger at her, a gleam in his eye. “How long did you sit on that joke for?”

    “Many moons.”

    They burst out laughing, Wizardmon clapping her on the back. Still smirking, Gatomon smacked him upside the head with the pillow, though immediately regretted it when the cloud of dust puffed into her face. Through the coughs, he felt along to reach inside, and let out a sudden “Ah ha!” He pulled out, much to their surprise, the fake tag and crest, which glinted warmly in the light.

    “Hey, how'd that get in there?” the feline gasped, standing on tip-toe for a better look.

    He got a burst of remembrance, eyes lighting up. “Oh, this is the one I replaced for the real crest.”

    She almost did a double-take. “Why'd you do that?”

    Letting the necklace hang from his fingers, the sorcerer explained, “If we hadn't been caught, we could've gotten away with it, or at least for a little while.”

    “Because he would've known it was fake the moment he saw it?” she guessed, lightly touching her claw to the cover.

    “Exactly.” He dropped it into her awaiting paw. “There's a difference in power, and the real crest had a stronger release of energy.”

    “Whoa...” Taking a closer look, she noticed the crest had a slight pulse to it, a sign it was still active. “I didn't know that. I mean, all I knew was it would just react to Kari if it ever neared her, but that was it.”

    Her heart grew heavy the longer she stared at the pink symbol. Even after six years, the thought of how close she had come to killing Kari still haunted her. Her hunches were rarely ever wrong, and even rarer was her hesitating in acting out on said-hunches. She always dreaded that “what if”, unsure how things would've been different if this-or-that occurred, as she was not the type who romanticized the idea of alternate worlds. Fate had been kind to Kari, it always seemed.

    Not wanting to think on it any longer, she suddenly puffed out her chest and began to strut around. “What are you two doing in here?” she boasted in as deep a voice as she could manage. For good measure, she swept an arm before her like she threw a cape around herself. “Snooping as usual, I see.”

    Wizardmon played along, bowing in place to hide a smile. “It's nothing, Lord Myotismon, we were just on cleaning duty.”

    “I ordered you to find the Eighth Child, not to play house! Now get out. I need to make myself prim and proper for the slaughtering of innocents.” She then mimed applying lipstick and smoothing back hair.

    He seemed taken aback. “Good heavens, Gatomon, that's dark.”

    “You know that's what he would say,” she said in her normal voice.

    “Not necessarily.” The Wizard Digimon then stood straight himself and lazily held out an imaginary glass that he swirled about. “The night may be young, but this blood isn't. Fetch me the Eighth Child while he's still fresh, and I shall live for twice the moons.”

    Gatomon was snickering more at the voice than the mocking. “You got too direct there.”

    “I'm doing the best impression I can.”

    “You have the drawling right, you just have to be classy and play it serious as you talk about staining your lips with the blood of an innocent child.” Her voice had deepened again at the end.

    He only shook his head in amazement. “How in the world, Gatomon?”

    She was pleased she still got it. “You're just not being darkly sadistic and stuff.”

    Wizardmon just shrugged, chuckling under his breath. “Mimicking Myotismon was always your forte, after all.”

    “Now that I think about it, you think he got off to slasher films?” she then blurted out, tucking the tag and crest into a glove.

    Oh-kay, Gatomon, we need to get going.” He replaced the lid and waved her off toward the exit.

    “Come on, I'm just getting warmed up, which not even Myotismon could do.”

    He rolled his eyes, shaking his head.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 13th March 2016 at 7:17 AM. Reason: fixing banner
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  4. #4
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    *~*~*

    It was the late afternoon before the small group of six were all together at the park with their Digimon, sitting under the tree with their schoolbooks open and studying—those who made the effort to, anyway. The Digimon weren't interested and were lazing or running around with the soccer ball, now all in their Rookie forms. Davis had a hard time concentrating, constantly glancing back-and-forth enough times to make his friends dizzy watching him.

    “Why don't you just go home if you're going to get distracted,” Yolei stated matter-of-factly when he turned around for the umpteenth time.

    “I'm sorry, but whose soccer ball are they kicking around out there?” he retorted, more of an excuse than an actual reason.

    “I have one on hand if you need to go,” Ken said without looking up from his homework.

    After a small pout in the prodigy's direction, he threw his hands behind his head. “No, thanks, I don't mind that they're using it.”

    “I bet you wouldn't say that if I made the offer,” T.K. grinned, brows raised.

    “Yeah, right, you're more into basketball.”

    “It was only rhetorical.”

    “But it's not like they couldn't use the basketball,” Cody gave his insight, throwing back the soccer ball when it rolled up to him. Beside him, Armadillomon rolled over to doze off.

    Kari slightly shook her head when her D-Terminal beeped. Taking a peek, she announced, “Tai's on his way over, he had to wait for Izzy.”

    “I'm surprised Izzy's managed to keep himself available all this time,” Yolei sighed out, her eyes fixated on Ken's handwriting. “Wonder how he does it.”

    “Only six years, and he's still hard to crack,” the blonde boy chuckled, elbowing Kari knowingly. Davis' sharp stare was ignored. “I wouldn't be surprised if he goes overseas and still manages to be where we need him.”

    Cody looked over after watching Veemon accidentally headbutt the ball into Hawkmon's face. “By the way, Kari, how's Gatomon doing?”

    The brunette beamed. “She's fine now, thanks for asking. She promised she'd be here, but she's sure taking her sweet time.”

    “Must be taking a nap,” Davis guessed, his attention returned to the Digimon. “I'm glad she's feeling better, but I don't blame her for not coming.”

    With glasses gleaming, the lavender-haired girl snatched up his notebook to flip through, neither of the DigiDestined stopping her. Kari only let out a quiet sigh, her smile now lop-sided. “She doesn't like the idea of us worrying over her, but she might've only had the strength to see me off if that's the case."

    Only T.K. noticed there was slight fluctuation in her voice, though he didn't bring it to attention.

    Suddenly, the D-3s were set off, their combined screeches causing the children to fumble (Davis fell over instead) to turn them off—except Kari's, which she remembered she had left at home. The Digimon paused in their game or perked up to search the area, gathering around in protective stances.

    “A Digimon's here!” Ken exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

    Yolei checked the screen, spotting a flashing dot by their location. “It's on top of us!”

    They all glanced up at the sky, sweeping the buildings and treetops. Quickly ascending, Hawkmon spotted a shape first before Patamon, and pointed out, “It's coming in from the north-west!”

    Kari couldn't help but grin, and she backed away from the tree for a wave. “Over here, guys!”

    The other DigiDestined watched as two figures approached, one of them returning the gesture. T.K.'s jaw dropped as he hurried to his friend's side, looking at her like she had gone mad. “It can't be!” he stammered, running a hand through his hair. “Kari, you knew?!”

    She giggled. “Since yesterday. I wanted it to be a surprise.”

    “What're you talking about?” Davis butted in, though he watched as the Digimon landed, and Gatomon slipped out of its hold.

    Patamon let out a happy gasp and bolted down to hover above them. “Long time no see, Wizardmon!” he greeted.

    The mage tipped his hat, turning to the other Digimon as they ran up in near-awe. “You look familiar!” Veemon said, a crooked smile on his face.

    “I could say the same to you,” he replied back, giving a nod. “The name's Wizardmon, and you must be the Digimon of the new DigiDestined.”

    The addressed children began to crowd around in interest, though Ken remained near the back as Wormmon crawled onto his shoulder. Cody was the first to speak out, blinking repeatedly. “Is this the same Wizardmon we saw that time?”

    “He was the ghost who spoke to us!” Yolei recalled, pushing her glasses up her nose. “So he was reborn?”

    T.K. carefully stepped forward, keeping Kari in his reach. Glancing between Wizardmon and Gatomon, he breathed out, “It's really you?”

    “You look well, Takeru.”

    The girl patted his arm in assurance, then faced the group. “Sorry I didn't tell you guys. I didn't think you'd believe me.”

    Gatomon seemed the most surprised by her words, but held her tongue. She moved a few steps to the other Digimon to give them smiles of her own, mutely letting them know she was fine. Veemon was the only one still entranced by Wizardmon's presence to notice, she had expected it as such.

    Davis couldn't stay silent another second, and stood up straight. “So you're Wizardmon? I'm Davis, Kari's boyfriend!”

    “He is not,” Kari immediately amended, smiling.

    He was crushed. “I'm working on it...”

    “I remember seeing you there,” Wizardmon said, expression unchanged as he swept his gaze along. “You have all grown up to be fine young people.” He paused on Ken, who slightly winced when they made eye-contact. His irises then gleamed knowingly. “And you must be Ken Ichijouji.”

    He became blustered, though was unable to turn away. “Yes, I am.”

    The Digimon's gaze softened in relief. “I'm glad you were saved from the darkness.”

    Ken's hand clenched into a fist at his side. “Who told you that?” he whispered.

    Gatomon lightly smacked her tail on her friend's shoulder, brows furrowed. “Wizardmon, what are you doing?”

    He shrugged her off, then bowed his head. “I apologize if it bothers you to bring up the past. Myotismon's psychological torture leaves that effect.”

    Glancing over at Wormmon, the young man slowly shook his head. “...no, it's fine. I'm just shocked you know, is all.”

    “It was Wizardmon who gave us the clue to save you,” Kari explained. “If it hadn't been for him, it could've taken us longer to help.”

    Davis looked like he was going to say something, then decided to drop it when Tai and Izzy called out to them. The two jogged up until the smaller boy nearly halted in place. “It can't be!” he panted out, blinking in disbelief. “Is that who I think it is?”

    “That's what we were all saying,” T.K. laughed.

    Tai clapped his friend on the shoulder with a sigh. “He's why I brought you over, Iz. I thought we'd have a reunion.”

    Wizardmon gave a nod, a gesture that brought a toothy smile to Izzy's face. It was an expression the DigiDestined were familiar with in that he had drawn to a conclusion. “Oh, I see! So you're the one Gennai called me about last night.”

    Everyone stared in slight surprise. “Gennai did?” Kari echoed.

    “He contacted me saying there was an unauthorized crossing between worlds yesterday afternoon, and he had tracked it down to the Kamiya house, but couldn't get through to them.” The children all tensed in place during the statement. “I thought nothing of it because I figured it was Gatomon or Agumon doing something with the Digi-Port. However, they're authorized to go back-and-forth.”

    The feline's ears drooped in embarrassment. “Oh... I forgot all about that...” She glanced up in apology.

    “It's okay, Gatomon.” Izzy smiled down at her. “Now that we know the Digimon in question is one we know, we shouldn't have to worry. That doesn't mean we should let our guard down, though. Since it's on our mind right now, let's go ahead and register Wizardmon so he can pass through without getting into trouble.” He unattached his laptop to boot it up, which elicited a few rolls of the eyes in the group.

    “Hey, hold on, how'd he get through in the first place?” Ken questioned, Cody and Yolei nodding in tandem.

    “Gatomon said she took his data with her,” Tai said.

    Kari was taken aback, realizing she had never asked about it. “Like a merging? Did she use my D-3?”

    Gatomon and Wizardmon awkwardly looked at each other. “Sort of...” she muttered, giving a slight shrug. “Sorry for causing trouble...” Her partner crouched to pet her between the ears, bringing her to loosen up.

    “Well, at least we were able to solve this mystery quickly and without any problems.” Izzy paused in his typing to allow the data to load, his lips pursed. “But how odd that Gennai was unable to identify Wizardmon...”

    “What do you mean, Izzy?” T.K. interjected, tilting his head.

    “Apparently data was missing, and he couldn't fill in the blanks.”

    “That's odd.”

    The two Champion Digimon gave each other wary glances.

    Tai then clapped his hands with a grin. “Well, now that we got that out of the way, how about a celebration for Wizardmon's return?”

    “That's very kind of you,” Wizardmon said, a chuckle on the tip of his tongue, “but I will have to say 'no' to that.”

    “It can be a small one, nothing big. It's not like we're announcing you to the entire world.”

    He still waved a hand in refusal. “I'm good, thank you.”

    Kari smiled. “I agree, Tai. Just having him here with us is good enough as it is.”

    “I second it,” Davis stepped in, absentmindedly rolling his soccer ball under his foot. “Hey, Wizardmon, know how to play soccer?” At the word, his Digimon's eyes gleamed and he jigged in place.

    He only took a single, questioning glance at the ball before responding, “I wouldn't mind spectating.”

    The boy let out a laugh, and started juggling with his knees. “Watch and learn! I'm not called 'Footloose Davis' for nothing!”

    “Oh, he has a 'foot loose', alright,” Ken called him out through a smirk.

    “Them's fighting words!”

    As the two began to butt heads, Wizardmon stole a glance at Gatomon, brows raised in slight bemusement. She shook her head as she sighed, but couldn't help a smile. “Welcome to the team, Wizardmon.”

    *~*~*

    Miko was waiting at the doorstep when they returned home that evening, though the sight of Gatomon and Wizardmon made her jumpy until Kari managed to coax her in. Silence and a darkening apartment met their greetings, a sign Yuuko wasn't home. Without hesitation after kicking off his shoes, Tai slumped over the couch with a groan.

    “I knew I should've done homework waiting on Izzy,” he lamented.

    “Or you could've done the next best thing and did your homework instead of playing soccer,” Kari corrected, dropping her backpack inside her room before picking up the phone for messages. “I'll never understand boys and their obsession with sports.”

    “It's not an obsession, it's a passion, get it right.”

    The Digimon chose to hover near the entranceway, unsure of but unwilling to give their own insights to the conversation. Glancing around, Gatomon spotted a hand-written note on the dining table just as her partner asked, “Tai, did Mom leave a note anywhere?”

    “Why?”

    “It looks like Dad had called. I think she's gone to meet him.”

    He lifted himself up with a sigh, rubbing his neck. “That soon, huh? Well, guess I gotta get to cooking.”

    “I'd like to do it tonight.”

    Everyone turned to look at Wizardmon in surprise, Gatomon more-so. Even though it was much like of him to say, she couldn't tell why he had spoken up about it. “Gee, thanks for the offer, Wizardmon, but you're a guest,” Tai politely declined, despite his smile.

    He took off his hat in a respectful gesture. “I insist as a way to thank you for letting me stay the night.”

    “You didn't sleep inside last night?” Kari inquired in worry. “Why didn't you say something?”

    Gatomon piped up, “I told you, Kari, that Wizardmon was out for the night.”

    Wizardmon gave an indifferent shrug. “I honestly prefer the outdoors anyway.”

    Smoothing back his hair, Tai said, “I'll give you my bed tonight, then. I'm going to be studying anyway, so it'd be easier to get a midnight snack from the front room.”

    “Knowing you, Tai,” his sister beamed, “it's going to be more snacking and less studying.”

    The tiny Champion let out a relieved sigh, her smile lopsided. “Thank you, Tai.”

    As he walked by into the kitchen, he reached down to ruffle her fur, much to her chagrin. “Not a problem. Now, what should we have tonight...”

    Handing her his hat, Wizardmon followed. “I still insist on fixing supper.”

    The boy turned to look at him, slightly amused. “Stubborn, aren't ya?”

    He just smiled over at his friend. “Learned from the best.”

    Gatomon flushed, lightly flicking the hat rim.

    “Is there anything specific you had in mind?” he then queried, returning to Tai.

    He pursed his lips in thought, though he looked more like he was straining for an answer. “Uh... Kari, how about you?”

    “It wasn't my turn tonight,” she said, at a loss as well.

    Wizardmon seemed to have expected the answer, taking off his gloves to tuck them inside his vest and rolling up his sleeves. “Well then, if you'll direct me to your ingredients, I'll whip something up.”

    Giving in, Tai showed the Digimon around the small kitchen. Gatomon joined Kari on the couch just when she picked up the remote, setting aside the hat on the arm. Her ears twitching, she nudged the girl.

    “Kari, are you sure it's okay for him to make it?” she asked in a hushed tone.

    “I think it's sweet of him to offer it.” Her brows rose. “Why? Should we be worried?”

    The feline dropped her gaze to the skull for a moment before swerving the hat to face it away. “Erm, no, not that I'm aware of. I mean, the few times I ate his cooking, I thought it was good, but then again, we were living at Myotismon's castle.” She couldn't emphasize it enough; it had always been tough transitioning between the two qualities every time she had left.

    Despite not knowing the details, Kari loosened up. “If all else fails, we can always heat up something, as long as the kitchen doesn't go up in flames.” They giggled to themselves, though Gatomon was a bit more hesitant.

    “Hey, I heard that!” Tai called out, popping his head up over the counter where the fridge was. “That was the one time, Kari!”

    She waved a hand at him nonchalantly, shaking her head in mirth and turning her attention to the television. The evening news was going on about the stock market, something that Gatomon couldn't make heads or tails of even as she listened and watched the screen. Money and economics was not something that crossed her mind often enough to care.

    As she flexed a paw, the object inside her glove made itself known. “Oh, Kari.”

    She looked down just as the feline pulled out the necklace, letting out a shocked gasp as it glowed that caught Wizardmon and Tai's attention. “My tag and crest! Oh, Gatomon!” She threw her arms around her, rubbing their cheeks together.

    Squirming a bit in her hold, she shook her head. “No, it's one of the fakes Myotismon made.”

    Kari's eyes then widened, getting up from her seat. “Is Myotismon here?!”

    Tai stood at attention. “Impossible, his soul's been completely destroyed.”

    Wizardmon gave an immediate response, glancing away briefly from the stove he was setting up. “We went into his old hide-out this afternoon, and discovered it in his coffin.”

    The DigiDestined relaxed, Tai letting out a nervous laugh. “Oh yeah, he had one, didn't he—the hide-out, I mean. We never found it.”

    “It's under one of the battery islands.”

    He smacked his forehead. “I never would have guessed that as a kid.”

    Gatomon patted her partner's hands, giving her a smile. “It may not be real, but think of it as a memento.”

    Kari nodded in agreement, pulling her in for another hug as the crest dimmed to dormancy.

    Wizardmon was soon left on his own, although Tai still supervised off to the side ready to jump in if needed. Gatomon looked over from the couch every now and then to observe, a little surprised he was doing it all by hand. While she could recall him fixing meals over an open fire during missions, not once had she ever seen him in a kitchen environment. She had it in her mind what he did outside was simple enough he didn't have to resort to magic; then again, she had only stepped in the kitchen at Myotismon's castle once and had refused to return, so he might've gone in on his own time.

    Nearly an hour had passed, though their parents still had of yet to walk in when he was finished. The three drooled over it, with Tai and Kari impressed at the display. “I hadn't really paid attention, you made doria?” the young man asked, pointing to the main dish.

    Wizardmon nodded in humility while still looking pleased with himself. “I hope Mrs. Kamiya doesn't mind I used the seafood ingredients.”

    “No, she'll totally understand when she sees this.” As though afraid he would ruin its appearance, Tai took care in serving it.

    With a chorus of “Thanks for the food!”, they all except Wizardmon had their first bite, and their eyes lit in elation.

    “It's like reliving a childhood memory!” Kari gushed.

    “It's like magic, but by hand!” Tai choked on his tears. “Oh man, Agumon's missing out!”

    “I... I don't know what to say,” Gatomon breathed out, a smile spreading on her lips.

    The mage turned a slight shade of pink. “Thank you, it was my first time trying out the recipe.”

    “First what?!” the DigiDestined cried out. Even the feline couldn't believe what she heard.

    He nearly stumbled on his words. “I've had it a few times in the Digital World, but I never made it for myself.”

    Still in shock, Tai ate a few more bites. “Man, you're something else, Wizardmon!”

    The Digimon dropped his gaze, an act that caught Gatomon's attention first before the other two. She could see his shyness falling over his eyes like a shadow, an emotion she hadn't seen in him in a long time. It was a jarring one-eighty compared to how he was the rest of the day, only hitting her when she watched him gently poke at his plate.

    “Are you going to join us, Wizardmon?” Kari asked, leaning closer in worry.

    He struggled to maintain eye-contact. “Er... I don't mind.”

    “Wizardmon...” Gatomon shot over a stern look. “Can you two promise not to stare?”

    The siblings were visibly confused and anxious, but gave their word. “Sure...”

    Turning back to her friend, the cat gave an encouraging nod once their visions crossed. Gingerly, Wizardmon loosened his cowl, still finding it easier to keep his eyes down. The sight of his stitched mouth in a straight line brought Gatomon to pat his hand in comfort.

    Kari and Tai gave each other a quick, saddened glimpse, unsure how to respond. “Uh... thanks for making dinner, Wizardmon,” she said to break the awkward silence. “You seriously didn't have to.”

    He slightly flinched at her voice, but made sure to look over before nodding. “Ah... I know, but I wanted to show my appreciation...” Still averting his gaze, he began to eat, only to laugh to himself. “Alas, wasn't even close to imitating the taste from those years ago.”

    Finally finding his voice, Tai praised him again, “It's still delicious, so please don't beat yourself up over it.”

    Wizardmon flushed and clasped Gatomon's paw, but his lips curled.

    “You have a lovely smile,” Kari noted, glancing between the two.

    “Thank you for your kind words.”

    Gatomon could just about see the walls he was building up crumble.

    *~*~*

    Yuuko didn't return with her husband, Susumu, for another hour, in which by then Tai had been preparing the couch and coffee table for himself while Kari assisted Gatomon and Wizardmon with the dishes. He took to the new visitor well, to no one's surprise but the mage's, until he ate his share of the dinner and made his wife jealous, much to everyone's then-rekindled astonishment as she went on a tirade similar to that morning's. Realizing her hypnotism hadn't yet worn off, Wizardmon had to step in and clear things up, something Gatomon felt didn't help in swaying her opinions.

    Kari was able to laugh it off once she readied herself for bed. “Poor Wizardmon, I hope that didn't rattle him too badly.”

    “He'll be okay. He's still getting used to... life again.” The feline couldn't tell if she had used poor choice of words.

    The girl didn't seem to notice. “I think Mom will come around eventually, especially since he's not staying with us.”

    “Are we still talking about Wizardmon or your father there?”

    “Oh, God...” Shaking her head with a giggle, Kari checked her alarm clock and D-Terminal one last time. “Gatomon, you've known him for years. Has he always been like this?”

    “Good question.” As her gloves were on the desk, she pawed absentmindedly at her cheek, staring off in thought. “I feel like this is who he really is deep down, as he had to put up a front when he was working for Myotismon. He only ever opened up some whenever he was away from the castle and everyone else, but it wasn't like he had a different personality or whatnot.”

    Her partner “hmm”ed in interest, shutting off the light before climbing in. “So he's kind of like you?”

    Gatomon blinked. “You mean in the way we act?”

    “Well, you two don't have the same personality at all, but I'm talking about your actions and how you determine how to go about your day performing said-actions.” Kari smiled as she stretched her arms above her head. “And like you both have your own way of thinking, but you're still on the same wave-length.”

    “Sounds like you and T.K.,” the feline smirked, half-joking.

    She still laughed. “Almost! But I'm like that with just about everyone I can get along with.”

    “I fail to see how you and Davis are on the same wave-length.”

    “You know what I mean!” Kari then sighed, holding up the tag and crest. “I dunno. I guess I'll just always remember Wizardmon as someone who was determined to bring you and I together, even though it ended up with him dying.”

    Looking away from the necklace for the closed blinds, Gatomon nervously began to knead on the blanket. “Let's just say you only got a taste of who he really is,” she muttered. “Give him time, I think you'll like him.”

    “Now do you mean Wizardmon or Davis there?”

    Scoffing to humor her, the Champion curled up where she sat, pushing her back into the girl's side. “By the way, is it still wrong of me to come visit like normal now that Wizardmon's back?”

    “I think that's something you should discuss with him, though I don't think he'd mind. He just can't stay like you can.”

    “Right, I got that...” Resting her chin on her paws, Gatomon mumbled a “'Night,” purring quietly when Kari scratched her behind the ears in reply.

    Although the girl managed to sleep in peace, the Digimon found herself drifting in and out of consciousness at random intervals, unable to will or force herself to stay asleep. It confounded her how she could sleep fine when she was ill, but the moment she got better, her mind refused rest. It had nothing to do with Tai snoring beyond the door, or of the day's events replaying both its good and bad moments. She could even argue Wizardmon being on her mind wasn't the case either.

    Peering at the clock, Gatomon was displeased to find it was only after midnight. With a huff, she rolled out of bed and left the room for the kitchen, staring blankly at a slouched over Tai the few minutes she was there. Taking in the empty wrappers of the snacks he had consumed, she shook her head.

    “College is gonna be hell for him,” she mumbled to herself, sipping on milk.

    And the longer she stared, the more she grew annoyed that he could sleep fine despite being in such an uncomfortable-looking position.

    In trudging back to Kari's room, she found herself pausing by Tai's room, her ears twitching from muffled sounds. Deciding to peek in, she carefully opened the door enough to slip inside, eyes on Wizardmon who was seated across at the desk, engrossed into whatever he was reading. In addition to moonlight, an orb hovered overhead, gently illuminating the desk and its contents.

    She quietly and slowly huffed, stepping into range far enough for him to see her. “Wizardmon, what're you still doing up?” she whispered, not trying to sound demanding.

    He sheepishly smiled behind his cowl, his gaze transitioning from the far-away look he just had. “I'm sorry, Gatomon. I saw these books and couldn't help myself.”

    She passed a glance at the bookshelf, and scowled. “You promised you would sleep tonight.”

    “And I will.” He closed the book (which she recognized to be one of Tai's schoolbooks he wasn't using) and rubbed his neck. “Translating is tedious enough to put me to sleep.”

    Her face fell. “That's not what I meant.”

    They stared at each other as the stack of books made their way back in their places. His eyes, while gentle, had a teasing look to them, and she could just imagine him asking her, “What are you still doing up?” in the same tone. Just thinking about it made her shift her weight about.

    Choosing to break eye-contact, Gatomon turned her attention to the night sky. “I forgot to ask, but how'd you like your sight-seeing?”

    Wizardmon mulled on his thoughts as he got out of the chair to put things back where they were. “It was nostalgic, but it took a bit to get used to the city's renovation.” He lightly hummed in place of a sigh. “It still feels like yesterday I walked those streets in search of the then-unknown eighth child.”

    She had to agree. “That must've been a good wake-up call.”

    He chuckled, snuffing out the orb. “You could say that.”

    Gatomon eyed him curiously as he unclasped the cloak and his vest to hang them on the bedpost where his hat was on-looking. The skull seemed like it glinted at her, a sensation she couldn't shake off. “Hey, where are you planning on going once you return to the Digital World?” she asked.

    As he sat on the bed to undo his boots, he just shrugged. “I have no plans. I just miss traveling.”

    She wasn't surprised that was his response. “Just so you know, Wizardmon, it's not the same Digital World.”

    “That's why I'm looking forward to it.”

    It had been a long time since he had last “looked forward” to something, she realized, and it was during a time she didn't take it for granted. Wizardmon, at least when he was a soldier, wasn't one to get excited about most things, and if he was, he had kept it to himself. What she saw reflected in his irises and smile wasn't something she could recall from memory, but it felt nostalgic.

    Softly, almost to herself, she giggled out, “You haven't changed a bit, Wizardmon.”

    “Is that good or bad?”

    “No, I'm just... relieved, is all.”

    The gloves were the last clothing article to be removed, and she couldn't help staring at his pale skin. It was rare she ever got to see his hands, they looked normal that she could tell. She started to raise a paw toward him, but paused at the sight of her scars. Why she hesitated, even she didn't know. He knew of her inflictions better than Kari did in the past few years, where she had seen them but knew not the stories behind them.

    “Is something wrong?”

    She shook her head, meeting his gaze. “It's getting late. I don't want you collapsing out in the middle of nowhere tomorrow.”

    “You make a valid argument.”

    Just as he was getting into the covers, Gatomon noticed the clock on the desk, and inwardly cringed. “Tai forgot about his alarm clock,” she pointed it out. “It goes off anywhere from six-thirty to seven, and it's... kind of loud.”

    He took a look at it before smiling. “Thanks for the warning, Gatomon.”

    She ended up scanning his figure, taking in his coveralls. “You're not going to be hot tonight, are you?” she inquired, gesturing to it.

    Wizardmon pinched loose fabric as though to show it was baggy. “I'll be alright.”

    “Tai snores, by the way.” She didn't have a reason for why she blurted it out.

    The gleam in his eye was a sign he was humoring her. “I can hear that.”

    “And Miko will scratch at the door sometimes, just ignore her,” she quickly added, almost as a mutter.

    “I thought you wanted me to sleep tonight.”

    “Ah...” Gatomon felt fur prickle on the back of her neck and heat rise to her cheeks. “S-Sorry. I just... well, um...” She hung her head in regret as she rubbed her paws, ears drooped and lips pursed.

    The movement was brief when he moved to lay his hand on her. She snapped her eyes up in time to back away, knowing exactly what his intentions were, but didn't feel like wanting his touch that moment. He apologetically dropped it on his lap in understanding.

    “Please don't worry yourself over me,” he assured her with a smile, her irises shimmering when her head tilted. “I'm not going anywhere.”

