Salva Nos
Episode 11: Satori
by Ajora Fravashi

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

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Noto peninsula jutted out of the spine of Japan like a crooked finger trying to beckon Korea closer. As Daisuke looked over the map in the process of marking down Firefly Village, he thought the islands of Japan looked a bit like a sea horse. Hokkaido was the head, the scattering of islands that included Okinawa was the tail, and Tokyo was at the belly. He wondered vaguely if anyone ever saw it that way before. In fact...

"Hey, Takeru? Ever notice that the nation of Japan looks like a sea horse," he asked conversationally.

Takeru glanced at Daisuke in surprise at the sudden question, but his eyes returned to the road once he was fairly certain Daisuke was being serious. "Can't say I've ever thought of it."

V-mon scrambled closer to Daisuke to look over the map. He cocked his head in an attempt to see what Daisuke was talking about, but something was puzzling him. "What's a sea horse?"

"It's a little ocean creature," Patamon offered helpfully. "Takeryu showed me one at an aquarium once! They look funny." Patamon looked up at his partner. "Takeryu, why do they call them sea horses when they don't look like horses?"

"I don't know. Ask Daisuke?"

Daisuke shot Takeru a half-hearted glare for redirecting the queries to him. "I dunno, okay? People do weird crap like that."

"Humans are so strange," groused V-mon. Patamon made an agreeing noise beside him.

While Daisuke was preparing to counter that with the observation that digimon were pretty strange too, the rover slowed its progress to walking speed. He looked up from the digimon to see what caused the slow-down.

Approaching them on the derelict old highway was a group of people, many with packs and carts that suggested a nomadic existence. They walked with a kind of calm assurance that didn't seem quite normal to Daisuke. As he tried to figure it out, his eyes drifted over to the front of the procession and he completely forgot about anything else. He didn't even notice when the rover stopped.

She was a vision in the white and red robes of a Shinto shrine maiden, with shoulder-length hair of a warm brown color and breath-taking cinnamon-colored eyes. There was a glow around her that wasn't actually seen, but he was fairly sure everyone sensed it. He would like nothing more than to be with her. Then she looked in his direction and the world's most radiant smile appeared on her face. He didn't really notice when the rover slowed to a stop, or anything else for that matter. She broke into as much of a run as her traditional sandals would allow and was heading straight for-

His jaw dropped as his mind fought to reconcile reality with fantasy. The priestess rushed into Takeru's arms, and he hugged her like they were familiar with each other. Very familiar with each other. Out of the corner of his eye, Patamon cheered and launched from the rover to flap over to a white cat who remained by the priestess's side. What the hell was going on?

"Takeru! Where have you been? We were so worried about you," the priestess said once they parted.

The ecstatic grin on Takeru's face faded. "Everywhere, mostly. Can we talk in private?"

With a murmur of understanding, the priestess turned back to her congregation. Her silvery voice rose just high enough for them to hear her. "Let's make camp for tonight and we'll resume the pilgrimage tomorrow."

The crowd made various noises of agreement and dispersed to do something or other that Daisuke couldn't guess. The only other people remaining behind were a man with untamable hair kept out of his face by a pair of goggles and a deformed-looking boy hidden under a broad-rimmed hat and poncho. The man's warm brown eyes caught his and seemed to smile for the briefest moment before returning to Takeru and the priestess.

"Mind introducing us to your friend, Takeru?"

Takeru had the grace to look a bit embarrassed at forgetting Daisuke for the moment. "Oh, right. Motomiya Daisuke, meet Yagami Hikari," the priestess smiled shyly at Daisuke, "and Taichi." Taichi gave him a friendly wave. Curious, V-mon poked his head out above the dashboard and glanced around. "And V-mon, meet Tailmon and Agumon." The white cat, Tailmon, nodded gracefully in acknowledgement as the kid took off the hat and revealed himself as a small orange dinosaur.

V-mon flushed and muttered a quick greeting. Daisuke considered asking if it was possible for digimon to form crushes, but Hikari spoke up before he could say anything. "If you're all willing to stay the night, we can offer our tent to share."

"Sure thing," Daisuke blurted out enthusiastically before he could think better of it. To his surprise, Hikari didn't seem offended in the least.

In all likelihood, there would have been an awkward silence had Taichi not taken advantage of the moment to announce that he and Hikari would be needed to help set up camp, which was on the beach a bit further north if they'd like to come along. With that, the Yagamis and their digimon led the way down the road. After a quick word to Takeru, Patamon fluttered to Tailmon's side.

