Title: Digimon 222: Dark Masquerade
Pairings: Taichi/Yamato, Ken/Daisuke, Jyou/Mimi, Koushiro/???
Summary for this Chapter: Hikari, Yamato, Koushiro, and Gennai are out to rescue Taichi from Kidou's men. Sora comes along, Miyako has fun, and Ken is evil.
Rating: R (this chapter); NC-17 (overall)
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warning(s): Foul language? Erratic updates?
Word Count: 22,856 words total in this post; 7161 newly posted words
Author's Notes: Sweet Digital Deities, it's been *wince* nearly two years since I last updated this. My beta, who has read previous drafts, hasn't read this final one. She's up in Alaska having fun with fishies. But there shouldn't be anything glaringly obvious. If there is, let me know. I'm always up for con-crit. I'm reposting this chapter here from the beginning as I don't want to make you folks sort back through my earlier posts. There have been minor tweaks to what's already been posted and I'll put a cut directly to the newly-posted stuff. I'll be in Idaho until Monday for my cousin's wedding, so if you comment, I may not get a chance to reply until then. Thank you all for your patience. Happy Summer Solstice!
Feeling her spirit want to crawl out of her skin and fly to where Taichi was, Hikari tapped in the override code that would speed the elevator's ascent. Not only did she have to inform her brother of Miko's... Salamon's, she corrected herself... dual nature, but a very large explosion had rocked the fortress. She hoped Koushiro and the main security force were taking care of it, but she didn't have time to spare in finding a relay terminal and sending a message. Besides, if there was a threat, Taichi's level would be the safest place to wait out an attack. He would want her there.
The elevator finally stopped and Hikari entered her pass-code again, opening the heavy doors. She pushed the hovering chair containing Gennai -- the old man had been partially healed from an indeterminate illness by her cat -- as quickly as possible down the halls without jarring him. Hikari still wasn't quite sure what was going on, but despite the shock of seeing Miko transform into a giant sphinx decked out in Ancient Egyptian trappings, she was comforted by having her long-time friend pacing beside her, ears perked sharply and bearing eyes that held even more intellect than usual. Once she found Taichi, their questions would be answered, or so the old man had promised.
It didn't take long to determine Taichi wasn't in his chambers. Nervous because her brother wasn't answering her hollers, she left Gennai's hover chair there and set off with Salamon matching her sprinting pace. Coming around the next corner, they nearly ran over a blond man. He immediately backed away from them and eyed her with a mixture of stony wariness and a vague recognition that should have been impossible.
Hikari was accustomed to staring matches with her brother, but holding one with a strange man felt ridiculous. Since he showed no inclination toward speaking, Hikari asked bluntly, "Have you seen Taichi?"
"Are you his sister?" She nodded cautiously. His expression changed to something that might have been pity before hardening again. "Then I suggest you get out of my way, and then get out of here yourself."
He moved as if to brush past her, but instead, he quickly scrambled back a half-dozen steps. His eyes had dropped to Salamon and his jaw muscles flexed suspiciously. Hikari recalled Taichi telling her that his guest, Yamato, was afraid of Miko. Now that she was thinking better, the man had to be Yamato. Unless her brother was for some reason hiding away even more men without telling her... The thought was disturbing.
"Out of my way," the blond gritted through his teeth.
Her temper flashing at the rudeness, Hikari wondered how her brother could like the man. But Taichi liking him or not, she wanted answers. "Tell me where my brother is, or else I'll ask her to attack."
Yamato stiffened and the look he gave her was unreadable. "He's gone."
"Gone? What do you mean? Gone where?"
He shook his head. "Who knows? Probably gone for good, and good riddance to him."
Miko... Salamon... paced forward without Hikari having to say anything. In a blink, the feline raced past him, effectively trapping the blond between them.
Hikari advanced. "What happened to Taichi?"
He gave a nervous glance behind him, then met her wrath with silence.
She stepped closer still. "He may love you," she hissed, "But I will smack you if you've hurt him in any way."
Almost imperceptibly, his blue eyes widened. Another staring match began, only to be broken by a familiar voice yelling for Taichi.
"Koushiro!" Hikari called back. "Over here! Something's wrong."
Koushiro was beside her in seconds. He held a weapon raised and ready, and he lost no time in pointing it at Yamato.
Hikari shivered at the hate pouring out of the normally soft-spoken mouth.
The blond man turned to flee, but Salamon yowled her presence and Yamato faced them once more.
"You," Yamato returned crisply, addressing Koushiro with a mocking smirk. "The little-man."
Her brother's best friend was shaking all over, and Hikari doubted the oozing gash above his left eye was the only reason. She had to do something. The two men were utterly useless and would probably continue to growl and posture at the other until one of them was dead. And Taichi would still be missing.
"That's it," she snapped. "It's introduction time, nice and simple." She glared up at the blond man. "You are Yamato, correct? Good," she praised when the man nodded, looking dully impressed into obedience. "My name is Hikari, I'm Taichi's sister. This," she waved over at the gaping electronics expert, "Is Koushiro, my brother's best friend."
The men were staring at her. This was almost fun, except for the Taichi-being-missing part. She had to get him back. She pinned Yamato with a hard glare.
"Now that's settled, you're going to tell me exactly what's going on, starting with the explosion and finishing with what you're doing here and why my brother isn't with you."
This time, Salamon yowled before Yamato even had the chance to turn his head. His skin took on a greenish tinge and he gave a melting glare to Koushiro's blaster before speaking.
"The explosion was a group of men blasting into the throne room."
"The throne room?" Hikari echoed, unable to stop herself from interrupting. Since when did they have a throne room on Taichi's private floor and just what was her brother doing with the man anyway? She looked over at Koushiro. He didn't look surprised. Just pissed. "You knew about this?"
He nodded darkly. "I'll fill you in, but I don't think there's time now."
Hikari could accept that. "Continue. What are you doing here, Yamato?"
The man let out an annoyed huff. "I was trying to escape. But nobody trusted me enough to tell me why I shouldn't have bothered. As it is, I'm still leaving."
Hikari took a step forward. "Not before you tell me where Taichi is."
A pained expression crossed Yamato's face, as if he wasn't sure whether to weep or yell, though it disappeared in the next moment and he stiffly replied, "Taichi was captured and removed from the fortress through the hole in the throne room wall."
"You murdering --" The genius advanced, taking aim.