    She slowly nodded, a faint glower on her face before it faded. “I know, Wizardmon... I just can't help it.”

    “If you want to keep me company, Gatomon, you may.”

    It was meant to be a joke, it was clear as day in his voice. Somehow, it resulted in the feline freezing in place as a chill ran up her spine, and her face burned. She felt like she went into a spiral, unable to keep herself stable as she stiffly backed away and flailed her arms about before her. “N-N-No, it's not like that! I stayed long enough!”

    Swiftly side-stepping to the door on tip-toe, she roughly pulled it open without meaning to, nearly closing it shut before she stopped to locked eyes. She grew meek under his gaze as she struggled to calm down, letting her gaze drift about as she took in a small breath. “'Night, Wizardmon.”

    He bowed his head. “Good night, Gatomon.”

    A tiny smile on her face, she left him for the night, hesitantly releasing the knob to walk away.

    Alone with his thoughts, Wizardmon attempted to turn in and regain the need for sleep, but found himself growing uncomfortable. It wasn't pressure against his head from a lumpy pillow, nor the feel of pins on his back from the mattress, all sensations he was glad were finally out of his life, even if only temporary. There was nothing in the air that suggested a slow suffocation or an unwelcome visitor ready to pounce on him, although it still felt like he wasn't the only one in the room. If it was him being uncomfortable in his skin, he knew he'd get used to it eventually, but it felt it went deeper than that.

    Figuring it could be heat, he started to unzip his suit, and a lump he hadn't felt since his resurrection suddenly fell into his lap. Frowning, he reached inside to pull out a worn cloth bag, and nearly dropped it, his face blanching. Anything that could've counted towards him being tired were immediately chased out of the metaphorical window as he shakily pulled out what was inside.

    “How could I completely forget about this?” he wheezed out, unable to tear his eyes from it.

    Wizardmon knew the Book was taunting him as it silently welcomed him back into its pages.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 27th January 2016 at 6:00 AM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  5. #5
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    This chapter took longer than it needed. I thus hate it for tormenting me like that, although I'm not sure if it's really worth the hate. Even so, I'm just glad I got this over with.

    Ah, well. Hopefully you'll enjoy.

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    “Where did you guys want to be dropped off at?”

    Kari's question was like a dope slap upside Gatomon's head. “Uh... we didn't talk about that,” she mumbled, glancing up at Wizardmon. He found her blank expression to be amusing.

    Once the Digi-Port was booted up, the girl blinked at the coordinates. “Was this where you went to, Gatomon?”

    Ears twitching, the feline looked over on tip-toe. “In the canyon? Yeah.”

    She scarcely gave it a second glance before shrugging it off, facing the Digimon with a smile on her face. “Are you two ready?”

    Nodding in unison, they turned toward Yuuko and Susumu, who were off to the side in a relatively neutral stance. Taking notice of the placid smile on the woman's face, Wizardmon bowed. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said. “I apologize for any wrongdoings I may have caused.”

    “It's not your fault,” Yuuko said, waving a hand. “I'm sorry for the way I acted yesterday. I promise it won't happen again.” Her husband patted her shoulder as he nodded in agreement.

    “It's understandable. It was all unexpected, so naturally it would throw everything off.”

    Gatomon wryly nibbled on the inside of her lip as she glanced away. She figured he was able to get on their good side after the rocky start, but inwardly, she had a feeling that even if he were to visit regularly, things wouldn't change between them. Adults, she had noticed, were hard to convince and be accepting to change.

    Kari pulled out her D-3, and beamed at her parents. “I'll be back in a few minutes.” Then holding it to the screen, she shouted, “Digi-Port, open!”

    In succession, they were pulled into the light and breezed through cyberspace. The two momentarily caught up to her just as they jumped out of the TV—and immediately hobbled backward away from the edge. Smoothing back her hair, the girl looked around in thought.

    “This place feels familiar,” she muttered, almost to herself.

    Gatomon wasn't sure if she wanted to point out where the World of Dreams was located. In slight distraction, she frowned down at the television set Wizardmon had made and turned it away from the cliff. He didn't notice as he remarked, “Two days ago aside, I'm getting a nostalgic feeling here. Is that how you feel, Kari?”

    “Eh... more like an uneasiness.” She shot them a smile as she shifted her weight. “So, where are you two going to go?”

    Once again, Gatomon's mind was backhanded by the question. “I dunno. Did you have any ideas, Wizardmon?”

    “Wherever the wind carries us.”

    The feline let out a disgruntled sigh, ears flattened. “Some help you are.”

    Kari giggled. “Would it be possible for me to join you?”

    “I personally don't mind,” Wizardmon said, sounding pleased.

    Gatomon's mood lifted, leaning in her direction. “Yeah, same here, but if you have things to do today...”

    “Far as I know I don't, but it was really more of a wonder than something I wanted to do.” She laid a finger delicately on her chin with a wink. “I figured I'd leave you two alone the whole week.”

    “You're still welcome to join us anytime,” he invited.

    Kari clasped her hands together. “Thanks, I'll consider it.”

    Gatomon didn't know why she felt relieved for a brief moment. “We'll still come back to visit next week,” she said to shake it off. “Wizardmon may be back, but it doesn't mean I should forget my partner.”

    “If I knew my being here was going to be a wedge in your friendship, I wouldn't have come back,” he said, sounding serious. “Your relationship comes first, as it always should be.”

    Glancing at the tag hanging from the girl's neck, the feline smiled. “You're right, Wizardmon. Though now I have two relationships to juggle.”

    Kari laughed. “Tai may be moving out next year, but I don't think it gives Wizardmon a free pass to stay every two weeks.”

    “If Gatomon wants to visit, I won't stop her. It's not going to kill me each time she does—that was a poor choice of words,” Wizardmon ended up muttering, rubbing his chin with furrowed brows.

    Gatomon chose to ignore it. “And since the DigiWorld and human world run on the same time, you wouldn't have to wait years for me every single time.”

    He perked up. “Oh, did everything get reset? That would explain why this doesn't feel like the same Digital World I last was in.”

    Stretching her arms out as she sighed, Kari rocked on her heels. “Well, we have a whole week to figure it out. If you get any ideas, let me know, okay?”

    “Sure, Kari.”

    She knelt on a knee to scoop her Digimon into a hug. “I'm glad you won't have to be alone anymore,” she whispered in her ear. “I don't want to be the wedge in your friendship.”

    The feline felt like her heart dropped, only to quickly dismiss it to pat her back. “Thanks, Kari...”

    “Oh, I almost forgot!” Kari reached into her pocket to pull out a camera. “I want to commemorate this moment.”

    Gatomon shot a slightly gratified look at Wizardmon, and the two nodded in unison. She remained at her partner's side as her friend stepped to where she gestured him to kneel. The brunette leaned in closer and held the camera at arm's length, eying the position of the lens.

    “Alright, if I'm gonna get this right, gotta squeeeeze in,” she muttered to herself, steadying her arm. “Big grins!”

    The shutter went off just as Wizardmon reached up to fix his hat, though the other two didn't notice until they checked in the menu. “Ooh, good thinking there, Wizardmon,” Kari noted, beaming down at it. She reached out to lovingly stroke her Digimon's head. “Yeah, having Gatomon in the middle balanced it out.”

    The Champion only pursed her lips at the squint she was making in the photo, and let her gaze wander over the rest of it. She had come to admire her partner's skill in photographing, even if the girl said she did it for fun and thought she wasn't great at it. Though at the same time, she envied how she could hold the camera, one of the few times she wished she had thumbs.

    Wizardmon personally didn't like how his mouth was partially visible, but didn't want to comment on it as he smiled over at Kari when he stood. “I'd like a copy, if it's possible.”

    Gatomon did a double-take while the DigiDestined laughed. “Sure, I can print it out! I'll give it to you next week.”

    “That's fine.”

    Picking herself up and dusting off her knees, Kari waved. “You two take care.”

    He smiled with his eyes. “I'll bring her back safe and sound.”

    “Why don't I like the sound of that?” Gatomon flatly asked.

    Beaming, the girl disappeared through the TV set, which turned off the moment she was through. The sick sensation didn't leave with her, a feeling the white cat couldn't put her claw on why. It had been a long time since she had last felt heavy when Kari left, the last she could remember being six years ago—although back then, she had believed they were never going to see each other again. As it wasn't a hunch or a premonition, she figured it would pass eventually.

    Rolling her shoulders back, Gatomon turned her attention to the sky when her mind suddenly drew blanks. “Now what?” she muttered, peering over at him for ideas.

    His expression remained unchanged. “We start walking.”

    “Where to? As long as it's not off the cliff.” She gestured to the edge behind them.

    His brow quirked like he had the same idea. “We can just fly over to the other side.”

    She didn't want to humor him. “Well, I don't know where to go.”

    “Question: where do you go after coming back from the Kamiya house?”

    “Uh...” She shrugged, giving him a disconcerted look. “Wherever I feel like going.”

    “And that's what we're going to do. And I feel like heading east.”

    “Where's east?”

    Wizardmon pointed with his staff. “Directly in front of us.”

    Gatomon scoffed, but trudged along. “So what are we going to do as we head east?”

    His eyes twinkled under the shade. “Whatever we want as long as it doesn't involve bodily harm.”

    Her eyelids drooped. “Yeah, no, I'll probably end up smacking you sometime this week if you keep this up.”

    His smile grew lop-sided. “Your jokes are cruel.”

    She shook her head to study their surroundings. Whichever region they were in had nothing but mountains surrounding them, though the sky was luckily cloudy. “Oh, Wizardmon, how far away is this place from Myotismon's castle?”

    He scanned the area. “I don't recognize the mountain ranges. I would consult the map, but I fear it may be outdated.”

    “...yeah, that's going to be a problem,” she grumbled.

    “Why do you ask?”

    She gave a half-hearted shrug. “I kinda want to visit someone, and he lives on the outskirts of a forest near the mountains.”

    “Well then, if you're in a hurry—”

    She quickly side-stepped when he made a leaning motion. “I'm in no hurry to see him,” she verbalized her point. “We'll walk the entire way if we must.”

    Wizardmon didn't appear fazed, although he readjusted his cowl. “Very well. It wouldn't hurt to get a new map, though.”

    Gatomon looked him over before shrugging. “Not that I think a map would do us any good since he lives in a lake, but okay.”

    In a lake?”

    “Oh, did I forget to mention that?” She smirked before it quickly faltered to a grimace. “You could say he's... waterlogged.”

    *~*~*

    Meanwhile, as Gennai was finishing his breakfast, his nose tingled, but managed to stifle back a sneeze before he swallowed. With a sniff, he looked outside at the lake, up to where the surface was.

    “I must be expecting a visitor,” he mused to himself.

    *~*~*

    “I'm heading out, Mom.”

    Yuuko looked up from her catalogues as Kari entered the kitchen for a quick snack. “Do you have some place to be?” she asked.

    Taking one of the wrapped rice balls on the counter, she shook her head. “Not really. I may visit a friend's place, but I'm just going out for a while.”

    “Well, you wouldn't mind stopping by the mart on your way home, would you?” The woman pulled out a pen and paper that she began scribbling on.

    Her daughter gave a shrug, saying, “I can if you want me to.” Excusing herself, she hurried to her room to grab her purse, doing a double-take at the D-Terminal before deciding to take it with her. Passing by to the door, she was handed money and the list that she skimmed as she put on her shoes. “Would Dad want anything?”

    “Well, he's not here to say. I'm sure the doria will be filling to him.”

    Kari could still hear the twinge of contempt in her tone, knowing it wasn't over the food. With a smile and wave, she announced her departure and lightly stepped out for the city. After reaching the sidewalk where she slowed, she began to look over the list as she tucked the money inside the purse's pouch.

    “Huh, guess she did save that seafood for something,” she muttered.

    Folding it into her pocket, the DigiDestined began to pick up her pace only to take out her D-Terminal. Sticking close to the far side, she searched through the messages, decided to reply back to Davis' more recent e-mail, then stopped at the flagged mysteries in her inbox. She steadily frowned the longer she looked between them, wishing she had a reference on her to make the translations. Knowing it wasn't going to stop nipping at her, she settled to get to the bottom of it.

    Izzy, I'm forwarding these two messages to you. I need a translation.

    Once it sent, Kari took a breath to clear her mind, but couldn't help losing herself to her thoughts. She had more questions than answers, and the circumstances surrounding Wizardmon's return bothered her more than it should have. He and Gatomon never gave all of the details, but she had waved it off then out of her excitement to see him again. Now alone to herself, as much as she didn't want to pry into it, there was the nagging feeling something wasn't right.

    All of last week, Gatomon was miserable from being sick, then she inexplicably seemed to get well once Wizardmon came back. And as miraculous as his return may have been, it was almost like it was normal that they never treated it as a special occasion outside of a tearful reunion. In not once pressuring them into explaining what really happened, both before, during and afterwards, it quickly came to a point it was like he had never left. Nothing about it was making sense, they had to have either missed or overlooked something in the process.

    Kari hated questioning it. She was truly happy for them, yet deep down, she couldn't help being saddened by it. Things weren't going to be much different, so they say, but she knew better. Gatomon had always been strong and independent, and with the differences between the two worlds, it was no surprise they were slowly but surely starting to drift apart. She loved her Digimon, and she would never give up their friendship for anything, however, she never wanted it to control their own personal lives. As much as she would love to spend every moment with her, it was impossible and selfish, and she knew high school was definitely going to bring about problems after seeing it between Tai and Agumon.

    Wizardmon would never even think of keeping them apart, though he made it sound like he was willing to sacrifice his time and friendship with Gatomon just so she could be with her. A selfless act, she couldn't deny it, but it still felt something was being ripped out of her at the mere thought of it. She had to keep reminding herself Digimon were different from people, so perhaps it was normal? Not that it never happened between people, as she thought back to Tai's friendship between Sora and Matt.

    The comparison unintentionally made her smirk. That had to have been an inappropriate example, comparing her dilemma to that of her brother's.

    The beeps made her think it was Davis replying to her. Glad to have a distraction, she wasted no time in opening it up only to blink at Izzy's name. “Well, no use ignoring it,” she sighed as she pressed a button.

    The first message says, “Go to the World of Dreams”, and the second says, “It's open in the Digital World”. There's no known sender, but why was it only sent to your e-mail? Did you talk to them? Why was it about the World of Dreams?

    Chewing on her lip, she replied back,

    I didn't have it on me, but I have a good idea of who it was and to whom. I was just wondering what they said is all. Thanks.

    She let out another breath. “What's going on?” she mumbled.

    Startled by her ringtone going off, Kari quickly drew out her cellphone for a glance, and then smiled as she answered. “Tai, hey!” she cheerfully greeted, closing the D-Terminal.

    “Whoops, meant to call the house number. Fingers must've slipped.”

    She laughed, shaking her head. “Sure, Tai, you just can't go long periods without talking to someone.”

    “I can, too!” he defended, a smile in his voice. “I'm filling out an application, I just forgot to bring the address book with me. I was going to put down Joe as a contact.”

    She briefly wondered when he last updated the addresses. “I don't know his information, I'm out-and-about right now.”

    He snorted. “Figures. Are Gatomon and Wizardmon with you?”

    “They're in the DigiWorld for the week.”

    “So soon? I wanted to see them off.”

    “Sorry, but they wanted to go early.”

    Tai made an “eh” sound like he shrugged. “I don't blame them. They probably just want some time to themselves for a while.”

    Kari came to a stop, resting up against a nearby wall. “Say, Tai? This might sound a bit off-kilter, but isn't six years a little... too soon? Or even a little too late?”

    There was a slight change in tone. “What makes you say that?”

    “I'm happy he's back because Gatomon can be happy,” she said, noticing she was growing solemn. “But in those six years, Gatomon was happy. Outside of the annual Odaiba Memorial, we rarely ever brought him up. In fact, it was better off that way. I can only think of one time Gatomon had nightmares or some kind of emotional breakdown over it, and when we had a talk about it, she was fine.”

    There was a pause. “Kari, what are you getting at?”

    Her voice steadily lowered. “I'm saying Gatomon has changed, but Wizardmon hasn't, at least from what she has told me—well, not directly. It's to be expected, I suppose, but I worry it could put a strain on their friendship. The only reason they became friends was because they had no one else to turn to or to lean on. Gatomon's become a different person ever since she met me, and even then she doesn't rely on me for her own happiness.”

    Those weren't her thoughts, they couldn't be. So she was sad about it, yes, but she had to be running around in circles at this point, or trying to come up with excuses for why it bothered her. She would be singing praises about it if it had been any other day or place.

    Tai caught on quick. “They both seem to be aware of that. There's no need to worry.”

    “I know. I just think it's sad for close friends to drift apart.” It wasn't a good sign if she was derailing from her original point. From the way it stung her heart, however, she wasn't sure if she was talking about Gatomon and Wizardmon, or Gatomon and herself.

    “We've all had friends we've lost touch with. I don't think Digimon's concept of friendship is any different from ours.”

    That was so like Tai knowing what to say. Kari supposed she could score one point for similarities in that regard, yet her face still slowly fell the more she thought on it. “No... I think it's more like a purpose.”

    “A purpose?” Tai echoed. “Like it was programmed into them to want a companion?”

    “Something like that.” She gently rubbed her thumb along the casing of the fake tag and crest. “You know how our Digimon partners have waited for us for all those digital years, and how much it saddens them each time we part for long periods of time?”

    He hummed a little, clearly not agreeing with her there. “I think that's on a more different level, but I can see it being similar.”

    Even she didn't know where she was going with that. “Well, I sometimes wonder that the only reason Gatomon's stayed as strong as she is is because we're together. If Wizardmon had died sooner or never became her friend before she and I met, I don't think she would've lived.”

    “Because she had no purpose?” he hesitantly said. She could just imagine him with a perplexed expression. “Well, what about the possibility of her becoming a completely different Digimon? Like if she just remained evil?”

    “Yeah, I suppose there's that. But something tells me that this purpose she has, whatever it is, is the same purpose Wizardmon has. And I think it could ruin their friendship even though that's how they became friends in the first place.”

    “You're worrying about it too much, Kari.” It was blunt, knocking some sense back into her. “I doubt that's an actual purpose that can be programmed into a non-partnered Digimon.”

    Once her heart began calming down, she nodded. “I hope you're right,” she whispered. “I don't want to see his return be in vain.”

    She imagined he would've ruffled her hair if he was there in person. “You take care of yourself, Kari. I'll hopefully be home by dinner.”

    “Be careful, Tai.”

    Hanging up, she sighed and drew out the rice ball to open up. Dismissing the message alert, she turned her eyes thoughtfully to the sky.

    *~*~*

    Gatomon came to an abrupt halt, her fur standing on end. “Hold up, Wizardmon.”

    He blinked down at her, taking in the peculiar, but familiar stance. “What is it, Gatomon?”

    She sniffed the air and swiveled her ears about. “It's Agumon. He's nearby.”

    He quickly recalled the stout reptilian Digimon, and cast his eyes about the rocky area. “Ah, does he live around these parts?”

    “He wanders, but this looks like the kind of area he frequents.”

    “And this is the Agumon we're talking about, yes, and not a whole herd?”

    Her face then scrunched, giving him a slight dirty look as she walked on. “I don't want to get the whiff of a herd of Agumon,” she hissed. “One's already enough.”

    “That's mean of you to say,” he said as a smirk curled behind his cowl.

    “Get a face full of Pepper Breath, and then come back to me.”

    She plodded by a large boulder, and immediately she skirted around for the other end. She let out a sigh to find he was snoozing, a small pile of what had to be chicken bones beside him. “Should I bother him or not?” she mumbled to herself, paw tucked under her chin.

    Wizardmon walked up behind her, glancing between the two Digimon. “Gatomon, what are you thinking of?” he asked in a near-warning tone.

    Her tail gently whipped about, still in thought. “I wonder if Tai's told him yet.”

    They stood there in silence for a few moments, watching as he limply scratched at his belly before snoring. The Wizard Digimon rubbed at his neck with a frown. “It's nice that he happened to be in the same area, but we should leave him be.”

    “I want to ask him where the nearest map is.”

    He raised a brow at how quick she answered. “I have a hard time believing that.”

    Agumon suddenly snorted, and he jerked himself awake. Blinking idly, he looked over and grew alert, sitting up with a loud crick that briefly chilled them. “Oh, Gatomon! It's been a while!”

    She brought herself to laugh. “Yeah, it has.”

    “How're you doing? I heard from Tai you were sick.”

    Even though the two hadn't seen each other for a month, it cleared up Gatomon's question on if they were still talking. “I'm better now, thanks for asking. I, well, we have something to ask of you.” She gestured to her friend, shifting her weight.

    Agumon gave Wizardmon a curious stare as he bowed, then turned back to her. “Did you make a new friend?”

    So he hadn't yet been told. “No, he's Wizardmon, remember?”

    He nodded, a brow lowered. “I do, but he's a ghost.”

    “I returned two days ago,” the mage answered.

    “Oh.” Then it was like he got smacked upside the head, and once recovered, hurried to his feet. “Oh, welcome back, Wizardmon!”

    Gatomon pinched her brows. Neither of them seemed to have noticed.

    “You stayed in the human world for a bit? So how did Mrs. Kamiya take to you?”

    Wizardmon rubbed the back of his neck. “She brandished a broom at me.”

    Agumon laughed. “Sounds like you got the wrong end of the stick.”

    The sorcerer grinned down at Gatomon. “He's Tai's partner, alright.”

    “Hilarious,” she grumbled, dropping her arm. “Agumon, do you happen to have a map or know of any around here? Or at least the coordinates we're currently in?”

    “Hmm...” The dinosaur rubbed his chin and glanced behind them. “You look like you came from the direction of the canyon. Where are you headed?”

    “Gennai's house.”

    He lifted his arms apologetically. “I don't have a map. I just know he's just past some mountains.”

    “If you knew that, Gatomon, I could've flown us there,” Wizardmon pointed out, almost tongue-in-cheek.

    A little irritated, she immediately waved him off. “Which mountains?”

    Agumon thought a little bit more, looking around. “I don't think he's over those mountains,” he said, almost in a mulling tone. “There's a forest past them, but it's not the same one.”

    Gatomon ran her paws over her face with a huff, and kicked at the dirt. “Ugh, the DigiWorld changes so much, I wouldn't be surprised if he lived in a mountain by now.”

    Looking between her and Wizardmon, he suggested, “If you need directions, Tentomon or Izzy can give them to you.”

    “It's nothing important anyway.” Sighing, the feline gave him a small smile, her face softening. “Nice seeing you again, Agumon.”

    Her companion gave a nod when she turned to leave. “You take care of yourself.”

    As he watched the pair walk side-by-side, Agumon couldn't help breaking into a toothy grin and calling after them, “Congratulations to you two!”

    They paused to look at him. “Huh?” Gatomon uttered in confusion.

    Realizing he was too vague, he amended, “In that you're together again. What else?”

    Meeting each other's stares, the small Champion tilted her head with a smile, and waved at the Rookie. “Thanks,” was all she said before she picked up her pace, Wizardmon right behind her.

    Yawning, Agumon contemplated going back to sleep, but a slight concern ended up nipping at the back of his mind. Once they were out of sight, he started his hunt for the nearest television set.

    *~*~*

    “I'm home!”

    Cutting knife still in hand, Yuuko peered around the wall to smile at her son as he kicked his shoes off. “You're early, Tai. How'd it go? Get anything set up?”

    Kari looked over as well when he let out a sigh, his shoulders rolled back. “It's probably because I'm still a student, so I haven't gotten anything. I even put down 'part-time', and still nothing.”

    Their mother smiled in assurance and returned to chopping vegetables. “You still have six months, give them time,” she said as he walked over for the computer room. “Though depending on the college you're attending, you might not start working until after you graduate.”

    Tai let out a quiet snort. “Well, that's comforting to know,” he muttered in a near-dry tone, flipping on the light when he entered.

    When he disappeared behind the door, the young brunette dropped her eyes to the sink, feeling as if a weight was pressing down on her. She briefly glanced over at the refrigerator where a photograph was right above the calendar, greeting (or taunting) her with immortalized smiles of them when they were young, his hair still bushy but not as wild and her bangs still hanging in her face. It was almost odd to see and remember such immaturity from the past. Even if their appearances were hardly any different from when they were children, she couldn't say they were the same.

    “Kari, you look like you have something on your mind.”

    Distracted from her thoughts, Kari nodded over at her mother. “Yeah, sorry, Mom,” she muttered, returning to washing the dishes.

    Yuuko resumed cutting up the vegetables, but still peered over from the corner of her eye. “If you want to talk to Tai before he begins his studies, go ahead,” she casually said, a small smile in her voice.

    Despite a brief hesitation, the girl dried her hands and slipped out of the kitchen to stand by the doorway, suddenly unsure how to talk to him. She didn't want to repeat their talk from earlier, but she still wanted some clarification. Taking a breath, she poked her head inside to find Tai hooking up the printer, the desktop loading on the monitor.

    When he sat back with a sigh, he glanced over his shoulder and blinked. “Need something, Kari?”

    She gave a small shrug, briefly averting her gaze. “Not really...”

    He had an all-knowing look on his face before turning back to the computer to open a web browser. “You're still bothered by it.”

    She couldn't help smiling sheepishly. “It's that obvious, huh?”

    Tai quietly hemmed as he began typing away. “I think this is something you should talk to Gatomon about,” he simply responded, his tone-of-voice similar from that afternoon. “She'll understand.”

    Kari slowly nodded, lightly gripping at an arm. “I just need to figure out how to approach her about it...”

    An alert suddenly blared from the speakers that turning the knob didn't quiet down, though it mercifully lasted a couple of seconds. “What's going on in there?” Yuuko called out.

    “It's just the dial-up!” Tai lied, watching as the Digi-Port scrolled into view. He quickly pushed himself away from the desk the moment light streamed through, though he grew relieved when it morphed into a familiar shape.

    Once the light cleared and their eyes met, Agumon lifted a hand as he grinned. “Tai! Kari!”

    They hid their concerns about the unannounced visit with pleasant smiling, and a welcoming fist bump between partners. “Yo, Agumon! You should've called us or something.”

    The dinosaur tilted his head in puzzlement. “I don't know your phone number.”

    “You know what I mean, you goof.” With a grin, Tai affectionately rubbed the top of his head.

    Kari loved how the two interacted with one-another, having always admired how the two could be apart for long periods of time, and still be tight-knit friends like it was only for a few hours. While she had a similar relationship with Gatomon, it wasn't to the extent as theirs, if only because they had separate experiences. She had always felt more had happened between Tai and Agumon than what she had been told, but she never tried to pry it out of them.

    Stepping further in, she calmly asked the Digimon, “Are you staying for a visit, Agumon?”

    There came loud shuffling in the kitchen at that moment. Neither of them had to look to see what the commotion was about.

    Lightly scratching at his cheek, Agumon said, “I don't think your mom's... happy about it.”

    “She's had quite a week, didn't she?” Tai smirked to the side.

    “She didn't like Wizardmon all too well, apparently.”

    Their stomachs slightly flipped from the statement. “So did they visit you? That's nice of them.”

    Nodding, the Dinosaur Digimon turned to Kari. “That's what I'm here about. Gatomon wants to go see Gennai.”

    She blinked in intrigue. “What for?”

    He shrugged. “She didn't say.”

    Lips pursing, she raised a hand to her chin. “I wonder if it's because of the comment Izzy made.”

    “What happened was Wizardmon crossed over into the real world virtually undetected,” Tai explained.

    “He got around the firewall?” Agumon gasped.

    The young man ran a hand through his bangs, shifting his weight. “Gennai couldn't identify him at all. Some important data was missing, apparently.”

    The Rookie's brows rose. “In the system, or in Wizardmon?”

    “Well, Gennai has information of or access to all the Digimon species in the Digital World, right?” Kari asked, which earned her a slight nod from her brother. “If he couldn't identify Wizardmon, that would mean he doesn't have anything on him.”

    “You know, come to think of it, are there other Wizardmon out there?” Agumon questioned, frowning.

    Tai folded his arms in thought. “There should be. Unless he's one of those rare or exotic types?”

    “What confuses me more is that Gennai should know that,” the young brunette pointed out, mimicking him. “Who knows if an individual Digimon's information is kept, but one would think that there'd be more than one member of a Digimon species. So there has to be a record even if the species went extinct.”

    Her brother sucked in a breath. “Well, the only other possible explanation would be that he's not a Digimon.”

    They looked at each other in brief stunned silence as they took it in.

    Tai continued his thoughts like he was backpedaling on it, “Then again... aren't all of the worlds linked together? Or in the same dimension?”

    Kari gave half of a shrug, feeling mentally drained. “I'm saying 'no'. It would explain how out-of-touch the World of Dreams and the Dark Ocean are, although it doesn't explain how we could go there.”

    “This is getting confusing,” Agumon moaned, rubbing his head. “And all of this talk is making me hungry.”

    The mood was loosened up when the DigiDestined laughed. “Looks like we need to let Mom know,” Tai said. He turned to his sister with a smile smile of assurance. “Guess we're thinking too deeply into this, which is fine, but don't let it bother you too much. Alright, Kari?”

