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, Ken is evil, and Takeru just might be worse than evil.
Rating: R (this chapter); NC-17 (overall)
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Warning(s): Foul language? Erratic updates? Small doses of het?
Word Count: 41,000+ words for this chapter; 8,877 words in this post
Author's Notes: Life has been crazy (my new job starts in a little over 8 hours), but chapter six is finally done. Mea maxima culpa. I feel good about this version, but con-crit is warmly welcomed. If something doesn't work for you, pipe up, ne?
Read from beginning of chapter
Read from previous section (Part 4, released simultaneously with Part 5)
While the others busied themselves with other things, Sora slowly digested what Piyomon had just chattered quietly into her ear. They were Chosen -- Taichi, Hikari, Yamato, the pilot, Jyou, the slave girl -- all of them, save for the two soldiers. Hikari had been claimed by the cat, but the spirits of the others sung out to Piyomon... and any other digimon that might come near. Kalisto had urged Sora to come on this rescue and she wondered what, if anything, the old woman knew.
Taichi and Hikari had disappeared after the pilot announced the completion of the security check and that he'd killed all audio/visual links to the back rooms. Although Sora had planned on giving the brother and sister as much time as they needed, Piyomon's revelation changed things. She knocked once on the door, then entered what turned out to be a small office space.
Taichi was conversing quietly with his sister and while his face and emotions were obscured by the Yagami mask, Hikari's were easy to read. She was earnestly trying to convince her brother of something. There was a pause in their conversation as Sora approached, but in the end, the masked head nodded and he motioned Hikari away.
The girl, jaw set in determination, nodded at Sora as she left.
Sora sat down in the vacated seat next to Taichi, still not able to make her mind match the recent memory of Yagami's behavior with her childhood memory of Taichi's gentle spirit. Here, in the privacy of the office, she dared to touch the side of his cold metal mask, just where his cheek would be.
"How long?" she asked, furious with herself for letting her voice waver.
A small opening appeared between the mask's lips and she heard Taichi sigh.
"Sora," he said in his own voice, "we trust you to stay quiet about me being Yagami, but... things might be easier on you if you knew less."
"Easier. Easier, compared to what? The fact that Hikari's Chosen?" she countered. "That you are? That so is nearly every damn person on this ship? None of this is going to be easy, Taichi."
He slumped. "I know. Hikari just told me."
The way he said it... "You didn't know before?"
"No. And I was half hoping she'd gone delusional from the stress, but if you're convinced as well..." He sighed again. "We'll be setting down in about an hour at coordinates provided by that old man. He told Hikari that the partners for the rest of us are there." Taichi's voice was steadily rising in agitation. "This is so messed up! Yamato, your involvement, everything."
Sora knocked on the side of his mask, worried and amused. "The rest of it I can understand, but what did you do to piss off Yamato? There've been rumors... Did you really buy him from his father?"
"Uh, yeah. That part's true. Don't know what else they're saying, but I'd rather not talk about it. It's just... complicated." He shifted in his chair and quickly changed the topic. "The offer of a Halcyon helped seal the deal earlier. I'll compensate you for five times the loss of the ship. Once Shun has it, Kidou will be able to replicate the technological components."
Sora waved the offer off. "The Halcyon is last decade's model. By the time Kidou's techs manage to duplicate just the waste disposal system, we'll be releasing the Gullreaper. Engine efficiency's been boosted 16% and it has some other special modifications." Her lips formed a rare smile. "Besides, a single ship is more than a fair exchange for your safety. You don't have to tell me why or how long you've been gone, not until things are more settled. It's just good to have you back, Tai."
"I won't tell anyone about you. And I'm sticking with you while this whole Chosen thing plays out. Something is coming. Piyomon feels it."
"Thank you. And I'm paying you back for the Halcyon." She could hear his grin, his always infectious grin.
"You'll do nothing of the sort." Sora smiled back at him. "It'll piss Mother off more this way."
"Ah. Same as ever, I see. Well, then. If you insist." He paused. "Thanks, Sora."
She let her head rest on his shoulder and squeezed her arms around him in a hug, hoping he could feel it through the suit.
"It's what friends are for."
Slowly, he returned her embrace. "I missed you."
Fighting against her emotions, she closed her eyes and pressed deeper into his sheltering arms.