"Koushiro! You're not going to shoot him!" But she knew as she spoke that there was little she could do if Koushiro decided otherwise. Thankfully, he stopped.
"He's the one responsible for this," Koushiro snarled, glaring.
Hikari frowned. The man did seem guilty. "Is that true? Were you involved, Yamato?"
The blond man looked away and down. "You don't keep slaves here, do you," he said.
Hikari gauged both his expression and Koushiro's before answering cautiously, "No, we don't. Now, were you involved?"
Instead of responding immediately, Yamato sat down with his back to the corridor wall, legs crossed and with an arm propped up to rest his forehead on. He looked very, very tired. "Yeah, I was involved. With Yagami gone, I would've had the chance to escape. I... didn't know Yagami was Taichi until it was too late. And I was too angry with him for lying to me to help." Blue, torn eyes made contact with Hikari. "I'm still furious about it, but now I... I... He should still be alive. The Lord of the ones who took him wanted information from him."
Again, Hikari was confused, while Koushiro just glared daggers. What on earth were you thinking, Taichi? But it didn't really matter what Taichi had intended. The plain fact was that he was gone. And her brother's would-be lover was partially responsible... if that was what Yamato actually was. Hikari wasn't so sure now. Not with all the games that Taichi seemed to have been playing.
Gennai floated up in his chair behind her and raised one shaky hand up to touch her arm. How he had found them in the maze of passages, Hikari didn't know. "The Chosen must stay together," he said softly. "All three of you here now are Chosen, and Taichi too. You must stay together."
Taichi, I need you. I don't understand what's going on.
Hikari was going to get him back. She had to move quickly. There wasn't time to waste sorting out this mess of lies and trust. Besides, the only two who could really do that were Taichi and Yamato. That decided it. Everyone was sticking together until Taichi said otherwise.
Focused on his supposed enemy, Koushiro hadn't even turned his head at the old man's approach, but he asked, "Who's he?"
"An ally. We're all allies until Taichi's back." Hikari began maneuvering Gennai's chair around. He kindly shooed her hands away and took control over the vehicle himself. She shrugged and kept walking. "Koushiro," she called back over her shoulder, "Come with me. There's still time to catch them. We must have some sort of visual record of their flight."
The genius didn't budge. "Him first," he said, angling his head at the lump on the floor.
Hikari brushed off Koushiro's angry tone and turned to face Yamato. "On your feet and step away from the wall, please. I want you in-between Salamon and myself."
The man stayed put. "How can you be certain I won't attack you and run?"
Hikari regarded him evenly. "I can't be certain, but I trust that you won't."
"Trust?!" The man's shock would have been amusing had it not been mixed with anguish. Hikari felt herself softening towards her brother's intended lover. He looked away from her. "You can't trust me," he said softly. "I'll destroy you."
"For once we agree," Koushiro said, pulling her back by her shoulder as Yamato heaved to his feet. "We should just shoot him and be done with it. He's betrayed Taichi already; we can't trust him."
Hikari looked at Gennai, then at the agitated men.
I hope you knew what you were doing, big brother.
"You're not shooting him, Koushiro," she said wearily, but as she spoke, she was already moving closer. Her cuff to Yamato's head was abrupt enough to prevent him from dodging her and forceful enough to knock him to his side.
"That was for getting my brother kidnaped. I promised I'd smack you if you hurt him, and we Yagami's always keep our word. Now, pick yourself up and follow along. We're going to get him back." She turned past a stunned Koushiro and began walking. "Salamon, see that he follows."
It took a few moments and a low growl, but soon she heard several sets of footsteps behind her.
It was possible the girl had a better arm than her brother when it came down to a fight. For all that Yamato should have been angry, he actually respected her for that strike. She had sense, decency, and honesty that the others lacked. The blow had been a reprimand, a warning --and once administered, the matter was settled. They each knew where the other stood. Hikari expected Yamato to behave, and Yamato had demonstrated his acceptance of those terms by not attempting to fight back.
Until that point, he'd been planning on escaping, on getting as far away from the Yagami fortress as possible. But now, he just might stick around to make sure that Taichi got back all right. Not for the lying son of a bitch's sake, but for the girl. She loved the oaf and wanted him back. It had nothing to do with Taichi himself. Helping her was simply the right thing to do. Probably.
Yamato tried to avoid any further thinking along those lines as he followed the teenage girl to what was apparently Taichi's suite of rooms. The old man guided his chair into a corner, seemingly content to sit out of the way while plans were made. Yamato claimed the desk chair and spun it around so that it faced the interior. The thing-that-was-not-a-cat took up guard between him and the door and was looking ready to bite should he make any move it didn't approve of. Meanwhile, the little man was talking in hushed tones to Taichi's sister.
"I should let my parents know what's going on," he said. "They'll be able to tell the Council something and keep things from going crazy before we get back."
She nodded. "Go, then."
The man hesitated, directing a meaningful look at Yamato. Yamato was infinitely glad that the girl, despite her youth, had more rank than the red-head and that she seemed to think he wasn't dangerous. The little man still seemed to think that they'd be better off with Yamato dead and he hadn't stopped mentioning his opinion. This time, though, he settled for a look at the girl.
"I'll be just fine," she assured him, not without a hint of annoyance. Koushiro frowned, and the creases deepened when she took the blaster from his grip. "I'll be fine."
He looked at her, worried. "You remember how to use that thing?"
"You and Taichi taught me. Check setting, point, shoot. It's not that complex, Koushiro."
The man sighed, then stepped into Yamato's space. It took every ounce of control the blond possessed not to bite off the finger that was being pointed in his face.
"If anything happens to her--"
"Koushiro," the girl warned.
The little man's jaw firmed and he turned to face her. "Be quiet, Hikari. This is about your safety and I want to make sure that he understands me before I leave." When she said nothing in return, the man turned back to Yamato. "If anything happens to her, I will hold you personally responsible. Not only will I make sure that you are in constant pain, but when we get Taichi back, you'll have to deal with him. You will not make her cry, afraid, angry, or in any other way upset, else I will revisit the pain on you ten-fold. Have I made your position clear?"
Yamato leaned back from the finger and gave the man a cool look. "Quite so, short stuff."
The other's chest puffed in anger, but the girl called him off with a shake of her head.
"Just go and talk to your parents, Koushiro. It won't take that long. With Salamon and this, I can handle him," she said, raising the blaster.