    She had to nod in agreement, only to let out a ragged sigh. “Although it wouldn't hurt to ask Izzy to look into it some,” she suggested, though more to herself.

    *~*~*

    “I'm thinking I should make myself a star chart.”

    Gatomon peered over her cup at the mage across from her, his eyes cast to the starry night sky. “Why's that?” she asked, not meaning to sound disinterested from being tired.

    His knowing smile was the one expression she had seen coming from the start. “The stars look different than what I remember them being.”

    She took another sip of her drink and glanced over at the forest edge they were camping by. “I don't remember the night sky from before the reset,” she muttered her response, tapping the bowl with a claw. “The sky must've rearranged itself when it did.”

    “The only reason I know this is because our constellations are missing.”

    She raised a brow turning back to him. “Define 'our'.”

    Wizardmon chuckled, although it was melancholic. “Ah, well, it doesn't matter anymore.” After swallowing down a spoonful, he inquired, “How's the tea?”

    The subject change left a discomforting feeling behind, but she didn't want to press him on about it. “Oh, it's good. It feels like it would've been filling enough if we hadn't had food on us.”

    “Was that before or after you started eating?”

    Gatomon narrowed her eyes at the tease. “You're such a smart-ass,” she grunted, resuming her eating.

    He looked flattered when he shrugged. “I'm just making an observation.”

    She sneered at him until she dropped her gaze to the fire. It felt right then like she was on another reconnaissance mission, traveling long distances to find suitable Digimon for the Nightmare Army. Those days were some of the rare moments she was outside of the castle, and she could breathe if she didn't have to put up with colleagues she hated. If Wizardmon accompanied her, they sat away from the main camp and talked about anything, although they had their shares of silence she had appreciated.

    It was a little funny how they always seemed to have bonded just by gathering around a campfire. Not that they hadn't while in the castle, but they had more “liberties” outside, it seemed. Perhaps it brought them full circle to their first meeting, or it was coincidence.

    “Let's have a sparring match.”

    She blinked up at him at the abrupt suggestion, ears perked in interest. “Seriously?”

    “I don't see why not. It wouldn't hurt to keep up some training.”

    Gatomon took in the sly gleam in his eye, starting to feel skeptical. “I'm not against the idea, but it's just for practice?”

    The mock surprise on his face got her to fluster. “Hesitating, are we? If I recall correctly, you loved sparring matches.”

    She didn't like his tone-of-voice right then. “I still do! It's just...” She trailed off, unsure how to word her reasoning.

    Sparring back when they were soldiers had been more harsh and physical than what the practice usually was to toughen them up faster. Brought up once as an issue, their size differences were approached as a challenge and not a hindrance when they first trained together. They weren't looked upon by the other henchmen very well for it (not that anyone got along to begin with), which she hadn't cared for in the slightest even with the harassing that came about. As the two were rarely open with each other in public, sparring was one of the few times their closeness was observed regardless of how physical it would get, and the compatibility had to have been one of the reasons why they often went on reconnaissance missions together.

    After watching the other Digimon partners and accidentally knocking out a couple of them, she had to learn to consciously “tone it down”, even with her tail ring removed. Regardless, she never felt she gained anything out of those short-lived matches and resorted to being a coach more often than not. Pumped at the thought of being able to go head-to-head with an old friend, she knew she'd be returning to her old habits more powerful than before, but still wondered if she should go all-out. She guessed he'd be the same in strength and stamina, a thought that surprisingly disappointed her.

    Wizardmon had to have sensed her reluctance. “It's alright, Gatomon. I don't care if you're stronger than me.”

    Lips pursed, the feline glanced over questionably at the calm expression present on his face. Did he have to be so nonchalant about it? Steadily inhaling through her nose, she couldn't help rolling her eyes to the sky as she yielded. “Okay, then,” was her quiet answer as she set down her bowl before standing.

    They stepped off a ways from the fire to face each other. Though both were looking forward to it, their postures were mismatched: Gatomon had a paw lazily rested on a hip, while Wizardmon had his wand poised defensively before him. The longer she stared at his amused gaze, the more she felt a need to punch him in the face, but she pushed it back.

    Her tail swayed gently when she asked, “How do you want to do this?”

    He just shrugged. “However you want.”

    She flexed a paw. “Who's making the first move?”

    “Ah, good point.” He drew out a coin from his vest and flipped it. “Call it.”

    “Tails.”

    The smile that flashed on his face was indicative enough before he announced the reveal, “Alright, let's see what you got—ha!”

    When he blocked her kick with his staff, the feline swiftly dropped to sweep her tail at his feet, only for him to catch himself with levitation to flip back around. With a snap and point of his fingers, bolts of blue electricity struck the ground before her, blinding her with a flash and blast of dirt until a bright orb sent her flying. She landed on her front paws, then launched forward with her claws extended, swiping at Wizardmon in quick successions. Not bothering to back off out of her range, he blocked or dodged with relative ease despite some snags in cloth here and there, then threw out punches that she also weaved around.

    It was once he tossed away his wand that Gatomon came to loosen up with him and feel themselves move as one entity. So what if six years may have widened a gap between them? She could feel it closing up in those few minutes alone.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 29th January 2016 at 7:56 PM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  6. #6
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    Feb 2006
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    Took longer than I would've liked, but what can you do? Slow parts are just slow. At least I got it out in time before the first movie comes out, so that's something.

    Well, enjoy.

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    Popping her knuckles, Gatomon stepped over the groaning, motionless bodies of the Numemon. “Thanks for that,” she vitriolically purred. “I needed to release some steam.”

    Today hadn't been a good day for her—then again, she never had a good day, some were just less tolerable than others. It started with training some uncooperative new recruits who all injured themselves badly enough to be sent to the infirmary, which meant she would get marks on her record for it. To pour more salt in the wounds, Myotismon had informed her (in his own way) he wasn't pleased with her results with it, and from her last reconnaissance mission. And that was all from that morning as things only went further downhill for her, and her mood soured.

    The lunch break was cue for her to find a secluded place to patch herself up, maybe sleep a few winks and, more importantly, calm down. As it didn't take long for most of the castle to know of her day's plight, it was proving to be more difficult to move about without someone tailing her or making snide comments on the side in passing. The typical henchman wasn't the brightest nor the cruelest, yet in her state of mind, it was easy to get under her skin and push her to the edge. Beatings wouldn't have gotten her thrown in the dungeon, but she was infamous for having a short fuse, and being set off could cause enough damage that would certainly end up with her imprisoned.

    As long as she remained outside, though, the feline was a little safer from such prying eyes and ears. She was on her way out when the Numemon had circled her to push some buttons; slime-for-brains all thought it would be wise to chew her out for her “training from Hell” and demand she toned it down. Served them right.

    As barren as the castle grounds were, Gatomon knew the dead trees were hollow enough to slip in, and most of the Digimon avoided them anyway because of their brittle appearances. Upon approaching one, the Champion was about to climb into the hole in the trunk when she spotted Wizardmon scrubbing at the one wall, hovering for a higher reach. The sight reminded her one of the floors had been assigned cleaning duty that week. Pointless as it was, Myotismon did like the castle looking clean, it was just the Bakemon usually in charge of it weren't adequate.

    What caught her attention wasn't that it was him, but what he was doing if her ears weren't deceiving her. It was a peculiar behavior, one she didn't know he was capable of.

    “...he's singing?”

    While singing was never prohibited (far as she knew), it was uncommon, and it mostly garnered weird looks. Which, as she thought back to it, had to be because no one in the castle had the talent for it. Not that it stopped anyone, but it had been a leading cause for many-a Digimon to get a punch in the mouth. She never got the appeal of bursting into song, nor was she ever in the mood to try.

    Listening to Wizardmon, the small Champion found he was rather pleasant, if quiet. The only thing that confused her was her inability to tell what he was singing. From the distance, her hearing picked up the fluctuations of each syllable of what clearly was another language. Brows furrowing, she walked out toward him, intentionally slow so as to give him time to finish (she didn't want to interrupt), and to hide her wound.

    He trailed off when he spotted her, and he tried to cover it up with a smile. “Ah, Gatomon! Are you on your break?”

    “What were you singing about?” she straight-up asked him.

    The Wizard Digimon's grin became sheepish as he returned to his work. “Eh... nothing special. Have to preoccupy myself somehow.”

    Gatomon knew he was hiding something. “Tell me, Wizardmon,” she urged. “I wouldn't be asking if I could make out what you were singing.”

    He readjusted his hat to conceal his eyes from her sight. “It's just an old folk song. It's practically famous where I'm from.”

    She tilted her head to look under the rim. “So it reminds you of home?”

    Wizardmon glanced over with a quiet grunt, dropping his load in defeat as he drifted to the ground. “You know how songs are. They get stuck in your head.”

    She fought off a sudden shudder. “Says you,” she growled. “Everyone here sucks at it.”

    He snickered under his breath, albeit dryly. “Sorry you have to put up with that.”

    “I'm used to it,” she scoffed, waving a paw. “I don't sing anyway, so I don't care.”

    “A bit of a shame I'll never get to experience that pleasantry.”

    She dismissed him with a sniff. “So what were you singing about, anyway?”

    “It's actually famous around here, as well,” he immediately said, which wasn't the answer she was looking for. “You might know of it.”

    “I wouldn't know unless you tell me how it goes.”

    He clicked his tongue. “Oh, alright. If you insist.”

    Whether it was the time restraint or it was from being put on the spot, Wizardmon didn't sound like he was singing, not when compared to earlier. However, the raw deliverance and faster pace still had a sense of rhythm to it, allowing Gatomon to latch on to. Despite what he said, she didn't recognize it, yet she felt the words sounded familiar.

    “And should the world fade before our time,
    Promise we'll smile at the end.
    With a raise of the glass and a 'Here's to us!'
    I hope to see you on the other side.”

    It wore off as quick as it came, and she raised a brow. “That didn't really rhyme...”

    He laughed. “It's more poetic in the original language. I'm sure it sounds better with musical accompaniment.”

    She couldn't imagine it without thinking of the other henchmen singing along. Well, that song's ruined, she sighed to herself before frowning up at him. “Why would anyone sing about that sort of thing?” she inquired matter-of-factly. “What's the point of it?”

    Wizardmon's countenance brightened when he glanced up at the sky. “It's about living up to your purpose, and controlling your own destiny.”

    Gatomon followed his gaze, not expecting to see anything, let alone gain from it. “But why sing about that?”

    He smiled. “That's just how they wanted to express themselves. It comes from the heart.”

    She thought it was a naďve answer, but chose to humor him. “Sounds like wishful thinking,” she sighed. “I guess in that regard, I understand where they're coming from.”

    “If you want, I can teach it to you.”

    She shot him a suspicious look. “You just want to hear me sing.”

    It was hard to tell if he meant to throw his hands up, or was sarcastic. “You got me!”

    She could hear some (obnoxious) Digimon pouring out onto the grounds, indicating the end of lunch. With her guard back up, Gatomon wrinkled her nose and shrugged, lazily waving a paw around. “Maybe when I feel a little better.” Unintentionally, she turned around to leave.

    He dropped everything to reach out for her. “Oh, Gatomo—!”

    Her tail smacked him away. “Don't bother, you need to get back to work. I'll stop by your room later.” A crooked smile spread on her lips and her stance relaxed to get him to be at ease. “I'll listen to more of your old folk songs, then.”

    Although he was clearly worried about her welfare, her statement brought Wizardmon to nod in understanding before she hurried off.

    *~*~*

    Gatomon ended up snorting herself awake, rubbing her nose in irritation as a familiar smell made itself known to her. “Harumph”ing, she sat up and stretched, peering over at the mage who was hunched over the fire, his back to her.

    “You sure are noisy in the mornings,” he joked, smiling over his shoulder.

    “Shaddup,” she muttered, scratching at her ear. “I norm'ly don't wake up with senses 'saulted.”

    “Funny, that's how you normally were woken up.”

    She muttered incomprehensible retorts as she got to her feet. “Takin' a piss,” was what she ended on, and shuffled off for the trees.

    “Could've gone all day without hearing that,” he called out after her, though she ignored him.

    For the few minutes she was alone, Gatomon forcibly shook off her drowsiness, wondering why she was suddenly so tired when her schedule wasn't that out of whack. So she had slept in most of last week because of her illness, but that couldn't have been the cause. She even doubted it was because this was the first time in years she was with Wizardmon, although judging from how well he took it, she must've unintentionally slipped back into an old habit. That made her scoff and waive it off as a coincidence, believing that would've been terrible if she did.

    Returning to the campsite, she turned her attention to what was their breakfast. “Oh, Wizardmon, you shouldn't have,” she said, her speech normal.

    “It'd be unwise to travel on an empty stomach,” he explained, a twinkle in his eye. “I hope you didn't do that for all these years.”

    Gatomon stuck out her tongue. “Don't be a worry-wart, I never starved myself.”

    He resumed flipping what she recognized to be hotcakes, with sausages sizzling on another pan. “Did you sleep well?”

    She shrugged. “I guess.”

    “Were your dreams pleasant?”

    “I suppose.” She glanced away to scratch the bridge of her nose. “There was nothing bad.”

    “Anything in particular that stick out? Memories, perhaps?”

    Sneering, the feline placed her paws on her hips. “Does it matter? Maybe it was a stupid memory.”

    “So you don't want to talk about it.”

    Feeling a prickle on the back of her neck when he glanced up, Gatomon averted her gaze. “N... No... I just don't think it's necessary.” Her tail swaying sharply gave away her lie, though judging by Wizardmon's knowing expression, he was teasing the entire time. “If you're going to be nosy, how about you tell me how your dreams went?”

    A brow quirked. “A bit of an unfair trade since you've skirted around my questions.”

    She was about to make a retort when a loud, gravely voice rattled from the direction of the forest. “I thought I smelled something!”

    Gatomon blinked and turned to address the newcomer. “Ah, Ogremon!”

    Bone club rested on a shoulder, the Evil Digimon stepped into the clearing, a hint of a smile on his perpetually-smug face. “Oh, Gatomon and friend! Gwehehe, long time!”

    She had nearly forgotten the pair had a run-in with him years ago. Coupled with the shock that he even remembered, Gatomon tried to push it from mind to stick with the present. “What're you doing here?”

    “Wandering,” he responded immediately, “but then I smelled something cooking and realized how hungry I was.”

    The feline had a suspicion he was planning on stealing the food for himself if it had been anyone else but them.

    Much to her disbelief, Wizardmon offered, “Would you like some?”

    Ogremon's eyes lightened up as he just about dropped his club. “Would I ever!”

    “Hey, you can't just come uninvited,” she snapped after a double-take.

    The sorcerer nonchalantly waved a hand. “We have enough to spare. Don't mind her, she's cranky I woke her up.”

    Ogremon gave a hearty chortle as he sat cross-legged across from them. “Little Miss Sunshine, she is not!”

    Gatomon pouted, shooting Wizardmon a leer he purposefully overlooked. He served their surprise guest first before putting together her share, and unlike the Evil Digimon, she managed a “Thanks for the food,” half out of habit, and half to remind him of his manners. (He didn't catch on.)

    It was a bit jarring to see Ogremon close his mouth as he chewed, even more-so when his face loosened up. “Oh! This is great stuff! Not like Leomon's killer cooking, but great nonetheless!”

    Wizardmon welcomed the compliment, but couldn't help noting, “I thought you hated Leomon.”

    “I do, but I never turn down a meal!”

    While still not happy about the intrusion, Gatomon went ahead to make smalltalk. “Has Leomon come back?” she inquired, then popped a whole sausage in her mouth.

    Ogremon ceased his nearly non-existent manners to talk with his mouth full, which he kept stuffing. “Naw, still haven't found him. He's strong, but six years is a little too soon. But I'm in no rush!”

    Despite not being surprised, she lowered her eyes. “I see,” was her mumble.

    Looking intrigued, the Virus type pointed between her and Wizardmon (who had of yet to serve himself up), “So what happened to you two? Got separated and finally found each other?”

    Glancing at each other, the mage hesitantly shrugged. “It's a long story,” he said.

    The oaf let out a loud, exasperated sigh. “Tell me about it. So much shit has gone down especially after the Dark Masters took over. Things hadn't gotten much better afterwards, but as the DigiWorld hasn't collapsed or blown up on itself yet, the DigiDestined sure are doing a decent job.”

    “You're too kind,” Gatomon said, flatly.

    “Are you still going around 'finding' treasure?” There was a sly jab in Wizardmon's voice that, once she caught on to what he meant, nearly got her to choke on her food and laughter.

    Although slightly taken aback by the remark, Ogremon grew proud. “You remember that? You're a nosy bastard, aren't you?” He gruffly laughed. “I'll have you know, I've been clean for two years!”

    The feline couldn't make head nor tails of what he meant. “Congratulations?”

    There was a mischievous gleam in his scarred eye. “I'm just doing this all to mess with Leomon as soon as he gets back,” he explained in a rough whisper, like he expected to be listened in on. “He's not going to believe the rumors, but he wouldn't help himself checking them out. The moment we meet each other and he confronts me on it, I won't deny a single thing, and it'll continue like that for as long as I can keep up the façade without going insane. But as soon as I gain his trust, BLAM!” He swung his club and slammed the ground, which jolted them. “He won't know what hit him!”

    As the ogre cackled, Gatomon and Wizardmon shot incredulous looks. “Why would you do that?” he asked, dusting himself off.

    “Because I'm evil, of course!”

    The tiny Champion was getting a headache, but she shrugged it off. “You were a good ally, but you were never on our side, after all,” was her sigh.

    “Damn right! Anyhoo, I should get back to what I was doing.” Using his club for ballast, their guest got to his feet with a grunt. “You two take care. The next time we meet, I may or may not take a swing at you.”

    “Thanks for the heads up,” Wizardmon said, tipping his hat.

    “The easier to knock it clean off! Gehehehe!” Ogremon howled from his joke as he lumbered off, shouldering his weapon.

    Even after he vanished from sight, they waited until they couldn't hear his voice before relaxing. Slightly slumping, the elven Digimon raised a brow at his companion. “He's certainly charming.”

    Her stare hardened. “That better be sarcasm.”

    He clicked his tongue, and finally piled on his plate. “Well, that was a terrible evil plan, if you ask me. And by 'terrible', I do mean 'terrible'.”

    “Unless you explain it to him, he's going to think it's brilliant,” Gatomon snorted, politely declining when he offered her seconds.

    He sat back and rubbed at his neck, rolling his shoulders. “Must be a common trait with Virus Digimon.”

    She warily eyed his posture. “Why do you keep doing that?”

    “Hmm?”

    Pointing at her own neck, she asked in concern, “Are your muscles sore or something? You've been doing that for a while now.”

    Quickly dropping his hand, the Champion looked away. “Ah... it's just an old complaint. Since it's on the mind now, might as well tend to it. Excuse me.” Setting everything down, Wizardmon stood and disappeared into the forest. And suddenly, Gatomon grew guilty for bringing it up and lost her appetite.

    He was gone for a half-hour before they packed (much to her chagrin) and went on their way, although she chose to not ask him about it.

    *~*~*

    For most of the day, the pair trekked through the forest with the goal of Gennai's house still in mind. The morning all but forgotten, their moods steadily grew laid-back, which made it easier to get side-tracked (at least Wizardmon was) over anything that happened to catch their attention, although another chance encounter had yet to happen. As much as it brought things to a halt, Gatomon wasn't bothered by it like she normally would have, since she found some amusement in her friend going off a ways to study something or admire the scenery.

    Then at some point (when she thought they got separated, but it was because she somehow didn't see he had scaled a tree to collect some of its fruit) she started leaving him behind, and she steadily became grumpy. Not even a filling lunch helped improve her mood, it only got her to care less.

    It was late-afternoon when they came upon a clearing with a glassy lake in the middle. After taking a look around, even briefly running up a hill to view the forest behind it, Gatomon breathed out a sigh. “This is it.”

    Wizardmon scanned the lakeside, a brow raised. “I'm not doubting you, Gatomon, but how do we get to his place?”

    “We just announce ourselves, and Gennai will do something to open up a stairway.” It was all she could do to keep from rolling her eyes. “It's weird, you'd think he'd install security cameras, or sensors something.”

    They stood there to silently overlook the lake, though the feline kept shifting her weight as the seconds ticked by. It felt like her insides were falling into a pit as a thought pricked at the back of her mind. Knowing it wasn't going to leave her alone at this point, she went ahead to make a suggestion.

    “Hey, since we're out this far... want to check it out?” She was vague, but as Wizardmon knew the area, she figured he'd know what she meant. Even if he didn't, she was hesitant about going through with it.

    It seemed he had the same idea. “I didn't want to bring it up in the off-chance you weren't interested.” Her stomach flipped when he smiled down at her. “That sure takes a load off my chest.”

    Her mood began to sour. “Har har. If you're going to be a smart-ass, I'm sorry I even asked.”

    He shook his head. “No, I apologize, Gatomon.”

    The cat waved him off, a fang poking out. “Don't even bother with that. This isn't easy for the both of us.” She felt her fur bristle as a brief chill slid down her spine. “Just because he's gone doesn't mean his presence hasn't.”

    Wizardmon solemnly nodded. “All part of being the Undead, I suppose. With nothing living to balance it out or negate it, it's as if they never left.”

    “Guess that makes sense.”

    He furrowed his brows in thought as he rubbed his chin. “Since you mentioned that now, that explained your behavior a couple of days ago.”

    She scoffed, more out of agreement than berate.

    After a silent moment passed, Wizardmon stretched his arms over his head. “So, are you still interested in checking it out?”

    Cocking a brow when she eyed him, Gatomon loosely crossed her arms with a shrug. “Just to see if we can salvage anything.”

    He nodded. “Fair enough.”

    Scanning the landscape, she let out a sigh through her nose. “If you want,” she quietly started, biting back her second thoughts, “you can fly us over. It'd be quicker.”

    She flinched when he immediately wrapped his arm around her waist, smiling down at her. “My thoughts exactly.”

    “Hey, I didn't say right now,” she sneered, but he had launched before she finished her sentence.

    It should have been a short travel, if her memory served correctly. They would have hit a desolate, gray wood, and a freezing fog that stretched for kilometers would have nearly obscured their vision. They would have scaled some mountaintops in order to enter castle grounds where Bakemon guards took their posts too seriously, and would have been held up until they came to a temporary agreement of who would escort them to the doors. And upon arrival, an irritated Phantomon—

    “Okay, either my eyes are deceiving me, or it's way too sunny here,” Gatomon finally blurted out when nothing of the sort happened.

    Wizardmon came to a stop. “More like there used to be a mountain here.”

    She blinked down in realization, sweeping her eyes across the land. He was right. “When did that happen?”

    “Good question. Perhaps it was destroyed when the DigiDestined came along.”

    The small feline didn't put it past them to have caused some damage fighting for their lives. Unintentionally, she came up with a silly, but not improbable thought that got her to smirk. “Maybe Nanimon burned it down, the crazy drunk.”

    He just gave a shrug, reaching up to pull at his hat. “Not that it matters,” he sighed. “There'd be nothing left even if there's rubble in that forest.”

    Although it had been a waste of time, Gatomon was apathetic. “I sure as hell didn't lose anything of value. Did you?”

    His brows furrowed for a brief moment. “Hm... maybe some rare herbs and a small collection of books.”

    She dryly gasped, paws at her face. “Oh no. Not the big-ass book about the proper ways to grow big-ass flowers in boots during a full moon.”

    Wizardmon snorted. “That's not what it was about, and you know it.”

    It was hard to tell if he caught the joke. “Well, you sure as hell would've liked the book on sarcasm.”

    “That's gone to ashes like the rest. What a shame.”

    Rolling her eyes, she half-muttered, half-snipped, “No, I think what's more of a shame is that anything Myotismon had is gone, too.”

    The memory of the library suddenly dawned on him as he slapped his forehead (almost conking them both with his staff). “Ohhhhh, gods no, all of those books!”

    Gatomon groaned into a glove.

    *~*~*

    Although the Vaccine Digimon wasn't a fan of the cold stone steps, she refused to let Wizardmon fly themselves down, thus she had to bite the bullet. It had been a long time since she had last visited Gennai's place, with it being the first without the DigiDestined. And since it was just the two of them, the feline was tempted to complain about its steep drop, but didn't know if voices carried.

    Waiting at the bottom of the steps was Gennai, looking pleased to see them as he raised a hand. “Welcome! Did you find the place okay?”

    Gatomon chose to shrug it off once she noticed his smile. Somehow, the man had a way of making her feel a little guilty for thinking negatively toward him. “Eh, sort of...”

    He turned to Wizardmon with intrigue. “You must be that elusive Wizardmon.” He chuckled, crossing his arms. “You look like a 'Mon who would find their way around the firewall.”

    “I was unaware there was such a thing.” The feline immediately glanced away, pretending something caught her eye.

    Suddenly, Gennai leaned in, his voice lowering to a suspicious, albeit concerned tone. “So were you the same one who crossed worlds undetected?”

    Wizardmon didn't like being put on the spot, but replied, “Well, uh... technically speaking.”

    Raising a hand to his chin, the man straightened back up, and slowly nodded. “Interesting.”

    Possibly to stay on the same page, the mage also bobbed his head. “Quite.”

    “Please, not this,” Gatomon mumbled into her gloves.

    As if on cue, Gennai let out a laugh, his blue eyes crinkling. “Well, since you're here in person, I might as well get the proper information into the database.” He strolled off for his house.

    Both Digimon blinked as they followed. “'Database'?” Wizardmon echoed.

    “You don't want to get rejected by the firewall now, do you? But also, I'm missing information.”

    “So is that what Izzy meant?” Gatomon questioned, raising a brow.

    Gennai nodded from side-to-side. “Perhaps, depending on what you were talking about. I had seen earlier I had visitors, and while I knew the one was Gatomon, I couldn't figure out who was the second. By the time I realized who it was, you two had already left.”

    She looked at Wizardmon for a moment. “What're you going to do?”

    “I'm just going to hook him up to the processor.” He held the door open for them. “Shouldn't take more than a few minutes, depends on your gigabyte size.”

    Her face faulted as she sighed. “That's not why we came here, though...”

    Her companion smiled down at her. “It's fine, Gatomon. I don't mind.”

    They were led into a room she never knew existed, with a large computer taking up an entire wall and cables strewn about the floor. One was hooked up to a type of scanner across the way, which Gennai started to adjust for Wizardmon. He eyed it curiously before handing her his staff and stepping into the middle when gestured to it. A brace was then clamped onto his arm, and Gennai screwed in a connector.

    “This is basically nothing more than data transfusion. You might feel a little electric shock, tingle, or even a poke. Seems to vary from Digimon to Digimon.” After flipping a couple of switches on the motherboard, he smiled over at them. “Alright, all set? Starting up.”

    Gatomon bristled when the mage jolted for a second, and leered at the machine as green and yellow lights blinked. “You're not going to hook me up next, are you?”

    The man smiled over at her. “You're in the database.”

    Her ears lowered as she hugged the staff close. “Why do I not like the sound of that?” she mumbled.

    Suddenly, an error message popped up on the screen, lights flashing to a stagnant red. Tapping a few keys, Gennai's mouth curled to the side. “That's odd. Gotta restart it... Hold tight for just a bit longer, Wizardmon.”

    He appeared like he was miffed with few locks of hair sticking up, but he just waved a hand. “I'm not the least bit shocked this happened.”

    It took two more tries and a reboot from a crash before the frustrated man snagged at his hair and slumped at the computer. “Impossible! I updated the operating system!”

    Wizardmon, who was losing all feeling in his arm, questioned in a concerned tone, “Have you run out of memory?”

    “Of course not! You shouldn't have that much, either!” Then Gennai had an idea, and quickly sat up. “Wait a minute...” He spun around and shook his finger at the Champion. “Did anything traumatic happen to you? Is there a reason you suddenly showed up in the Digital World before you crossed into the real world?”

    The Digimon looked at each other before the sorcerer nodded. “Six years ago, I died at the hands of Myotismon in Odaiba. My data lingered, unable to move on or find its way back into the digital stream. I've tried multiple times, but I was constantly rejected.”

    “You're corrupted.”

    Gatomon slumped forward and Wizardmon looked like he had been slapped in the face. “Eh?”

    “It's either that, or you're missing some important data, but even the system would've been able to read you properly. That's why it's bugging out on me. Sorry, old girl.” Gennai patted and hugged the computer like a child.

    The cat stared and picked her jaw back off the floor. “So, wait... what exactly do you mean he's 'corrupted'? He looks fine to me.”

    As he was shutting down the program, the man asked, “How much damage did you take, Wizardmon?”

    “Enough times that I am surprised I lasted as long as I did. But I fought through to the end, like I had wanted.” He said the last part smiling over at Gatomon, who just glanced away with a frown.

    “You must have had enough damaged data that when the final blow did you in, it caused corruption.” Once the system cooled down, Gennai moved to unhook Wizardmon. “You see, a normal Digimon would've allowed themselves to be deleted without a problem. While Digimon can be killed in the real world, because their data can still linger, they have the ability to find a way into a system, and travel that way. It's possible to still go through into the Digital World to be reconfigured, but it's a longer process. If Wizardmon had trouble going through, it meant the system couldn't read him, and thus prevented access.”

