Salva Nos
Episode 8: Crying Days
by Ajora Fravashi

Disclaimer - See the one on episode 1. I don't have time to retype it.

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It didn't take a genius to realize that something strange was going on in the world. Even when "strange" was now par for the course, people who could command the elements just didn't exist in the real world. They shouldn't, anyway. But they did, and this gnawed at the back of Takeru's mind. What was going on?

During the extremely late supper with only nut-scented whale oil lamps to light the former lounge, Chiaki brought up the subject of the Gift she seemed to have over the element of water. Junpei's Gift was over electricity, but he could only muster up enough voltage to start up a human heart if he really tried, and that only lasted for a few seconds. Takeru's mind tried to make sense of it, but he couldn't. In the nice, logical real world, this just didn't happen. Only in the Digital World...

He ran back over that thought again. Only digimon would be able to have that kind of skill, right? But Chiaki, Junpei, and Takuya were very human. Why was it that they had this Gift when others didn't? Or maybe there were others, but he couldn't remember meeting any of them.

When the sheer illogical nature of it all was starting to give him a headache, Takeru excused himself from the table and stepped outside for some fresh air. The horses paid no attention to him once he let them know he was there. It just wouldn't do to spook them.

The moon hung full and barren in the night sky. Once he would have fancied he could see a rabbit making cakes on its surface, but he was now long past such childishness. He saw it as it was: a lifeless chunk of rock ripped from the Earth's crust and hurled into orbit eons ago, pocked with vicious crater marks from a time when the solar system was young. Mankind set foot on it decades ago. If Jou's suspicions were correct, man would never go there again.

"Why? What did we ever do to you," he called out in the dark, to something he wasn't even sure existed. Yahweh? Allah? Zeus? Wotan? The name didn't matter anymore. "Yeah, I know we screwed up. Isn't that always the way things go? We screw up and then you kill off all but a handful of us. Then it happens again. Why? Wasn't the first wave enough? Do we all have to die this time?"

The night sky remained impassive, silent. He growled in frustrated helplessness and reached up to rub away the hot, unfamiliar pricking in his eyes. His fingers came away moist.

"God likes it when you ask questions," an oddly familiar voice spoke up from behind him. When Takeru turned to bite the head off of whomever caught him in this vulnerable moment, he found a man in Ainu garb standing by Blackjack's side and all desire to lash out drained from him. "We were given free will for a reason."

"Eight children in a rainbow sky," the man had said once. A faint chill crept up Takeru's spine as he recognized the man.

"Who are you?"

The man grinned suddenly, with a spark of madness lighting his eyes. "Which me? There are two: the Darkness and the Light. Who are you?"

Takeru blinked blankly at that, taken aback by the question. "Er, Takaishi Takeru."

"Your label, yes. Given at birth by someone else, but you never gave it to yourself. But who are you?"

He raked his mind for a good answer to that. What did this guy want ? "Chosen Child, bearer of the crest of Hope? I don't know what you want me to answer with."

"Well then," the madman turned to stroke Blackjack's neck. "Are you familiar with Fractal Theory? It does not matter if you are. You will ask Ken, regardless. You are one of the strange attractors."

With an exasperated sigh, Takeru scrubbed at his face and reminded himself to look up the term when he could. What the hell. Any answers were better than none at all. "Great. So, since it seems you're actually staying, what's going on?"

"Everything. Nothing." The madman's voice dropped in pitch from its usual baritone to a soft bass that was felt more than heard. "Conspiracies of the past against the future. An interregnum in which the fate of this land will either fall into chaos or be reborn in a new world order. You really ought to specify."

Well, unless the answers only raised more questions. Since he was asked, Takeru decided to be as specific as possible. "For starters, why are there people who have some sort of skill with manipulating the elements? Takuya can start fires, Chiaki manipulates water, Junpei can generate electricity. This isn't possible."

The madman gave an eerie, breathy chuckle at that. There was something oddly familiar about it, but Takeru couldn't remember where he heard it. "The Spirits chose them, of course."

"What spirits?"

"Of the Legendary Warriors of the Digital World." The madman's voice had a matter-of-fact tone now. "There are ten of them. Ten elements, ten spirits, ten warriors."