As the rover followed along at as slow a speed as it could manage while still capable of moving, Daisuke figured it was probably the best chance he had to ask Takeru about things. V-mon's still-red face suggested that he wasn't up for much interrogation for a while. "Say, um, Takeru? Are you and Hikari an item or something?"

The rover came to an abrupt stop as Takeru slammed on the brakes and looked at him in surprise. "Us? An item? What do you mean?"

"Are you guys romantically involved?" Might as well get the answer now and not embarrass himself later.

Blue eyes searched his, perhaps hoping it was a bad joke. When Takeru was sure he was serious, he sighed. "No. You're attracted to her, aren't you?"

"Well, of course," Daisuke said with just a touch of exasperation, as if it would be obvious to anyone. "Who wouldn't be? V-mon likes Tailmon too."

V-mon made an indignant sound but did not deny it.

A faint, humorless half-smile ghosted across Takeru's face. "Well, good luck trying, then. I love her like a sister, and it's the same with Patamon and Tailmon, but that's about it. She's asexual."

Bemused, Daisuke took a moment to consider the word. Did Takeru mean what he suspected his friend meant, or was there some other meaning that he didn't consider? "What does that mean?"

"Just what the word suggests. She's not physically attracted to anyone, male or female." At Daisuke's sudden crestfallen expression, Takeru gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "That doesn't mean you can't be friends with her. Hikari's friendship is much more valuable than whatever brief encounters can come of a romantic relationship. Same goes for Tailmon."

V-mon looked fairly optimistic at that. "So I can be friends with Tailmon too?"

The half-smile turned into a full grin. "Of course. Besides, it's better this way in the long run."

For a long, silent moment, Daisuke carefully considered the options. Maybe Takeru was right. He had had lovers before, but they rarely stuck around after a break-up. True friends, however, remained loyal through thick and thin. When the rover started moving again, Daisuke decided that that was the best outcome he could hope for.

.~*~.

Yagami Hikari had always considered herself somewhat weak. While Taichi (and Takeru, back when they traveled together regularly) meant well in trying to protect her from the world, it left her with little confidence in her own strength. In the Digital World it wasn't her that was powerful, it was the spirits of Light that used her body as a physical medium to display their powers. Consequently, when the Apocalypse came, she was surprised by her own willpower to keep going. Their parents would have wanted her to live, not give in to the despair that would have been so easy to end with just a razor blade and a tub full of hot water.

At first she lived in Taichi's shadow, content to wait in safety with Protomon and Koromon until he came back with food and water. When they were joined up by Yamato and Takeru, Yamato would frequently go off with Taichi on food runs while Takeru was told to wait behind and protect her. Everyone was always protecting her. After a while, Yamato and Takeru went off to try and find their parents again, and again she was left with only the digimon and her brother as company. As she grew older, more and more people started leering at her, wanting something she had no desire to give to anyone. Once a thug who had been eyeing her in the markets attempted to molest her while her brother was away. It had been the trigger for Protomon's evolution to Tailmon, and as the wounded thug stalked away, Hikari realized that she couldn't always count on Taichi to be there for her.

The Shinto shrine maiden robes had been a defense at first, something to hide behind and warn people that she was not something to take their pleasure from. A shrine maiden was untouchable, pure of body and spirit. However, she should have realized sooner that the other children would assume she might have been a real priestess. People came with the expectation that she would be able to perform religious services for them; and after the first few times she was approached on the matter, she came to the conclusion that she might as well play the part. For several years, she read all the holy books and philosophies she could come across. As her role grew greater than she had ever anticipated, her own beliefs crystallized into something that might have best been defined as the sum of the world's religions.

Now, years afterwards, she knew she had power. The people looked to her for reassurance and purpose when they couldn't find it anywhere else. Her blessings absolved the guilty. She preached peace to former Clansmen and self-reliance to the downtrodden. Above all, her message was one of the sanctity of life.

Taichi, Agumon, and Tailmon had been there for her throughout it all. When there was no longer any need for Taichi to find food for them all, he stood by as guardian during public events and kept order during the pilgrimages to various shrines. Tailmon would listen to her self-doubts and assure Hikari that she would always be there. Hikari loved and was loved, and base biological drives she had no interest in were never a part of it.