He sighed, but finally left after a last, acid glare at Yamato.
"You two don't get along very well," the girl observed mildly once the door had shut.
"Hn." Yamato didn't rise to her gross understatement. He wasn't going to be the one explaining the origin of the bad feelings between them.
"It would be better if you didn't provoke him. He's usually a quiet, brainy sort of guy. You must've done something he really doesn't like for him to treat you like this."
"Hmm." The girl seemed to be wise enough to pick her battles. Maybe they could just wait in silence now. Instead, the determined look in her eyes intensified. "Well, now that he's gone..." Her eyes darted to the old man who had fallen asleep and she lowered her voice. "Cut the crap. What's going on between you and my brother?"
The direct question brought with it memories of what had happened. All noble thoughts of aiding the girl were tossed out of Yamato's head. He and Taichi wouldn't be able to share the same room. One of them would end up dead. The girl had no idea what she was asking.
"It's none of your business."
"Of course it's my business. He's my older brother!"
"Exactly!" Yamato shouted back.
Yamato darted forward and ripped the gun from her fingers. The monster yowled. He held the gun and she stared at him for one betrayed and horrified moment before he set the blaster on the floor and slid it into an empty corner with his foot. She watched him warily, waiting for his next move. The alarm in her eyes made him feel ill. She'd trusted him, given him the benefit of the doubt, and now he'd scared her. He hated this place. Ever since that horrible night in his room with his father, he found himself doing things...
"I'm not going to harm you. I just want to go. Your brother would understand."
"Maybe so, but I still don't. Explain it to me."
"It's not something that little sisters should be concerned with."
"I heard you two last night and I'm sixteen -- that means young, not stupid or innocent."
Yamato raised an eyebrow at that.
"I talked with him last night, you know," she said. "Afterward. You hit him. His face was bruised and he was sad. Still, he smiled and told me everything was fine." She looked at him accusingly. "It wasn't."
"No," Yamato agreed. "It wasn't fine." He wasn't sure what she'd do next, but after a brief pause, she turned toward the still-sleeping man.
"Gennai, he's not human. He says that you, me, my brother, and Koushiro are Chosen for something. He hasn't explained what, exactly, but I think that as a group we can somehow save the world from how awful it's become. We're supposed to stick together."
"Looks like someone told you a bed-time story. I'm not Chosen for anything."
The girl's stare turned hard. "Do I need to have her transform again to prove nothing is normal right now?" she asked, waving a hand at the creature. It was probably one of those mutant animals. The ones that feasted on blood. His hand rubbed at his arm where the marks had been.
"You really don't want me to stay," Yamato warned, not holding back the threat in his voice.
The girl, teenager, really, met him tone for tone. "I think I really do. I don't know what happened between you and him, but I know that for some reason, despite your rudeness, he likes you. Don't say he doesn't, because he does. I can tell. Koushiro said parts of this attack on Yagami were in motion long before you were brought here. I know Taichi would be happy to see you again, even if you were partially responsible for his being taken."
Her certainty was laughable, so Yamato did. "Taichi didn't tell you what he was doing with me, did he?"
Her head tilted to the side, warily curious. "He said he was keeping you as his guest."
"He was keeping me as a slave, making me think that Yagami was going to do something horrible to me." He wouldn't say the harsh truth to the girl. "Very bad things, and all the while, he was also there as himself, pretending... Your brother fucked with my head and he deserved being kidnaped." Her expression darkened and she scowled. "Now, I know you don't like me saying that, and I know you don't think that's true --"
"If there's one thing I hate above all else, it's being told by others what I think!" The glare she gave him made Yamato take a step back toward the not-a-cat. "For your information," she continued acidly, "I think the three of you are complete and total idiots. If I'd heard about what was going on, I'd have walloped all of you and put a stop to it. Taichi sees me as his 'sweet baby sister,' and I play that part for him and the others because it makes him happy, but I outgrew that point a long time ago. This world we live in doesn't let us be soft. Yes, I'm cheerful and spend long, fuzzy hours in the company of my cat, but I'm not so different from my brother. We're both warriors. I just fight my battles differently."
Yamato felt a smile tug at his lips. The girl was amazing -- strong, loving -- a perfect little sister. She had to be around the same age as his own younger brother. Would the boy have been like her if they'd been raised together? Would he have someone this devoted to him?
"I know my brother," she continued. "I've seen how happy he was while you were here. I don't doubt that he did foolish, hurtful things to you. He's not perfect. He makes mistakes. But if he lied to you, he had an important reason." Her love and conviction were so bright. She stepped closer to him, eyes wiser than her years. "He would want you to stay, and Gennai wants you to, and so do I. However, if you're going to hurt him again, I want you to leave. I'll give you money and you can go. I'll tell Taichi you were gone by the time we thought to look for you."
She was going to let him go? Just like that? "You'd do that? You'd let me go? What about Shorty?"
"Yamato, that's getting annoying," she said with an iron glare. "His name is Koushiro. Use it. And he's not in charge here. I am. I'll take care of any of his objections to releasing someone with your knowledge."
He could... He could trust her, but... No. It was better that he leave. "You shouldn't trust me. I'm dangerous."
She smiled at him. "Yeah, you were real dangerous sliding the weapon into the corner."
Yamato looked away in annoyance, unable to argue her logic. "If I'm truly free to leave, then I will."
She accepted this calmly. "Where are you going to run to?"
"Do you seriously expect me to tell you?"
"No, but have you thought about it? I doubt you'd run home. No one else will take in an outcast Lord. You probably don't have any working skills. What are you going to do? Enter a brothel and whore yourself for a living?"
Yamato rose and his hand darted out to wrench the girl back by her hair, off balancing her slight form. With a cry, she clung to his shirt to keep from falling. His fist was raised to smash her face, but he caught the anger and forced it down, his arm lowering as he regained control. He set the girl upright, then released her.
"You're playing with something dangerous. Be careful."
"You're not so dangerous," she said softly. "I understand that you're angry. I'm not asking you to not hurt him physically. In fact, I'd pummel him myself, if he were here. Whatever happened between you two isn't going to be easy to fix. I understand that. I'm talking long term. Can you forgive what he and Koushiro did to you? Or are you going to hurt his heart?"