"Why haven't I heard of them," he asked. While it was true that his group hadn't been everywhere in the Digital World, he was sure he would have heard something about ten Legendary Warriors. Humans and digimon alike had a fondness for sharing folklore.

"How much do you really know about the Digital World," the bass voice asked in turn. It had an odd quality, almost ageless. "Do you know how it began? Have you ever met Zhuqiaomon and his fellow Holy Beasts, tasted their sheer hypocrisy in the air? Have you stood before the great monuments of the Dark City at dusk, or dug through the ARPANet ruins searching for the traces of the first virus to hit the Digital World? Have you ever seen the Creator in all Its bodiless glory?"

Takeru could only stare at the madman, speechless. The madman's eyes had a distant look as he spoke, a distance that wasn't entirely physical. He didn't look much like anyone in Takeru's age range anymore. Older, perhaps, but that wasn't exactly right either. Something whispered in the back of Takeru's mind then, providing a word that seemed to fit perfectly: Timeless.

The bass voice continued when it realized that Takeru couldn't answer. "There is much you have not heard of. I must confess that even I do not understand all the secrets of the Digital World."

"You're a Chosen Child, aren't you?" Takeru knew he was scrabbling for something that would make some amount of sense, and didn't really care anymore. There was too much left unknown. "You talk like you've been there before. Where's your partner?"

The madman's sky-blue eyes, more unreadable than ever, fixed upon him as the voice returned to its usual baritone. "He's in a prison of his own making."

"...What? Why?"

"My partner killed six worlds." Such simple words they were, yet Takeru could not imagine the full weight of the regret and guilt behind them. "He didn't mean to, not really. He just... misinterpreted something I said. That was always his failing: he could come up with these great ideas that he thinks would make me happy, but never bother to think out the details or repercussions. Then his big, epic plans would blow up in his face."

How could anyone respond to that? Six worlds? How was that even possible? How could one digimon, if it even was a digimon, do that much damage? And because of what, a plan that went horribly wrong? Bewildered, Takeru's mind could only skitter from one question to the next like some trapped mouse in a maze that didn't make sense. Maybe it was just the hallucination of a madman, but in the back of Takeru's mind he knew it had to be true. It was just too bizarre to be otherwise.

The bass voice spoke again when nothing else was forthcoming. "Nurture your rage, Hope. It will be what drives you in the darkest night, for there are times when history is made by those who cannot bear the current state of affairs any longer." It sounded almost sympathetic, if such a thing could be said for something that seemed almost inhuman yet all too human. However, there was little doubt in Takeru's mind that the bass voice knew exactly what it was like. "When the time comes, embrace the darker passions of the human soul. They can sustain a man where all else fails."

"Er..." There were too many questions, too much to say, for Takeru to respond immediately. The madman gave a humorless half-smile at his expression and gave the horse one last pat on the neck before stepping away.

"You want to know why I'm saying any of this," the nice, human baritone asked at last. "You're the strange attractor. You have other questions too, but they'll be answered in time. Time shall tell." The madman turned to walk away at that moment, then paused to say something else. "Oh! I almost forgot. The Spirit of Wood can be found where no light falls."

Takeru gritted his teeth at that. Of course the man had to be cryptic now, of all times. What was the "Spirit of Wood" and where did someone find a place where there was no light? He was going to ask, in fact, when the madman whispered something and disappeared right in front of his eyes. He wasn't surprised at the disappearing act, but what was "Chrono Paradox" supposed to mean?

.~*~.

In the dim light of a few whale oil lamps, Daisuke didn't really notice when Takeru slipped out. His attention was on Junpei and the man's entertaining magic tricks. Deep inside, Daisuke knew they were sleight-of-hand tricks and not real magic, but he rather thought it was nice to indulge in a bit of childish fancy every now and then. Besides, with the digimon just as spellbound as he, Daisuke could afford it. Even Chiaki watched the magic acts with open wonder on her face. That might have been enhanced by meeting digimon for the first time, though.