.~*~.

Sunset lit up the formerly grey sky with hues of vibrant reds and oranges that faded into purples as the sun steadily retreated beyond the sea's horizon. On the beach, just a bit away from the national highway, was a campsite that saw use many times before. Several tents of varying composition clustered around the main campfire, where fish were being spit-roasted in preparation for supper.

Daisuke gazed longingly at the atmospwhere of warm camaraderie, wanting to join in but unable to quite yet. Takeru was busy at the radio and their digimon partners were already busy socializing with the Yagamis' digimon. He didn't know why he had to stay here, especially since Takeru was the one who monopolized the radio, but Ken insisted he had to be in hearing range so Takeru wouldn't have to repeat their orders.

"Are you certain you want to pursue this? Remember the problem we had with Genki-"

"Hikari isn't Genki," Takeru interrupted in exasperation. "She's a Chosen Child like me and Sora. I trust her."

If Daisuke strained a bit, he could just barely hear Ken's grunt of irritation under the radio's crackling. "I'm wary about placing trust in a cult leader-"

"She's not a cult leader!"

"Takeru! Will you stop interrupting and hear me out?"

"Okay, fine. She's still not a cult leader."

There was a brief pause, which Daisuke suspected Ken was taking advantage of to grit his teeth, before he continued. "I've never heard of her before, save for passing mention from you and Sora. What resources does she have? What would make her a valuable ally?"

"Her congregation is primarily nomadic and most of the members have friends and family in high places. Hikari herself is going to write an introduction letter for me to gain audience with the Shogun of Niigata." Takeru paused to grin smugly at that, which Daisuke couldn't really fault him for. They hadn't known that Hikari knew the Shogun, but when he was mentioned in passing on the way to the campsite, Hikari said she was friends with the guy! Daisuke was convinced then that Hikari was the best ally they would ever find. "You did want us to talk to the Shogun, correct?"

The pause on Ken's end was longer this time. Daisuke wondered faintly what a surprised expression on Ken's face would look like. "Er... Yes. Go on."

"They have links everywhere, Ken, and just because they're a bunch of pacifists does not mean they won't help out. A lot of them have basic first aid training and when things do come to war, they'll willing to treat our wounded. And, if anyone ever figures out how to lift that restriction on evolution, the two digimon here would be able to evolve to Angewomon and WarGreymon."

"What do they want in exchange?"

The satisfied look on Takeru's face fell into something that looked far more like worry. "Well, here's where it gets weird. None of them will join the military, but they do want us to find and protect something called 'The Grail.' It's not an artifact and not connected to the Holy Grail of European mythology, but I think it might be a person. Hikari says the Grail is somewhere near our area, but not in the base itself. She also says that it's imperative to keep the Grail out of Amaterasu's clutches, but I'm not sure why."

Daisuke could just imagine Ken frowning at the thought of sending his agents on a wild goose chase. "Does she have a description of this person? Anything more to work with?"

"Nothing, sorry," Takeru responded with a frown of his own. "All I know is that the Grail is somewhere in our area and has something valuable that Amaterasu would want if they knew this person had it."

"Perfect." Ken's voice practically dripped with sarcasm. "These people can offer us a fortuitous alliance, but only in exchange for something without a name or description. Shouldn't be a problem."

Impatient for this argument to come to an end, Daisuke plucked the handset from Takeru's hands. "Yo, Ken! The best we can do is keep that area out of enemy hands, right? Keep a lookout for anyone who might look like they're carrying secrets or something. I think that's what Hikari means. Maybe when Hikari's group is in the area, she can have the freedom to look around."

There was a sigh under the radio's crackling. "Very well. What are your opinions on the matter, Daisuke?"

Daisuke blinked in surprise. Why the hell would Ken want to know what he thought? "I like Hikari. I mean, I haven't heard her sermons yet, but she's not some crazy jackass like that Genki guy. She's very sweet, and modest, and kind, and-" His companion gave a low, amused chuckle at that. He shot Takeru a warning glare before continuing. "And a bunch of other things. If I was in your place, I'd go for it."

"All right." Ken sounded like he actually trusted Daisuke's word. "Do what you two can to seal the deal, then I want you to head to the shogunate as soon as possible."

Takeru grabbed the handset before Ken could close the connection. "Oh, Ken? One last thing. See if you can get some mint tea back at the base, okay? I'm sick of mulberry tea. Over and out."