    Gatomon gave a single nod. “How'd he get through, then?”

    “Do explain, Wizardmon.”

    Rubbing his arm when the brace was removed, he responded, “I used Gatomon to carry me through. I didn't think it would work, but I must've been camouflaged enough into her data and inside the D-3 that I wasn't detected.”

    Gennai blinked in surprise. “You didn't go through the Primary Village?”

    “I did not. I skipped through my In-Training and Rookie stages.”

    The man rubbed his chin. “Corrupted, yet you still managed to get through. How fascinating.”

    Gatomon's ear twitched at the word, but ignored it when she handed her companion his staff. “Can Wizardmon be fixed?”

    He scratched at his head. “It was such a long time ago, there's a chance we can't restore the data.”

    “How is he still functioning, then?”

    “Good question, Gatomon. Just because he's corrupted doesn't mean everything's corrupted. Corruption doesn't automatically mean it's gone or just unusable. Sometimes, the code was modified to be unreadable or was overwritten with something else.” He crossed his arms in thought. “If there's a way to get the regular data without the system crashing on me, I'll see what I can do.”

    Wizardmon had a moment of remembrance. “Start with the information Izzy got from me, and go from there.”

    Gennai grinned down at the Digimon. “Of course, why didn't I think of that? I'll shoot him a message so he can send it over.” He hurried over to a smaller monitor.

    Unintentionally, Gatomon let out a sigh through her nose, her ears dropping. The elven mage turned to her in worry. “What's wrong, Gatomon?”

    She didn't want to complain in earshot of Gennai, but it didn't stop her from muttering, “You just came back, and already there's problems.”

    He flipped over the staff in his hand and shrugged. “It couldn't be helped, but at least we have an answer now.”

    Eying his movement, the feline brought herself to meet his gaze. “I hope it's treatable.”

    He gave an assuring smile. “It's not like I'm ill, Gatomon. I'd have to be quarantined in the Digital World if that was ever the case.”

    Rubbing his hands together, Gennai gestured for the exit. “Alright, while I wait for a reply, how about you two make yourselves comfortable? Stay for the night, I insist.”

    Wizardmon bowed in gratitude. “Thank you for the offer. I personally will be happy to, but if Gatomon doesn't want to stay, I'll go with her.”

    Since Gennai was being generous, Gatomon knew she was going to feel some guilt if she turned him down. “...I suppose.”

    The man's face lit up. “Excellent. Hope you two are in the mood for traditional cuisine!”

    *~*~*

    With a clap of the hands, Izzy said, “Thanks for the food,” then got up to wash off his plate.

    His parents smiled up at him, their dishes still half-full. “Busy again, son?” his father noted, a chuckle on the tip of his tongue.

    “Yeah, might have to pull another all-nighter.”

    Although she had no intention of disagreeing, his mother briefly shook her head in amusement. “Try not to push yourself too hard,” she warmly told him. “I don't want to see you sleeping in front of the screen for once.”

    Once he was finished, he gathered some food for later, bade them good night, and entered his bedroom, running his fingers through his hair. It was routine by this point, but he could never shake off remorse for being unable to spend as much time with his family like before. Mentally going through his schedule wasn't pulling up any free spots for even an hour, bringing out a deep, exhausted sigh.

    “Alright, need to sort through the mail—again.”

    Waking up his computers, Izzy sat down and stretched above his head and flexed his fingers. Despite having just finished his dinner, he felt that itch to open up some pumpkin seeds that were lying in reach. He was hovering above them when his eyes lit up at Gennai's name.

    “Oh, wonder what he wants.” He knew he shouldn't, but he had a bad habit of dropping everything if there was a chance to contact the man. The message was pulled up and scanned over in a heartbeat.

    I was told you have data on Wizardmon. I'd like to have it sent over to be put into the database as soon as possible.

    So he had to have visited lately. “Must have had trouble.” With his laptop booted up, he opened the e-mail and brought up another window to search through the data of Digimon he had gathered. Clicking on the one for Wizardmon, he let it load while he returned to his main computer to sort though spreadsheets.

    He did a double-take to find an error message. Reading it over, he groaned and converted it to a .ZIP file to try again. Not even a minute later, he checked back, and read the error message over again.

    “You've got to be kidding,” the boy muttered, clicking out to open it up. “It looks fine,” he huffed as he scrolled through. “Why's it not going through—huh?”

    Pausing for a quick read, his brows furrowed. “Prodigious...”

    *~*~*

    Gatomon had remained quiet most of dinner, sometimes listening to Gennai and Wizardmon's conversations, and other times paying more attention to the fish outside and watching as more nocturnal animals came out. Her ears would perk up if she thought there was an interesting topic, but after indicating it was going to go someplace she wouldn't follow, she let her mind wander. At the back of it all, however, her true intentions of why she had visited continually made itself known in little ways: as words that were otherwise-nonchalant, her train of thought going off the rails, and Wizardmon himself for steadily breaking free of his shell.

    Her mood had already sobered by the time they were cleaning up. With the mage gone off to wash the dishes (Gennai had to be talked into it), she grew impatient of waiting for the right time to take the man aside for a talk. Dropping everything, she sauntered up to him before he could leave the room.

    “Gennai, if it's no problem, can I talk to you?” she queried, though she unintentionally was somewhat demanding.

    If he took notice of her tone, he didn't show it as he nodded. “You can.”

    “Alone?”

    Although he was taken aback, he ushered her into the nearest room. “Is there something bothering you?”

    “Yeah, you could say that...” She flexed her claws, and willed herself to maintain eye-contact as much as she was tempted not to. “I've never known of it happening, but is it possible for Digimon to get sick?”

    Gennai raised a brow. “As in catching a virus, or a bug?”

    “Not in the computer sense. I meant fevers, getting dizzy all the time, night sweats... stuff like that.”

    He began scanning his cabinets. “Did you catch a sickness from the human world?”

    Gatomon shook her head in uncertainty. “I don't know, though... I just suddenly had it for most of last week. During that time, I felt like I was getting worse, and it was awful. Then I...” She briefly paused, resuming once he looked back. “I entered into the World of Dreams, and when Wizardmon reconfigured, it all went away.”

    “Is that how he came back?”

    He may have been curious, but she interpreted as him preparing to get on her case about it. “I didn't want him back, though. I just thought the World of Dreams would help...”

    Gennai leaned forward. “How did you get in there? I could've sworn it was closed.”

    Her eyes wandered in discomfort. “There's a hole I jumped in.”

    “There's a gaping hole in the dimensions?”

    “I don't know!” Gatomon quickly exclaimed, not wanting to get into that discussion. “I just... I just found myself there. I swear, Gennai, I didn't believe the e-mails Wizardmon sent me either, but—”

    “E-mails?”

    Feeling her emotions beginning to boil, the shaking feline made that step to open herself up. “Gennai, please tell me why my wish didn't work! Is it because he's corrupted?”

    His complexion became calm. “What was your wish?”

    “I just wanted the two of us to move on...” She didn't like repeating herself, and didn't want to go into more detail about her reasoning behind it. “But if he couldn't get here on his own to reconfigure, how was it I was able to bring him here?! Why was I the conduit?!”

    Finger to chin, Gennai took a few moments before giving his thoughts. “I suppose... it must have backfired if Wizardmon had a wish of his own that contradicted yours.”

    “He told me he agreed with me. Even he's shocked he's back to life.”

    His lips pursed for a second. “Maybe there's regrets from either him, you, or both.”

    Gatomon didn't agree. “Regrets about what, exactly? Why would I want him to move on if I had regrets?”

    The man warily folded his arms. “So what does this have to do with your sickness getting better?”

    “That's why I came to you, Gennai! You should know these things, right?!”

    His stare became apologetic. “I've never monitored your life,” he bluntly said. “I know as much about you as Kari—actually, less than what Kari knows. I don't know of the choices you made, and I don't know of your friendship with Wizardmon outside of what I know now.”

    It was then Gatomon realized that him asking questions as much as she wasn't him poking holes, it was proof he was just as lost. While Gennai had a reputation of being vague with his teachings, he knew how to point them in the right direction for them to problem solve on their own. Trying to argue with him was like pushing against a solid wall and expecting it to cave in.

    “...I'm sorry, Gennai,” she muttered, her stance loosening. “I'm just so confused...”

    He squatted to her level, a sympathetic smile on his face. “Just take it one step at a time. His corruption's a plausible reason for why your wish wasn't granted, but... you know, just wishing for it isn't enough. You'll have to earn it.” Her ear flicked at the emphasis. “The World of Dreams can't just give out wishes without something in return.”

    Head tilting, she asked, “Like what?”

    Gennai just gave a shrug. “I can't help you there. That's all on you.”

    The conversation was done. Gatomon didn't feel any regret for having the talk, but she didn't feel any better. Emotionally drained, she just wanted nothing more than to sleep it off and push it from her subconscious.

    Taking notice of her crestfallen expression, Gennai became concerned. “Gatomon?”

    Slowly shaking her head, the petite Champion refused to look at him. “I just want to lie down... Sorry for bothering you.” Eyes on the floor before her, she left and turned down the hallway.

    “Are you alright, Gatomon?”

    With a clenched heart, she glanced over at Wizardmon standing in the kitchen entranceway as he set down the cloth he had in hand. “It's nothing,” she murmured, taking in a breath. She didn't want to talk to him, but couldn't bring herself to shake him off. “I'm just tired.”

    It was obvious from his stern frown he was studying her, trying to get to the root of the problem. “Where is the guest bedroom?” he asked Gennai when he exited the room.

    “You take a left at the end of that hallway, and it's the first door on the right. The futons are in the closet.”

    “Thank you. Come on, Gatomon.” Wizardmon moved to help, but she pushed his hand away.

    “I know where it is,” she sniffed, trudging off.

    He followed out of concern, but kept his distance. Even after entering, she walked all the way to the window like she was pulled towards it, while he searched through the closet. She didn't look like she had the energy to lift her head to properly watch the fish. He wasn't sure whether to show pity or disregard, knowing she was going to come around in the morning.

    “This is the smallest I can find.”

    She glowered over at him when he held it out. “It's clearly human-sized. These things are too toasty, I hate sleeping in them.”

    Tongue in cheek, he half-shrugged. “I was originally going to suggest we share one and save space, but we'll scratch that idea.”

    “No, no, scratching's a brilliant idea.” She flashed her claws at her sides.

    “I was only joking, Gatomon!”

    An amused Gennai strolled in. “You two sure get along. Don't like the futon, Gatomon? Is it too big?”

    “No, it's fine,” she lied through her teeth. She signaled with her eyes, and Wizardmon laid it out.

    Raising a brow, he nodded over where she stood. “I suggest sleeping near the window where it's cooler. Just don't tap the glass, the nocturnal fish hate that. How about you, Wizardmon?”

    “I was going to ask if it's no trouble visiting your library?”

    His quick response brought a hearty laugh from the man. “Hey, of course not! Feel free!”

    Gatomon shot a warning glance his way. “Wizardmon, time yourself.”

    He smiled down at her. “Yes, Gatomon.”

    Gennai took notice of her leer and wryly smirked. “Habit of reading yourself to sleep, eh?”

    “It's a pet peeve of hers.”

    “Ouch, you got a sharp wit.”

    The feline let out a huff, whiskers and fur prickling. “Whatever, sleep on them for all I care. Whatever takes your mind off that book of boot flowers or whatever.” She dropped herself on the futon, facing the window.

    Wizardmon just shrugged and walked off, leaving Gennai befuddled like he had wandered in on the aftermath of a fight. “Guess this is normal,” he muttered to himself, scratching his head. “Well, sleep tight,” he told her before exiting and noticing his guest had already disappeared. Deciding it was no big deal, he took his time to make his way to the library.

    “She'll calm down in a bit,” Wizardmon said the moment he entered. Gennai found it amusing he was already thumbing through a book. “Today didn't go her way, apparently, and I'm willing to bet she's not fond of sleeping alone in an underwater house on top of that.”

    The man laughed, deciding to keep the meeting to himself. “Well, I can't blame her.”

    “I think she's also not happy with the results.”

    Somehow, he wasn't surprised he noticed. “She worries about you, huh?”

    “Seems so. I suppose this is who she truly is. She's a different Digimon than when she was working under Myotismon.”

    Gennai had a brief recollection of his realization he slipped up in his escape many years ago, only to feel calm in putting his faith in destiny. “Fate had plans for her,” he said, voice lowered.

    Wizardmon slyly smirked as he pulled out another book. “She has nothing against Fate, but she likes being in control.”

    “Quite the opposite of the DigiDestined of Light. It's like Kari was made for Gatomon, and not the other way around.”

    The Champion chuckled. “I can believe it.”

    Hands behind his back, Gennai stepped up in alignment with him. “I don't mean to pry, but for how long have you known her?”

    Wizardmon stole a glimpse as he was grabbing another volume. “And this is not counting the six years I've been dead, yes?”

    “No offense, Wizardmon, but I think I'm understanding why she's snippy with you.”

    “Nonsense, we get along just fine.”

    The man shook his head as he sighed. “You're the oddest pair I've had the pleasure of meeting. And I've seen odd—I'm one half of an odd pair myself.”

    The blithe smile crinkled Wizardmon's eyes. “We didn't start out that way. She may have saved my life, but I don't think she had wanted anything to do with me at first. Still, I felt inclined to repay her back, so I voluntarily joined Myotismon's army to be by her side. Of course, Fate had plans.”

    Gennai nodded slowly.

    “Gatomon and I are alike, but we are also different. I suppose that's why she felt pity that day when she was raised otherwise.”

    Glancing over, he was unable to look past the shadows that had fallen across the Digimon's face. “Do you have regrets?”

    Wizardmon closed the book, glancing up with a hard look in his eyes. “No. Regretting anything in my life would mean being ungrateful to have met Gatomon.” Tucking the items under his arm, he turned and headed back down for the guest room.

    There was no movement from where Gatomon lay facing the window, her gloves laying just in reach. Careful not to be in direct light, he stepped up to her to look her over. The refracted moonlight gave her a gentle glow even with the shadows from passing fish, a sight so peaceful and mesmerizing he wondered if she fell asleep unintentionally.

    He smiled as he sat cross-legged where he didn't cast a shadow over her. She stretched out her arms as she slightly curved, looking as if she was reaching for something, only to relax with a slow exhale. Her face was undisturbed, suggesting she may have fallen into deep sleep, something he thought she'd never grow accustomed to.

    It was tempting to reach out and just touch her cheek, or to perhaps stimulate her dreams, but Wizardmon kept to himself. He knew better. Soaking in the peaceful setting, he went back to reading, occasionally glancing over whenever there was movement.

    Deciding to give them privacy, Gennai slipped away for the computer room. A new message awaited him, but he found it odd there was no attachment until he dove into it.

    I'm afraid I'll have to come bring it to you in person. I got to look at it more trying to figure out why it wouldn't send, and I've come across something. It looks like the work of a software bug, but because I can't decipher the code at all, not even Tentomon, I didn't dare try to refactor it. I'm hoping you might be able to read it, but if you can't figure this out, we'll have to keep Wizardmon under tight surveillance. There's a chance he may not even be Wizardmon.

    The agent's narrowed eyes hovered on the last sentence. “He's something, alright. Just what are you?”
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 29th January 2016 at 7:57 PM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  7. #7
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    Feb 2006
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    That moment when you write existentialism to the Evangelion soundtrack—I mean who was that silly woman who said that? Existentialism in Digimon? Nawwww. But terrible pacing? A staple of the franchise, and a problem I need to personally fix.

    Well, enjoy.

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    It was Saturday before Kari got her photographs printed out and laminated. Her desk that night was cluttered as she sorted through copies, setting aside ones she was going to put in her photo album. The rest were neatly tucked into labeled envelopes to be handed out at her convenience.

    “You should send some of them to magazines.”

    Shooting a glance at Tai's grin, she humored him, “Well, if you know of any, let me know.”

    He shrugged. “I'm just saying, I think it's a bit of a shame for my little sister's skill to go to waste as a hobby.”

    “I don't see the need, since I'm not pursuing photography as a profession.” She playfully smacked the back of his hand once it was in view.

    Tai went for the envelopes instead to scan through the names. There were a few he didn't recognize, most likely her classmates he never saw, but one surprised him. “Oh, you're giving Wizardmon one?”

    “Yeah, he asked me to get him a copy.”

    “Which one?”

    Kari held out the picture for him to see. “It's this.”

    He clicked his tongue when he eyed it. “Damn, now I really wish I saw them off last Sunday.”

    “Your hair wouldn't have fit at that angle,” she joked, setting it back down. “Oh, I'm in need of a picture frame, but I don't know what kind I want.”

    Tai briefly nodded at the group photo on her desk. “Shame they don't have those kinds of frames anymore.”

    The girl's smile became nostalgic when she glanced at it with a sigh. “It truly is...”

    Shifting his weight, the young man threw his arms behind his head. “Anyway, I'm taking care of Mom's errands for her, so I'll be going into town again in the morning.”

    “That's fine, I'm just going to pick up Gatomon.”

    “It's going to get stormy by the evening, so unless you had plans tomorrow...?”

    Kari shook her head. “Far as I know, I don't. Oh, if it's no trouble, think there's a chance you can bring back some ice cream, since we're out?”

    Balancing out her cat-like expression with a flat look, Tai just sighed as he made his way for the door. “Alright, then. I'll be back in time for Izzy's arrival.”

    “Are you two having a study session?”

    He looked back at her, his brows creased in concern. “Actually, he wants to talk to us. Said he and Gennai found something we should know about.”

    Kari frowned and stood up. “Should we have them over as well?”

    Looking away in thought, Tai scratched his cheek. “Maybe they already know of it if they saw Gennai this week.”

    Fingernails skimming the back of her chair, the young brunette's eyes drifted down to the photograph. “I'm not going to mention it, then,” she said dejectedly. “If Gatomon wants to tell me, she can.”

    *~*~*

    Gatomon landed a counterpunch that knocked Wizardmon off his feet, and she let out a snicker through her pants. “All right, eight outta ten! I'm on a roll!” She cracked her knuckles and hopped about energetically.

    The mage blew a lock of hair out of his eyes, dusting off his backside. “I think that's enough sparring for tonight,” he sighed, massaging his shoulders.

    “You're just saying that 'cause I'm kicking your butt good.”

    “I've fallen on it enough times to get bruises on my bruising. I need some tea...” Sitting down, he picked up the kettle where it was warming by the fire.

    Gatomon rolled her eyes. “Come oooon, Wizardmon, one more for the night! Go for the big one-one!”

    “I'll make a punching bag for you, then.”

    She groaned to herself, still shuffling in place. “What's the point when it doesn't spar back?”

    He glanced up from his pouring. “I'm thinking someone needs to take a breather for a few days.”

    “Training just feels good, okay?” she snapped, a fang flashing. “It keeps my energy up.”

    “It also causes your food to pass through you directly after eating.”

    “I'm not having problems.”

    Peering over his cup, he rebuked, “Never said you were.”

    Sniffing, she threw punches and kicks at the air with the occasional swing of the tail. “I just need to pass the time away, is all.”

    Wizardmon's gaze softened the longer he watched her. “If you want to talk about it, Gatomon, I'm willing to listen.”

    She paused for a few moments to contemplate on it before resuming her training. “There's no point to it,” she muttered. “Nothing's going to change.”

    “It's better than keeping it bottled up inside.”

    “Does this look like I'm bottling it up?”

    Breaking the stare, the mage hummed in his tea. “There's only so much pleasure in venting your anger on something.”

    Whiskers bristling when she wrinkled her nose, Gatomon imagined punching an opponent in the face, but it didn't make her feel any better. She didn't want to verbally admit Wizardmon was on to something, but she still hissed to the side, “I'll take the damn punching bag, then.”

    He let out a small sigh, mouth in a thin line. “Believe me, Gatomon, this is just as bothersome to me as it is to you.”

    Slowing down, she wiped at her brows and leered over at him. “Then why aren't you doing something about it? Don't you usually come up with a solution by now?”

    Rotating the drink in his hands, Wizardmon locked eyes with her. “If it's internal, I can't look further into it on my own.”

    “That's because you can't read yourself,” she huffed. “If you were a book, you'd be under lock and key.”

    He ended up laughing at the analogy. “That's not a bad depiction!”

    She didn't think it was funny, refraining from taking a swing at him when she passed by. “Why can't you think about yourself more, Wizardmon?”

    “I have more important matters to worry about.”

    “I'm not saying you should always put yourself first, but you shouldn't be so neglectful of your own needs.” Gatomon swept away loose rocks on the other side of the fire. “I can take care of myself. I don't want you worrying over me.”

    “I understand, Gatomon.” He then beamed at her. “So, how do you feel now?”

    Once a spot was smoothed out, her gaze became glossy. “I'm... just a little exhausted. We should probably turn in for the night.” With a small groan, she eased herself to a reclining position, resting her cheek on a paw.

    Finishing up his tea, Wizardmon went about to secure a few items. “Talking's much easier on the body, now, isn't it?” he noted with the smallest hint of a sing-song tone.

    She leered at him, the tip of her tail thumping the ground. “I suppose being a smart-ass makes you feel better about yourself.”

    “I've become immune at this point.”

    She scoffed. “I've stopped giving a damn for the same reason.”

    Patting his hands, he shot her a lop-sided smile. “And thus why you need to learn to keep your guard up.”

    “What for? I'm a'ways at my guard.”

    Without breaking eye-contact, he stepped closer to crouch down, taking care not to let his shadow fall over her as his voice lowered. “Close your eyes, and when you open them in the morning, you'll be in a better mood.”

    “Sleepin' y'problems away makes things worse,” she mumbled, struggling to keep her eyes opening, but failing. She at least wasn't looking away from him.

    “You're just taking a rest. Give yourself a week off and relax. We'll continue this conversation then.”

    “Hate it when y'put me to sleep.” He was pleased, albeit a little surprised she recognized his hypnosis. Even as she ducked her head into her paws, the concentration still didn't break since she kept him in her sight. “Y'such a cheater, Wiz.”

    His smile was as soft as his words. “You didn't have to go along with it.”

    “Can't help it... 's warm, 'n' I like talkin' 'fore bed.”

    She must do it often with Kari, then, since it had been rare for the two to talk themselves to sleep back at Myotismon's castle. There was a twinge of sadness at the thought before he gave his quiet response. “Well, I'll keep that in mind for the next time. I just wanted to help you rest up for tonight. I won't do it again since you requested it.”

    Her irises faintly gleamed. “Thanks... 'preciate it.” Then she was out, her ears slowly drooping.

    Wizardmon didn't want to move from his spot, but he knew she could still subconsciously feel his eyes on her. Raking his fingers across his scalp, he turned his back to her. “It's for the best we get time to ourselves about this,” he sighed.

    After tending to the fire, he laid himself down and stargazed. No matter how many times he looked up at the night sky, he could hardly believe the Digital World's reset changed everything. If luck was on his side, things might start looking familiar next season, but he didn't want to kid himself. He should definitely get himself a new star chart starting tomorrow.

    “Hey, doesn't that look like a row of Numemon to you?”

    “Are you sure you're not mixing up constellations?”

    “I don't even know what those are. I just look up and see pictures. Like that up there kind of looks like DemiDevimon with a bat on his forehead. See it?”

    “...no, looks more like a dragon to me.”

    “You're a killjoy, Wizardmon, you know that?”


    He chuckled under his breath, readjusting his headrest and glancing over at the feline. Odd as it was, he could believe six years had passed in his absence, but at the same time, it didn't feel like it. Her transition was noticeable without being too subtle or jarring, it most certainly didn't happen overnight.

    Deep down, however, he wished he could have seen it for himself. Her last few visits were only brief glimpses of change on the outside, they were not enough to delve into her on a personal level, to get to know her true self. He knew she wasn't going to be the same after meeting Kari, but the difference it made on her was incredible.

    As proud of her as he was, Wizardmon couldn't help feeling a little left out, and he was disappointed in himself for it. The week he had spent with her was satisfactory, so he told himself, and he definitely needed the time for himself to get used to everything again. Pining for her company to make up for lost time would only hold him back from his original objective of letting Gatomon live her life.

    Fate didn't bring me back just to be with her, he reminded himself, lifting his eyes back up. Not when I clearly shouldn't be here...

    He was about to fall asleep when he winced from feeling—no, hearing something in the back of his head.

    Of course not. She didn't wish you back in the first place.

    Distressed, Wizardmon ended up reading himself to sleep to get her off his mind.

    *~*~*

    Breakfast had finished up by the time Kari arrived, her floral-pattern jumper flowing at her knees and the tag and crest glimmering in the sunlight. She scanned the dishes in intrigue, thumbing the bag strap on her shoulder. “Had a late breakfast, or am I just that early?”

    “I got a little carried away,” Wizardmon chuckled, rubbing the back of his head. “We're getting ready to clean up here.”

    She ran a hand through her hair. “Woooow, I can't believe you carry all of this with you.”

    The Digimon gave each other knowing, humored looks. “How was your week, Kari?” Gatomon asked, picking up her share.

    The girl hooked her arms behind her back with a shrug. “Eh, same-old.”

    “As long as you stayed out of trouble.”

    Kari's look grew mischievous. “Why? You guys didn't, did you?”

    The feline's tail lightly flicked. “It was nothing big.”

    “Yeah, right.” Smiling, the DigiDestined nodded, “Is Wizardmon coming?”

    He waved a hand in dismissal. “You two go on ahead. I'll be fine by myself.”

    “You sure, Wizardmon?” Kari insisted, stepping forward. “I can lend a hand.”

    “Thank you, but if you two have plans, I can pack up on my own.”

    Gatomon raised a brow, balancing the silverware to rest her free paw on her hip. “You're not going to do anything funny, are you?” she questioned.

    Wizardmon mirrored her pose, but with a cheeky smile. “Of course not, I don't have the skills for improv humor.”

    “He's going to do something,” she grumbled aside to Kari.

    Giggling, the DigiDestined reached in her bag and pulled out a small envelope. “Here's the copy you wanted, Wizardmon.” She watched as he opened it for a look. “I must say, it came out nicely.”

    He nodded in agreement, a gleam in his eyes as he tucked it away in his vest. “It did indeed.”

    “Alright, well, if there's nothing else to do...” After a quick sweep around the campsite, she turned to her Digimon. “Gatomon, you ready to go?”

    The cat looked up at her friend, her shoulders slumping in apology. “Sorry you can't come with us, Wizardmon.”

    He shook his head in assurance and took the stack from her. “There's no hard feelings. Your time together is more important.”

    “Well, I don't think just visiting is a problem,” Kari commented. “I'd like to get to know Wizardmon more, so if we plan ahead, we could set aside time where it can be the three of us, and maybe the rest if they want.”

    “Like on movie nights?”

    Her partner clasped her hands together. “Not a bad idea, Gatomon. The more, the merrier!”

    Gatomon reviewed it in her head for a moment. “It's this week, right?”

    “Yeah, this Thursday.”

    Wizardmon's face lit up in interest. “Keep me updated on this night of yours, then.”

    “Great! It's my turn to pick, and I'm so excited!” She squirmed happily on the balls of her feet like she was ready to jump in the air.

    Gatomon scratched at her cheek, and just gave her friend a lop-sided smile. “I can't wait,” she said, although under her breath, she was cursing it.

    Amused by the girl, the mage turned his attention to the small cat, his gaze softening. “I'll see you later, Gatomon.”

    She swiftly eyed the plates still in hand and around campsite. “Are you sure you don't want help?” she offered, already knowing his answer.

    “I don't want to hold you two up from your day.”

    Averting her gaze and chewing on her lip for a moment, she slowly inhaled. “'Kay, then... See you, Wizardmon.”

    With a wave, the two headed in the direction Kari came from. Feeling a little dejected, Gatomon reached out to grab her partner's hand, a gesture that got the girl to blink.

    “Is something wrong, Gatomon?” she inquired.

    The Digimon just shook her head and hesitantly peeked over her shoulder, though Wizardmon was now out of sight. “It's nothing...”

    Kari squeezed her paw and gently swung their arms. “Say, Gatomon, we haven't had a girls' day out for a while, haven't we?”

    “Not since Sora entered her senior year.”

    “Well, even if she's not available, I think Mimi and Yolei would appreciate some time together as well.”

    “Good point.” A sudden thought brought her to voice a concern. “Am I going to have to dress up that day?”

    Kari hemmed, glancing up at the sky. “I don't think so, but I have a hat for you.”

    “But even if I don't dress up, you know Palmon and Hawkmon will be.” Gatomon didn't know why she was even pointing it out. It wasn't as if she was embarrassed to be out in public, whether she or anyone were disguised or not. “Can we at least find places that do allow non-humans into their facility without resorting to disguises?”

    They paused in front of the television set, and her partner let out a slow exhale. “I know there are still people who don't like Digimon, and we try to include you guys. Sometimes, though, we just have to make do with what we can.” Kneeling down, the brunette smiled as she gently stroked her head. “I can promise you you can go au naturel, but I'll still bring something along just in case.”