Jou, however, wandered off to another room to sleep once the women had the good grace to give birth at (or an hour before and half an hour after) midnight instead of the small hours of the morning. He had muttered something about waking him up if any of the patients staying there overnight needed something, but Junpei shooed him off and said they wouldn't wake him unless it was life-threatening. Given that everyone was stable and would likely remain that way for a few hours, Jou hadn't protested too much.

It was when Junpei's exhaustion started showing in his increasing fumblings that Takeru shuffled into the room and watched with detached disinterest. His eyes were rimmed with red, as if he had been crying. Daisuke would have asked about it if he hadn't come to understand that Takeru didn't really open up to people and most certainly didn't appreciate inquiries into his emotional state. What was strange, though, was that Takeru didn't look sad. It was more like anger that had worn itself out to the point where it was no longer potent, but that was more likely due to his friend's exhaustion.

Patamon gave an enormous yawn, which was then echoed by the two other digimon, and fluttered over to nuzzle his partner reassuringly. The look Takeru gave Patamon was a considering one, as if he was thinking about something that was probably deep, meaningful, and wouldn't be shared. Both Chosen Child and digimon partner remained silent.

"Well, I dunno about you guys, but I've gotta go to sle-" Junpei's words were interrupted by his own yawn, and he shot Patamon an almost accusing glare before continuing. "Gotta go to sleep. The mayor sent up a few extra futons at my insistence. Room 104 for Chiaki, and 105 and 106 for Takeru and Daisuke."

With a brief nod, Daisuke rose and started for the door with V-mon close behind. But-

"Wait, do any of you know anything about Fractal Theory," Takeru spoke up at long last. "Strange attractors? Anything?"

All around were sounds of denial. Daisuke himself couldn't think of any place he might have heard of them. "Fractal Theory" sounded like something conceived in thinktanks in the old world, not a product of the world as it was now. "Sorry, man. Maybe you should ask Ken when we get back to the rover?"

Takeru frowned thoughtfully. "Yeah, might as well. Thanks anyway."

Chiaki wished them all a good night, claimed one of the lamps, and shuffled off to her room. Junpei picked up Gomamon, mumbled something about dropping the digimon off at Jou's room, and took another lamp with him as he left. This left Daisuke and V-mon with Takeru and Patamon, and Takeru didn't look like he was going to move or talk any time soon.

"Hey, Takeru," Daisuke started, though some small part of him urged him to shut up and let his friend brood if that's what Takeru really wanted, "if you wanted to talk about anything that's on your mind, you'd let me know? Right?"

Rather than answer him immediately, Takeru scrubbed his face tiredly with a palm. "Go ahead and go to sleep. I need to write in the journal for a bit before I collapse."

With a slight frown at the evasion, Daisuke simply nodded, grabbed a lamp, and retreated to the hallway. His gut feeling told him that to push on Takeru now would be a very bad idea, so he was better off asking about it later. He grumbled in incoherent frustration and started for his room with V-mon close behind.

"Patamon says Takeryu has lots of problems he won't talk about," V-mon piped up helpfully once they were in a former examination room and settling down for the night. With the exam table and a counter for materials taking up a good deal of the room, there wasn't much space for the futon. But a futon was a futon, and it was a damn sight better than a worn-out old sleeping bag. Thankfully, someone had come along to dust it not too long ago. Must've been whoever dropped off the futons.

"It's 'Takeru,' not 'Takeryu.'" Daisuke paused to pick V-mon up and place him on the padded exam table that would be his bed for the night. "I know he has issues, but you just don't push when someone's tired and ready to bite your head off. Okay?"

V-mon frowned at that, but was distracted by another yawn and relented. "S'pose you're right. It's not good to bottle things up like that, though. Gomamon said so, 'cause Jou does it a lot too."

"I completely agree," Daisuke muttered as he removed his battered old hiking boots in the process of disrobing for sleep. "I'm just not up for a fight at this hour. There's always tomorrow."

V-mon yawned his agreement and curled up on his makeshift bed. It wasn't long before the lamp's flame was snuffed out.

.~*~.