Before Ken could respond, Takeru killed the radio connection and got out of the rover's cab. At Daisuke's befuddled expression, he gave a slight shrug. "You have Jun and Shaochung to socialize with at the base, but I have to entertain Ken while Sora's busy doing whatever she does for an hour a day."

A look of dawning comprehension appeared on Daisuke's face. "Ohh, I wondered where you'd run off to all the time. What do you do?"

"Play Risk and drink tea," Takeru said with an exaggerated air of despondence. "I may not be able to stop him from kicking my ass and taking over my territories, but at least I can try and convince him to make the tea more palatable."

Daisuke gave his friend a sympathetic pat on the back before moving to rearrange the branches arranged around the rover. It wasn't that they didn't trust Hikari's congregation to keep a lookout for stray bandits, but habits were hard to break and keeping the rover hidden wasn't a habit they would want broken. When they were certain it would be hard to pick out from the rest of the scrub and trees south of the highway, they returned to the campsite.

By now the cloud cover had mostly broken up, revealing a full moon shining down from the sky. The moisture still in the air gave the appearance of a halo of silver light around the moon and amplified the glow of the stars. Daisuke didn't really notice it until they were at the campsite proper and he could look up. Takeru went on ahead of him to join Taichi at the campfire.

"Beautiful, isn't it," Hikari's voice whispered from somewhere behind him. Daisuke blinked in surprise and turned to look at her. Bathed in the silver light, Hikari looked even more angelic. Yeah, that was the perfect word.

"Uhm. Yeah, you are-" Daisuke cut off abruptly when he realized his faux pas and stammered in embarrassment, "I mean, it is." He wondered faintly if the sand would be so kind as to open a rift underneath him.

The priestess simply smiled reassuringly at him, which made him feel just slightly less stupid. "Will you walk with me?"

He suddenly felt very light-headed. "Yeah, sure."

Hikari turned and led him away from the campsite, towards a cluster of boulders along the coast. Clinging to the hope that maybe he had a chance and "asexual" might not include him, Daisuke followed willingly. Picking their way around the rocks was surprisingly easy under the moonlight, and it wasn't long before the campfire was no longer visible. Hikari's bare feet looked white and frail against the black boulder they were climbing on, making Daisuke wonder if the roughness was causing her any pain. It didn't look like it did, but Takeru said Hikari was the type to internalize things, so-

"Here we are," she announced once they reached the top. There was just enough flat space for two people to lie back and watch the stars. With a grateful sigh, she sat with slender legs dangling over the edge and patted the space beside her. "Join me."

Somewhere in the back of his mind was a mental image of a cartoon version of himself cheering in triumph. He shoved the mental image away and sat beside her. "So, uh..."

"Is Takeru faring well," Hikari asked in concern.

Daisuke's optimism abruptly deflated. So that's what this was all about. Well, at least he could be honest. Takeru was still his friend, and this he firmly reminded the part of himself that was starting to get jealous. "From the outside, he looks like he's just fine. But, I dunno. He clams up when I ask, or says it's nothing."

"We were just children back then. We were just children, but there were evil digimon who wanted us dead. How were we supposed to cope?" Daisuke blinked in surprised and tore his eyes from the horizon to glance at Hikari. Her eyes were distant and her face carefully impassive, as if the memory was an old wound that had never fully healed. "For me and Takeru, our method of coping was to appear perfectly happy on the outside. The others counted on us to keep their spirits up. The world could fall apart around us, but we had to keep going. Then the Apocalypse came and the masks became second nature."

A slight frown tugged at the corners of Daisuke's lips. He heard the stories, of course. Etemon, Devimon, the Dark Masters, and Apocalymon. Patamon's death and rebirth, and a promise to Sora to protect Hikari. Various things in between. "Yeah, I heard about it. I just have no idea what to do when he gets moody and stuff."

"Moody?"

"Right." The words started coming in a torrent, but Daisuke honestly didn't care. Hikari probably knew Takeru better than anyone else, so maybe she had an answer. "He gets pissed off over random shit, and if it's bad enough, he'll go violent. Otherwise he just stews and I'm worried that one day he'll go berserk and I won't be able to stop him. Or what if I'm not there to stop him? He says he talks to Sora about it, but I don't think it's really doing anything to help him with his issues. What do I do?"