Not knowing all the details for now was all right, Sora decided.
Taichi was back.
Takeru knew the boy had been chained to the wall for more than three weeks, but he'd never seen the boy eat. Father said that the boy was being taught his place and that his punishment would not only improve his future behavior, but that of the other slaves as well. But the boy looked so young -- even younger than Takeru -- and so he wondered what the boy had done to deserve correction.
It was the deepest hour of night when an all-too-alert Takeru decided to pay the slave a visit. He pushed away sheets tangled by his restless tossing and slipped on a dressing robe to keep the fortress' chill off his thin shoulders.
In slippered feet, he made his way through the darkened halls, clutching a flashlight in his right hand and two ration packs in his left. The rations were from the small stash he'd ordered the head cook to provide him with after the meals served at dinner had left him hungry a few hours later. The stupid man had laughed at him and said that he was a 'growing boy,' but since he'd handed over the rations as asked, Takeru refrained from taking offense. That time, anyway. If the man laughed at him again, the fool would be in trouble. Lords, even young ones, were not to be laughed at by servants or slaves.
The dimly lit halls were empty except for the regular guard patrols. Over the past weeks, whenever the guards saw him they'd stare, so Takeru stood up straighter and glared at them. Then the guards bowed and waved him on his way, but the pattern kept happening over and over again. Once they became used to his presence, they would learn not to stare. Else, he would have to teach them.
When Takeru reached the anteroom where the slave was being held, he was surprised to find a guard stationed there. Why would a chained young boy need a night guard? Not wanting the man to listen to his questions, Takeru drew himself fully upright once more and ordered the man to leave until the next watch arrived.
The man looked reluctant to go, but he finally murmured a "Yes, Lord Takeru," and left quickly.
Takeru set the flashlight and rations on the floor and walked over to where the boy was hanging suspended on the wall. The slave was asleep, so Takeru stretched a hand up and slapped his face.
"You, slave boy, wake up!"
Lids slowly lifted to reveal ancient green eyes, but they rested on Takeru for only an instant and simply closed again.
He back-handed the boy's other cheek.
"I said, wake up! You will obey your Lord, slave!"
The boy's eyes opened, but his cracked lips remained pressed together firmly.
"You will give me the proper respectful greeting, slave."
"Good evening, Lord," the boy managed, with a paper-thin rasp.
Takeru snorted. "Why are you here, slave?"
"It is Lord Ishida's will. I live only by his mercy, Lord."
"Spare me the obseisances. What did you do?"
"I tripped and then Lord Yamato was kind to me and then I was punished, Lord."
"Yamato?" Takeru asked carefully. No one would discuss his brother with him. Father had said his betrayal had hurt too much, so speaking of him was forbidden. It was true that Takeru hated his older brother for hurting Father, but he was curious about him, too. If this boy did not know of Father's order... "What do you know of my brother, slave?"
"Your brother, Lord?" The boy's eyes struggled open wider and he looked over Takeru, his lips forming a small 'o'.
"Yamato was my brother," Takeru answered, patience wearing thin. "Tell me of him."
The slave's attention focused on the rations Takeru had brought. "Do you have water with you, Lord?"
So, the child was smart, a bargainer. The blow to Takeru's dignity in aiding a slave to drink was an acceptable loss in exchange for information, he decided. He held the pouch up for the boy to drink and plugged one end of the straw into the tiny mouth. The slave drained the pouch swiftly, then pulled away with a nauseated expression.
"Too fast," he said with a wince. "You might want to stand to the side, Lord. Just in case."
Angry, Takeru tossed the empty pouch away. He'd been overly kind and now the slave was pretending to be too sick to answer his questions. It was unacceptable.
"You do not have my permission to vomit! Now, tell me about Yamato."
The slave looked uncomfortable, but obeyed. "What do you want to know, Lord?"
Takeru paused. He wasn't sure what he wanted to know. The slave wouldn't know much. Not one as young and worthless as this. "Whatever your pitiful mind can recall. What sort of person was he?"
"Lord Yamato wasn't a good Lord, but he was a good man. He didn't terrorize the slaves for amusement. The elders say he even had real friends among the slaves, until..."
"I'm not allowed to say, Lord. It's High Lord Ishida's orders."