It wasn't quite mid-morning when Jou woke, but he deserved to sleep in. Gomamon insisted that he not feel guilty about it, especially since they had such a busy day yesterday. He went about his morning ablutions as quietly as he could, careful not to wake the others, and dropped Gomamon off with the horses. Once he made sure the critters were fed (including Gomamon, who said it wasn't fair to let the horses have all the fruit), he began the checking-in-on-the-patients routine. The cholera victims looked a lot better, so he lectured them for a bit on the importance of boiling their drinking water and fully cooking their food. He didn't really expect many of them to listen to him, but it was worth a try. Then he looked in on the new mothers and their children, most of whom were perfectly fine. The woman who needed a Cesarean section, however, had to have her bandages changed and the stitches checked in case of infection. The seams weren't as red as they would have been at the beginnings of an infection, so Jou wiped down the area with a saline solution again for propriety and told the woman to call for him if she needed him to check up on her again. After that, he looked in on the man whose hand he had to amputate. Once he removed the bandage, cleaned the area, and placed a new bandage on the stump, he moved on to the lounge.

Standing over the old camping stove was Takeru, whose hair was so disheveled under the typical cap that Jou suspected the younger man hadn't gotten up much earlier than himself. Patamon, whose mouth was rimmed with bits of sticky rice, napped on the counter. The smell of frying eggs called immediately to his stomach, which rumbled in turn and caught Takeru's attention.

"Hey, up for breakfast," Takeru asked in a surprisingly cheerful tone. Rest seemed to make him act like his old self again.

Jou was almost tempted to ask if everything was fully cooked, but Takeru actually listened to his lectures. At least those concerning survival, anyway. "Sure."

Apparently having anticipated his arrival, Takeru presented him with a plate of fried eggs, sticky rice, and a steaming hot bowl of miso soup. As Jou began washing his hands before settling down to eat, Takeru asked, "Do you know where I can find Teruo?"

Jou frowned thoughtfully as he dried off his hands and sat at the table that was probably older than him. "He's been on the run for the past year, so I couldn't really tell you anything useful."

"Hmm." Takeru paused to load his own plate and soup bowl with food, then settled across from Jou. "Do you know if he has a private retreat or anything of that nature?"

"What do you mean?"

Takeru grimaced briefly, though over what, Jou could not guess. "There's this... informant of sorts. He says I can find some sort of 'Spirit of Wood' in a place 'where no light falls.' Does that mean anything to you?"

With a thoughtful frown on his face, Jou began shovelling rice into his soup with old, worn-down chopsticks. He hadn't kept track of Teruo. The man came to him with mandrake root, willow bark, and other medicinal plant products every few months, but... "I think he has this old greenhouse out near Wakayama, where he grows plants that aren't native to Japan and wouldn't normally do so well here. It's where I get the mandrake, actually." When his stomach took the opportunity to remind him of his presence, he gave Takeru an apologetic look and took a moment to scoop up the miso-soaked rice and eat. Then, once the offending organ finally stopped growling at him, he continued. "Anyway, within walking distance of it is a cave out on the coast. Hawk's Nest, if I remember correctly. I can't imagine what he'd be doing in the cave. It's hard to get into and he prefers to be around plants."

"But if he's on the run, he'd be desperate enough to hole himself away in a cave, wouldn't he," the younger man asked.

Jou muttered something that should have come out as "Perhaps," but it was muffled by very good soup and rice. Takeru must've picked up some of that cooking skill from Yamato. When Takeru didn't ask him anything else, he finished up with the rice-soup mix and moved on to the fried eggs. He was mostly through with them when Takeru decided to speak again.

"Oh, there's something I have that might be useful to you." Takeru paused for a moment to search a pocket of his faded, battered old trench coat for something that was soon revealed to be a floppy disk. He laid it on the table. "Next time you see Koushiro, could you have him run this for you?"

It was a black disk, wholly unmarked save for the factory standards. Jou picked it up and placed it in a pocket. Couldn't hurt. "Sure. What's on it?"

"It's an inventory database put together by someone I know. Has listings of what old world resources are still available and where. Something I was looking for wasn't on the database, but I did notice that there were still a few unlooted medical equipment caches. Gauze, antiseptic, thread, working microscopes, stuff like that. If anyone deserves it, you do."