Hikari was silent for a moment; and before she spoke, her hand slid over his to give it a reassuring squeeze. "I'm not sure anymore. What triggers his rage?"

"Completely random shit. When we first met, he attacked me for attempting to make off with his ducks (which I did kinda deserve), then there was another time when he, uh, accidently killed the guys chasing him. I wasn't there for it, but later I heard that they were from Amaterasu's Cave and were responsible for burning a bunch of settlements. And then there was the attack on the guy manhandling Momoe, but I think that was because he couldn't attack Genki..." Daisuke trailed off when an idea came to mind. Might as well ask while he was on the subject. "Which reminds me, why does he have a problem with religion when he's friends with you?"

A wan, humorless smile appeared on Hikari's face. "He has a problem with people who plant false hopes in others. Many street preachers expound upon the notion of gods and eternal paradise, with strict rules that would ensure that no one would be able to access that paradise without paying off the preacher or rejecting the very things that makes one human. To him, that's an abuse of other people's beliefs and good will."

"I'm really sorry if this is rude or something," Daisuke began, "But what do you offer that's any different? I mean, it's all the same to me."

Hikari pulled back until she was lying on the boulder's surface and looking up at the sky. Curious, Daisuke followed her example and did the same. He noticed that the moisture was thickening around the moon's halo, up to the point where silver light bounced off some small, nearly transparent clouds near the moon and formed strange, ghostly white shapes on either side. He'd never seen it happen before. "What do you see up there?"

"The moon, a bunch of stars, and some weird shapes by the moon. Why?"

Hikari's voice lowered into a whisper. "I offer people no more or less than what I see. And what I see is a natural miracle."

Daisuke frowned slightly. "What does that mean?"

"Ours is the only planet in the solar system that has life, at least that we know of. Can you imagine what it must have been like billions of years ago, when the Earth was young? Life managed to begin and hold on and evolve, despite everything the universe threw at it. It took billions of years for tiny cyanobacteria to create an oxygenated atmosphere, and millions of more years for life to crawl out of primordial oceans and populate the land. And even when the great extinctions eliminated all but a handful of the lifeforms on Earth, life still hung on. When our own race nearly became extinct, we still survived. That is all I preach: admiration of the miraculous tenacity of life. Whether or not there is a god or set of gods responsible for that kind of miracle doesn't matter to me. Should we not appreciate this gift, regardless of who or what it came from?"

Somehow, the light of the moon and stars seemed warmer than they usually were as Hikari spoke. Odd how he always took them for granted. "I think I get what you're saying."

He could just imagine her smiling beside him, but made no move to sit up and look at her for confirmation. For what seemed like an eternity, they laid under the starlight in a comfortable silence that went beyond peace or want. He was content to listen to the waves and distant noise from the congregation that seemed so far away. But then-

"I used to have these dreams," Hikari whispered at last, "in which things were different than they are now. I'd dream about a world where the Apocalypse never happened, where our parents never died. They were usually nebulous and I'd forget most of them once I woke, but every now and then something would strike me as familiar. When I saw you and V-mon, I felt I've seen you two before, but it wasn't until now that I remember seeing both of you in the fragments of dreams."

Confused, Daisuke turned his head to glance at her face in an effort to see whether or not she was teasing him or something. Her eyes were fixed on the stars, looking for all the world like she was a million miles away. "What do you mean?"

Hikari's lips pressed thin as she tried to find a way to express what had only ever come to her as half-formed theories. "Ever get the feeling that this isn't the way things should have been? That maybe this reality is just one of several?"

"Oh." What would have been. He'd seen this kind of thing before, usually in kids who weren't satisfied with the fact that at least they were alive. Kids who felt that the Apocalypse was a nightmare that they'd wake up from sooner or later. "It's denial. I've seen a lot of kids with it."

"No, nothing like that. I know that this is real. But, I also know that I keep having these dreams of things that never happened with people I've never met before. You were in my dreams long before I met you, as were several others. How is that possible when the events in those dreams never happened? Maybe there are multiple realities and I'm somehow able to remember the history from at least one of them."

If he wasn't still lying down, he would have given a shrug. "Maybe. It doesn't matter though, does it? This is our reality, and I know it's ugly and painful, but we've gotta make the best of it. Right?"

To his surprise, Hikari rose to a sitting position to peer closely at him. "It does matter, a bit. I wouldn't have invited you out here if I hadn't known you were trustworthy."