    Though she wasn't pleased with the answer, the small Champion chose to let it go as she leaned into her touch. “Well... if it comes to it, I don't mind waiting outside. I don't know what you guys make your clothes out of, but it makes me itchy.”

    Kari smiled, and they went on through to land in the computer room, startling Miko. “Ah, wait, come back!” she laughed, hurrying after her.

    Gatomon let out a sigh, and followed to watch her partner crouch almost on all fours to coax the cat out. Yuuko was out in the balcony doing laundry, but she poked her head inside. “Hey, girls, you came home quick.”

    For some reason, the Digimon felt a little miffed from the wording while also glad that the woman at least greeted her home. She wasn't sure if there was a catch to it or if Yuuko was just in a good mood.

    Kari didn't seem to notice when she stood up with Miko in her arms. “Hey, Mom, I invited Wizardmon over for movie night, if that's alright with you.”

    “Sure, that's not a problem. The more, the merrier.”

    The quick response still rang bells in Gatomon's head. “Agumon visited, didn't he,” she mused to the side, more for Kari to hear.

    Yeaaah, but at least he did good this last time.” She couldn't help snickering to herself, sitting down on the couch to lay the cat on her lap.

    “Don't get me wrong, you two, I have nothing against him,” Yuuko stated, though she was a little tense. “I just wish you would tell me these things in advance so I'm not constantly scrambling.”

    “Mom had wanted to try a new recipe, but didn't have enough ingredients,” Kari whispered.

    “Ugh, where does everything go in him?” Gatomon scoffed, raising her paws in bafflement.

    “I'm not sure if you have room to talk,” the girl smirked, her gaze drifting to her belly.

    The Champion shot her a dirty look. “That wasn't all for me, and you know it!”

    Tongue in cheek, Yuuko hummed a little tune to herself while listening in on her daughter and Digimon's bickering, brief as it was even after Tai came home.

    *~*~*

    The rest of Sunday was quiet and sleepy, with errands and chores all done and nothing good on TV except for Yuuko's soap operas that Tai ended up sneaking in a watch between his studying. Kari had promised not to eat her ice cream until after dinner, so to ignore her craving pangs, she talked on her cell with a classmate while Gatomon lazed about, hating being drowsy during rainy days and hating the humidity on top of that. She couldn't help going into a daze thinking about what everyone else was doing on a slow day, and if it, too, was raining somewhere in the Digital World.

    Although it poured off and on all day, ominous clouds were peeking over the horizon when Izzy arrived at the apartment that afternoon, his laptop tucked safely in his bag. Right off the bat, Yuuko was happy to offer him some tea which he couldn't decline before they crowded into Tai's room. Gatomon, a little grumpy she had been woken from her nap, was curious as to why it was the boy came over, but it slowly sank in as he booted his laptop up.

    “Alright, I think we all know why we're having this little meeting,” he said, glancing between them.

    “Should we have invited Wizardmon over as well?” Tai asked after a nod.

    “Ehhh... well...”

    The feline gave a small (unintentional) huff, raising her paw. “I'll relay it to him if you all want.”

    Izzy hesitantly shrugged as he sat down. “I mean, you guys were over there. You know about his corruption, right?”

    The Kamiya siblings both did a double-take. “Corrupted!” they gasped in unison.

    The teen explained it to them while Gatomon stewed, still not used to the news about her friend. Watching her partner's reaction to it only further rubbed it in, but she held her tongue.

    “So anyway, it's taken us a little bit longer to do this since I had to visit Gennai in person in order to transfer over the information,” Izzy concluded, pulling up the communicator. “Otherwise, I felt my e-mail could've gotten fried over it.”

    Tai sat back. “Whoa, is it that serious?”

    After a few keys were punched in, Gennai flickered on the screen, looking a little tired, but stern. “So, is everyone up-to-date about this?” he confirmed, mostly to Izzy.

    “I just finished telling them.”

    “Oh, good.” He then frowned as he scanned them. “I'm not seeing Wizardmon, though.”

    “Did you want us to get him?” Kari suggested, about to get up from her spot.

    The man just shook his head. “That's fine. Honestly, with what's been going on and with our findings, I'm not too sure if he should hear of this. Yet.”

    Still pouting, Gatomon spoke up, “I think Wizardmon deserves to know what's going on with him. Both he and I know something's been up since he's come back.”

    Gennai nodded, rubbing his chin. “And he did take the results of the examination pretty well...”

    “Well, it's a little late for that, now,” Tai interjected, gesturing to the sky. “We'll have to pass it on.”

    “Fair enough.” Clearing his throat, the agent leaned forward in his seat (or where he stood). “We've come to... some kind of conclusion about Wizardmon's corruption. But his data's so encrypted that I'm not even sure what to think.”

    “'Encrypted'?” Kari repeated.

    “It means I can't read it. For all I know, it's actually not encrypted, but the programming's too advanced for me to decipher.”

    Izzy exhaled in disappointment, scratching his head and reaching for his tea. “You can't crack it either, huh?”

    “Not unless I know the language.”

    Frowning over at her brother and Digimon, the girl questioned, “So is Wizardmon a Digimon, then?”

    Gennai sucked in a breath, his shoulders hunched. “Yes and no, which is one reason why it's been difficult to keep track of him. Now I've found there are others like him in the Digital World, but he's different, almost like he's not one of them. I'll pull it up so you can see.”

    A chart opened up on a separate window, which nearly made Izzy spit out his drink when he lurched forward in his seat, jaw dropping. The others furrowed their brows at it, knowing it meant something judging from his reaction alone.

    “I can't believe you can't read this if you were able to get to it!” he gasped, setting aside his glass before scrolling through the data. “Is this really coding?”

    “I checked multiple sources. It's legit.”

    “I've never seen this before! But...” He fell silent for a long moment to search through it some more. “It's like there's two different programmings going on. This one's still the same kind of code as the other, right?”

    “Should be. I wasn't wrong about him being corrupted, but it's clearly not readable. My broken keyboard is more legible than this. Not that I can read that one, either,” Gennai grumbled to the side, shaking his head.

    No one bothered to make a remark until Tai decided to break the ice. “Can you determine if it's a virus or malware?”

    “It's neither.” The man crossed his arms as he leaned back. “But if you were to ask me, I'd say it's as though he's been completely re-modified from his original programming, like he was reformatted.”

    Izzy then pointed to the scrambled half of the chart, his eyes bright. “Hey, that binary code was something else just a second ago!”

    Neither of the siblings had noticed, but they looked at it regardless. “What're you talking about, Izzy?” Kari said, tilting her head. “I don't see anything different.”

    He covered his mouth in thought. “Something's not right. I think his coding's being overwritten.”

    They all stared at the screen for the longest time, but nothing happened.

    Slowly standing back up, Tai rolled his shoulders and rested his chin on his knuckles. “Uh... what are we looking for, again?”

    Izzy frowned, shifting to steeple his fingers. “Odd. If we could just get further into his data...”

    “Even if we can,” Gennai sighed, “we'd have to literally be the program itself to know what we're doing to his binary, or we'd risk further damage.”

    Kari loosely gripped at her arms in worry. “What do we do? We'll have to tell him, right?”

    “We definitely should, unless he knows something, Gatomon?”

    Her ears perked once he said her name, but she was just as lost as the Kamiya siblings, thus why she hadn't voiced her thoughts. “...I wouldn't know,” she muttered, briefly pawing at her nose. “Wizardmon doesn't really tell me things willingly unless it's going to directly affect me, or I... er, force it out of him...”

    With a sigh, Gennai mirrored Izzy's pose from seconds ago. “Far as we know, he's in no danger. But since we know who he is, we can't treat him like a pariah. I imagine he'd like to cross through the Digi-Port every now and then, and as he can do it without being identified, we're going to give him 'official'—” he used air-quotes for emphasis, “—clearance to do so. However, he's limited only to the Kamiya network, or else we're going to think he's a threat. We're still going to look into this, so while we don't require you to check back with me all the time, if there's any odd behavior, I'll need to know.”

    Everyone nodded in understanding. Glancing up at Kari, Gatomon volunteered, “I know him better than anyone, so I'll be the conduit.”

    The auburn-haired teen suddenly had a thought. “Wait a second. If this right here is part of Wizardmon, how was he able to get through the firewall if I couldn't even shoot Gennai an e-mail about it?”

    “Can we just say it was 'magic'?”

    Everyone briefly gave Tai a look, though there was a hush in the room for a moment. “There's got to be an explanation,” Izzy mused, stroking his chin. “Perhaps he can camouflage it...”

    Gennai shot it down with the shake of his head. “I don't believe there's a Digimon in existence that can do something like that to their own coding.”

    “What if he has a worm, or a Trojan? What if this binary code's actually malicious?”

    “I'll continue to look into that possibility. By the way, Gatomon.”

    The addressed Digimon blinked and stepped forward. “Yes?”

    Suspicion then fell across the man's face, although it was so subtle, Gatomon wasn't sure if the others caught it. “Ever since you told me you went to the World of Dreams, I've gone ahead to search for the entrance to close it up.”

    “Oh, so you did go there?” Izzy uttered in surprise. “Those e-mails weren't for Kari?”

    The feline looked between them with a frown. “Alright. So what're you going to do about it, Gennai?”

    “That's the thing, actually. I can't find the dimension gap.”

    With exception of Gatomon, everyone stared. “Do you want me to tell you where it is?”

    He frowned. “That'd probably help some, except when I did a worldwide scan for any anomalies, there was nothing.”

    She could hardly believe what he said, although she couldn't ignore the chill running along her spine. “But... I did go to the World of Dreams.”

    “How?” Gennai nearly took up the entire screen. “How did you manage to get into a closed-off dimension?”

    There was a light rap at the door and Yuuko poked her head in. “Sorry to interrupt, but Izzy will need to get going before the storm hits.”

    A quick glance outside caused the boy to jolt. “Oh, shoot, I almost forgot,” he hissed, then regained his composure. “I'll contact you tomorrow, Gennai. We'll discuss our findings some more.”

    Gennai didn't look too pleased to be interrupted, but he gave a nod. Once the connection was dropped, the young man downed his drink and packed up. Gatomon expelled the breath she was unintentionally holding, letting his words sink in.

    “But I did,” she lamented to herself, backing up when Kari guided her. Whether the girl heard her or not, the rub to her shoulder did little for her.

    “Thanks for coming over on such short notice,” Tai expressed with a smile.

    “I just couldn't keep you all in the dark about this,” Izzy replied back, swinging the bag over his shoulder. “It's very fascinating, but this could potentially affect everyone involved were something to go awry.”

    “Yeah, Dad's going to kill us if his computer gets fried.”

    “Oh, Tai,” the girl sighed, eyes to the ceiling.

    The joke flew over their friend's head as they led him out for the front door. “I think a fried computer will be the least of our problems. So anyway, keep this between us for now. If anyone asks, including Wizardmon, just say we're looking into it, and to not worry about it. But just because we didn't find anything malicious doesn't mean it doesn't exist. As for this dimension gap Gennai brought up...” He frowned down at Gatomon, who averted her gaze. “I wonder if it, too, closes itself off for certain periods of time. But to be open at the exact moment Gatomon went to visit...”

    “You've read the e-mails, Izzy,” Kari said. “I don't think Wizardmon would deceive Gatomon like that.”

    Wizardmon sent them?” The boy furrowed his brows as he slipped on his shoes. “I believe you, but that can't be...”

    “We'll talk about this later. You need to vamoose, Iz.”

    He gave a curt nod. “Right, right. Take care, guys.” He hurried out the door, pulling his jacket over his ears.

    Tai looked over at both his sister and Gatomon. “Don't let it get to you,” he said, giving a grin of encouragement. “We're on top of things, so everything's going to be fine.”

    Kari smiled down at her Digimon as well, who couldn't bring herself to return it.

    *~*~*

    As they settled themselves in bed, Gatomon laid there listening between the rain pattering on the glass and her partner's breathing. Meaningless as it was, she couldn't help quietly reflecting back on Gennai's words. She had nothing against the man, he was clearly the best ally they could ever ask for, but the way he rubbed her wrong kept her from having the same respect as the others. He was unique in that she could believe and distrust him at the same time, although why would he ever lie to them? Hold back information, sure, but he wasn't in the slightest someone who would mislead them.

    “I know I don't know what your life was like before I met you, Gatomon,” the girl quietly started, interrupting her thoughts, “but how was it like to spend a week with Wizardmon?”

    At least the topic was a little more positive, even if there were a few things she didn't want to bring up. “It was nice. It was like being on a reconnaissance mission without the mastermind behind it.”

    “So pretty much the same?”

    The cat shrugged. “I suppose. It was just us being ourselves, for once.”

    Kari's tone lowered, “You couldn't be friends before?”

    “Not as openly as now.” She rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling. “Myotismon hated the concept of friendship, so if it had ever gotten out Wizardmon and I were close friends, we probably would've been beaten or executed a long time ago.”

    Not that it hadn't been noticed by anyone else, but what could they have done with her being one of the highest-ranked henchmen? For all she knew, they could've viewed it as Wizardmon getting protection since he wasn't well-liked in the castle.

    Her partner shifted to rest on her side. “I'm sorry for asking, but... was it hard?”

    A laugh bubbled in her throat, but she swallowed it down. “Not really. When you grow up in that kind of environment, you just kind of get used to it.”

    She could hear Kari fiddling with the tag and crest. “Was it hard on you to... well... stop being bad?”

    Gatomon turned to meet her umber gaze. “Would you believe me if I said 'yes'?”

    The girl hesitantly shrugged.

    She chose to not dance around the subject looking back up. “It was like I had to choose between two worlds after I got that slightest feeling of doubt upon meeting you. When Wizardmon talked to me, and helped me remember my past, it was hard to make a decision. I was so intent on following Myotismon's orders, but I was also scared of the outcome. It hurt my heart to have my world change on me.”

    Gatomon could look back on it now and say it was the best turning point of her life, but that little piece of conflict that had raged inside her wasn't something she could shake off. She came close to giving her life for Myotismon multiple times, but that moment was the last battle. Had she been more stubborn enough to close herself up upon meeting Kari, and fought against Wizardmon hard enough to chase him off, she would be by her master's side as he ruled both worlds, if not dead. She trembled in thought now, but what would she be like if she had?

    “Do you have any regrets?”

    Kari must've seen her troubled look, or it was par for the course. “Not really.” She paused to think on a small nagging she suddenly got in the back of her mind. “Except... sometimes I wish I was a little nicer to Wizardmon. I never felt I was a good friend to him. He never once thought of himself the whole time we were friends, and more often than not I treated him worse than dirt. And when he sacrificed himself, I remember hating myself for a moment because I didn't feel I had deserved it... but also because it could've been prevented...”

    Letting out a sigh, Gatomon stretched her arms above her head. “But that's all in the past. I changed for the better, and I'm glad for that. Now my world's brighter than ever.” She smiled at her to show she was feeling a little better.

    The brunette scratched her ear and leaned over to kiss the top of her head just when a crack of thunder sounded. Gatomon accidentally smacked her partner in the face when she jerked in place and scurried under the covers. Upon realizing what just happened, she poked her head back out.

    “Oh crap, I'm sorry!” she gasped, shaking off her fright.

    Rubbing her nose, Kari laughed. “It's fine. That sure came out of nowhere.”

    The feline smiled wryly. “Right...”

    Once she was certain she didn't get a nosebleed, they snuggled together for the night.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 29th January 2016 at 7:58 PM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  8. #8
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    Feb 2006
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    *~*~*

    What did it mean to live? Living meant taking the first breath, the first step, the first look at the world.

    What did it mean to live? Living meant individuality, agency, experiences, and survival.

    What did it mean to live? Living meant being alive, as evident by the faintest of heartbeats.

    There was no right or wrong answer, there were many different worlds with different interpretations. It was exciting to see a new world beyond the wildest of imaginations, to walk its grounds and mingle amongst the unique inhabitants, to hear the native language. There was knowledge that didn't exist in other worlds, experiences that couldn't come to pass due to limitations of a universe's rules.

    As it turned out, strangers from foreign worlds weren't welcomed into their societies. But assimilation hurt. Assimilation meant forgetting oneself to become like them to be fully accepted. That's why there was no choice but to travel.

    How much time had passed? It was hard to gauge time with each dimension hop. Had it been months? Years? What if it had just been only hours, or even minutes?

    It hadn't been long before there was lack of ambition. Traveling was exhausting to the body and mind, threatening relapse. But with assimilation nipping at the heels, resting wasn't an option.

    Happening upon this “World of Dreams” was a blessing in disguise. It was oddly peaceful for being a chaotic-looking world, but no mortal was supposed to lay their eyes on it, let alone live in it. Staying here risked madness or erasure.

    Yet there was an obligation to leave behind a wish or a thanks, and for the first in a long time, there was nothing to be said or desired. What could someone who had seen many things and been to many places ever ask for? There was endless knowledge out there to take in, endless pleasures to engage in.

    “If... this world is as it says... I have one request.”

    Everything had gone wrong. Time had been lost to the ages, never to be renewed. Faces and names of the past were all but forgotten. Words and promises that had meant something were worthless. There was nothing to be had, or gained.

    Futile as it was, a gloved hand weakly reached for it all, still damned to keep them in its dying grasp.

    “If my life has no purpose... then I may as well die.”

    BEEP-BEEP BEEEEEEP!

    The alarm startled Gatomon from her sleep before Kari even stirred to turn it off. Pushing herself up on her knees, the girl groaned stretching her arms above her head. “Hm... y'okay, Gatomon?” she asked blearily.

    Blinking the sleep out of her eyes, the feline watched the girl climb out with a yawn and close the curtains. “...yeah... slept okay.” Hearing the muffled meowing of Miko, she flexed her paws before reaching over the railing to pick up her gloves. “Just had a weird dream...”

    “Oh yeah?” A notebook was pulled from its spot on the shelf. “Need me to write it down?”

    The Digimon stared at it as she tried to think back on it, her ears lowering. “I... I can't remember...”

    Kari set it down before she pulled off her pajamas and shook her bangs out of her eyes. “So how'd you know it was weird, then?” she probed with a gentle smile.

    “I just do...” Gatomon rubbed her temple. “It was a weird feeling.”

    Right after she straightened out her shirt, the brunette stepped up to her partner to check her temperature, ignoring the look she was being given. “You feel fine, so it's not that...” Lips pursed in thought, she returned to her dressing, smoothing out her skirt doing so. “It didn't have anything to do with our talk last night?”

    “I don't think so...” There was a flash of the World of Dreams, but it brought her to frown. Wanting to get it out of her head, she made a request, “Can I come to school with you today?”

    Kari swirled around to pluck up the hairbrush and hairpin. “I thought you'd never ask, Gatomon! Considering the others keep asking about you, it's about time for a change of pace.”

    Gatomon went ahead to groom herself as well by peeking around Kari. “Just don't stuff me in your backpack. I'd much rather hang around outside the school.”

    “That's fine, I have after-school cleaning duty today, anyway.” Stepping away to give her Digimon full view of the mirror, she tied on the scarf and tugged on the back of her stockings. “Well, gotta go wake up Tai.”

    “He's already up,” the feline said, her ear flicking.

    Kari's brows rose and she opened up her door to see the back of her brother's head where he sat at the table. “Oh, morning, Tai.”

    Still munching on toast, he turned to her and raised a hand with a muffled grunt. Yuuko smiled over by the stove, and greeted cheerfully, “Good morning, you two! Did you sleep well?”

    “Yeah, it wasn't a bad storm.” She disappeared into the bathroom before Gatomon walked out and hopped on the back of the couch.

    “You two would sleep through anything together, wouldn't you,” Tai noted in jest. “Was quite a show last night, shame you missed it.”

    The feline shrugged indifferently. “I just can't wait for the rainy season to end.”

    He let out a snort, holding up the bowl of rice. “Same. You should see the fields.”

    Once she sat at her seat, Kari peered at her brother's face as she filled her plate. “You look tired, Tai. When'd you finish your studying?”

    “Uh...” He looked at the clock for a moment. “Five... four hours ago, I think.”

    “Do you have to go early for your soccer club? You could've postponed it.”

    “I'm the captain, it's my responsibility. Besides, I'm feeling a little pumped up for some reason. Must've been that weird dream I had...”

    With an acknowledging glance over at Gatomon, she grinned. “Ooh, what'd you get?”

    He narrowed his eyes. “Wipe that smirk off your face, Kari. I dreamt I out-ran a Kuwagamon on my bicycle, that's all.”

    “Is that even possible?”

    “Beats me, I'm not going to bother one just to try it out.” After excusing himself from breakfast, Tai got up to head out. He rolled his eyes when Miko yowled at the door for the umpteenth time that morning. “Sheesh, cat,” he grumbled as he shrugged on his backpack and grabbed a bag of equipment. “What're you so impatient about?”

    “Must be important,” Kari giggled.

    “It better be.” Once his shoes were on, he opened the door, nearly stumbling over his feet when she bounded outside. Shaking his head, he proclaimed, “I'm heading out!” and waved.

    “Your lunch, Tai!” Yuuko called out, poking her head around the corner when she gathered the discarded dishes. He swerved back inside to snatch it up as the woman smiled. “Have a good day.”

    He nodded as he left. Gatomon's tail swayed, barely tilting her head when Kari began downing her breakfast. “What's the hurry?” she questioned curiously.

    “I'm not in a hurry,” she said in between bites, gesturing for the empty seat. “Come have some, Gatomon.”

    “She's right, Kari, slow down a bit,” her mother said with a wink. “Do you have something or someone on your mind?”

    “No, it's not that.”

    “You're not running late, I can tell you that much.”

    “It's not that, either.”

    “Tai's eating habits must have rubbed off,” Gatomon teased, claw at her chin.

    “No!”

    Yuuko just laughed at the small pout. “Well, you are a growing girl. Still, do take your time, sweetheart. The world's not going anywhere.”

    Kari nodded, letting out a quiet sigh. “I know, Mom. But one part of my world's going someplace, and I can't catch up...”

    Their mother-daughter conversation lasted another fifteen minutes before she left the apartment and raced Gatomon down the stairs. Tempting as it was to jump in them, they skipped around and over puddles whenever there weren't many pedestrians, nearly defeating the purpose of her wearing rain boots. She knew to act her age, but Kari had to get her burst of energy out somehow, and Gatomon did appreciate their playful bout together.

    Once they reached heavier traffic, the feline had proposed to ride on her shoulders just to try it out, careful not to snag her claws into her clothes or hair. It garnered some glances from people, even more-so as the two were a little chatty with each other, yet neither of them cared. The most stares they got was from when a young child, also carried in a similar fashion by their father, exclaimed loudly about wanting the same “doll” to haul around, and apparently hit a decibel that made Gatomon wince.

    At the halfway point, a familiar voice called from the crowd, “Hey, Kari!”

    She turned to her left and smiled. “Oh, T.K.! Good morning!”

    While balancing Patamon on his head, the blonde jogged over. “I see those ears belong to Gatomon,” was his first amused statement.

    Still a little perturbed from the encounter, Gatomon made a dry remark, “Do you know of any other cats with ears this big?”

    He laughed. “Well, now I know Kari would look good with cat ears.”

    “It was just a random thought I had,” the Rookie piped up, grinning down at them. “I saw something the other day on TV about a girl becoming a cat, and she looked like you.”

    Kari reached up to pat him on the head, a gesture that got him blushing. “Well, that's a kind thought, Patamon.”

    “You know, come to think of it,” her partner mused, “could you imagine humans evolving like we do? If girls can become cats on TV, then it could work out.”

    She just shook her head. “Sorry, Gatomon, I'd much rather not turn into anything. But hey, Halloween's coming up. I could dress up as a cat this year.”

    T.K. nodded in agreement. “We can go to Shibuya that night if we're not swamped with homework.”

    As the throng thinned the closer they approached their school, they heard running feet heading in their direction, accompanied by a “Heeeeey!” Skidding to a halt behind them, Davis grinned through his panting. “Man, my new alarm clock did wonders! Never thought I'd meet you guys by the gates.”

    A flustered DemiVeemon poked his head out of the backpack with a frown. “Davis, can I eat now? I didn't get to finish my breakfast.”

    “I never said you couldn't bring it along!”

    “Glad you could make it on time,” Kari giggled. “May I suggest setting the alarm five minutes earlier than it is now?”

    “Oh, good idea, Kari!”

    “I'll say make it ten minutes,” T.K. then suggested, a brow quirking.

    “Even better! Oh, by the way, want to go to the park after school?” Davis queried from out of the blue. “I brought my plastic oval saucer. Or as I call it, 'POS'.”

    “Why?”

    “It's shorter to say that way.”

    “No, why do you want to go to the park?” T.K. corrected himself.

    With a shrug, Davis fussed with his frizzy hair. “I just want to have some fun.”

    Kari raised a hand vertical to her eyes. “Sorry, Davis, I have cleaning duty today.”

    “I'm going to be heading to Dad's place.”

    The boy slumped, but then threw his hands behind him with a sigh. “So much for today being a good day. Alright, I'll ask again tomorrow.”

    The warning bell rang just as they were entering the grounds, and Gatomon and Patamon parted ways while DemiVeemon remained with his partner. Just as they were going to climb up a tree, the feline's ears flicked from the breeze, and she turned to the direction of the Fuji TV studios. Although she remembered the scene she had caused at the building, she couldn't help but think how odd it was her thoughts were suddenly drawn to it.

    “Something wrong, Gatomon?” the Rookie asked when he looked behind him.

    “Oh, uh...” She forced herself to tear her eyes away from the observatory. “I got a question.”

    “What is it?”

    “Did Ishida or Matt talk to T.K. about anything that happened the weekend before last?”

    Patamon's eyes drifted to the cloudy sky. “Um... happened where?”

    “At the TV station.”

    His winged ears then fluttered as he lit up in remembrance. “T.K. kind of laughed at the thought of a cat causing a ruckus in the building.” He then tilted his head in curiosity. “Why, were you that cat?”

    She rubbed the back of her head, unsure if she should feel embarrassed by it or not. “Yeah...”

    “Kari confirmed you were sneaking out,” he said, not sounding the least bit surprised as he nodded. “So that's where you went?”

    “Just the one time,” she retorted, then relaxed. “But... yeah. I want to apologize to Ishida for the disturbance I caused.”

    Patamon beamed, his big blue eyes twinkling. “No need. T.K.'s dad knew about it, and he was okay with it. He just wants you to tell him next time you go visit.”

    As more students flooded the grounds, they vanished into the trees, making their way to the back of the school. They sat together once they reached their destination, occasionally peering in on their partners' class from the shade or catching a snooze in a spot of sunlight whenever they weren't chatting. Gatomon didn't mind Patamon's company since she was fond of the Rookie, although his childish nature would be too much for her whenever they were around the others. His selflessness and big heart, however, always shone through, and whenever it was just the two of them, she liked their conversations and his innocent outlook he would bring into them. It was rare for her to see it in person, but sometimes she'd get a twinge of insecurity in his word delivery, and he wasn't as innocent as he came off on the surface.

    Today, however, she was bothered by the silence and the lazing about in the tree, and she couldn't put a claw on why. She thought maybe it was the rain lingering in the air, in which case she planned an escape route at sign of the first drop. Then looking to a humming Patamon, she wondered if he was a little out of it, or he had bored her if she turned out to not be in the mood to talk to him. Or maybe because it was Monday, and it was just a guarantee the start of the week would be dull. She did have a long day yesterday, after all.

    Flashes of the World of Dreams in her mental eye made Gatomon squirm as she tried to shake it from her mind. Ugh, how could I let Gennai's meeting get to me like that? she moaned to herself, paw at her head. I don't want to think about it right now...

    “Sorry if you get asked this a lot, Gatomon,” Patamon innocently piped up, pulling her from her thoughts, “but I'm just wondering if you're happy that Wizardmon's back.”

    She went ahead to give the short response, not willing to delve more into her concerns about it. “Yeah, I am.”

    He smiled. “I figured. You look better, now.”

    Gatomon felt her cheeks heat up a little. Did she really look that bad? “Thanks, Patamon. It still feels like this'll all go away the next time I wake up, though...” She then shrugged and reclined back against the trunk. “But I suppose that's what happens when something unexpected happens.”

    “Tell me about it,” Patamon sighed, his folded ears twitching. “Ever since T.K. started talking about attending high school, I've been getting that feeling myself. I've talked to Gabumon about it, and he told me it's normal, and it'll get better. But he didn't go through what we did.”

    So even the little Angel of Hope was getting anxious about his partner's next step in life. “I've always had it, though,” she said. “I don't even know if its a habit, a result of living under Myotismon, or what.”

    “Well, things have always gotten better, right?”

    “Right.”

    He sat back as well, even if he looked more squashed than usual. “So let things come naturally. Things work themselves out as long as you don't stop believing in yourself, and as long as the sun still shines.”

    His words of optimism never failed to cheer Gatomon up. “And this is why I like you, Patamon. I'm so jealous.”

    He blushed in humility. “Shucks, Gatomon, I try.”