Speechless, Jou dug in his pocket to bring out the disk and stare at it again. His own resources were dwindling so much that he had to start using strips of cloth for gauze and sterilized horse hair for thread. And working microscopes? His own had been destroyed in a raid long ago. He turned the disk almost reverently in his fingers. When he spoke again, his voice was softened to the point of being nearly inaudible. "Thank you, Takeru. It will help a lot."

A brief smile flashed across Takeru's face before he turned to his breakfast, and for that moment Jou was reminded of the kid Takeru used to be. It seemed like eons ago.

"You'll probably be wanting to go soon," Jou began helpfully once Takeru was finishing up with his own breakfast. "Wakayama is pretty far from here. Have any paper?"

The younger man gave him a questioning look, but reached into a pocket to pull out an old, green faux-leather journal. "Yeah." He then ripped out a yellowing sheet from the back and offered it to Jou.

Jou took a few moments to scribble up an approximate map. It was an atrocious rendition and rather looked like a child's doodling, but it was better than nothing. As an afterthought, he scrawled instructions in the margins. "Here's a map of the coast and instructions on how to get to the cave. You'll want to be sure you're not being followed."

Takeru gave his thanks and looked over the crude map. He folded it up and tucked it into his own journal before speaking again. "Oh, before we take off, could you answer a question?" Jou regarded him curiously, but made no move to discourage him. "Are you going to take Chiaki in as an apprentice?"

In the silence that followed, Jou mulled over his options. He didn't really like sudden changes in his life, but even he had to admit that he needed what help he could get. It felt rather like it would be unfair to Chiaki, because he was no real doctor. Everything he knew had come from books or watching his own father, and if he had no real mastery, how could he train someone else? But then again, it was better if someone else knew what little he knew. The world was in sore need of doctors. "Yeah, I suppose. I could use the help."

"Good." Takeru smiled at him again. It was an honest smile that suggested complete faith in Jou's abilities. "You're a really good doctor, Jou. Don't ever try to tell yourself otherwise."

If only Jou could truly believe that of himself.

.~*~.

Daisuke was a bit cranky when Takeru woke him up at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning and said something about driving some three hundred kilometers south to find someone. All the way to the other side of the island! Literally!

Then Takeru mentioned just where they were going, and a sudden weight settled around Daisuke's heart. He didn't want to remember. Never again. But...

"Say, uh, Takeru?" Daisuke's voice was almost hesitant, which was unusual enough that Takeru looked back during their hike to the place they hid the rover to regard him quizzically. They said their goodbyes to Jou, Junpei, Chiaki, and Gomamon without incident. That Daisuke was sounding subdued now probably threw Takeru for a loop. "Wouldya mind if V-mon and I go to visit someplace in town? Wakayama is, uh, where my parents died. I'd like to visit the grave."

For the briefest moment, Takeru looked struck. It passed before Daisuke could think to comment on it. "Oh." Then guilt passed over his face. "Yeah, sure. There's a greenhouse marked on the map. We'll find it, part there, and meet up in the morning?"

"Okay." Well, this was awkward. "Thanks."

Takeru simply nodded and began pulling off the branches that hid their rover. No other words were spoken as they got into the rover and began the very long drive across the Honshu island. Even Patamon and V-mon, normally gregarious when given the opportunity, were strangely silent. Stops were made to refuel, make use of the bushes, eating, and sleep. The silent tension remained thick throughout the trip.

.~*~.

They finally arrived at Wakayama a day later. Takeru really had no idea what to say. Anything that came to mind felt inappropriate, so he said nothing and Daisuke said nothing in turn. After several failed attempts, they found Teruo's greenhouse with its exotic plants, hid the rover, and parted for the day. Daisuke had his own past to face now, but at least V-mon would be with him.

By the time the sun was low in the sky, Takeru found himself picking his way around the crags of a rocky beach. Waves sprayed him as they clashed with the rocks, but he paid them little attention. He was looking for a particular outcrop of rock with deep shadows suggesting a cave, one that soon presented itself.

"Is that where we're going," Patamon asked at last. He didn't speak throughout the hike, content to leave Takeru with his thoughts.