A warm, happy feeling curled up in his gut at that. No one had called him trustworthy before, and certainly not a girl he liked. "Thanks."

They remained silent for another long moment. While he knew they had to go back sooner or later, Daisuke figured he should enjoy the peace while he could. With Hikari, he didn't feel the need to fill the silence with inane comments.

"Daisuke?" Hikari's voice was a whisper just barely audible above the gentle lapping of waves on the shore. "Will you keep an eye on Takeru for me? Make sure he doesn't get into trouble?"

With a sigh, Daisuke brought himself back into a sitting position. "I can try, but I can't guarantee anything. He does have a mind of his own."

"That's all I can ask of you." With that, Hikari climbed the rest of the way down the boulder and waited for him to join her on the way back.

.~*~.

Warmth was all Tailmon was really conscious of at the moment. It lulled her into the vague half-sleep state of a cat nap even as the other digimon were chattering amongst themselves over some subject or another that didn't really matter to her. Agumon seemed to be managing the others well enough, the campfire was warm and bright enough to chase old memories from her dreams, and her stomach was full of fish. Someday she ought to have Hikari write for her a Zen koan on the life of a cat. Not that she exhibited all the behaviors of a cat (and she was ever thankful that "in heat" never once applied to her), but this was close enough. She wondered if real cats were ever...

Tailmon blinked blearily when she woke up again, not quite sure how much time had passed since her last conscious thought. What was it again? Oh, yes, were real cats ever aware of how good they had it if they knew nothing but a loving home and owners? Her past was something she wouldn't have inflicted on anyone else, but it made her appreciate her partner all the more. She suspected she was the only digimon fully aware of just how bad it could be to yearn for something that wasn't there when she hatched, to search ceaselessly until darkness and anger became the entirety of her existence. Every now and then, she felt that she didn't deserve Hikari, who would then cuddle her and reassure her otherwise.

"Tailmon! You're up!"

With an irritated huff, Tailmon cracked open an eye to give Patamon a half-hearted glare. She hadn't wanted to join in on the conversation again, but Patamon's giant blue eyes were difficult to resist. "Now I am."

"Well, V-mon and Agumon were talking about evolution and why it's so hard to get to adult form, but then you're an adult digimon so we wanted to know why you made it when we couldn't." Patamon ended with a noticeable shortness of breath.

"I'm special," she responded dryly. When Patamon wouldn't budge, she stretched languidly before deigning to answer him. "It probably has something to do with my holy ring. I suspect it's a power-booster."

Red eyes fixed on the fluid motion of her tail as she displayed the ring she once found years ago. A lavender-tuffed ear twitched in amusement at the decidedly besotted lot on V-mon's face. He was acting like several of Hikari's former suitors, just before she took up the robes of a shrine maiden. They were best handled by discouraging them as soon as possible. She flicked the tail one last time and tucked it under her gloved paws. "A bit of advice, V-mon," she whispered in a tone so low that only he could hear her, "energy is wasted in pursuit of someone incapable of reciprocation. It is better to make friends and let things grow naturally."

Embarrassed, V-mon squirmed. "Yeah, I know, it's just-"

Much to V-mon's relief, Hikari and Daisuke returned to the campsite. Tailmon purred and stepped gracefully to her partner's side as Hikari settled on the old rug they used to keep from sitting in the sand. "So, what are we talking about?"

"Evolution," Agumon said, "and why we can't evolve higher than the stages we're at now."

Patamon beamed at Agumon as he shuffled closer to the orange dinosaur and made room for Daisuke in the circle around the campfire. "We can always get Taichi to overstuff you again."

What tension there was broke as Agumon panicked at the memory of the events leading to the SkullGreymon evolution. "No! No! I don't need to evolve right now!"

Patamon giggled, which then set off Hikari and Tailmon. V-mon and Daisuke glanced at them all curiously but said nothing until the laughter wound down.

"There's this girl at the Rocky Country who works with the unbonded digimon," Daisuke began in hopes of contributing to the conversation, "and she said that no one has managed to make it past adult form in years. Something about being away from the Digital World for so long affecting the digimons' power levels."

Tailmon's ears perked in thought as she settled into her partner's lap. "That makes sense."

"Then if we could find some way into the Digital World, we'd be able to recharge," Agumon said. "Has anyone found a weakness between the worlds yet?"

V-mon shook his head. "We've had scouts in the Rocky Country looking for that kind of thing for years. The Digital World is sealed shut."