"I am Ishida's son. You will tell me. Until when?"
The boy looked to the side. "Until Lord Ishida had them killed, one by one. He made it look like accidents and Lord Yamato never knew. Lord Yamato changed after that, they said. He still wouldn't hurt us, but he wasn't friendly anymore."
Father kill his brother's friends? His brother, friends with slaves in the first place? "You lie. I should slit your lying throat here and now."
"That is what the elders say, Lord."
"Who? I want names."
"I d-don't k-know, L-Lord."
"A name, slave."
Takeru slapped him. "A name."
The boy sucked in a sob. "C-Cook. Cook knows, I th-think, Lord."
"I see. Do you know why Yamato betrayed my father?"
"B-Betray, Lord? Lord Yamato w-wouldn't do a thing like that."
"He did." Takeru shook his head. The boy was useless. He knew nothing. The lead on the Cook could be checked tomorrow. He turned to leave.
"Lord?" The boy's voice, strong, firm, fearless, called him back. "Your father couldn't control Lord Yamato. He wants an obedient puppet more than he wants a son, so if a betrayal occurred, I think you've got it backwards. I was there when he sealed the deal, selling your brother as a slave to High Lord Yagami."
What did a slave boy know? He was lying, or repeating someone else's lie. Takeru sneered. "The very notion resembles your filthy self. My father loves me."
Olive eyes hung dark with terrifying knowledge. If Takeru strayed too close, would the boy devour him? There were rumors of some slaves having magic. No, he was too old to believe in such nonsense, Takeru reminded himself.
"He may love what you represent to him, but Lord Ishida's good favor comes with a price," the slave spoke, his voice deadly calm. "Perhaps I'm not the only one chained to the walls here, Lord."
Takeru seethed. He would not show anger. It was beneath him to respond churlishly to an insult from a slave. The boy was a speck of dust beneath his boot. Takeru loved his father and Father loved him. The boy would die, and then there would be no more talk of Father keeping Takeru as a puppet.
He strode out of the hall to find a different guard waiting outside the entrance. Takeru halted and gave the guard his most commanding look.
"Beat him until your arm tires. If he lives, clean up the mess on the floor and resume your post."
The man bowed and moved inside.
Once back in his bed, Takeru found that he was exhausted. The mattress yielded comfortingly around his body and he slipped quickly into sleep as soon as the covers were snug about him. But troubled dreams plagued him all night long.
In the morning, when he woke, he only recalled enough to know that the soreness in his throat was from screaming.
They'd taken off without any more mishap than a brief argument over who would fly the ship. Hunter sat at the controls while the little man glowered from the navigator's seat. The loud-mouthed mercenary flapped around in the background, sometimes making himself useful, but mostly not. The amusing scene had taken Yamato's mind off matters for a moment, but since Hikari and now Sora had returned from speaking with Taichi, that small respite was over.
Many thoughts were running through Yamato's head, but two held the most prominence. First, was that he was irrefutably and utterly insane for agreeing to prolong
After speaking with her 'father,' Hikari had returned to the main room and requested that they all try to get some rest.
The interior of Zenpi was richly appointed and designed for comfort with an eye to impress. The main cabin was a large, circular room, its furniture oversized and comfortably stuffed with cushions done in black, iridescent skins. The walls were paneled in sheets of wood with even larger carved hunks of the precious material covering the bulkheads, but as pretty as the walls were, they pressed in on him and Yamato had a pounding urge to be elsewhere -- anywhere else but here.
The old man was slumped in his seat, having escaped into sleep after giving the little man the coordinates to their mysterious destination. Lord Jyou sat on the largest couch with his slave girl cradled protectively in his lap. Yamato had never seen such fierce determination on the man's face before. Perhaps, in protecting her, Lord Kidou's youngest son had finally grown a spine. Yamato snorted at his whimsy. It was probably a one-time thing.
Hikari, though... Standing up against Lord Shin and the rescue of Taichi itself had exhausted the brave girl more than she would admit. After Sora went in to see Taichi, Hikari had returned with a stubborn set to her shoulders and was clearly not entirely pleased about something. Now that Sora was back, he could see the younger girl debating the merits of tromping back in there to press whatever point she'd been trying to make.
Yamato stood and went to her side. "I'm going to head in there to talk to him. We'll probably be a while. Unless you wanted to have another go first?"