Yamato swallowed the ache in his throat. Sympathy from her was just too much, especially when he knew the teenager was having to put on a brave front for her brother's sake. She had to be worried for him, maybe even afraid. Yet she was here, taking command, trying to help Yamato feel better, treating him with more human decency than anyone had in years. He wanted to tell her it would be all right, but the odds weren't in his favor.
"I honestly don't know," he said. Her face fell and she looked old, tired. "But..." He hesitated and then he was certain. "I'll help you get him back. If it looks like I'll need to leave after that, then I will. But, I'll help bring him back for you."
She nodded her head, still appearing exhausted but now pleased. "All right. I'll hold you to your word."
She swayed on her feet and Yamato caught her shoulder. For some reason, possibly out of habit, the girl interpreted his support as permission to lean closer and before Yamato could avoid it, he was hugging her. He was going to step back, but her arms locked around his waist.
"Lady Hikari," he began. She looked up at the sound of her name. He could see the worry and fear in her eyes. Not of him, but for Taichi, for her brother. She returned her head to his chest. He allowed himself a sad smile, then pressed his lips lightly against her hair. "I'm sorry."
She straightened a bit and made a show of glancing at her arm. "It's all right. I deliberately provoked you. I doubt I'll even bruise."
"Well, for that too, but..." He had to force the words out. "I'm sorry that I... helped them take him away from you." The girl nodded, but said nothing. He couldn't tell if she was crying or not. "I'm sorry," he whispered again, rubbing her back soothingly.
This time she sniffed. "Are you going to tell him that?"
His hands stilled for longer than a moment, then resumed. "I'm still furious, but yeah. I'm going to tell him that."
Koushiro opened the door to Taichi's rooms and instantly became alarmed. The gun was nowhere to be seen and Hikari was trapped in Yamato's arms. The old man was asleep? Unconscious? Dead?
He burst through the doorway. "Get your hands off her," he snarled, raising his weapon.
Rather than be grateful for the rescue, Hikari easily moved away from Yamato to block Koushiro's path. She glared at him. He ignored her and focused on the blond.
"Is your sex appeal able to hook everyone but myself, or is it just a thing with siblings?"
The Lady's eyes blazed. "I am not attracted to him, Koushiro. Quit acting like a jealous prick."
"I'm acting like someone who can see the hazard of letting a dangerous man run around in anything less than a full-body restraint. I go away and leave you with the blaster and I come back and the gun's who knows where and he's got his arms around you. What am I supposed to think!?"
"The blaster's on the floor in the corner. It wasn't helping anything. Yamato and I had a nice chat while you were taking care of things. And it's called a hug, you jerk -- something you should have offered me at some point."
Koushiro took a step back. Hikari had wanted a hug? From him?
Well, with Taichi gone, she's probably feeling a little shaken and... oh hell.
He sighed and dropped his pride. It wasn't so bad to apologize to Hikari, but Yamato... He made himself do it, though. Hikari deserved it. "I'm sorry, both of you. I'm upset about Taichi being gone." Another sigh ripped free. "What's important is getting him back. We should be working together, not fighting."
Smiling, even though he was probably the last one to come to that conclusion, Hikari came to him then and wrapped her arms about his neck. "Thank you," she whispered, pressing close. "I need your support right now, Koushiro. I can't do this alone."
Koushiro tightened his arms around her awkwardly, mindful of Yamato watching them. After a moment, he disengaged from the hug before the man could take up the idea to go after the weapon on the floor.
"Right. Well, preparations are almost ready." He eyed Yamato. "We still need to know where he's being taken. The video from the few cameras not wiped out suggests that they're traveling north, but they could be taking him anywhere," he lied, wanting to know how their not-quite-a-captive would react.
"Yamato?" Hikari turned hopeful, faithful eyes on the silent man.
The blond looked vaguely annoyed. "The men I came in contact with never told me who they were working for. Judging by the current political situation and the resources at the attackers' disposal, I suspect that it is Lord Kidou or one of his sons, but I have no proof other than my own hunch."
Amazing. He's actually telling the truth.
"Hikari? A word with you in private?" He motioned her toward the door. "Will Miko be able to watch him with you not in the room?"
She opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head. "I'll fill you in later. Yes, she's fine." The girl followed him after a last glance to the ex-Lord.
Koushiro shut the door. "There were a few cameras I set up that they didn't get to. The ship is the Zempi. It belongs to Lord Kidou's sons. I can't imagine that they'll be taking Taichi anywhere else but the fortress."
Hikari looked at him sharply, but no rebuke came for his earlier deception. "All right. They'll have to fly around Takenouchi to reach Kidou's fortress. I can ask Lord Sora to allow us to pass straight through. I'm pretty sure she'll let us."
"Lord Sora always follows military code strictly. She'd never let us go."
"She will if we tell her we think Taichi might be alive."
"What? No. Absolutely not."
"Not that he is alive," Hikari said earnestly. "Just that there's a rumor that he might be. The secret would still be safe."
Koushiro huffed in frustration. He hadn't spent years helping Taichi hide just to let all and sundry know that he was still alive.
"Have you got a better plan for getting him back quickly?" she asked.
"Fine. We try your way. We can always fly around if she refuses." Koushiro scraped his hair back from his forehead. "Have you any thoughts on what we do once we get to Kidou's fortress?"
"You have an arsenal packed on our ship?" she asked. He nodded. "Then we can plan out what weapons and tools to use while we travel. Our mission is to get in, get Taichi, and get him out. We need to move now."
It was foolish. It was dangerous. It would probably get them killed and then Taichi's spirit would plague Koushiro's ghost for eternity for getting his baby sister killed. "Right. We'll figure it out on the way. I'll go make sure everything is getting prepared correctly," he said, turning. Hikari's hand stopped him.
"I'll check. Yamato's coming, so you two need to call a truce before we go." Koushiro opened his mouth to protest, but he opted to shut it when a look made it clear she would not be interrupted. "I have a feeling that whatever issues you two need to work out, it would be better if I weren't there to overhear. So settle this now. We need to work together. It's the only way we're going to get Taichi back."
"We don't need him."
"We do. Gennai says we have to stick together."
"Since when do you make a habit of listening to senile old men?"
"I'm not sure what Gennai is, but he's not senile. Besides, do you really think we can get Taichi back with just the two of us?"
He turned away from her at the words. They couldn't bring any of the fortress' guards. Not with the attack being planned from the inside. Koushiro needed time to make sure all of the spies were found and Taichi didn't have that time.