Takeru paused once they reached the cave's mouth. It smelled strongly of sea salt, but there was an underlying odor of smoke. Someone was living there. He kept his voice low, more in hopes that the occupant wouldn't spook than anything else. "According to Jou. Impressive, isn't it?"

Patamon made an agreeable sound. He launched himself from his usual perch on top of Takeru's head and hovered nearby as Takeru started climbing the dangerously slick rocks to access the gaping maw of the cave above. Once at the mouth, Takeru grabbed an Iwakuni-issued flashlight from his backpack and flipped it on to gaze into the darkness.

Wild brown eyes set in a face that had gone gaunt from malnutrition stared back at him in terror.

Takeru kept his voice low and respectful, rather hoping that the man would calm down a bit. "Teruo?"

"Who are you," a tenor voice asked in the dark. "What do you want? Go away!"

Takeru crouched down and spread his hands to show that he was unarmed and not planning to attack. "I'm not here to kill you-"

"Why not?!" Teruo's voice was near-hysterical now.

He stared in bemusement at the figure huddled in the darkness. "What do you mean, 'Why not?'"

"It's my fault it's back." Teruo's voice took on a plaintive note. "It's my fault it mutated! Isn't that deserving of death?"

Takeru frowned slightly, but settled down at the floor of the cave's mouth in a cross-legged pose that suggested he wasn't going to do anything to Teruo but also wasn't planning on leaving any time soon. "I'm not here to debate that. I need to talk to you."

The figure in the back of the cave eyed him warily now. Or something like that. It was hard to tell with the flashlight on floor and not quite focusing on Teruo's face anymore. "About what?"

"How'd you acquire the technology necessary to create a vaccine in the first place?" It was good to keep things simple and direct sometimes.

"Why should I tell you," Teruo asked, sudden suspicion threading through his voice.

"You told Kai, didn't you?" Takeru kept his voice low, matter-of-fact. "He's dead. I'm following his footsteps."

Teruo stared at him for a moment, then gave a short, bitter laugh. "I worked under a virologist up north. Our boss kept trying to get him to produce viable results, but the virologist kept fumbling. I think he never wanted to make a vaccine in the first place. So, the boss had me go out and collect samples. Try to expedite the process on my own while the Doc was procrastinating. If I succeeded, we'd be free of the virus forever. But," Teruo's voice took on a guilty tone, "I failed so badly. So very badly."

Takeru chose not to agree with the man at the moment. "Is this place up north Amaterasu's Cave?"

"Yeah. Don't ask me for directions." Teruo paused to shuffle around, presumably to settle into a more comfortable position. "They dropped me off near where I needed to go, then picked me up at designated points. I wasn't allowed to see the exact location. I never even learned any names."

Takeru knew he was grasping at straws now, but couldn't care less. In an almost frantic sense of renewed hope, he dug around an inner pocket until he felt the edges of a photograph he kept for such events. It was the last picture ever taken of the Ishida-Takaishi family before the divorce. "Wait. There's this woman," he paused to hold up the photo and shine the flashlight's beam on its surface. "Have you seen her? Or the man?"

The figure in the dark leaned forward to get a good look at the photo, then shook his head regretfully. "Sorry. I only had very restricted access to the place or other people there." At Takeru's crestfallen expression, Teruo hurried to continue. "You don't understand, I was a kid from the outside. They didn't trust me." Then he gave a short, humorless chuckle. "And now they're hunting me down for screwing up."

Something within Takeru reminded him of a man who had been hunted by what were possibly the same people. "Have you ever heard of a kid named Matsuda Takato?"

"I think so," Teruo said after long consideration. "Average height, shaggy mid-brown hair, cinnamon-colored eyes?"

"Yes, that's him."

"Subject M, we called him. One of several. The Doc paid special attention to him." In the faint illumination of the flashlight, Takeru could make out a faint frown on Teruo's face. "Kept saying he'd be the key vessel or something like that. Doc was a bit nuts, I think. They said he's the one who let Subject M go and make off with his laptop."

Why he was pursuing this line of questioning, Takeru wasn't sure. It was information, and any information he could get about Amaterasu's Cave might be important. "What can you tell me of this 'Doc' you keep mentioning?"