She shook her head. "No. He's too focused on you to think properly."
Yamato glanced around. Sora was looking at him as if she were putting pieces of a puzzle together in her mind. The others in the room appeared oblivious to Hikari's remark.
"Get some rest, then. You need it," he ordered gruffly. "You're no good to anyone if you collapse."
She smiled ruefully up at him. "Take your own advice and pass it along. He's in the first room on the left."
"Alas, Lady, there's no rest for the wicked." His parting comment was meant to be light, but the tang of irony was sharp in his mind moments after the words passed his lips.
Hikari met his gaze levelly and held it. "I love him more than anything else in this world. You remember that, Yamato."
He acknowledge the gentle threat with a nod, then made his way deeper into the ship.
Taichi, Yamato discovered, was not in the room on the left. He found him instead in the master suite, the Yagami suit and mask already draped over a dressing table. Of course, Taichi was in the process of pulling up his sweat-stained shirt when Yamato walked in.
"Never mind," Yamato said, turning, but not nearly fast enough to prevent himself from casting an appraising eye at Taichi's well-defined expanse of caramel skin. "It can wait."
"No, stay," Taichi ordered, tugging the shirt back into place. His shoulders slumped and he appeared less sure of himself. "We have words that must be said before anything else can happen."
One more look at Taichi and Yamato knew he wasn't ready for this conversation, but Taichi, perhaps sensing Yamato's desire to flee, said, "I don't want Hikari and the others dragged into our fight." Taichi left the again unsaid, but tipped his chin upwards in challenge, daring Yamato to disagree.
Yamato inclined his own head in acknowledgment, fighting back a snide comment and the cool chill of apprehension. He would stay in control. He gestured gracefully with one arm to the bed.
The bed, a Western affair done in the same black as the main room, was wide enough to sleep five comfortably. Consequently, it was also the only seating in the room. Taichi circled around to the far side and sat down on the edge. Yamato, however, remained standing by the edge closest to the door, leaning against the wall behind him for support. In return, Taichi settled himself more comfortably against the multitude of pillows, then simply looked at Yamato for a long while.
Pride made Yamato want to be the first to speak, but none of the lines he came up with were worthy of being spoken.
Bastard. I should have left you there.
You lied to me. I hate you.
Why didn't you tell me? How can you say you love me, when you obviously don't trust me? Why didn't you tell me the truth? Why did you play games with me?
After all that, I can't hate you. I should, but I don't -- I don't know why. And I hate you even more for that.
He didn't know what to think or how to respond. Nothing he'd come up with was worthy, so Yamato simply returned Taichi's stare.
"Thank you," Taichi said at last. "For the rescue." It was impossible for Yamato to look away from his earnest face. "I really am sorry. About everything."
The man's unquestionable regret irritated Yamato, made it harder for him to remember why what had happened had been so very, very wrong. He wanted, no, needed to stay angry. He forced himself to snap back a response.
"'Sorry' is an easy word to say. I don't want to hear it. What you did was unforgivable. Inexcusable." He said it as much to remind himself as Taichi.
"I know," Taichi said, looking down at his hands. "I would do anything to make it up to you, but I don't think there's anything I could do that would be good enough. Some things... some thing can't be forgiven."
He looked up at Yamato, as if hoping Yamato would disagree. Yamato didn't.
"I should thank you, too," Taichi continued, "for agreeing to stay with us until we land, to hear Gennai speak."
"I promised Hikari I would, so don't be thinking I'm doing you any favors."
Taichi sighed and nodded. "I know. Still. Thank you." The muscles of his jaw tensed and firmed. "I won't let anyone stop you if you want to leave after that."
"How fucking magnanimous of you."
More damn acquiescence from Taichi. Yamato wanted a fight, to smash that face, to strip the Lord bare and return the feelings of fear and uncertainty. The man on the bed was no leader, just a child giving up when the game became too difficult. Where was the spark? Where was the man who had vowed he loved him, who believed in him?
Yamato let a sneer curl his lip. "It's a wonder you've held onto your lands all this while. Quitters don't usually survive for long."