The chances of anyone surviving this mission were slim. He knew Taichi would have wanted Hikari kept safe, but the last time they had tried locking her anywhere for her own protection, she had broken out two minutes later. They had created a monster, the pair of them teaching her -- a monster well-trained in combat and infiltration -- but she was still too young. Koushiro doubted Hikari would appreciate being reminded of this, so he waged his argument another way.
"The chances are low that we can succeed at all, but we could do it alone. And maybe we should. How do we know Yamato isn't just going to escape into Kidou's lands or kill Taichi if he sees him?"
"He promised me. I trust him. He's coming, Koushiro. It's not your decision to make."
Koushiro drew in a breath and weighed Hikari's resolve. He was bigger (not by much), he had more resources at his disposal, he had more know-how. Yet she was a Lady -- one who ordered, one who was obeyed. She would not threaten him into obedience. If he insisted, things would be done his way. But if he insisted, she would never forgive him.
"Hikari . . ." It was insane to bring the ex-Lord. "Do you know something I don't?"
She smiled up at him. "Taichi's not the only one to get hunches, Koushiro. He's coming. And that's final. Get yourself on speaking terms. We leave as soon as the ship's ready. I want medical and ration kits on there as well. We need to be prepared for anything."
Koushiro drew a breath and released it. That was why Hikari was a Lady. That was why grown men would follow the orders of a sixteen year old girl. The instinct to lead, to dominate, was in her blood. He bowed. "Yes, my Lady."
The smile she gave him glowed with pride and approval. And then the Lady was gone and it was just Hikari giving him a trembling smile. "We're going to get him back, Kou." Her arms closed around his neck as she pulled him tight. "We have to, okay?"
"I know," he said, returning the hug. "We will."
She departed, dry-eyed and focused, and Koushiro was left alone to face Yamato's door. He fingered his weapon. No matter how much Hikari trusted him, Koushiro never would. But... the girl was right to say that they needed a truce.
I'll try, he promised. But if he makes another crack about my height, all bets are off.
He entered the room. The old man was still asleep, the weapon was still on the floor, and Yamato was slouched with a bored expression in the desk chair.
"Lady Hikari is checking on our ship. She's ordered that you and I are to call a truce."
Miko uncurled from her spot and oozed around Koushiro's leg and out the door.
"You don't seem to want one," Yamato said, his eyes tracking the cat's progress.
"I don't, but it's not about what I want right now. It's about getting Taichi back. Why are you willing to help us?"
"I have my reasons."
"That's not good enough for me. Name one."
Yamato raised an unimpressed brow. "Hikari reminds me of the little brother I never knew."
Koushiro scoffed, "Right. What other lies have you got cooked up?" He was fixed with an annoyed glare.
"Sitting around doing nothing for however long it's been has put me in danger of being bored to death. I don't think this little mission will put me in the same danger. Change is good."
That, Koushiro actually believed. "Two weeks." He almost smiled when the ex-Lord stared at him blankly. "It's been a bit more than two weeks that you've been here."
Blue eyes widened in surprise. "Funny. It seemed so much longer," he murmured. Koushiro felt himself being measured. "So, you're his best friend?"
"Yes. If you're going to run, I won't stop you... no matter what Hikari says. But if you try to hurt either of them --"
"Yeah, yeah. I know," Yamato broke in, standing as he waved the words away. There was amusement in his eyes that transformed his face so much that Koushiro could almost see what Taichi saw in the ex-Lord. "You two are so alike it's scary. Just spare me your threats. If I wanted the Lady injured she wouldn't be breathing right now. And Taichi's secret is safe. It's not me you have to worry about." He began moving toward the door, his trajectory nearly assuring that he'd roughly bang shoulders with Koushiro. At the last second, Yamato stepped around and smoothly exited the room. "Let's go."
Koushiro noticed that the man had made no such promise as to Taichi's physical safety. His behavior wasn't aggressive, though. It would do for now.
"Let's," he agreed, falling into step behind the ex-Lord where he could keep an eye on him.
"I want some normal clothes," Yamato said, not looking back.
"Fine. Down the right-hand hall at the third crossway."
In the waking world, Taichi thrashed against the wall of the cabin where he was slumped with his hands bound behind him.
Deep within the construct of his own sleeping mind, however, his back was up against a wall he couldn't see and familiar faces trapped him in an advancing semi-circle.
Hope and joy filled him as the first face he recognized belonged to his father, but all was dashed as his father spoke. "You're not taking care of the people our family has protected for generations. I'm very disappointed in you, son." He shook his head disapprovingly. "Taichi, what have you done?"
The young Lord clenched his fists, but found a leather whip in his grip, glistening with liquid. Taichi dropped it. The small boy from Masaharu's fortress darted forward and picked up the bloody whip.
Taichi pushed it away when it was offered to him.
"What's the matter, Lord?" the boy asked. "Don't you want it?"
Lord Ishida stepped forward. "Yes, lad, give us a show."
Taichi shook his head. Ishida... he... shouldn't be here. The boy... the boy should but when Taichi looked up, the young slave was gone.
Koushiro. Koushiro would know what to do. He gripped the genius' arm. "Where's the little boy? Where did he go? We need to help him."
"We can't save him, Taichi. He's probably dead by now," his friend replied.
Hikari spoke next. "He was younger than me," she said, stepping closer. "I can't believe you left him to die."
But Hikari didn't know about the boy. She didn't know.
"No," Taichi pleaded. "He was alive. I tried my best not to hurt him."
Koushiro smiled sadly, then removed Taichi's hand from his arm, withdrawing his support. "But you left him there in favor of getting Yamato out. I really don't know how you were able to choose one life over another. Maybe it's because you're a monster."
"When did you decide Yamato's life was more important?" Hikari asked. "Would you choose him over me?"
"What kind of person would do something like that?" Koushiro shook his head in disappointment.
His sister and best friend vanished. Ishida returned, his smile charming and wide.
"How's it going with my son? Have you broken him yet? You promised me you would."
"That's..." It wasn't true. It didn't matter what Taichi had told Ishida, Taichi wouldn't hurt Yamato.
"Have you heard him scream?"
"No! No, I won't hurt him!"
"But you're lying to me, aren't you, Taichi?" Yamato said, stepping from the shadows to join the ring of accusers. The blond started removing his shirt, a teasing look in his eyes as he stripped. "You want me, don't you, Taichi?" he husked. His fingers lingered on the last button, but finally the fastening was undone and the silk slid from pale shoulders. "You want this."