"Not much. He kept to himself a lot and exuded this aura that just screamed 'keep away.' Half the time you talked to him, it felt like talking to an omniscient computer who was smarter and looked better than you. He discouraged every attempt anyone made to get close, and a lot of us thought he was, well, an asshole. Anything else?" From what Takeru could tell of Teruo's expression in the faint light, it didn't seem like the other man wanted to answer anything else.

"No, I think that's it." Takeru started to rise. "Thank you for your time."

Teruo glanced up at him in surprise, then noticed for the first time that there was a peculiar creature peeking in from the rim of the cave's mouth. "Wait, who told you where to find me? Jou?"

With a blink of surprise, Takeru responded. "How'd you guess?"

Rather than answer him outright, Teruo went off on his way. "Good man, Jou. If you see him before I do, could you mention that I've been working on a special opium poppy crop for him? Stronger than regular opium, but just the right dosage should do as well as many old world anaesthetic."

"Sure." Takeru mentally shrugged off the sense that Teruo probably wasn't ever going to tell him how he knew. "Good work on the mandrake, by the way. It works nicely."

A hesitant smile appeared in the faint electric light. "Thank you. Plants, at least, I can't screw up with."

Takeru chose not to respond to that.

.~*~.

At the apex of the pandemic in Japan, many of the people who knew they had to die preferred to make their own choice about how they would go out. Some parents who had yet to succumb to the virus would buy what supplies they could for their children, wait until the children were asleep, then take their own lives when they started developing the first symptoms. While there were still a few professionals around, a popular form of suicide was the ingestion of deliberately poisoned fugu sushi. Once eaten, the tetrodotoxin that was the fugu's natural defense would slay the victim quickly and left less of a mess than the virus. It was a fast, clean death.

That had been the way Daisuke's parents went out. As a child, he believed they were immortal and were going to be there forever. He thought his parents were going to be greater than the virus and it would never touch them. He refused to question why his parents suddenly decided to drag them off to where his mother was born at the drop of a hat, or why his father spent a lot of time buying what he thought were useless things at the time. When he did ask about it, he was given a gaming console for distraction and chose to take advantage of it. Then, towards the end, Jun was acting really strange. She would start crying for no reason he could tell, but he didn't ask because he was afraid. The signs were there and he ignored them.

But on the last night, he knew something was wrong. His mother was coughing into a pink handkerchief a lot, but always tucked it away before he could ask about the red splotches that didn't seem to be a part of the handkerchief's pattern. She was sweating a lot and her face felt hot, so he insisted she go to bed and he could make some soup for her. Then Jun started crying again and ran up to hug their mother. At the time he wanted to believe that Jun was being overly dramatic and trying to kiss up to the parents for another favor, but the very thought felt too flimsy to hold up to the truth he refused to face. Then their father came home with some sort of expensive sushi that neither Daisuke or Jun were allowed to eat. The sushi was set aside and untouched during supper, so he no longer thought anything of it. The supper was a grand affair of multiple courses and a big chocolate cake at the end, but no one except him seemed to be interested in eating it.

Then came what he was certain would be branded into his mind forever. Both mother and father told them how proud they were of their children and how much they loved them, even though they might not have always expressed it. Jun was told to take care of Daisuke, which he didn't have the heart to resent at the time. Daisuke was told to be strong and brave, and that they would always watch over him. It felt too much like a goodbye for him to ignore what was going on anymore. Jun started bawling again, which then set him off and sent him crying into his mother's arms. He and Jun were hugged close by their parents and sent to bed.

The next morning, he rubbed viciously at the crusts in his eyes and raced to his parents' bedroom in nothing but his pajamas. They weren't there, so he hoped fervently that they had just stepped outside for a moment and would be back at any minute. He ran outside to wait for them, first in the front yard of his mother's childhood home, then to the back. His parents were there, certainly, but they would never speak to him again.

He found them lying at the bottom of a shallow pit dug beneath a cherry tree, with nothing but a white sheet between them and the cold earth. Their eyes were close as if in sleep, but blood caked around every orifice and emphasized the picture of death. He remembered staring blankly, uncomprehendingly, at his parents until Jun came up and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. That was what made it real now, and he couldn't help but cry again.