"I held you against your will before. I won't any longer!" The sharp, nearly angry outburst seemed to surprise Taichi and he quickly curled in on himself before Yamato's eyes. The young Lord pulled his knees to his chest and hid his face so that all Yamato could see of his face was the man's sweat-slicked hair. "I don't want anyone else to be hurt by my mistakes." His voice was muffled into his body and grew fainter with each word. "If you see that as weakness, as quitting... so be it."
Pity. No, Yamato couldn't begin to feel pity for him now. Not now.
"Your kindness is your weakness. You don't have the balls to do what needs to be done. 'A war is coming,' the old man said. 'A revolution.' If he's right, will you sit and cower in your bedroom while your people die?"
"No!" Taichi stopped hiding. "I will never refuse my duty. Letting you go free has nothing to do with abandoning my people."
"Nothing?" Yamato asked dangerously. "I know your secret. I could tell all the world that big, bad Lord Yagami is just a little boy playing dress-up."
Taichi shrugged aside the insult and the threat without a pause for consideration. "I trust you."
"The choice isn't up to you." Taichi chose to smile and it made Yamato even more determined to force the point.
"I've already wronged you once. You're a fool to let me go."
"You thought you had no other option," Taichi answered without hesitation, his calm stare unnerving Yamato further. "The fault was entirely mine. I trust you and I wish you happiness."
"Happiness," Yamato echoed.
Taichi's brown eyes were soft, vulnerable. He nodded wordlessly, the motion solemn and sure.
He held his silence as the weight of Taichi's repeated message sank home. The Lord wanted Yamato's happiness. What would have happened had his father sold him to someone else? Or if Yagami had refused the offer? Yamato wanted to deny it, but Taichi had saved his life. Then, Yamato had orchestrated Yagami's capture, and Taichi took the blame, trusted him, wanted him happy. Because... because why?
Yamato made a snort of disbelief, but it was directed at his own insane acceptance of the situation. Taichi's lie, the false enslavement, had broken something in him he wasn't sure could be repaired. It wasn't easy to admit, but he knew it was true. But why had Taichi even bothered? Yamato still couldn't comprehend why Taichi had acted the way he did, but, for now, the anger in him was in retreat. Without that fire keeping him strong... he was left with just an emotion that suspiciously felt like hurt.
He sat down on the edge of the bed, his injured leg twinging in protest. Yamato grit his teeth and ignored the discomfort. It was time. He had to know.
"Tell me why, Taichi. Explain it to me."
A shiver went down Taichi's spine, part excitement, part nerves, part fear. Yamato was finally willing to listen. He knew he didn't deserve a second chance, but he prayed to all the gods who would listen that he be given just one more.
"There are a lot of things I regret," he began, slowly, holding Yamato's eyes with his. "But one thing I will not apologize for is buying you from your father. He wanted you to be tortured, eventually killed. If I hadn't purchased you..." Taichi had to pause to steady himself. It was pathetic, him getting so worked up about a man who despised him (and rightly so), but Taichi had seen much in his few years as Yagami. He knew what Ishida had wanted Yamato to experience, to become. "I won't apologize for that."
Yamato's eyes had no right to be so blue, so penetrating. "I don't want your apologies," he said. "I want to know why. Why, if you really had my best interests at heart, did you let me believe such a horrible lie?" A flare of renewed anger. "No, you didn't just 'let me believe,' you actively encouraged that belief! You had me hurt and humiliated to keep the illusion real."
Taichi wanted to protest, but it was true. He could see Yamato was fighting with himself as well, though probably for different reasons. When the blonde man spoke again, he sounded calmer, but there was still a thread of rawness lacing his words.
"How can you claim to care about me, when you made that happen?"
"I had to." Yamato began to object. "No. Please, Yamato. Listen to me explain it this time. I tried to before, but you wouldn't hear it. If you're going to ask the question, at least listen to my answer. It... it had to be done."
Taichi paused to see if Yamato would still try to object, but the other man held his composure and remained silent.
"As Yagami, I've watched you and your father butt heads for the past few years. All the Lords noticed it. We knew it was only a matter of time before you were brought back in line or tossed out of it altogether. When I got that message sent to Yagami from your father, I knew what he wanted to have done to you. If not by me, then by someone else. To keep you safe, I had to purchase you. And . . . I know this doesn't mean anything to you, but I wanted to tell you the truth. Yet hovering over it all, tying my hands, was the chance that it was a trap. Because, even after your differences with your father, what sort of man sells his only heir off into a life of slavery? If you needed help, I wanted to help you. But I'm responsible for tens of millions of lives. I couldn't risk revealing the situation to you from the start. I had to be sure it wasn't a trick."