    She smiled, then lifted her eyes up to gaze past the canopy of leaves, wondering if she could be lulled to sleep.

    “So, what're you going to do, now?”

    They were still talking; that was fine by her, though his question was a little vague. “Hm?”

    Patamon sat forward as though to lean in her line-of-sight. “Are you and Wizardmon going to travel together more? Are you still staying with Kari every other week?”

    “Nothing's going to be any different.” Teasingly, she gave a devilish smirk. “You're not jealous of me, are you?”

    He shook his head in mirth. “Of course not! I'm just checking to make sure everything's going fine. It's what friends do.”

    Gatomon knew nothing was “fine” with her completely, but she didn't want to burden him with concerns she herself couldn't understand. “Speaking of, it should be almost lunchtime. Think we should check up on DemiVeemon and Poromon to make sure they're fine before heading to the rooftop?”

    He didn't even have to think about it. “I'm sure they're doing great.”

    They laughed until a purple saucer flew by, and Davis could be heard screaming, “Stop that POS!” Someone who must've had their head poking out of the window began howling, although the two Digimon wasn't sure what to make of the moment.

    The feline gave him an aside glance. “No, really, Patamon.”

    “I agree.”

    Keeping to the trees, they leapt toward the boy's direction.

    *~*~*

    Although Gatomon was happy to be with the group again, she didn't join in on the conversations during lunchtime and instead soaked it all in. And while she and Patamon continued to talk off and on until school let out, she still didn't know why she wasn't satisfied. Kari didn't stay after for very long, but that was enough for her to tire out and not be in the mood to talk as she followed her home (since she walked with a classmate most of the way). No one was home at the apartment, but Miko at the very least didn't mind sleeping near her when she watched some television to get her mind off the day.

    “You feeling alright, Gatomon?” Yuuko checked in once she was home from running her errands, a little wet from the rain that was now trickling down.

    The feline realized she had zoned out, she had no idea what time it was until she checked the clock. Damn rain clouds. “Oh... I'm okay,” she mumbled, glancing over at the stretched-out cat.

    “Ohhh, Miko, you're getting the furniture dirty,” the woman groaned, frowning down at her and getting an annoyed stare in return. “Is Kari still doing her homework?”

    “I'm already finished,” the addressed girl announced, stepping out of her room. “Hey, looks like you two are getting along.”

    Gatomon just shrugged in neutrality. “I hardly noticed.” When Kari sat down beside her, she leaned up against her ribs and before long was out like a light until she was shaken awake for dinner.

    Tai had by then trudged in through the door, looking worse for the wear and his hair a mess from the rain. “Ugh, I hate Mondays,” he grumbled to himself.

    His sister handed him a hand towel. “Any luck with the job-hunting?”

    He sighed as he scrubbed at his head. “Nothing. The market's tougher than I thought.”

    “It's not looking too good, is it?”

    “Things are getting a little messy, but it shouldn't get worse than that, hopefully.” Tai then took her by the shoulders to look her square in the eye. “Learn from my mistakes, Kari, and attend a high school that'll allow you to get a part-time job. I don't want you to get this frustrated when you reach adulthood.”

    She smiled, and gave his hands a good shake. “If I can find a school nearby that allows it, I'll consider it. You'll find work soon, Tai. Keep at it.”

    Judging from his sly smirk, he looked like he had an idea, but his heart wasn't in it. “Maybe I should apply someplace in the Digital World. At least with their currency being the dollar, I could live like a king in no time.”

    Kari covered her face to hold back a laugh. “You don't even know if it's valid on this side, anyway.”

    “Just because they don't take the yen—”

    “At least you can convert it into dollars and back on this end,” she pressed. Yuuko glanced over with a nod, even though she only fully understood half of the conversation.

    Tai leaned back in his chair, slightly huffing. “Sheesh... you Digimon sure have it easy, Gatomon.”

    She rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Tai. At least things have been quiet, so I haven't had to do much.”

    “Call me crazy, but I don't like that it's been 'quiet' over there.”

    “I do agree, Tai, but I think we should enjoy it while it lasts.” Kari sat down beside him, smiling at the both of them. “We'll need all that time to think about ourselves for right now.”

    “It wouldn't be the first, nor the last time we'd have to balance out both worlds,” he reminded her, getting his elbows off the table when Yuuko set down the pot. “Honestly, I'd probably be a little less stressed if I had all of my first priorities laid out at my feet.”

    “You can't always make the best decisions tackling them at once, Tai,” his mother calmly stated. “Take things slow, and start with the first and most important step wherever you choose to go.”

    His face slowly loosened up when he smiled, looking as if some weight was lifted off of his shoulders, even if only temporarily. “Thanks, Mom.”

    Sitting on the sidelines, Gatomon listened to the Kamiyas talk about whatever came to their minds over dinner, feeling the atmosphere liven up even after Susumu came home at the tail end. Since it had been a while since everyone was last together, they remained at the table while he ate to finish up their discussions, and start up new ones with him. Even if she didn't contribute much, it was a moment that relaxed her, her worries of the day relieved as she held Kari's arms closer and sank deeper into her lap.

    It unfortunately was wearing off when the two were in the bath, having gone first on Tai's request. The Champion knelt on the stool to rest her arms on the edge, slowly skimming doodles on the water while losing herself in thought. She could swear a hum was resonating from her ring and bouncing off the tiles each time her tail swayed.

    She then chose to break the silence, hoping she could put her mind at ease. “Hey, Kari?”

    “Hm?” The girl lifted her head to look over.

    “Am I happy?”

    She tilted her head in concern. “Why're you asking me that?”

    “I just want to know.” Gatomon straightened up, nearly pushing herself off her seat as she repeated, “Am I happy?”

    Kari scanned her, brows steadily lowering. “I shouldn't have to tell you.”

    “I know, but am I?” she urged, her paws furling. “Do I look it?”

    “Right now, you look and sound anxious.” The brunette scooted across, propping her elbow up. “Is something bothering you?”

    Gatomon's ears and whiskers drooped, wishing the steam was making her groggy. “Kind of...”

    “Is it because of what Gennai said last night?”

    She tensed up for a moment, then nodded, her ears pinning back.

    “Why does that make you unhappy?”

    “I'm not unhappy,” she muttered, scowling.

    “I know you're not, but you're not happy right now.” Kari leaned in, her gaze softening. “Are you sick of hearing about it?”

    She wasn't far off, but Gatomon knew there was something else bothering her. If she could put words to it, she'd tell her. “Sort of,” was her reluctant whisper.

    The girl shook her hands dry before she cupped her chin. “I'm happy for you, Gatomon, really. But please don't let it get to you. I don't like seeing you upset and worrying yourself sick, not again.”

    She let her pet her, but it couldn't calm her thoughts, not when it hit her it was going to be a long week.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  9. #9
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    Feb 2006
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    A new chapter that I'm happy to have finally finished, except I'm not happy with it because I had to split it since it was getting a little long. It's a shame I have to wait another chapter before introducing a little something, but I suppose it is something that would work better as one chapter.

    Oh well, enjoy.

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    The moment class was dismissed for the day, Yolei just about threw the door open. “Alright, girl, let's roll!” she shouted, nostrils flaring and glasses flashing in excitement.

    Everyone but T.K. and Kari were giving her strange looks, with the two DigiDestined just smiling and the latter nervously laughing under her breath. “Be there in a minute, Yolei,” she waived her off, still packing up.

    “What's this about?” the blonde asked aside.

    “Girls' day out.”

    A hum in his throat, T.K. nodded in understanding. “Have fun, then.”

    “See you tomorrow.” Outside, Patamon flew off his branch (waving at Kari as he passed), and Gatomon took her time to stretch. Making eye-contact, the girl gestured with her head, and picked up her handbag just as the feline jumped down.

    “Kari, I'm this close to leaving you!” the bespectacled girl announced over her shoulder, leaning out into the hallway.

    With a knowing glimpse at T.K., she made her way to the door and beamed. “Let's get going, Yolei,” she scarcely got out before she was taken by the hand and swept off for the exit. Passing students could hardly get a good look at the pair as they rushed down the stairs and halls.

    “If we hurry, we can swing by my place and get changed!” Yolei breathlessly exclaimed.

    “There's no need to!” Kari stated, brows furrowed anxiously. “Mimi will be in her school uniform, too!”

    They came to a screeching halt at the shoe lockers. “Oh, in that pretty turquoise blazer, yes?”

    “That one, yeah.”

    The stroll out to the school yard was normal until Gatomon hopped up on a nearby wall, and lifted a brow as she glanced down. “Aren't you forgetting someone, Yolei?”

    They stared at each other for no longer than a few seconds before she released Kari. “Oh crap, Poromon!” she gasped, and then rushed back into the school (her shoes flying in the process).

    Shaking her head, the brunette flexed her fingers. “Maybe I shouldn't have been so obvious about today.”

    “I don't think you can be any more subtle with saying 'girls' day out'.”

    “That's true...” Stepping aside, Kari turned to her Digimon. “So, what'd you do today?”

    The white feline smoothed out her ear. “The usual, of course. To kill time, I had Patamon relay to me the entire movie he had seen on TV.”

    “You pretended to listen the entire time, didn't you.”

    It wasn't even a question, yet Gatomon frowned. “No, of course not. Why would I not be interested in a movie about cats?”

    “Are you two still going on about that movie?” Kari gaped, though she cracked a smile. “You two really do want me looking like a cat. What other hints are you dropping, pray tell?”

    A panting Yolei jogged up to them with her lumpy bag cradled in her arms. “Gah... I can't believe I forgot... Oh, sorry, Poromon.” She opened it up to give the poor ball of feathers some air and a hug, even though he was a little ruffled.

    “You owe me,” he huffed, but accepted her apology.

    “So, what are we doing today?” she changed the subject, her face lighting up.

    Kari led the way. “You know us, we just go with the flow.”

    “Or wherever Mimi's attention diverts,” Gatomon snickered, eyes rolling.

    Yolei slumped with a sigh. “It's too bad Sora can't come.”

    Cheekily, the brunette pointed out, “Technically, we should be in the same boat.”

    “Hey, I'm studying! I know where I want to apply.”

    Kari and her partner shot each other knowing looks before she said, “I'm still thinking on it. Tai was getting a bit specific.”

    “How's he been doing? Any luck?”

    “Nothing yet.”

    Nibbling on her inner lip, Yolei leaned in. “If you want, I can ask my parents and see if they'll be willing to hire.”

    The young DigiDestined smiled in thanks. “You'll have to bring that up with Tai, not me. I'll pass it along, though.”

    Mimi was chatting on her cell when the duo arrived at their destination, a small park across from the shopping district. Her hazelnut irises gleamed when she spotted them, and apologized to her caller for the interruption before spreading her arms in welcome as she skipped for them. “Therrrre are my girls!” she trilled, her wavy hair bouncing around her shoulders.

    “Hey, Mimi,” Kari laughed and Yolei sighed, bracing themselves for her hug.

    Gatomon found herself caught up in the teenager's arms instead, an act she hadn't expected. “I heard from Izzy, Gatomon! Congrats!”

    Once she found her voice, the feline mumbled, “Yeah, thanks.”

    “What's that tone for? You should smile!” Mimi showed off her perfect teeth. “Does everyone else know?”

    “We had made a decision to not make a big deal out of it,” Kari came to her rescue. “If Izzy told you, I'm sure everyone knows by now.”

    “That's true.” Releasing the cat, the girl hooked her arms around her friends' shoulders. “Well, then, let's not let this afternoon go to waste!”

    “Is Palmon not here today?” the lavender-haired teen inquired, looking around.

    “I suggested she spend time with Mom. They promised dessert tonight, so if you girls—and Poromon—want, we can stop by my place later.”

    Poromon's eyes grew in interest. “How about we skip the shopping and go eat?”

    Mimi laughed. “Not bad, not bad! I know of this cute café that just opened, and they make delicious coffee, sandwiches and cakes!”

    “...there's that, too,” the bird hesitantly agreed, the plumage drooping slightly.

    “Sounds great,” Yolei beamed, rubbing her Digimon's forehead.

    “You had me at 'dessert',” Kari admitted. “It'll be worth it.”

    They ambled together to the district, Gatomon right at their heels still reeling from Mimi's interaction. She was a good girl, but she was a bit too affectionate, and being the first one to come into contact wasn't something she felt she needed. While Mimi's condolence nipped at the back of her mind, her cheerful nature was contagious, so she chose to push it aside to spend time with her friends. Sora's absence meant the DigiDestined of Sincerity was going to snap pictures for commemoration and send them over later, and the Champion didn't want to look like she wasn't enjoying herself.

    Although it was hard to keep from being uninterested when the girls later went shopping. If it hadn't been for Kari's constant hopping in-and-out of clothes as Mimi analyzed and that she was still digesting (she had gone a little overboard with her order), she could've taken a snooze or gone for a walk.

    Kyaaa, it's too bad it's no longer summer!” Mimi squealed when the brunette pulled open the curtain for the umpteenth time, donned this time in a sundress and hat. “Pink is super cute on you!”

    “Snap a photo, then,” Yolei suggested when she got out of the dressing room as well, her choice of clothes folded over her arm. “Oh my God, you are cute!”

    Kari tugged at the hat's rim as she turned around. “Aren't the butterfly wings on the back a little tacky, though?” she inquired.

    “Only you could pull it off, but if that's bothering you—”

    “It's not, I was just wondering.”

    Mimi bent down to check the skirt, pulling it out to its farthest range. “This will look pretty blowing in the wind.”

    “Oh, Mimi!” the girl chided with a laugh before looking over at her Digimon, who had been holding onto the other selections. “What do you think, Gatomon?”

    Ears perked up, she did a quick scan and nodded. “You do like your dresses,” she noted.

    Kari then spun around on her heel as she took off the hat. “Thanks for everything, Mimi.”

    She daintily waved a hand. “It's not a problem as long as it's in the name of good fashion!”

    “I mean it, I'll pay you back.”

    “Don't worry about it!” she pressed again.

    “We can split the payment!”

    Shaking her head, Mimi tapped her pointer on her friend's nose. “The only payment I need is for you to take good care of these clothes, and on the first day of summer, you must wear this dress from the moment you get up until your bath. Don't forget to stop by so I can get a good look at you.”

    Yolei was nearly driven to tears by her words. “Go for it, Kari!” she sobbed.

    Taking her by the hand, Kari smiled. “I promise, Mimi! I'll cherish it and pass it down to my daughter!”

    Mimi snickered, “You don't have to go that far! Although it would be an honor to pass down good fashion to a new generation,” she then added to the side, eyes glinting.

    The Digimon could only stare as the girls fawned over her like she was a queen.

    As promised, they had an early dessert at the Tachikawa residence (where they discovered mountains of cookies, fudge, and other delectables waited for them with Palmon and Mimi's mother standing proudly in the midst of it all), and took home their spoils after more thanks were given. It was perfect timing, as Kari and Gatomon were able to greet Tai in the parking lot just as the lights were coming on. His eyes, of course, fell to the box in his sister's hands.

    “Aw, Kari, you shouldn't have,” he teased.

    “Actually, you should thank Palmon and Mrs. Tachikawa.”

    “Oh, Kari, you shouldn't have!” he repeated, ecstatic. Then he noticed the bags hanging over her shoulder. “Spent your allowance on clothes again, huh?”

    “Nope, this was Mimi. We went to a café prior, and Gatomon and I pretty much got carried away, it was that good.” The two grinned in unison.

    Tai smiled. “I can help pay her back as thanks for taking care of you today.”

    “She said it's fine, can't pay her back until summer anyway. Oh,” and she paused just before taking another step, “you should contact Yolei tomorrow.”

    He blinked in slight confusion, but didn't ask any further.

    *~*~*

    Thursday was not a day Gatomon was ready to start when it suddenly hit her that morning. She rolled over while Kari climbed out, different gestures that got the girl amused and concerned. “What's the matter, Gatomon?” she asked, reaching out to pet her head.

    She “hmph”ed under her breath, peering at the wall. “I dunno,” she murmured, not feeling like talking.

    “Are you not feeling well?”

    Gatomon shook her head when she felt her ear. “Not that.”

    “Having a mid-week crisis?”

    “What day's it?”

    “Thursday.”

    A groan escaped her, and she buried her face into the pillow.

    Kari frowned, pulling away to get dressed. “You can tell me, Gatomon. Are you getting sick? Is it just because it's Thursday?”

    “I dunno how to say it,” she grumbled into the fabric.

    A snicker hitching in her throat, the girl shrugged. “If you don't want to leave the apartment, that's fine. I'm honestly a little surprised you came along up until now. Did you get tired of talking about the cat movie you never saw?”

    Gatomon lolled her head over to leer. “Are you still up for whatever you're picking tonight?”

    “Of course!” Kari grinned at her. “You don't have to participate in movie night.”

    “Can't. Wizardmon's coming over.”

    They stared at each other as if they realized what she just said. “I never said what time it would be, did I?”

    “No.”

    “Well, might as well call him up. I'll go boot up the computer for you.” Patting down her uniform, Kari snatched up her hairpin before leaving the room.

    Despite the alluring aroma of breakfast, Gatomon laid there gazing out into the living room, feeling as if she didn't have the energy to get up. She didn't know why she felt that way, nor why it was it struck her out of the blue. Nothing from yesterday led up to it, it was normal even with DemiVeemon nearly falling from the wings from when a basketball missed the backboard. If it had anything to do with whatever she was just dreaming of, she wouldn't know.

    Willing herself to at least sit up, the feline stared listlessly at the ceiling until Kari walked back in. “Alright, the Digi-Port's open.”

    Gatomon raised a paw. “I'll greet him later.”

    “I was just letting you know.” She walked over to rest her arms on the railing. “If you're not up for it, Gatomon, we can cancel tonight.”

    “No, it's not that.”

    “Then what is it? You can tell me.”

    She frowned and lowered her gaze. “That's the thing, though. I don't know myself why I feel this way.”

    Her partner's expression softened. “Did... you get another dream?”

    “I guess I did. I don't remember it being pleasant.” Gatomon scooted over to lean against her cheek. “What's wrong with me, Kari? Why am I feeling like this?”

    Kari smoothed down her fur. “If it feels like the whole world's crashing down on you, I get that feeling, too. But we should keep our heads up instead of cowering. That way, once we find a solution to better it, everything else will fall into place.” Hugging her tightly, she whispered, “I promise, Gatomon, everything will get better once we get past this.”

    Unsure what to say, Gatomon returned the gesture.

    She saw Kari had left her D-3 in the computer room when she walked in later that morning once it was just her and Yuuko. The woman seemed a bit relieved she had stayed home that day, even made a comment it was “nice to have company”. That struck a painful chord for some odd reason, unsure how to interpret it without the sense of guilt.

    The cat didn't think she'd find contact with Wizardmon so fast since she didn't know where his location was, but the Digi-Port was able to bring him up much to the surprise of both of them. “Ah, Gatomon!”

    Seeing his eyes light up brought her to smile. “How'd you get to a TV set so fast?”

    “Did you forget I'm a magician?”

    Her face slightly faltered in remembrance when his brow quirked. She never knew what he was carrying on his person, let alone where. “So, uh... how're things going?” Ugh, couldn't have picked a better opening, she scoffed to herself.

    “I'm doing better than I was yesterday, that's for sure.”

    Gatomon blinked as she frowned. “What happened? Are you okay?”

    “There's nothing to worry about, Gatomon. Being in solitude isn't enough to kill me.”

    She grew flustered, a scowl twitching on her lips. “Smart-ass.”

    Wizardmon laughed. “What about you? Have you been feeling well?”

    If she had been more ruffled, she could have shut everything down the moment he asked, but knowing he can see through her kept her paws where they were. “I didn't wake up too great today, so I stayed home.”

    “Was it another dream?”

    She twitched. What was it about her dreams that got both Kari and him so invested? “I don't know,” she muttered, slumping in her seat. “I've just... had an uneasy week, is all.” It was only half-true, but she didn't want to go more into detail.

    As she had purposefully averted her gaze, Gatomon didn't see what he was doing in his moment of silence. “I'm coming on over, then.”

    “Eh?” She did a double-take once light began emitting from the monitor, and she scrambled to grab the D-3. “Gah, wait, Wizardmon! I wasn't—!”

    She caught him coming through, the device and chair clattering to the floor by his weight knocking them backward. She tumbled themselves into a roll so she could come out on top, her fur puffed up and claws snagging his clothes. “Nice catch,” he coughed out.

    “You idiot, not when I'm in front of the screen!” she growled, pupils shrunken.

    “What happened in here?” Yuuko inquired as she hurried in, just to trail off when she noticed them. Then she smiled, “Oh, did I walk in at the wrong time?”

    Gatomon stared at her until Wizardmon sat up so she slipped into his lap. “More like it was poor timing on my part, Mrs. Kamiya,” he stated, ignoring the leer she shot aside.

    “I see. I guess you came early since Gatomon couldn't wait?”

    The feline sniffed and got to her feet. “I didn't ask him to,” was her response as she picked up Kari's D-3 and exited the room.

    Yuuko glanced between them. “Is something wrong?”

    “It's Gatomon we're talking about, she'll calm down later,” was what she heard her friend say before crossing into the bedroom.

    She watched herself so she didn't chuck the item into the desk drawer, then stood there glaring at it. “The hell's going on with me?” she hissed, a shiver running through her body. “I didn't ask for any of this...”

    Slamming it shut, she abruptly collapsed to her knees, her claws marking the surface both frightening and satisfying. Kari wasn't going to be happy, yet at the same time, she needed that. The combination ultimately left her in a state of confusion where she sat, her figure relaxing against the desk.

    “Am I happy?” she breathed to herself, resting her paw over her heart. “Am I... losing my happiness?”

    “You're happier than you were six years ago.”

    Gatomon swerved her gaze over to Wizardmon at the doorway, feeling a frown crease her brows. “I didn't ask you,” she grunted.

    “You weren't ever going to ask.” He stepped to her side where he crouched, his eyes remained on her. “I apologize for coming over on my own accord.”

    Why would he be sorry for that? “I don't care about that,” she huffed, breaking eye-contact.

    “Are you sleeping well?”

    “Why're you asking—” Gatomon stopped herself, knowing exactly why. “I didn't write any of them down,” she then whispered, ears flicking back. “I couldn't remember them long enough to.”

    She squirmed a little under his scrutinizing stare, wanting to leave the room, yet couldn't bring herself to.

    “I've read myself to sleep all week,” he responded matter-of-factly.

    Gatomon scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Stop doing that, then.”

    “It was the only way for me to bring myself to rest.”

    She glanced over. “So what's your point?”

    Wizardmon smiled. “You should not go to sleep with such heavy thoughts on the mind. That's how you're getting sick.”

    “I'm not—”

    “Kari worries about you. Do you want her to get sick as well?”

    Gatomon gritted her teeth, silently cursing him. “I'm not reading myself to sleep, if that's what you're suggesting.”

    He shook his head with a sigh. “There's nothing for you to worry about in the present time. I can look after myself.”

    Her insides fluttering, she shot to her feet. “I'm not always thinking about you, Wizardmon,” she snapped, although it was more towards herself. “I loved spending time with Kari this week, and I wanted it to just be the two of us. And I spent some time with the other Digimon as well... it was just like how it always was.”

    The mage straightened up, still keeping his eyes on her. “So what was different?”

    Her paws clenched as her body tensed. “I... I don't know...”

    Thursday was not going as she expected it, though she had this coming. She should've either just fallen back asleep after Kari left, or just waited until she was in a better mood before contacting Wizardmon so early. Hell, she might have as well just gone to the school so she wouldn't have made her concerned. Or she could've struck up a conversation with Yuuko after she expressed her relief she was going to be at home, it would be nice to get to know her more.

    “Is there someplace you'd like to go today?”

    Gatomon gaped at him. “Huh?”

    “Where'd you like to go?”

    She knew him long enough to know this was his way of cheering her up. If she were to try and refuse, he had other ways of getting her to comply, and she didn't want to put up with whatever else was up his sleeve. Hanging her head, she blurted out the first thing that popped to mind. “Um... Fuji TV...”

    Wizardmon nodded in approval and gestured for the door. “Let's get going, then.”

    A gasp died in her throat. “You're serious? I didn't mean—!”

    He was already out of the room to announce their departure, “We'll be out for a while, Mrs. Kamiya.”

    Quietly moaning, she forced herself to follow him, nearly jolting out of her skin when Miko yowled right outside the front door. Yuuko stepped out to watch the cat scurry off, then turned to the Digimon. “I've never seen her do that before,” she said, hand at her chin. “Well... actually, no, the night Wizardmon stayed, she refused to come out of the bedroom, and then there was that morning he was in Kari's room where she practically begged to get out of the apartment.”

    Gatomon spoke up before Wizardmon could say anything. “She's just not used to him, yet. He scares small children dressed like that, so it's no surprise he scares cats.”

    Both he and the woman stared down at her, though she ended up giggling. “Is that so? Our worlds must be polar opposites after all.”

    The pair left for the stairway, in which the sorcerer muttered tongue-in-cheek out of earshot, “I scare small children?”

    *~*~*

    Unlike the previous week, it was a quiet walk to the television station, they weren't stopped once on the way if only because there were no children below middle school age to be seen. Passersby also didn't stare, let alone give them a passing glance, and Wizardmon wasn't slogging behind to sightsee. Gatomon still kept space between them, but they made small talk, which lifted her spirits a little until they reached their destination. Hiroaki Ishida expressed surprise to see his visitors (more-so toward the mage), though as Patamon had told her, he had no qualms with her last visit and even chuckled over it.

    Thinking he would've been distracted by the many workers and actors traveling between rooms, she didn't expect the observatory to be his choice of interest. She didn't want to step inside so soon, yet her companion had insisted, and ignored the looks the employees were giving them as he walked to the far windows. Gatomon anxiously watched him from behind, unsure what was going through his mind looking out at the landing. To their astonishment, he tapped the staff to the pane and it swung open like a door, allowing him to step outside. Flustered, the feline ran up to lean over the sill, and was about to raise her voice to him when he came to a halt some yards away. The moment he turned to face her and a wind picked up, she found herself relaxing, her pounding heart slowing to normal.

    That's right—he was no longer bound to it. It was now nothing more than a memory of days long past. She could still see it play out in her mind, but not in the present time. Myotismon was no longer around to threaten the peace, nor to take more lives. He had lost, thrice. The only thing that was lost between herself and Wizardmon was time, but not all of it.

    In the midst of spectators, Gatomon hopped onto the platform, feeling as if the wind was urging her forward. He smiled over at her, and held out a hand in beckoning, which she obliged after a moment's hesitation. When she was in reach, his fingers hooked onto her claws and he bowed. She dropped her eyes in humility until he swept her up to hold above his head and spin about, an action she wasn't happy about, but was too shocked to express past her breaths as it sunk in.

    It was a bout of emotion in celebration of freedom. The death of the master meant no more darkness and hatred, no more sorrow and pain. Judgment delivered by a being of holiness, light guided the way home. Gatomon could never forget how it felt when the arrow pierced the vampire's heart, but she also was never able to convey it. If the fates had allowed it, it probably could've been like so.

    It was better late than never.

    Whether it was in the spur of the moment or not, Wizardmon suddenly tossed her high into the air before flying after for a catch, the window closing up below. The feline clung to his neck to regain her momentum, but it was hard for one's insides to catch up while defying gravity. After passing through a layer of clouds, he was slowing down to a hover, and she peered down at Odaiba below, even scanning the bay and passing a glance in central Tokyo's direction.

    Seeing his expression as he looked out at the landscape was comforting to know he was thinking the same thing: he could have planned it out better. The thought was sweet, though, Gatomon had to admit, and she leaned her head on his shoulder.

    “The next time you want to show off, make sure the sun's completely set,” she whispered, half-joking.

    Wizardmon chuckled, then veered off in the direction of the large Ferris wheel.

    *~*~*

    Kari frowned down at Miko as she sat stiffly across the door. “Come on, girl,” she attempted to coax her in, patting her leg. “It's getting late. Do you want to spend the night outside?”

    Yuuko shook her head, a little amused by the sight. “Don't force her in,” she said. “She knows to knock when she's ready.”

    The girl yielded, stepping back so her mother could pass. “Are you expecting to be out long?”

    “About a couple of hours or so if your father doesn't take the last train.” She waved inside at Gatomon where she sat at the couch, and smiled at her daughter. “You guys have fun, and make sure Tai studies.”

    “No need. You can tell him on the way down.” Kari pointed down to the stairs where the teen just came around the corner.

    Even from where they were, they could see he had a pleased look on his face, and his strides were smooth. The moment they locked eyes, Tai hurried up to them. “Are you off to greet Dad?” was the first thing he asked his mother.

    “I am. You look like you had a good day.”

    Kari leaned closer to him. “Well, Tai?”

    His smile grew crooked. “You know the school won't let me work part-time.”

    “But what did Mr. Inoue say?”

    His stance became a little straighter. “I can start at any time, although it'd be part-time.”

    “That's still great, Tai!” His sister clapped her hands in delight, hopping on her heels. “You got a job waiting for you!”