A peculiar wave of homesickness struck Tailmon, even though she had long since redefined her idea of "home" as wherever she went with Hikari. As many negative emotions as she had tied to the Digital World, it was still where she came from and what she fought to defend. A quick look around the campfire revealed that the other digimon were just as homesick. As if sensing her feelings, her partner started petting her fur in sympathy.

"We'll get back somehow," Patamon said in as positive a voice as he could muster. "It can't be sealed off forever 'cause the worlds are linked and there's always a chance a portal will open up again."

"Until then, I have to wear clothes," Agumon groused. "Do any of you know how hot it gets under that poncho?"

Daisuke blinked and looked at Hikari. "Hikari, your congregation knows about Agumon and Tailmon, right?"

The hand on Tailmon's fur stopped. "Well, yes, but they're the only ones who do. That's why Agumon isn't wearing clothes right now."

"Well, the Rocky Country is taking up a display-your-digimon policy kind of thing now that we're waiting for Amaterasu to drop in again. It's so people will think we're powerful and stuff, and want to be our allies." Daisuke's grin faded when he noticed a faint frown on Hikari's face. "It's purely for show. Besides, you guys handled the Dark Masters, right? You handle anything."

"That was before the Digital World crashed and locked us out." Tailmon fixed Daisuke under a stare that made most people squirm. "We can't very well take on the Dark Masters now."

"We're not asking you to," V-mon said defensively. "Like Daisuke said, it's all for show."

Agumon, who had been scratching his snout thoughtfully as the discussion was going on, seemed to feel that it was a good time to intervene. "If other digimon are coming out of hiding too, I think we should follow their example. If other humans want to attack, we're still capable of defending ourselves. Either way, people are going to have to get used to seeing digimon."

The fingers in Tailmon's fur stiffened. "I don't want anyone to get hurt, human or digimon. I'd like to hear Taichi's opinion first."

Patamon took that as a suggestion and fluttered above them to get a better view of the campsite. His eyes darted from campfire to campfire until he found what he was looking for and started flying as fast as his wings could carry him. Tailmon snorted at the sight. All this time and Patamon's top flying speed was the same as his walking speed. Good to see that some things never change.

Shortly afterwards, Taichi and Takeru arrived at their campfire. Takeru looked worse for wear, but Taichi trotted along with his shirt tied at his waist and well-toned muscles gleaming with sweat. Tailmon's nose wrinkled in a reflection of her partner's expression.

"Taichi," Hikari exclaimed in mock-horror, "I hope you plan to wash up before going to bed tonight. You're going to stink up the whole tent."

Not the least put off by Hikari's disapproval, Taichi grinned and settled cross-legged behind Agumon. "I'll think about it. What's up?"

As Hikari explained the whole thing to Taichi, Daisuke glanced over at Takeru and stared at the smudge of a bruise under Takeru's right eye. "What the hell were you and Taichi doing?"

"He has this stupid idea that I should be able to defend myself in a fight." Takeru scowled even as Patamon settled back on his usual perch. "We started training together back when Yamato and I used to travel with them, but I fell out of practice and, well, he thought we should spar. He got better over the years, I didn't."

Before Daisuke could respond, Taichi called them back over to the fire. "I say it's high time the digimon stopped hiding. If anyone wants to start up anything, they'd have to get through me and Agumon. Nothing different when you think about it."

Hikari simply bowed her head in concession to her brother's decision.

After a while, people around the other campfires started dispersing to retreat into their own tents for the night. While Tailmon was content to remain with her partner, the lower-level digimon clustered together to talk about their own partners. Takeru cleaned up and went to sleep once Hikari tended to his wounds. Tailmon watched through slitted eyes as Taichi and Daisuke talked about something or other that didn't interest her in the least.

"Boys will be boys," Hikari whispered. Tailmon simply purred her understanding.

.~*~.

In a sharp contrast from the day before, the morning sky was nearly cloudless. It was too nice a morning to sleep in, despite every fiber in Daisuke's being urging him otherwise, so he dragged himself out from the mess that was his sleeping bag and stepped out of the tent. V-mon, the lazy bum, mumbled nonsensically and ignored his calls.

To his surprise, Taichi was up too. Oblivious to his presence, the older man went through some sort of martial arts katas Daisuke would never be able to identify if he tried. It was rather graceful, but the problem with martial arts was that they relied on just this sort of grace and repetition. He watched with interest, cataloguing the moves and considering how to counter them, until Taichi stopped and turned towards him.