In time, he and Jun filled the grave with earth to keep the scavengers away, then carved out the kanji for Motomiya into the tree's bark. When they couldn't stand to be at the grave any longer, they dragged themselves back into the house. He noticed for the first time that his parents knew it was coming and had planned in advanced. The pantry was filled with canned food and bottled water. Vegetable seed packets were carefully arranged on the countertop with notes left to dictate how to plant them and appropriate harvest times. There were giant rice bags and packs of dried seasonings, and over in a corner was a fishing rod with a tackle box. They found match boxes, an axe for chopping wood, whetstones, a book on how to prepare fresh-caught fish, a sewing kit, clothes and shoes for when the children grew out of what clothes they came with. At one point, Daisuke found something he designed when he was younger: a bomber jacket with a flame pattern, commissioned by his mother in her last days and cut to fit his father. The note she left for him said that she hoped it suited his vision, and he would grow into it when he was older. Everything they needed to survive was here, but they left when they could no longer deal with the memories.

And now he was back.

Over the years, bark grew into the scarring that acted as his parents' grave marker. It was barely legible now, but he knew where it was and that was all that mattered. Even though he knew it was going to rain soon, what with the forbidding dark clouds in the sky, he sat at the grave and talked. He didn't really care if he looked like an idiot talking to a tree, and V-mon was a good sport about it. He told the tree about what happened in the past few years, about losing Jun and finding her again, about Iwakuni and his new friends and how Ken was planning to bring a new government into the world. He retold the story of the Inoue sisters and their flight, of how he met V-mon and how right it felt when they became partners. He talked about everything that came to mind. Sometimes it was painful, but that's what catharsis was about.

.~*~.

Morning found Takeru at Teruo's greenhouse, where he and Patamon spent the night. The sky was still overcast and depressingly grey, but that tended to be the norm in Japan. He waited patiently with Patamon for Daisuke and V-mon's return. The sooner they could get back to Iwakuni, the better. Not that he didn't like it here, but Ken said over the radio that he couldn't explain Fractal Theory without visual references, and Takeru's curiosity was gnawing at him.

When he was ready to seek out Daisuke himself, he noticed a figure in a garish bomber jacket that looked all too familiar walking up the dirt path to the greenhouse. Takeru stepped from the greenhouse's door to greet Daisuke and V-mon, but thought better of it and chose to meet them halfway instead.

V-mon took that moment to look up, then paused and called out to the others to stop too. Once they did, he pointed up at the sky. "Hey, what's that?"

Curious, Takeru turned to look up at the sky behind him. Stretched across the sky was a rainbow, which wasn't all that unusual. What was unusual, though, was the pale shadow of a rainbow smudged in the sky above it. Its colors were arranged in a washed-out mirror image of the first rainbow.

"A double rainbow," he found himself saying. "It happens when the first rainbow reflects off the droplets in the air around it."

"Think it's an omen," Patamon asked in wonder.

Takeru shrugged and started walking in the direction of the rover. It would be nice to believe it was a good omen, but he wasn't much for such naivete anymore. When he noticed he wasn't being followed by Daisuke, he looked back to see a peculiar sight.

Daisuke's gaze was fixed on the double rainbow. To Takeru's surprise, he stretched out a hand to wave farewell, as if to the dearly departed. Takeru decided not to ask about it. The least he could do was respect Daisuke's private moments.

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Note: Fugu, or pufferfish, contains trace amounts of tetrodotoxin in its skin and certain organs. This is one of the most potent toxins known to man, and even a small amount can kill an adult human in the span of a few minutes. In Japan it's considered a delicacy, but fugu chefs must pass a poison extraction test before being certified to serve fugu in any form. Naturally, towards the end of the Apocalypse, there was so much demand for death by eating a delicacy that the fugu chefs gave up on extracting the toxin and instead started leaving the toxin in for the customers that demanded it. Suicide was considered a more honorable death than a full day and night of massive hemorrhage and eventually dying of nervous system breakdown.

 

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