Yamato turned. His skin was covered in large bruises that were fighting for space on his back in colors of blue, purple, black, and the occasional violent pink. It was worse than what he'd seen in the fake throne room.
"Yagami said they were pretty. What do you think?"
"It's awful, Yamato. If I could've --"
"But aren't you Yagami? Isn't that the big secret?"
"I wanted to tell you, Yamato. But it wasn't safe."
"Not safe for you, but was it safe for me, then?" Yamato laughed, disbelievingly. "You had Yagami's Slavemaster choke me nearly to death. That doesn't matter, though. You think being that bastard Yagami is a role you can take on and off like a hat. But the mask, Taichi, it grows into your skin. One day you'll go to take it off and you'll find it gone. But it won't have disappeared. You'll look in the mirror and see that your face has changed. You've got to be the truth, or else you become the lie. And all the pretty speeches in the world won't save you then."
Taichi closed his eyes and swallowed. Strangely, Yamato's words hurt the least. Maybe, because they echoed his own thoughts.
"And if you think," Yamato continued, "That I can forgive you for what you've done to me, think again. Ah..." The blond glanced at his wrist. "Are they ready?" There was no answer that Taichi could hear, but Yamato nodded. "Then let them in."
There came the sounds of gates opening -- a loud clanging of bolts, the low moaning protests of metal-upon-metal, and the thud of heavy doors falling into place.
Yamato bowed to him. "Sleep well, Taichi. You've given me a comfortable bed tonight. I hope yours is just as kind." He faded from view.
Alone in the darkened room, Taichi had to force himself to step away from the wall. He wasn't going to cower in the dark like a child.
A low, agonized groan surrounded him from the blackness. It was the suffering of a thousand voices, and it was coming closer.
Then he saw them.
Taichi shrank back against the wall as one by one, slave after slave emerged from the shadows. Their ages ranged from diapered infants to frail elders, but each one bore the same expression of pained hopelessness. Their eyes stared at him accusingly.
The mass began closing in on him. He couldn't see Yamato, but the man's voice whispered to him. "These are the people who die every day, Taichi. These are the people you try so hard to protect, but can't. These are the people who die in my place because you had to have me, a man you lust for, a man who hates you and always will."
The groaning of the multitude turned into a chant. Over the din, Yamato's voice was strong.
The mask you wear becomes your face,
As your face becomes the mask
And your duality, once held with grace,
Will cause their nightmares to come to pass.
Now events swirl at break-neck pace,
Doomed by the questions you didn't ask
While the tattered virtues you struggle to embrace,
Will crack your will like ice-steel glass.
His sister's voice joined in, the two voices ringing in tandem as the slave boy from before stepped forward and held out the whip.
"The mask you wear becomes your face, as your face becomes the mask. The mask you wear becomes your face, as your face becomes the mask. The mask you wear becomes your face, as your face becomes the mask... and one day, the balance you have juggled so carefully will slip. It has slipped already, hasn't it, Taichi?"
"Hasn't it brother?"
"Hasn't it Lord?"
"You're the monster now."
Their voices faded slowly on an echo as Taichi curled into a ball, hands fisted in his hair and his eyes clenched tightly closed. He could hear a distant whimpering sound and his own pounding heart, and he screamed when hands reached out and started to shake his shoulders...
Letting none of the irritation that he was feeling show on his face, Hunter watched as Greene approached their twitching prisoner.
Their first guess had been that Yagami was faking a fit, but when no demands came, Greene had the idea that their captive was asleep and dreaming. Definitely nightmare, from the look of it.
Hunter was of the mind to let the prisoner look after himself. The Lord didn't have much of a future to look forward to and the decent thing to do would be to allow him some privacy.
Greene, of course, insisted on interfering.
Long ago, Hunter had decided it was easier to go along with Greene's whims than to fight against them, so long as no damage was done to crew, goods, or ship.
"Hey! Wake up!" Greene bellowed near the black metal ear carved into the side of the mask. Greene gave Hunter a look and shrugged at the lack of the Lord's response. His hand gripped the sleeping man's arm and gave the body a sharp jerk.
Random thrashing turned into a violent struggle. Hunter gritted his teeth and held himself still. Greene could hold his own in a fight -- especially one against a man with his arms secured behind his back.
True to thought, Greene avoided the flailing body without incident and backed away as their captive calmed, settling into a crouch a rough meter away from the Lord.
"Bad dream, huh? I woke you up."
The Lord stayed silent. With the mask still on, it was impossible to tell if he was even listening. Hunter lay a heavy gaze on his younger partner.
"You're wasting your time if you're waiting for a thank you. Come on. You've done what you came for."
Greene turned back to glare at him. The man knew better than to vocally disagree with the leader of an operation, but it didn't put him above bullying the orders to be changed. Hunter gave a slight shake of his head and ground his teeth in annoyance. It wouldn't be good for Greene to get too attached. Yagami likely wouldn't survive Lord Shin's interrogation and releasing him after such treatment would be begging for war.
"I'll get you some water before I let you be," Greene said to Yagami, his eyes daring Hunter to challenge his statement.
Greene returned with water in a styrofoam cup and offered it to the prisoner with a cheerful smile. "Here you go. I'm not sure how you'll drink it with that mask on, but I'm sure you'll manage somehow, yeah?" He raised the glass to the prisoner's metal 'lips'. The head turned away. "What, don't trust it? Here." Greene took a moderate sip. A space built into the mouth of the mask opened and Greene raised the cup to metal lips.
"Don't choke now," he warned, voice only slightly joking. "You want some more?"
Hunter quietly fumed. Yagami shook his head and the mouth on the mask slid shut. "Thank you," he heard the Lord say quietly. Hunter waited for the deals, the bargains to spare the Lord's life, but none came. The prisoner rested back against the wall and remained still. The rise and fall of his chest was masked by the thick body armor. He looked dead already.
The man's lack of action bothered Hunter. Yagami had revealed himself to be soft-hearted in private, but even so, any sane man would have put up more of a fight. He could have resisted and lived. Instead, he'd surrendered, or perhaps more correctly, he'd simply given up.
Hunter's sharp instincts didn't sense any cause for concern from their captive. Really, the only concern he had was of a pointless and entirely different sort. But in that, everyone's hands were tied. Lord Shin played his games too well.