    “Congratulations, Tai,” Yuuko beamed, her gaze softening. “Your father will be pleased when he hears of this.”

    Tai ran his hand through his hair, dropping his stare to Miko when she trotted inside. “I'll be honest in that if I wasn't captain of the soccer club, I'd use that time to go to work.”

    “But then we'd be talking about your studies and job.” Laughing to herself, their mother waved and left.

    With an all-knowing look at each other, the siblings went inside, Tai expressing surprise Wizardmon was in the kitchen. “Again? You know you shouldn't feel obligated to make us dinner.”

    “I'm actually Kari's helper,” he corrected, holding up the dishes he was cleaning.

    “And let me guess: Gatomon's the couch warmer.”

    She smirked impishly. “I'll save a 'warm spot' for you.”

    That was the clincher until after Tai had finished his dinner, and Kari jumped up to prepare the movie. Gatomon knew what it was without having to ask, and she began to question whether-or-not to stay. She didn't hate the movie, per se, but as it was Wizardmon's first exposure to it, she didn't really want to be there for when he started asking questions and Kari would gush out the answers. The eldest sibling flopping himself down on the other couch was at least comforting, but she also didn't want to hear his scathing responses again.

    It was apparently normal, but she swore the film was a wedge between the Kamiya siblings' otherwise-happy relationship.

    “Don't tell Mom I'm skipping my studies to watch with you guys,” he announced from the sidelines.

    If Kari caught on to his motive, she didn't show it and instead gave a gentle, deadly smile over her shoulder. “Don't worry, your grades will tell on you for us.”

    When Wizardmon took his seat next to Gatomon, Tai voiced concern, “Not to rain on your parade, Kari, but you sure this is how you want to introduce Wizardmon to movies? A sappy American film based on a famous stage show?”

    The Champion just shrugged. “I said I'd come, so I'll take what I can get.”

    The feline gave an amused smirk. “Good luck with that, I've seen this twice and I can't tell you what the hell I've watched.”

    Kari shot them both a baffled look when she pressed a button. “Stop that, you two are going to give him the wrong idea.”

    Tai and Gatomon shared knowing glances when she went to the kitchen to put together snacks.

    *~*~*

    “Hey, son, I want to lay something on you for a minute.”

    Matt Ishida looked up from his dinner as his father loosened his tie walking in. The furrow on Hiroaki's brow was the first thing he noticed, and immediately he knew something was up. “Yes, Dad? Need to release some steam again?”

    “No, it's not that.” With a slight sigh, the man pulled out his pack of cigarettes for a stick. “Gatomon visited me today, and she brought her friend, Wizardmon. Remember him?”

    The blonde found himself relaxing a little. Was that all? “I do. T.K. and Tai told me he had returned, I just haven't seen him.”

    “Pleasant fellow, I can see why he was visited every year. But that's not what I want to talk about.” Lighting it up, Hiroaki strolled into the kitchen to see what his son had cooked up and reached for a plate. “Gatomon's visit was so she could apologize for the little ruckus last week.”

    Matt smirked wryly. “I thought you were fine with it?”

    “I am. However, I was called in to the security room shortly afterwards with reports the cameras had a malfunction.”

    “Again?”

    “Second time this month, I know. I keep thinking, 'They're a little old, it's about time to replace them.'” He paused to pull out the carton of milk and peer inside, deciding to chug the rest of it down (from behind, Matt made a mental note to make toast in the morning). “But today wasn't as bad. Last week, however, I had received reports of electronics in general going on the fritz for a few seconds wherever Gatomon went.”

    Thoughts of tomorrow's breakfast went out the window. “Whoa, it was that serious?”

    “No, no, things worked fine afterwards, that was the thing. Anyway, something was bothering me with the second reports, so I had checked last week's footage. The staff told me they had noticed her coming into the building and making her way to the observatory, but had thought nothing of it as she comes often. Thing is, though, she didn't look too good.”

    Matt frowned, thumbing the spoon handle. “Both T.K. and Tai mentioned in passing she hadn't been well. Must've been a bug that was going around if she was up-and-about.”

    “Interesting.” Hiroaki set down his food at the table, but remained standing. “Point I'm getting at is the electronics weren't acting up until she was running off. Everything was completely fine when she came in.”

    “Doesn't the observatory have cameras?”

    The man puffed, looking a little cynical. “There's more blind spots in that place than I have in my own peripheral vision. But we have footage of her entering and exiting the observatory within minutes of each other, so she wasn't there for very long. She looked spooked, too.”

    “'Spooked'?” Matt repeated, not liking what he heard.

    “Well... it might've been she was startled by the employees. They looked just as surprised on the footage, so...”

    “Dad, what are you getting at?”

    He shook his head with a sigh. “I don't know what she was doing that caused her to run out in a panic. I'm considering writing it off as it being a cat thing. However, I still remember those nights three years ago when Wizardmon's ghost was causing trouble for everyone, and watching the glitchy footage of Gatomon running out of the building made me think of that, so I had to check.”

    The teen leaned forward in his seat. “You caught his ghost on camera last week?”

    Hiroaki gave a single nod. “Very brief, nothing more than flickers, but only in the footage Gatomon was in.”

    Compared to three years ago when his father was stressing out over the station being haunted, Matt could tell he had some thought put into it. Slumping a little in his chair, he was finding himself confused he showed some concern if nothing more came out of it. “So... why bring this up?”

    “Something about it bugs me, and I don't know what,” the man huffed, arms folded. “Maybe I'm just a little tired, or his visit caught me off-guard since he's been dead for years. I barely know him, yet I swear there was something, just a smidgen, that was different about him than what I remember six years ago.”

    “Well...” Matt trailed off, trying to think of a plausible explanation. “Myotismon's gone, so perhaps he's not as tense anymore?”

    A shrug of the shoulders. “Ah, who knows. The station tends to attract weird things, anyway, so I should be used to this kind of stuff, you would think.”

    “I dunno, I like hearing your office stories because you have the weirdest stories.”

    Hiroaki rolled his eyes with a smile, and snubbed out his cigarette.

    *~*~*

    The two-and-a-half hours went well with very little interruptions and questions. Kari the whole time had clearly struggled to keep her adoration for the film under wraps, while Tai had the patience to sit through the film and keep his comments suppressed (although he chuckled under his breath at a few parts). Even though she wasn't into the movie like her partner, Gatomon had found herself realizing it wasn't all that bad (she didn't care for the singing, however) yet she still couldn't grasp the romance plot line. Then there was Wizardmon with his chin propped in hand and eyes glued intently to the screen, a sight that had gotten the feline to double-take the first time she noticed.

    Once the credits rolled, movement returned to the room. From the corner of her eye, the cat watched her friend lift a finger, but he remained silent for a few moments longer as if he was planning out his words. “I have several questions.”

    “Yes, Wizardmon?” the girl replied, sounding a little choked up when she set the pillow aside. Gatomon didn't really get why it was the ending always seemed to upset her.

    “First off, was that really why he wore the mask? What was so bad about his face?”

    Tai was trying hard to hold back a snicker. The feline braced herself, knowing what was coming.

    Kari looked like she was becoming remorseful. “...does that bother you?”

    Wizardmon waved his hand about. “Not at all, I'm just disappointed the build up wasn't remotely close to being as disfigured as they claimed.”

    “It's better in the stage version.” The girl's voice got its strength back, now that she knew there wasn't any insensitivity.

    “Fair enough. Second, where in the story did she fall in love with him? All he did was hypnotize her with song. Are we to assume he stalked her since she could sing?”

    Tai leapt to his feet with hands over his head in praise. “Thank you! The guy's a creep who lives under an opera house, there was no way she was going to stay with him.”

    Kari went on the defense. “Hey, Phantom is not a bad guy! He's just misunderstood!”

    “Admit it, Kari, you're only attracted to him because of his mask.”

    “What!”

    “He totally looks like a certain cartoon character you used to crush on.” He smirked at her face. “Also, there really wasn't anything proving she actually did fall in love with him.”

    Gatomon awkwardly sat on the sidelines, not wanting to get into the conversation, but her curiosity got the better of her.

    “And how was he going to love her, anyway?” Wizardmon continued, trying to curb the tension. “His views on romance was twisted.”

    “It's about damn time I got someone on my side for once.” Grinning, the boy clasped the Champion on the shoulder. “Together, Wizardmon, you and I can take down anything Kari throws at us until her eyes open to the truth!”

    “I never said he was a terrible person. He's just not a very happy one.”

    “And that's why he needed to love Christine!” Kari crooned, shooting her brother an intense look. “Only she could open his heart to what is good in the world!”

    “She had to break his heart, still,” Tai said.

    “But he never stopped loving her! It's the epitome of romance!”

    After locking eyes with Gatomon to find she was on neutral ground, the mage moved on, “Characters aside, it was a nice-looking movie. Although I'm not sure if the black-and-white segments, which I presume is the more 'present' time in that movie, were all that necessary.”

    “I like the final scene, though,” Kari sighed out.

    “Oh, no, it's a nice way to let us know the whereabouts of the characters, but when it comes to the pacing, I think they could've cut down on it. And the music was nicely composed with a very strong overture.”

    “It sounds better in surround sound.” She was already lost to her thoughts, everyone could see it.

    “The actors could've sung better, in the meantime, but they weren't awful.”

    There was a brief pause as the words sunk in. “Okay... yeah, I can agree to that. The stage production's better.”

    Slightly red in the face from all of the mirth he was holding in, Tai slowly made his way to his room. “Anyway, sounds like I'm no longer needed here,” he announced with a loud exhale. “I got to get to my lair so I can study before it's past the point of no return. I can promise you, Wizardmon, that the next film isn't going to be a bleeding heart romance.” He slipped inside to dodge a pillow to the head.

    Sliding off the couch and stretching above her head, Gatomon turned to her friend with a suspicious look. “I thought you've never seen a movie before, Wizardmon.”

    “I haven't, but you know I read a lot.”

    She hummed quietly in her throat as he got up as well, thinking back to the small collection he had had at Myotismon's castle. “Must have been some pretty entertaining spell books.”

    He cocked his head in mock disappointment. “You know those aren't the only books I read.”

    A devilish smirk on her lips, she rested a paw on her hip. “I didn't know you were into romance stories,” she purred through her teeth, watching his expression falter. “Yuuko has some of those books lying around somewhere. I'll go pick one out for you.” She strolled for the woman's bedroom, waving her tail around.

    “Now you're just teasing me.”

    Kari became interested, not bothering to hide the smile she had developed listening to them. “Wow, there's Digimon writers? I wonder what your stories are like.”

    Wizardmon combed his fingers through his bangs, brows scrunched in thought. “Actually, I don't think any of the books I've read were done by Digimon at all.”

    “Oh, think they're stories from our world?”

    “The Digital World does have human world inspirations, so it wouldn't surprise me. Although I've never heard of any Digimon making movies for entertainment.”

    “Can you imagine what those would look like?” she joked, shaking her head.

    Gatomon walked back into the room, a book in hand. “Kari, think Yuuko would mind if this was borrowed for a few days?”

    With one look at the cover, Kari quickly swiped it. “These are so embarrassing!” she moaned, sheepishly averting her eyes.

    The Digimon glanced at each other, the feline almost pointedly, though Wizardmon didn't look amused. “Well, I suppose I'll be on my way, then,” he said, picking up his staff, hat and cloak.

    “Thanks for coming, Wizardmon,” the girl immediately replied, dropping the book on a shelf she passed by. “I'm glad you at least liked it.”

    “I found some enjoyment. I look forward to whatever the next title will be.”

    Kari laughed. “It's Tai's turn, so it'll be something.”

    Gatomon followed them into the computer room, noticing Miko darting underneath the bed in the next room. As her partner brought the Digi-Port back up, she turned her attention to Wizardmon. “I'm glad you had some fun,” she quietly told him. “I don't really get the point of movies, so I rarely have something to say about it with Kari and Tai. Besides... it was just nice to have you here.”

    He smiled down at her. “Thank you for the suggestion, Gatomon. It honestly couldn't have come at a better time; I needed a break.”

    Curling her lip, the tiny Champion glanced between him and Kari when she stepped away from the computer. “You're welcome to come any time,” she nearly stumbled over her words. “It's not just for movie nights, so you know.”

    “She's right, Wizardmon,” the girl chimed in. “The DigiWorld may have a mind of its own sometimes in when it wants to open up its gates or not, but it shouldn't stop the two of you from staying in contact. You should take advantage of this while you can.”

    “The biweekly stays still hold true,” Gatomon added, scratching an ear as she turned her head. “But just make sure you reach us first before you cross over.” She intended for the emphasis, knowing he'd catch on.

    Addressing her with a nod, Wizardmon walked forward to be pulled into the light, then looked back and waved to show he made it through safely. Shutting everything off, Kari gazed down at her Digimon, taking in how soft her expression was. “How did your day go?” she asked, wanting to hear for herself.

    Noticing she was staring at their reflections in the monitor, Gatomon let out a sigh through her nose and shrugged. “It got better,” was all she was willing to admit.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 20th May 2016 at 7:37 AM. Reason: rofl I accidentally got Hiroaki's name wrong as "Hideaki" that's what I get for not checking.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  10. #10
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    Brownie points to those who get the shout-outs because I'm apparently making references to things made up to late-2005. Especially that one kind of reference because I have weird tastes. I'm insane.

    This chapter was going to be longer, but I figured the original second-half that can be an entire chapter of its own. Also, it's just nice overall to be able to update in time for the second Tri installment.

    Enjoy!

    *~*~*~*


    *~*~*

    The changing of seasons wasn't anything new, but going back-and-forth between worlds sometimes meant being blindsided by time. Gatomon could briefly recall everything was still green the Sunday she hopped through the gate for a week, including the areas she visited with Wizardmon. It wasn't much, of course, though it was the first thing she noticed before the blustery winds started to pick up. And as she sized up Miko one day, she couldn't help feeling the old twinge of jealousy that the cat's fur could grow with the seasons.

    Kari permitted her to borrow her childhood scarf during autumn, yet she had always put it off. It wasn't because she didn't like it, it was more out of slight embarrassment that she, as someone who had fur twenty-four-seven, would even feel the slightest bit cold. It wasn't something she completely got used to, not when she noticed temperatures varied between the Digital World and the human world. By the time winter would roll in, the scarf would get switched out for something a little more thicker and longer, so if she had ever put it on, it was only for a couple of weeks.

    “You look cute in it, you know,” her partner told her one chilly morning as they walked to school.

    Gatomon wrinkled her nose, trying to ignore the added pressure around her neck. “You're not helping, Kari,” she muttered, although she felt her cheeks burn.

    T.K. came around the corner before waving to them, wisps of his hair peeking out from a gray beanie. “Good morning, Kari.”

    “'Morning, T.K. Is Patamon not with you?”

    “Not today. Is that going to be a problem, Gatomon?”

    She just shook her head. “That's fine. I kind of want to walk around Odaiba for a while anyway.”

    Kari gave a nod of approval. “Alright, then. Stay out of trouble.”

    Smirking, the feline bounded a little in a different direction. “Have a good day, Kari. I'll meet you at the gates,” she called before rounding a corner, going wherever her paws were taking her.

    She didn't have a particular destination in mind, not as long as she wanted some time to herself. Pedestrians scarcely gave her a second glance except for the occasional small child who took interest and wanted to reach out to grab or follow her. She couldn't help thinking how many of them actually cared or recognized her since she had made her walks a habit, though she felt the same way toward them. Keeping track of time wasn't one of her priorities, so Gatomon walked and rested for as long as she felt like. Sometimes to spice things up, she would take a detour through an alleyway, or climb up random tall objects, and once went ahead to tease a dog until it bored her.

    By the afternoon, the feline realized there was no merit to her walk. Whatever her original intention was had fallen by the wayside as she lazed around on a bridge, staring out at the bay and trying to ignore the breeze. Her thoughts drifted, and she did nothing to anchor them to one thing: one minute she was dwelling on whatever Kari may have been doing that moment, then the next she thought about heading back home to sleep or do whatever. That got overwritten by the thought of Yuuko possibly being there, and expressing a smile at there being “company”, and then some yakking passing teenagers made her think of food because why would she not think of teenagers and food?

    Gatomon growled under her breath, mussing up the fur between her ears. “Why can't I think straight today?” she complained to no one, then got up to move to a nearby wall in the off chance she was to slip in her muddled state. Dropping her paws, she tossed her head back to stare up at the sky, getting lost in the blue space. A sparkle got her to straightened in place until she identified it as a plane, and then she relaxed.

    She remembered on her hatching day the sky looked exactly the same, and the glimmer reminiscent of when she had tossed the digivice so high in the air, it never came back down. She had sat there staring at the same spot for what felt like ages, waiting for any signs of its return, with or without her special someone. Coming to the conclusion it was going to be longer than expected was what convinced her to start moving, and so she traveled wherever she could, then forgot why she had left her place of birth except she had no other place to go, nothing to do, and no one to talk to.

    In her current state-of-mind, she felt no different, and it rubbed Gatomon the wrong way staying in Odaiba for a week wasn't feeling as welcoming. Although Tai was no longer job-hunting (there was only one other exception the previous weekend), he had become busy with his studies to bring his grades up that he was hardly home from his study groups to even talk outside of the usual greetings. He might as well have been spending that time job-hunting for the same effect, so she thought. Then there was Kari who had seemingly overnight (though it might've been during the week she was gone) got into cramming mode, which concerned her. She should have seen it coming, and yet she had turned away at that one brief moment to miss its entrance, and now she had grown bored and a little lonely. Yuuko at the very least was willing to talk, but she hadn't felt the need to speak to her, believing she had nothing for them to strike up one conversation about.

    While it wasn't as literal as her early days, the implications of being left behind by her partner as she moved on in life saddened her. She wasn't always there to watch her every second of her life, so every stark comparison to her eight-year-old-self made Gatomon sometimes wonder what key moments in Kari's growth she had missed or simply overlooked. How long would it be before she would leave the one Kari and then return to a different Kari in no time flat?

    Brief as it was, a recognizable whiff caught Gatomon's attention, and she warily looked around until she spotted the feline. “Oh, you come out this far?”

    Miko's tail twitched as they stared at each other.

    A small scoff in her throat, the petite Champion shrugged and returned her gaze to the sky. “It must be nice to not have worries,” she muttered, not caring if the cat could understand her. The familiar words echoed in her ears. “You get to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You may not even have to think about any of us, because what you do doesn't concern us. I bet the concept of boredom means nothing to you, nor does the thought of being alone. Then again, that's not what's expected of you.”

    She could smell and hear Miko walking away. It put a dry smile on her face as if her point was made. “Such a simple life,” she added to herself, then got up and left.

    Upon arriving to the school, Gatomon assumed it was lunchtime and made her way to the usual spot on the roof. Kari had her back to the chain link fence when she saw them, and it nearly made her pause. At that moment, the girl turned her head, though she was staring out at the buildings before she dropped her gaze.

    “Hey, there you are, Gatomon,” she called, waving to her. “Did you enjoy your walk?”

    She climbed up to join them, but her heart wasn't into it when she locked eyes with her partner. “Kari, I'm going to be leaving early.”

    She blinked, tilting her head. “I suppose. When we get home, or...?”

    Casting her gaze to the other DigiDestined, Gatomon shook her head, feeling her ears droop slightly at the surprised looks they were giving her. “Did you bring your D-3?”

    “I left it at home.”

    “I have mine,” T.K. offered, pulling it out of his pocket. “We can go down to the computer room if you need to go that bad.”

    Gatomon shrugged. “I don't want to be that much of a burden.”

    “No, if you want to go to the Digital World that bad, we'll do it,” Kari assured her, though the feline could swear her smile was a little sad. “May I ask why?”

    “Eh...” She darted her eyes back-and-forth a couple of times. “There's quite a few reasons...”

    Deciding not to ask further, Kari took hold of Gatomon, and she entered the building with T.K. after he packed up his lunch and excused themselves. Neither of them spoke as they walked down the corridors, the small Digimon going along with the stuffed animal ploy until they reached the empty classroom.

    “Is there any particular place you want to be dropped off in?” T.K. offered, bringing up the Digi-Port.

    Sliding into a chair, the feline shrugged. “I'm not too sure, actually. Probably a forest area.”

    “There's quite a handful of forests, so if you don't care for one, we'll send you through.”

    “It's too bad we can't track down Wizardmon,” Kari said, mouth curled slightly.

    “He knows how to find me, so...” Gatomon threw her paws up in yield. “Go ahead and pull up a random coordination, I'll go anywhere at this point.” She moved to pull the scarf off when her partner stopped her.

    “Keep it, Gatomon.”

    “Why? I'm not going to use it in the DigiWorld.”

    “I don't care if you do or not, but I'd like you to have it.” She petted her between the ears, which lowered at the touch. “Have a good week, okay?”

    Pawing at the knot, the cat leaned into her palm. “Alright, Kari...”

    T.K. then stepped back. “All set?”

    When she nodded, he opened the gate and she hopped through to find herself on the beach, a sight that made her blink. Turning to face the screen, she couldn't help scoffing at the boy's smiling face. “Either that was a really lucky guess, or you're just messing with me.”

    “You did say you'll 'go anywhere at this point', although the beach at this time of year...” He and Kari shared a grin.

    Gatomon then shrugged. “Well, I appreciate the thought. I'll see you later.”

    “Bye, Gatomon!” her partner waved before communications ended.

    Tail swaying to the motion of the waves, she stared out at the horizon with hands on hips. There wasn't enough open space to bring in an ocean breeze, but the scent made up for it. Making sure there were no stray Digimon to be seen, she went for a stroll while keeping distance between herself and the water, occasionally kicking up smooth stones or shells.

    Coming to a halt by some rocks, she climbed on one for a rest, curling her arms underneath her chin as she lazily gazed out at the sea. “Yup,” she mumbled to no one. “This is the life...”

    As her eyes drifted closed, her ear flitted from the gentle clink of her ring when her tail lowered and continued to twitch. Ducking her head close to her chest, she breathed in Kari's scent that still lingered, a quiet purr coming to life.

    “This is a pleasant surprise.”

    Ears perked, Gatomon peered over at her visitor with a realization she hadn't been paying attention to her surroundings. Not wanting to seem she was at all upset by Wizardmon's disruption, she gave a shrug and propped her chin on a paw. “I just... wanted to come over early,” she responded.

    A brow arched. “Any particular reason why?”

    “I just felt like it...”

    There was a chance he was reading into her, even though his smile had to have been neutral. She scooted over to give him room to sit, which he obliged after a moment's hesitation. Once she pushed herself up with a stretch, his gaze drifted.

    “That's a good look for you,” he complimented.

    She glanced away briefly, touching the scarf. “Kari said I could keep it. I don't mind it, but it feels a little weird on me.”

    “It'll take some time.”

    Gatomon half-shrugged, half-hunched. “I know, but by then, I'll be switching it out for a bigger scarf.”

    Wizardmon repositioned his staff to rest it on his shoulder when he faced the sea, dangling a leg over the ledge. “I need to ask Gennai if I'm allowed to contact through the Digi-Port even on other computers.”

    She furrowed her brows at the odd change of topic. “Why?”

    “I've noticed that when the Digi-Port opens to a specific area, any and all electronics in the vicinity activate.”

    Thinking back on it, she nodded in understanding. “Oh yeah, they kind of do. We used the school computers today,” she then noted.

    “I know.”

    The feline suspiciously stared at her friend when he glanced over. “So what made you think it was me coming through?”

    Wizardmon smiled. “I didn't think it was you since the serial number wasn't Kari's.”

    “Huh?”

    “Apparently the D-3s have their own serial numbers,” he explained in a fascinated tone. “I memorized Kari's when I studied hers the first night.”

    “Oh.” Her reaction was as flat as her ears.

    Leaning back, the mage let out a slow sigh. “Now then, what was it you wanted?”

    Gatomon flinched a little; she almost forgot why she had returned early. “Um... can it wait 'til later?” she suggested, her paws flexing.

    He tilted his head questionably. “Are you sure? It has to be important for you to come over a few days early.”

    “I...” She then held her tongue and turned away to mutter, “I just need more time to think things through.”

    “Fair enough.”

    She felt his eyes on her for a few moments before she jumped off the rock to head for the neighboring forest, only to pause. “Hey... Wiz?”

    It had been a long time since she had last said his nickname. She had known she had avoided saying it since his return, but hadn't felt comfortable reusing it. “Wiz” had been given to him when she had one of her rare stress-induced vents, and had nearly broken down before him where he had stood taking everything she threw at him. To her, the usage meant the loss of emotional boundaries, and one of many ways they had bonded.

    Addressing him as such was an odd mixture of weakness and familiarity, and the longer they stared at each other, the more Gatomon saw he knew all along. The intended lack of pursuing further got her to just sigh and shake her head, “Never mind...” And they continued their trek.

    Indeed, there was little talk and rest between them as the day went on, a reaction that shouldn't have surprised her, but it only added to the pressure she was sensing. She didn't want to feel she was imposing on his time, nor did she want to be guilty for cutting her stay with Kari short. Her intention was to have a talk with him, yet the longer she thought on it, the more she struggled internally. As improbable as it was (it was rather silly, knowing him), there was the notion of doubt Wizardmon was going to turn it down, or more likely, that she would drop it on the spot and demand they forget about it. It was something she had to approach carefully, so she figured.

    “If you want to sleep on it, Gatomon, you may.”

    Holding it off until dinnertime had to have been a mistake, she berated herself. She never knew if he could read minds, but the feline was certain her anxiety was visible from the start. Staring into the fire, she let out a long, slow sigh and undid the scarf to fold it.

    “Y-You know...” was her starting point—she brought herself to clear her throat to try again. “I like walking the earth with you, Wizardmon, but that's not enough.”

    The wizard grew interested, and finished stoking the fire to sit back. “Oh? What do you have in mind?”

    Rubbing the fabric, Gatomon took in another breath and faced him. “I think it's time we get to work.”

    His eyes lightened up. “You want to go to work?”

    She nervously laughed, immediately averting her gaze to tuck the scarf in a glove. “Yeah, why not? I think a little physical labor would do us good. It's not like it's going to kill us this time around.” Mentally, she kicked herself for using the phrase despite there being truth to it.

    Wizardmon grinned from ear-to-ear. “I wholeheartedly agree, and it couldn't have come at a better time. We could use some cash.”

    “What about the money you got some time ago?”

    He chuckled. “I looked into it, and it's not going to do us any good at this point.”

    Gatomon was a little disappointment by the news, but she covered it up with a smirk. “Thinking on wanting some books, eh?”

    Perching an arm on a knee, he winked knowingly. “Well, that's part of it. I'd like to become a scholar.”

    “Is that so?”

    Wizardmon curtly nodded. “It'd put my knowledge to good use, I would think.”

    A weight lifted off her chest, the feline pumped her fists in anticipation. “Alright, then!” she proclaimed, standing up on her seat and jutting her chin out. “The first village, town, or Digimon we come across, we apply for part-time!”

    *~*~*

    Gatomon nearly collapsed setting down the large bag of stones and bricks she had hauled over, getting weird, yet possibly-sympathetic looks from the other construction laborers. Stretching cricked her back, a sensation and sound she wasn't pleased about as she glared up at the sky. “Not even noon,” she groaned.

    Wizardmon came up from behind, clearly having no problems carrying his share over his shoulder. “What's wrong, Gatomon?” he teased. “Is physical labor too laborious for you?”

    Uuuugh,” was her response as she side-stepped around him. “Next time, Wizardmon, you pick the part-time.”

    “Well, maybe if you would stop trying to show off and stick to your your weight limits...”

    Shut. Up.”

    For being a little out of shape and rusty in her strength, Gatomon eventually found the energy to work around it and was able to go over-and-beyond what she and Wizardmon had been required to do. As the supervisor was rather impressed with them, the other part-timers took it as a threat or challenge, though some used it to their advantage to get out of more work. At the end of the day, the pair were the only ones completely exhausted and scratched up, and only the mage showed some gratitude in getting their earnings (the feline was miffed they didn't get a bonus pay).

    Despite the rocky start and their sores, once the project was finished, they hunted down the next job—which wasn't as physical but no less time-consuming—and the next. The week went by before they knew it, and Gatomon had hesitated in going back to the human world despite Wizardmon's assurance. Kari had noticed the change in her complexion the following weekend and was proud to hear of their endeavors, but was still happy to have her continue to stay over.

    It didn't take the weight off of her conscious, however, as the feline asked her partner once, “Is it alright to come by every other week?”

    “I don't see a problem with it,” Kari answered, checking over her homework. “It's not like you've become a full-time worker that you have to clock in every day. Although I think it still would work out regardless, since this is your home.” Then she grinned cheekily over at her. “Are you worried to leave Wizardmon alone at work or with the money?”

    Scowling, Gatomon lightly flopped her tail on her head.

    The only thing Wizardmon spent on was some nonperishable food items that he kept someplace, possibly the “pocket dimension” she had once snarked about, and that was typically their purchases, rare as they were. It didn't help the currency kept changing everywhere they went, so they had much, yet little in value, to go on. At the very least, since they weren't picky, work wasn't scarce no matter how odd and how low pay was, and it kept them occupied and he made sure to keep their spirits up.