"Do you fight?"

"Yeah," Daisuke responded automatically. "Well, I don't pick them, but I try to hold my own."

A grin appeared on Taichi's face, which made Daisuke immediately suspicious. "Want to spar? I promise I'll go easy on you."

"I dunno, man. I might hurt you."

Taichi stared at him, probably in an effort to see if he wasn't faking it, then laughed. "It's fine. You won't hurt me any worse than what I've been through before."

Daisuke started shrugging out of his jacket and shirt. To be fair, it had been a while since he'd had this sort of exercise. "Don't say I didn't warn you," he muttered as he removed his boots and socks. Sand was so difficult to fight in with shoes.

The first rays of the morning sun peeking in from the east illuminated the sand underfoot and signaled the start of the fight. Daisuke shifted from foot to foot, waiting for Taichi to make the first move. When the circling was getting a little too long for Daisuke's tastes, he lunged forth and skidded as if he were kicking a soccer ball out from under another player's nose. He just barely missed Taichi's balancing leg and, to make up for the error, lashed out to grab the older man's ankle and yank away from Taichi's center of gravity. Taichi fell hard, but rolled away before Daisuke could get to him again. Daisuke jumped up to his feet and stepped back, and here they were circling again!

"You played soccer, didn't you," Taichi asked conversationally once he regained his breath.

Confused but unwilling to let his guard down, Daisuke responded. "Yeah, why?"

The sudden, rather fond smile on the older man's face worried him. It could be a ruse to unsettle him, for all he knew. "Oh, I did too when I was a kid. Good times."

"Soccer field next time," he suggested helpfully. It would be so cool to play soccer with someone again!

The smile turned into a huge grin. "Sure! But first, we finish this."

Taichi moved first this time, kicking out to sweep Daisuke's legs out from under him. Daisuke let out a short curse as Taichi just barely missed one leg, only to trip up the other and make him hop back on one leg in an attempt to regain his footing. Taichi was entirely too good with his legs, so Daisuke had to target something else. The problem was that Taichi would expect any kicks now, and any attempts to unbalance him by the legs would be futile. But...

Taichi's eyes widened in surprise as Daisuke's open palm swung out to catch the wrist on his weak side. Fingers closed tightly and Daisuke yanked his arm away from his center of balance, making him stumble in an attempt to regain his footing. Daisuke darted behind Taichi, dragging the arm with him and twisting it against his back, and then trapped one of Taichi's feet behind his own. The sharp pain from his left arm and a lack of good balance would have made it all too easy for Daisuke to shove him face-first in the sand and finish it all. And yet, amazingly, Daisuke let go of his arm and instead helped him regain his footing. Not that it helped, for soon enough they both collapsed on the sand in exhaustion.

"How'd you guess to take me down that way," Taichi asked once he regained his breath and brushed the majority of sand off his skin.

"I noticed that you focused a lot on your legs, but didn't pay much attention to your arms." Daisuke felt very clever for figuring it out. "I knew you'd be expecting any kicks from me after the first bout, so I had to take advantage of the parts of your body you weren't paying attention to. Gotta expect the unexpected, y'know?"

Taichi's agreement was reduced to mumbles as he pulled a shirt over his head. Figuring it was as good a time as any, Daisuke followed his example. By the time the sun had fully risen from the horizon, they were both fully dressed and waiting for everyone else to wake up.

"So, did Hikari tell you about her dreams," Taichi asked after a long period of silence punctuated by the occasional sleepy activities of a few congregation members. Daisuke was fairly surprised to see a thoughtful expression on Taichi's face.

"Some of them, I think. Why?"

A resigned sigh and Taichi reached up to pull off his goggles in one quick tug. He regarded them for a moment before folding the lenses against each other and wrapping the black elastic band around them. "In her dreams, you're wearing my goggles. I didn't think much of them, but then you turned up and actually exist. So... Here."

Daisuke blinked in surprise at the proffered goggles. "Dude, I don't know if I can take them."

"Oh, come on." Taichi pressed the goggles into his hands, despite his best efforts to deter him. "Take care of them for me."

His fingers closed around the old goggles even as he tried to come up with some other excuse to refuse them. Nothing at all came to mind. "I'll do my best. Thanks."

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