Greene returned to Hunter's side and they left the cabin, heading for the flight deck. While Hunter took the controls, Greene settled into the co-pilot's seat and the stubborn set to his jaw told was warning enough that his soft-hearted partner was about to be exceedingly stupid and stubborn.
"You can't get attached. He's a dead man, Greene, and you knew that when you accepted the assignment."
"I'm already attached." came the upset reply. "You know he's actually doing good work. He pretends to be awful, but he isn't. He doesn't have to die. We could..."
"Abandon the rest of the team? Lord Shin won't hesitate to kill them if we don't return."
"He will. I haven't told you yet. It was never the right time." It was a stupid, pointless death. He'd lost men on dangerous missions, but having lost a good man with a young son to a power-hungry Lordling's power trip galled him. "Kuchiki won't be there to greet us when we return. All because I didn't agree to follow you on this mission quickly enough for Lord Shin's tastes. So unless you want the slaughter of everyone we hold dear on your conscience, we're bringing Yagami in."
Greene swallowed. He said very quietly, "Fine. But I don't have to like it."
His responsibility weighing heavily upon him, Hunter sighed.
"No," he said softly. "You don't."
Sora paced around the edges of the control room. The day was not going well, and she was no closer to a solution for the situation with her mother. The beeping of an incoming transmission halted her brisk steps.
"My Lord Sora, there is a ship at our south-western border requesting direct passage through to the Kidou capital."
Sora sighed. "You bothered me for this? The answer is no, Commander. All interterritory flight plans must be approved at least one week in advance and no paths may fly above this fortress. Now, explain to me why you've wasted my time with a question to which you already know the answer."
"Lord, Lady Hikari of Yagami is making the request, my Lord. She's asked to speak with you, your Lordship."
The young daughter of High Lord Yagami. By herself. Requesting passage.
Sora had been introduced to the young Lady only briefly, years ago. The girl never left the Yagami fortress. What could she possibly want from Takenouchi?
Sora glanced up at where Piyomon rested on the back of her chair and murmured, "Listen up, Pi. I'll want your input on what she says." To the nervously waiting man, she said, "Go ahead. Patch the transmission through, both audio and visual. And, Commander, I should not need to remind you that this conversation is private."
He snap-saluted. "Yes, Lord. Patching Lady Hikari directly through now."
Only a moment later, Sora's viewscreen showed an image into a medium-sized flight deck. Hikari was seated next to the pilot. Behind her was a blond-haired man, and next to him, an older sleeping man.
"Lady Hikari, I trust you have an excellent reason for your request. And is that Lord Yamato with his face turned away?"
The light-haired man turned forward and raised his chin. "Lord Sora, a pleasure, as always." Yamato greeted, recovering from his horrible attempt at incognito with brief charm. Sora ignored it.
The absent Lord Yamato had been in Yagami... probably the entire time. And now this odd little group was turning up on Sora's doorstep. Or, as close to it as they were going to get without an excellent reason.
"Lady Hikari, I repeat, why do you need passage through to Kidou?"
The girl stood, face tightly drawn and clutching her animal in her arms. "We need to rescue my brother. He's alive, and being taken, we think, to Kidou."
Sora's hope flared, though she knew it was impossible. Her memories of Taichi were few, but they spanned as far back as their early childhood. He'd shown her, back then at that time, that he was kinder than his father. And from the scattered brief encounters following after, her respect for the young Lord had grown. He'd never openly defied his father, but whenever he and Sora had been alone together, she'd seen him do good. And when Yagami's craft went down, his son had gone running and ended up paying for his loyalty with his life in a cruel twist of fate. Or so everyone had believed, until now.
"You think Taichi's alive? What about Yagami, what does he say?"
Hikari looked down. "My father doesn't know I'm going after Taichi. I can't tell him."
Which begged the question: why not? Was it possible the girl had discovered her father had been the reason behind his son's disappearance? Why else would she attempt something so dangerous on her own with only the help of what appeared to be escaped slaves?
"How do you plan on getting him back?" When silence followed her question, Sora snapped, "You were planning something, weren't you?"
The teenager blushed. "We were going to get there first, then figure it out."
Soft-hearted, well-meaning amateurs stood no chance against Kidou's power and Yagami's wrath.
"You," Sora said, fixing Hikari with a hard look, "Are an idiot. And you two," she looked between the young men, "Should know better."
"It's all right, Hikari," the tense, red-headed pilot said, glaring at Sora the whole while. "We can go around. He'll be fine." The pilot reached to end the transmission.
"Wait, Koushiro," the Lady commanded. She placed the animal on the chair behind her, then bowed low. "Lord Sora, please? For Taichi? He doesn't have time for us to go around."
"Hold," Sora told the group, suppressing a sigh. She blanked the A/V feeds then twisted back to look up at Piyomon, absently rubbing a pain in her chest. "What do you think?"
Piyomon leaned forward and lifted her wings for Sora to scratch beneath. "You were sad when you heard news that Lord Taichi was killed while looking for his father. If he truly is alive and needing help, you should do what you think is right."
Sora gritted her teeth in irritation and left off with the scratching in order to fold her arms. "Do you think she's telling the truth about Taichi being alive?"
The bird cocked her head to the side. "I believe that she thinks she's telling the truth. But that's enough, isn't it? You know they'll all be killed if you don't help them."
Sora shook her head. She didn't want to get involved. It was better to stay out of it.
"I'll bet your mother would be upset if you helped them, Sora," Piyomon said casually, bending down from her perch to nibble at Sora's hair.
"Right," Sora said bitterly. "And I should do it for that alone."
Piyomon chattered her beak. Pain flared in Sora's scalp as the bird tweaked an auburn strand. "Do it for whatever reason you need to believe."
Sora sighed. "I thought you were supposed to be supportive of me, Piyomon. This sounds like a lecture."
Piyomon chirped with a rustle of wings. "You did ask for my opinion, my Chosen." The bird nibbled again, this time more gently. "I'm not saying you should trust them completely, but I know if you don't help now, you'll always wonder. The others I can't speak for, but Lord Taichi deserves our help; and Lady Hikari, too, I think."
The Lord snorted. "Fine." At the very least, she owed it to Taichi. She bowed her head as the memories threatened to surface. Sora forced them down and brought the communications channel back online. Hikari and the others were waiting on her.