    The human world's autumn season steadily found its way into the Digital World, which Gatomon knew wasn't going to last very long, but tried to enjoy it when she could. Unlike there, the trees were more abundant and colorful, and she could smell on the wind the earth and leaves without urban scents throwing her off. The scarf she thought she'd never use much was on from morning to night (unless the work required it off), although she had left it loose so it was more of an accessory with the knot at her collarbone. While she didn't look the part, Wizardmon blended in well, a sight she didn't realize she had missed seeing.

    “You're kind of throwing me off, Wiz,” she ended up blurting out one day when she looked at him a little too long.

    He turned away from the map in his hands. “Oh? How so?”

    “I have to remind myself it's not yet Halloween.”

    “Is that something I should be familiar with?”

    Gatomon had to think on it. “Eh... it's a thing in the human world where everyone dresses up and scare everyone. And there's candy involved sometimes—it's kind of catching on here in some places. Kari said she's planning on going to Shibuya for it this year.”

    The Data looked to be processing her statement. “Are you asking me to come along?”

    She shrugged, shuffling through some fallen leaves. “Guess it depends. Figured since you'd fit right in...” Her stomach growled at her, which she tried to waive off with an inquiry, “Where are we, anyway?”

    Wizardmon furrowed his brows back down at the map. “I think we're in... another sector.”

    “I can see that, but which one?”

    “Whichever one has a creepy, abandoned amusement park that we passed some time ago.”

    Gatomon huffed, pausing to kick at a tree. “Don't these stupid trees grow any fruit around here?”

    “I'm sorry our rations are getting low. I'm not familiar with this area to know where to find a market—or what they'll take.”

    When none of the trees dropped anything, the feline sulked even more. “This is stupid,” she mumbled. “I was disciplined for years to tolerate hunger pangs, now all of a sudden, my body's on a schedule.”

    The mage shrugged half-heartedly, tucking the map away. “Well, that's what happens when you get into a routine,” he sighed. “I think you can survive without lunch for a little while longer, though.”

    She exhaled sharply through her nose. “I suppose...” Her ear then pivoted as a pair of Digimon, a Kokatorimon and Ninjamon, turned on the pathway, drunkenly singing to themselves. She leered, her fur ruffling.

    Knowing what was coming, Wizardmon blocked her with the staff and eased themselves off to the side for them to pass by. “Pardon me, sirs, is there a food joint or market nearby?”

    The large bird hiccuped as he squinted over at them. “Wha...? Oh, we jus' came from one! O'er there, past them trees.”

    Gatomon scrunched her nose from the whiff of alcohol. “Bet it smells if they just got out,” she hissed to herself.

    The two misheard her. “I do not smell bad!” the Ninjamon shouted, fumbling to pull out a shuriken.

    “Yeah, I bathe twice a day, thanks v'ry much!” Kokatorimon squawked, managing a glare despite being tipsy.

    “She meant no offense,” Wizardmon amended, though he was holding his staff up defensively. “She's not feeling well, so she's very susceptible to the senses. Be on your way, and thanks for the directions.” Still keeping them in his sights, he pulled Gatomon along behind him.

    Once the Digimon trudged off and resumed being merry, the miffed Champion yanked her arm out of his hold. “What's their problem?” she grouched.

    “I could ask you the same thing,” he reprimanded, shaking his head down at her. “It shouldn't be as bad when we get there.”

    “They didn't even give the name.”

    “Maybe they could have.”

    She sniffed and continued on her way, ignoring his look of disapproval.

    As told, there came a small clearing occupied by a café, a quaint, but welcoming brick building that the two couldn't help staring at. The sign above the doorframe had a simple appearance, yet the name was in stylized English digicode language that they had to take a few moments to decipher.

    “'Northern Starglow', eh?” Wizardmon tilted his head. “Is that even a real word?”

    “Might as well have just written it in the English language itself,” Gatomon muttered. “It'd probably take up less room.”

    “To be fair, you don't see English digicode often, so it helps them stand out.”

    “Whatever, let's just get in, and get out.” She pushed the door in, whipping her head up at the ringing bell on the end.

    “Welcome, welcome!” a voice happily (albeit a little tiredly) greeted them from the counter. “You must be new around here!”

    Gatomon felt an odd shiver run up her spine from the way the Digimon, identified as a humanoid gauntlet-donned primate, laid his wide eyes on her, briefly frozen in the middle of shelving glasses. Wizardmon didn't seem to notice when he politely hung his hat on a hook and nodded. “We were just traveling by, and happened upon your café.”

    The simian let out a quiet laugh. “Is that so? Well, come sit over here and see if there's anything you like.” He pushed over two menus before swiftly returning to his resorting.

    Hopping up on a stool, the feline turned her attention to the dining area, taking in the few rows of tables, hanging lamps, slow-moving five-bladed fans, and condiments counter adjacent from where they were sitting. The swinging doors to the kitchen was by the end, and across the way from the entrance was a raised platform with a wall-sized portrait of a rainbow dotted with stars. On the farthest end of the room had to have been where the restrooms were, if not a janitor's closet.

    “Seems a little... small, doesn't it?” she noted, mainly to Wizardmon.

    He looked away from the menu for a quick scan. “It's quiet, but it has a hint of ambience.”

    “I told the owner traffic's slow around these parts, but he had to insist,” the Digimon said, his tail swinging like a metronome.

    “Are you the manager?”

    “Yup. Makuramon, at your service.” He tipped his cap.

    Gatomon didn't like meeting his gaze to ask, “We're not the first ones here, right?”

    Makuramon waved his hand almost dismissively. “We just don't get droves. It's been quiet, probably because the waitress isn't here today.”

    The pair glanced at each other. “It's just the one?” Wizardmon guessed.

    “She's a hard worker, but she had to do something—the owner still insisted we stay open today, then he had to go do something, too—so I'm just keeping shop until any of them get back—you ready to order, yet?”

    His speed-talking came to a grinding halt at the end, which threw the two off for a moment. “Is there anything you want, Gatomon?”

    She hadn't bothered to look through the menu. “I'll have whatever you're having, with milk.”

    “Coffee milk?” Makuramon inquired, pen positioned at a notepad.

    She stared for a moment. “Oh, right, it's a café. Bet there's like sandwiches and cakes and stuff like in the human world.”

    Neither of them noticed the manager's eyes lighting up as Wizardmon was quickly showing her the options before he placed the order. While Makuramon was fixing it up in the kitchen, Gatomon chose to stretch her legs and walk around to take in the place, mainly in the dining room for a close-up at its layout. It was there she noticed a peculiar, yet familiar-looking machine tucked away in the corner with a flat screen television on a stand, and two speakers installed into the top corners. She didn't get to inspect it longer when the order was ready, and didn't bother to bring it up during the small talk the manager decided to make with them.

    Makuramon unnerved her, yet she didn't want to say anything about it knowing (or feeling) it would cause trouble. She was unfamiliar with what other Digimon like him usually did, if they all had wide-eyed, blank stares and was constantly moving parts of their body around. She didn't know how it was Wizardmon wasn't distracted by it, and was happily getting acquainted with the simian, even though she wasn't sure if they should regardless if they were the only ones there. She occasionally chimed in, but she ate quietly while staring at the bar and its contents.

    Then like he had a sudden epiphany, her friend pulled out a piece of scrap paper and pencil from his vest and slid it over to her. “Oh, Gatomon, care to make a list of what we need to pick up at the next market?”

    Wiping off her paws, she nodded. “Sure thing, Wiz.”

    Makuramon suddenly began snickering, though the only difference to his expression was a toothy grin. “That's the nickname you gave him?”

    She raised a brow. “What's it to you?”

    “Must be pretty confusing sometimes. Bet he just whizzes on by.”

    It took a moment for her catch on. “Funny,” was her only comment before she started scribbling down the list.

    “Well, he's not too far from the truth,” Wizardmon added to the side.

    Gatomon turned to him. “What, you're agreeing with him? That's not even close.”

    The manager continued to giggle. “I can just imagine you saying, 'Wiz, I gotta take a whiz.'”

    A vein twitched slightly in her temple. Was this being done on purpose? “Actually, I prefer 'piss'. It's my word of the day.”

    “Easy, Gatomon,” the sorcerer warned over the lip of his glass.

    “Gee-whiz, she's getting offended over your nickname?” Gatomon was really not liking the string of laughs he was still spewing.

    Wizardmon just quirked a brow over at her. “I rarely ever get the chance to even become offended, since she does it for me.”

    “I do not!” she snapped, swerving over.

    In the depths of Makuramon's pupils, there was a mischievous gleam. “Well, Wiz, zing her a new one.”

    It was forced, it had to be, yet she bristled and leaned over the counter. “Alright, monkey boy, you're just asking for it,” she growled, pulling her fist back.

    Wizardmon quickly held her back. “Gatomon, what's your problem?”

    “His face is the problem here!”

    He scowled quizzically. “And? Gatomon, you've been acting up all day, and it's not because you were hungry.”

    Her arm shaking, she broke the gaze for a breather.

    Makuramon let out a sigh as he shrugged. “You gato me there, miss. I should face the facts, then, that I am not a math wiz at all to solve—”

    She let her fist fly.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    *~*~*

    Whatever time it was, Gatomon didn't feel like moving from her spot, the scarf splayed on her lap. Staring up at the treetops as they rustled in the breeze had calmed her down, still, she tried to steer her thoughts away to other things. Like what Kari may be up to, or Patamon and the other Digimon. She hadn't visited them in a while, it wouldn't be a bad idea to track them down and see how they were doing. Maybe Gomamon could cheer her up.

    Then she realized he and Makuramon had something in common and she groaned to herself. “Dammit...”

    A disappointed Wizardmon came into view, though she continued to look past him. “Are you feeling better, now?” he asked, berating.

    She grunted under her breath again. “There's no point to it. I don't feel good doing it, but I don't feel better about it. I could've pummeled him to a pulp, and I don't think I'd feel 'better'.”

    “Because...?”

    She sneered over at him. “I don't want to be guilt-tripped further, Wizardmon. It was stupid.” Sitting up, she retied the scarf back on. “But I don't know what to do.”

    “You can go back and apologize.”

    Gatomon lolled her head to the side. “I could... but I don't want to see that creepy mug again.”

    He folded his arms. “Unfortunately for you, you'll have to. We had left without paying, we'll have to go do that.”

    You left without paying. You're the one who handles that.”

    A frown on his lips, Wizardmon pulled out the wallet and dropped it in her lap. She did a double-take and scowled. “What was that for?”

    “We're sharing the burden. You can handle the finances for a while.” Pulling at his cloak, he walked off.

    She scurried to her feet. “What the hell, Wizardmon? What're you doing?”

    “I'm just going to mind my own business,” he replied, waving a hand. “I can check back up on you in a week or so.”

    “But isn't this yours?”

    I'm not the one paying the price.”

    She was close to throwing the wallet on the ground once she caught on to what he said. “Damn iiiit!” she growled. “You and your stupid... rrgh! Fine, I'll apologize! But this doesn't prove anything!”

    He caught the wallet when she chucked it at him, a sly smirk on his face. “That was quick. But I thought you can handle being on your own for a while?”

    “I can, but like I said, this doesn't prove anything. Just...” Gatomon hissed through her teeth. “What the hell was that all about, anyway?”

    Casting his eyes around their surroundings, Wizardmon gave a shrug. “Considering there's hardly anything edible around these parts, having some cash on hand wouldn't hurt.”

    She pouted. “Why's everyone making fun of my eating habits?”

    Re-entering the café to no greeting, the pair remained by the entrance, though the feline did so out of hesitation as Makuramon absentmindedly swept the floor by the stools. Compared to earlier, he looked a little too stiff to be doing any cleaning, his arms the only part of his body moving. It was still unsettling, something she had to question herself over why it was the Data bothered her so much. They had only just met, and he seemed nice, if a little odd.

    Before she knew it, her legs moved on their own, and she stepped to a few feet away from the simian, who passed her a glance. Feeling Wizardmon's gaze on her, Gatomon reluctantly looked the manager in the eye, and gave a bow. “I'm sorry for my rude behavior. I was in the wrong to lay my hands on you.”

    Wizardmon gave a solemn bow himself. “I apologize as well, as we left without paying.”

    Makuramon blinked. “Oh, so you did. Well, there's nothing money can fix at this point.”

    “Were you badly injured? Did something get damaged?”

    “None of the sort.” Seeing the bruised eye when he faced them made Gatomon inwardly flinch. “But since you returned to make a payment, I don't believe money should be the answer. Instead, I'll have you two work it off.”

    Relief came upon them. “I can agree to that. Gatomon?”

    “I don't see why we can't pay, but... yeah, sounds reasonable.”

    “Excellent.” Slipping the broom behind the counter, Makuramon pulled out a thin item from the same place. “Now then, Wizardmon, was it? I'm assigning you to the kitchen. Here's a hairnet, by the way.”

    He accepted it as he unclasped his mantle to hang it and his hat up. Gatomon looked over at the dining area. “I take it I'm cleaning tables?”

    She hated the fanged smile Makuramon suddenly sent her way. “That's part of it. No, miss, you'll be waiting tables—you heard what I said. And I have just the uniform for you. This way.”

    Giving Wizardmon a concerned look, she followed him to the other end of the counter and disappeared around the corner. The Data Digimon scrunched his hair up and behind his ears before entering the kitchen, taking notice of how empty the place was, although he relaxed at its cleanliness. Tucking his gloves into his vest, he tied on an apron and washed his hands just as Makuramon walked in.

    “As you can see, I was only in the mood for the simpler dishes today,” he said, nodding at the cutting board that he immediately began cleaning off along with a knife.

    “Is there anything you want me to get started on?”

    “Well... how good are you at cooking?”

    “Quite well, so I'm told.”

    “Oh, really?” Makuramon handed him a menu. “Is there anything on here you can do?”

    A quick scan was all it took. “All this, and more.”

    “All I need to know.”

    There came the sound of shoes clacking on marble. Out of curiosity, Wizardmon followed Makuramon to see a flustered Gatomon walk out, dressed in a golden waitress outfit, her tail poking out beneath the star-shaped skirt. Her gloves were replaced by an off-white clawless pair, and she wore Mary Jane shoes completed with gold-and-silver-striped stockings. The half-star headpiece held her ears back, although her attitude had them flattened regardless.

    “Stop staring,” she grunted at Wizardmon, brows furrowed.

    He wasn't sure how else to look at her, but he still gave a smile. “It looks nice,” he complimented.

    She just sniffed, wriggling about.

    “It's a perfect fit!” Makuramon exclaimed, hands clasped together. The sudden emotion in his voice and appearance got the two to stare.

    Tugging at the skirt, the feline questioned, “So, uh... star motifs. May I ask why the waitress outfit looks like this?”

    “'CUZ I LIKE WAITRESSES, THAT'S WHY!”

    Even after the echo faded, Wizardmon and Gatomon blankly gawked at his slack-jawed expression as it sank in.

    “Now, I have a request for you,” he then said like the last moment didn't happen.

    A little weirded out, she retorted sarcastically, “You want me to speak formally, master?”

    “Now, now, don't jump to conclusions. This isn't that kind of a café—the boss won't allow it. I just want to see if you can do it,” he added when she gave him a suspicious glare. He then turned to Wizardmon. “May you let her borrow your staff for just a minute?”

    A little puzzled, he handed it over. Gatomon tossed it in her paws, passing on the same glance.

    “I want you to do this pose, see?” He started to pantomime. “Holding up the staff, you spin around two times, twirling it around just before you stop. Then you bend the right leg like this, and stretch it as you point the staff.”

    She gaped incredulously at him. “Like what you just did?”

    “Yeah. But you also need to...” With a sly gleam in his eye, he leaned in and whispered in her ear, which flicked back once he was done.

    “Why that? Is that protocol?”

    “Go on! Does that staff actually shoot out stuff?” he then asked Wizardmon, concerned.

    “I've never seen it activate with anyone else but I,” he said, shaking his head.

    “Okay, good!” With a clap of the hands, the manager spread an arm out. “Proceed, Miss Gatomon.”

    Tapping the wood and still shooting a leer, she deeply inhaled. “Fine. Just once.”

    She did as requested, raising the staff above her head and spinning around. Unbeknownst to her, a veil of sparkles had fallen over the sun when she did so.

    Pi piru piru piru pipiru piiiii!” And she pointed the wand directly at Makuramon as it flashed.

    Blood spurted out of his nose at that moment.

    “WHAT THE HELL, ARE YOU SERIOUS?!” Gatomon almost threw the staff at him when she stamped her foot, and Wizardmon just about dove for it.

    Once he straightened back up, the manager dabbed at his face with a handkerchief and cleared his throat. “Alright, then, let's get started.”

    “DON'T CHANGE THE SUBJECT!” she still yelled, fur puffed up.

    Hands raised as if to try calming her down, Makuramon then instructed, “We're going to need some clientele. So, Miss Gatomon, as today's waitress, it's your duty to bring them in.”

    “I'm not going to do whatever I just did,” she hissed.

    “There's no need to. You just stand out there and greet the first Digimon you see. 'Hello, gentlemen, we're having our famous home-brewed 'Starberry Shortcake Parfait' special today.'”

    Gatomon didn't think the pun was as bad as his puns earlier, but she still cringed inwardly. “Is... that all you want me to say?”

    “No, although saying it with a smile would help loads. Our clientele love it when you flash a cute, fanged smile.”

    She still was uneasy with how he worded it. She glanced over at Wizardmon expecting him to help or give some advice, but he had already disappeared into the kitchen. Looking back at the manager, she took in a long, deep breath, then nodded. “Okay... sir.”

    “I believe you mean, 'As you wish, sir'.”

    “As... you wish... ssssir.” Gatomon felt like hacking up a hairball after that.

    Whether he noticed or not, Makuramon then gave a smile, handed her a small stack of pamphlets and she was out the door to stand by the road. A breeze going by made her shudder because she felt it up the skirt, and she bit back a scream of frustration, her paws curling into fists.

    What did I get myself into? her thoughts growled at her. This is more humiliating than when I was the messenger between Myotismon and Etemon—I never thought anyone could out-creep him. What is it with monkeys being the creepy weirdoes?

    Her ear then flicked at the sound of laughter, and she locked up at the sight of a group of Gazimon coming over the hill. Far as she knew, they weren't the same ones she was thinking of, but they were all the same to her. Joy.

    “Hey, is she back?” one of them then pointed her out, eyes obviously widening in interest.

    “Did she get her fur bleached, or what?” another then inquired.

    Why do Gazimon have to be so damn loud? “H-Hello, gentlemen!” she forced herself to greet them. “We're having our famous home-brewed 'St... Starberry Shortcake Parfait' special today.” Then she topped it off with a grin.

    To her chagrin, while she regurgitated what Makuramon had said, it was clear they didn't get to hear her by the time they crowded around her, dopey grins on their faces. “Whoa, how'd they manage to get her here?” one of them chortled.

    “She's really pretty, though. Never thought I'd get close to one.”

    “Better not let her hear you say that, she's gonna be jealous!” They all cackled.

    “D... Did you want to come inside?” she offered through her teeth, her brows twitching.

    Since it was obvious they were humoring her, she led them in and gave them a table to take their order. The whole time, they didn't take their eyes off her, even talking amongst themselves about whether-or-not she “looked better”—whatever that meant. Makuramon was at the bar listening in and glanced up when she came over to pass on the order.

    “Well I'll be, you sure pulled them in quick,” he chuckled.

    Gatomon ignored him for that moment to hand Wizardmon what she had jotted down. “Make it fast,” she begged him, still in a hissed tone.

    He was either confused or he pitied her, she couldn't tell which, but he nodded and got back to work. As she passed the manager who was getting out the glasses and drinks, she shot him a look. “Want me to go back out?” she asked.

    “Just to give them their drinks, then the next time, you'll have to bring out their order.” He then let out a sigh. “Too bad she's not here today. You could be taking turns, and I could be back there helping.”

    Gatomon unintentionally let out a snort. “I think Wizardmon will be just fine back there. He's had to feed more mouths than this in the past.”

    “Was he a chef?”

    “Not really. He was just the only one who knew how to make a decent meal.” She didn't want to go into more detail about her past, and left for the few minutes to give the Gazimon their drinks, feeling his eyes on her.

    “Forgive me for asking,” he quietly started off when she returned, “but do you know them?”

    Her ear flicked. “I'm honestly not sure. It's... been a number of years.”

    Makuramon slowly nodded. “I see.”

    Feeling a little unnerved, she poked her head back into the kitchen to check, then out again. “Oh, where are the carts?”

    The Gazimon shut their traps for a brief moment once Gatomon brought out their orders, and she had to voice questions as to who got what and passed around them. As expected, the Rookie Digimon had no manners to speak of, a sight she didn't want to see again the rest of their stay, but Makuramon had to pull her aside once more.

    “You'll have to check up on them again here in several minutes, make sure they're satisfied and to give refills and take other orders if they need them.”

    “Anything else?”

    For a second, there was a mischievous glint in his eye, but it vanished when he shrugged. “I'm not going to impose it on you.”

    As it was just the Gazimon, she didn't have much else to do, though a few times she wished she could go back outside as her sharp hearing would occasionally pick up their less-than-stellar conversations that she hadn't heard in years. She luckily hadn't heard them whispering about her since their arrival, which kept her level-headed as needed, as well as ensure her they weren't who she thought they were. Then again, she doubted Etemon's ex-minions were even still around, or remembered her if they were to somehow cross paths again. She didn't have many fond memories of going up to the Ultimate's trailer anyway, even though the Gazimon were tolerable.

    The moment she was clearing their table to take back to the kitchen, one of the nearest Rookies turned to her. “Oh, meant to ask, but where's Bea at?”

    Gatomon had no idea what he was talking about. “I don't know this 'Bea',” she answered, then moved to walk away.

    “Are you new here, then?”

    “Sorry, boys, I'm the 'one day only' special.” She shot a smirk over her shoulder, which made them gawk in surprise.

    Once she left the dining area, Makuramon suddenly burst out laughing, a sight that freaked her out until she realized what it was about. A concerned Wizardmon peeked out, but turned his attention to a now-red Gatomon. “What's going on?” he asked.

    I hate you both,” was the only response he got before she swiped the bill to give to the Gazimon.

    Once they left, she dropped her guard and reached up to pull off the headpiece just for the manager to stop her. “It's not time to close up, yet,” he said with a smile. “You did just fine, but it's still the lunch hour. And besides,” he added before she could speak up, “you got quite the wit there, Miss 'One Day Only'.”

    “Please don't call me that,” she grunted, averting her gaze as she began cleaning the table. “That was stupid.”

    “But you made them feel lucky. I imagine that's going to catch attention of more clientele.”

    “Huh?”

    The bell then tinkled, and a wave of Numemon swarmed in. “We were told there's this 'one day only' special?” one of them announced skeptically.

    Makuramon grinned widely while Gatomon's face fell incredulously.

    *~*~*

    The sun was on the horizon before traffic dispersed to allow the café to close for cleaning. Wizardmon joined Gatomon once the kitchen was wiped down, unaware or not caring his hair was a little untidy. Her ears were pinned back more from exhaustion than irritation, though she let out the occasional groan when she cleaned underneath the tables.

    Ugh, those Numemon were everywhere,” she muttered for what had to be the umpteenth time that day. “You'd think they'd have some manners by now.”

    Her friend lightly chuckled. “They sure did like you, that's for sure.”

    She shot him a warning glare. “It's just a fluke. Besides, Kari's been taking some fashion lessons or something from Mimi. It's probably clung to me somehow.”

    “I'd say it's more the uniform,” he noted cheekily, which made her fluster.

    The bell rang and Makuramon at first started saying, “Sorry, we're closed—”, only to stand at attention once he saw who it was. “Oh! Welcome back, sir!”

    “What was this about a 'one day only special' I heard going around?”

    Gatomon paused in her cleaning to take in the towering wooden cyborg as the manager explained, “Funny you should ask, Arbormon. I took in some temporary workers this afternoon, a cook and a waitress, and they've been the main attraction.”

    She didn't like how she was described, but she bowed her head when the golden gaze rested on her. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” she said, almost catching on her words.

    The mage did so as well. “Makuramon has been kind to us in allowing us to work off a bill.”

    Arbormon looked between them, although more-so at Gatomon. “So they're not our new workers, then?”

    The simian smiled nervously. “I wasn't sure if I wanted to bring it up. But the clientele were very pleased with her services, and their meals were all quick and well-prepared.”

    The cyborg turned to the manager. “They look like the kind of 'Mons who are eager to work.”

    Wizardmon looked the most surprised. “Sir?”

    “The name's Arbormon, owner of this little establishment,” he said, reaching out for a handshake that the Data accepted, then to Gatomon when she came up to him. “Forgive my manners, I'm just a little taken aback by all of this. Normally, I am in the building behind the scenes, but I had some errands to attend. Makuramon treated you two well?”

    The feline twisted her lip, but nodded. “Yes, sir.”

    It was hard to tell what was going through his head with the lack of facial expressions. “How would you two like a full-time position here?”

    “We didn't see anything that said you wanted help,” Wizardmon said, intrigued.

    Joints and gears creaking, Arbormon went for the window and let out a sigh. “Not again...” He moved the plant back to pull out a “help wanted” sign. “Well, do you want to tell her, Makuramon?”

    “Eh... we can keep it a surprise for tomorrow morning.” He grinned nervously with a shrug.

    The pair stole quizzical glances from each other.

    Arbormon faced them. “Apologies about this. If you two are up for it, I'll hire you. I figured I might as well ask first, even though Makuramon has good things to say about you, and he could've given you the offer.”

    Wizardmon curtly nodded and bowed, Gatomon following right after. “We'll be honored to work for you, sir.”

    He let out a guffaw, the middle opening like a mouth. “I was right about your eagerness! Too bad today's not going to be accounted for on your checks!” And he laughed again.

    “Oh, boy, can we do the initiation?” Makuramon inquired happily, slipping to his side and bouncing on his feet.

    “Now, now, we don't want to scare them off too soon,” his boss played along.

    “If you're going to make me do one of those stupid poses again, forget it,” Gatomon grunted.

    “Poses? What poses?” Makuramon chuckled, tugging at his collar.

    Arbormon stared at him, zoning in on his black eye, then returned to the two. “Anyway, I'm afraid I didn't ask for your names. Not often I hire nameless faces on the spot.”

    “The name's Wizardmon.”

    “I'm Gatomon.”

    “Pleasure to meet you two.” They shook hands once again. “I'll give you the schedule, and I'd like a résumé from the both of you. We come in before doors open to prepare everything, although I'm thinking we should go ahead and come in an hour earlier tomorrow.”

    “At six in the morning?” Makuramon stated in near-astonishment.

    “It's either that, or five-thirty. Take your pick.”

    He relaxed with a long face. “Six is fine.”

    “And now you gotta tell her.”

    Makuramon tensed up again with anxiety. “What should I tell her?”

    “The usual, Makuramon.”

    He was a little dejected for a brief moment before he bowed his head. “Yes, sir...”

    “The same goes for you two—six o'clock.”

    They nodded in unison. “Understood.”

    Arbormon's next question came out of the blue. “Where do you two live, by the way?”

    A brow raised in surprise, Wizardmon replied, “We're travelers. We were thinking on making a campsite about a half-kilometer away.”

    “Interesting.” Rubbing what constituted as his chin, the cyborg hummed a little. “I can't completely guarantee a roof over your heads, but I do believe there's an empty room or two available. Makuramon, know anything about it?”

    He perked up. “I think there's a room for rent from our last employee, yes.”

    Nodding, Arbormon proposed, “Would you like to take a look?”

    Wizardmon smiled. “That'd be wonderful. Think we could settle the first payment tonight?”

    Gatomon then had a second thought that wiped the grin off her face. “Wizardmon, do we even have anything to give up-front?”

    “We'll go over the rent if you're both intrigued,” Arbormon said.

    “I'll close up shop for you, sir,” Makuramon offered with a salute. “Go take care of business.”

    Clapping him on the shoulder, the cyborg pulled out some paper from behind the counter. “Alright, you two, follow me. If you need some time to fill out the forms, you can hand them in tomorrow morning.”

    “Ah, can I change out first?” Gatomon requested, tugging at the skirt.

    Once she returned, the simian waved them off at the door, letting out a sigh when they were over the hill. Straightening a few things up and admiring the handiwork the pair had done, he walked to the back of the building for Arbormon's office. He scarcely cast a glance at the pile of letters on the desk when he pulled out the budget checklist to skim through, a gloomy shadow falling across his face.

    “Hope you know what you're doing, Arbormon,” he mumbled to himself, taking off his cap to scratch the top of his head. “Hnn... she's not going to be happy 'bout this...”
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 11th March 2016 at 1:37 AM.
    Winner of Best Non-Pokémon Fic of 2015 in the Shipping Oscars
    Forsaken: Chapter 20 - 11/17/14 / Encryption: Chapter 8 - 3/10/16 / Handle with Care: Chapter 10 - 3/17/14

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