"All right. I'll help you."
White-faced, Hikari broke into a faint smile. "Thank you, Lord Sora."
Sora glared. "You'll thank me by explaining what's going on after this is all over."
"Understood," the girl finally decided, earning her a hiss and a glare from the pilot. Sora wondered who the bad-tempered man was to dare oppose a Lady. Not a slave. Surely not her boyfriend? Hikari wasn't a vision, but she could certainly do better. Sora shook the thought away.
"Now," the Lord said, her mind already thinking ahead. "You can't rely on intercepting the ship before it reaches Kidou. You need a plan, and at the very least, a way into the fortress, since that's almost certainly where they're heading."
They needed a reason to be at Kidou's fortress, one that would get them inside the landing bay and able to return through there as well. They needed a ship, too -- one that wouldn't suggest the occupants came from Yagami.
She smiled. The Hawker's Bliss was perfectly suited to the task and her pilot would be just crazy enough to help.
Sora transmitted the coordinates of a nearby airstrip. "Land at this location. Hawker's Bliss, a merchant ship, will meet the four..." The elderly man had a few too many years to be considered spry enough for a rescue mission. "Will there be four of you?"
The old man's lips moved. Yamato shook his head and spoke shortly in a volume that didn't carry over the audio connection. Sora watched as a hushed argument played out on the viewscreen. In the end, the old man was sitting up straighter and the other two males were looking aggravated. The girl's cat jumped over into the elder's lap.
"The four of us," Hikari said, an amused quirk to her lips.
"Very well," she said, still doubting that the man wouldn't keel over during the mission. "My pilot will meet you at those coordinates and transport you on her ship into the Kidou fortress. I won't risk her safety, so you'll have to find your own way out. With all the ships there, though, I doubt you'll have too much trouble."
The Lady and her pilot looked at each other, Hikari with a smile, the pilot with a frown.
"Thank you, Lord Sora, for your generosity. We will explain ourselves afterward when there's more time."
"See that you do." Sora cut the transmission.
She allowed herself to slump back in the chair, but straightened again before her muscles had fully relaxed. There was work to be done. Miya needed to be contacted.
A few button presses later and she was looking at Miyako's yawning face. Her purple hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail and glasses were recklessly perched on the tip of her nose. Her friend had been asleep. During waking hours, Miyako preferred her burgundy-tinted contacts.
"Sora, it's early," the woman whined. "Can't this wait another three hours?"
"Sorry, Miyako. It's important. I've got a favor to ask." Sora paused, finally realizing that of the two dark circles beneath her friend's eyes, one was ominously darker. She hummed in disapproval. "Are you all right?"
Miyako delicately fingered the puffy mark. "What, this? Professional hazard. I'm fine. One of my clients got a little rough last night. A bit of makeup and I'll be as good as new. What's the favor?"
By day, Miyako helped out her family's merchant business by delivering goods all across Japan. By night, she made extra money providing bedroom pleasures to men who, for various reasons, did not keep sex-slaves. Through one business or the other, Miyako had the power to go anywhere.
"I need you to call up one of your boyos in the Kidou fortress and convince him he must have something delivered to him immediately. You'll be smuggling in a group of people."
"A whole group? That's risky, Sora."
"It's only four and you just have to get them there. They'll find their own way back."
"All right. Now?" She yawned. "Are you sure it can't wait another couple of hours?"
"Lady Hikari is in charge of this little expedition. She believes Lord Taichi is alive and in need of a rescue."
"Lady Hikari and Lord Taichi? You... oh. Oh. I'll get right on it." She turned away from the camera, but the sound of her voice still transmitted clearly. "Hawkmon, alert Mantarou and let the ground staff know I want Bliss flight-ready in fifteen minutes."
"Roger!" a male voice chirped.
Miyako turned back to face Sora and the two shared a conspiratorial nod. Sora's family wasn't the only one to form a close partnership with some very special birds.
"Where am I picking them up?"
"I told them you'd meet them at the airfield just south of your location."
"Without waiting to ask if I'd do it?"
Sora smiled. "Why bother? I knew you would."
Miyako grinned. "Bitch. Okay. I should be there in less than half an hour." With one hand, Miyako covered another yawn; with the other she pointed at the screen.
"What?" Sora asked, confused.
The woman finished the yawn. "Behind you," she said.
Sora hadn't heard anyone enter. She spun the chair, already reaching for her weapon.
Kalisto was standing behind her.
Eye twitching uncontrollably at the sight of the old hag, Sora's patience snapped. "I. AM. NOT. GOING. TO. BED!" she bellowed. "SOME THINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN SLEEP!"
The woman's response was shamingly mild. "Of course not, dear, it is only mid-day." Kalisto chuckled and patted Sora's cheek fondly, giving her a light pinch, and withdrawing when the Sora moved to slap away her hand. "You remind me so much of your grandmother, dear. Anyway... I overheard your conversation with Lady Hikari. No..." she tutted, "Never mind how. What's important is that I suggest you ask to join them." She winked. "I'll cover for you if anyone asks."
Sora restrained the urge to strangle the old woman. And made a mental note to lecture her friend on the proper way to warn a person. A glance at the screen revealed a giggling Miyako.
"Piyomon," Kalisto addressed her companion expectantly, as if she somehow knew the bird was aware of something Sora was not.
"Sora," Piyomon began, "The pet Lady Hikari was holding is a digimon. She could be Chosen, like you and Miyako."
The sound of Miyako's giggling stopped and Sora's mouth went dry.
"Sora," Kalisto's hands were once more gentle upon her cheeks. "You cannot hide from your duties, no matter how much your mother wishes it. Your power is a part of you that you cannot deny without suffering serious consequences. Toshiko is a good woman, a strong woman. And though the choices presented to your mother have been difficult, she has not turned -- and for better or for worse, she has made her decisions. Now, you must make your own."
My path. Not my grandmother's, or my mother's, but mine and mine alone.
The Lady-turned-Lord nodded. "Miyako, fly here instead. I'll need a lift also."
"Got it. I'm sure I'll find someone willing to give me an invite. See you soon."
Sora stayed in front of the viewscreen and hailed the Commander on the south-west border. "Put me back in contact with Lady Hikari's ship." The screen blacked and then she was looking at the rescue group once more.
"Change of plans. Fly to my fortress. The transport ship into Kidou will meet you here. I'm coming with you."