"So keeping me unclothed, seducing me, that was all in the name of seeing if I was a scheming, evil bastard?"
Taichi felt his cheeks flush with shame. "I was selfish. That was a mistake."
"Yes it was." Yamato's expression held no mercy, but then he clenched a hand on his thigh and his frozen exterior started to crumble. "You used my... used my feelings... for... You manipulated me."
Taichi wanted to deny it, but couldn't. "Yes."
"At least you're being honest about it now," Yamato said with a sigh. His face seemed paler, tighter too, somehow, and he flopped back on the mound of pillows, his blond hair spilling like golden rivers against the black fabric. Yamato now looked as tired as Taichi felt. "How can you be so stupid?"
Taichi, slowly, ready to reverse if Yamato's face showed any signs of disapproval, lay back as well, then shifted to face him. There was less than a body's worth of space separating them and it felt so nice, despite the circumstances, to be here with Yamato like this.
"Can you be more specific on what I was stupid about? I've been an idiot over a lot of things; it's hard to narrow them down."
That confession won him the hint of a smile. "I still don't get it, get you," Yamato admitted in return, eyes a quarter of the way closed, but still steadily watching Taichi. "Why would you risk so much for me?"
"I've tried telling you before," Taichi answered carefully. They were almost at an understanding, of sorts. He didn't want to ruin it by speaking about things Yamato clearly didn't remember.
"Try it again?"
It would be impossible to do anything less.
"We've met before, you and I, before I started wearing the Yagami suit. My father brought me on a visit to your father's fortress. While they talked, so did we. You were really upset about a slave dying or being killed... I forget which. I just remember you being upset and me comforting you. I've cared about you ever since then."
Yamato closed his eyes. "I don't remember."
Carefully, ever so softly, Taichi caressed Yamato's hand. "Try?" The pale man sighed and pulled his hand away, but he opened his eyes and focused on the wood panels forming the ceiling.
"I really don't remember much of my youth. I have a few memories here and there, but the rest is just a blur. I think..." He shifted restlessly and a pained expression crossed his face. He suddenly looked so much younger, more like the boy Taichi had once taught to hug. "I don't think I want to remember. If I forgot it, it has to be bad, right?"
"Maybe so." Taichi took a moment to check with himself, so he wouldn't promise falsely. As much as he'd cherished his memory of Yamato as a boy, Taichi wanted to love him as a young man. The past could stay in the past, dimmed by the present and outshone by the future. "I won't mention it again. No matter what did or didn't happen back then, Yamato, I want to get to know you better now."
Yamato's jaw tightened. "No. I can't."
"You lied to me, stole my trust. I can't forgive you for that." Yamato looked nearly as unhappy as Taichi felt.
"Can't forgive me... ever?"
Yamato turned his head away from him and faced the door. Taichi wondered why the blond didn't just get up and walk away. "I'll stay long enough to hear the old man out. If he can't convince me to stick around, I'm gone."
I understand, Taichi wanted to say. He did. He'd known this might be a consequence. He'd accepted it. But he couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Thank you." Those words, too, stuck in his throat, but he forced them out. "For giving me at least that much. I can't ask for anything more."
"No, you can't," Yamato said gruffly. "And as I said before, I'm not doing it for you." He started to get up off the bed, but aborted the attempt with a badly concealed grimace. He clutched at his leg. "Fuck."
Taichi sat upright in alarm. "Are you hurt? Have you been hurt all this time?"
"It's just a scratch," Yamato said, focusing intently on a door he made no motion to move towards.
"If you were fine, you'd have left by now."
"I was fine," Yamato retorted irritably, "but apparently the pain killers have worn off."
"Should I --"
Taichi swallowed. "How did it happen?" He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer and pile more guilt upon his misery, but Yamato had come to rescue him... and had been hurt. Part of being a leader, his father had taught him, was listening to the results of one's actions.
Yamato looked over his shoulder and gave him a searching look, but then he rolled back. "You wouldn't understand how it happened. Drop it."
Taichi sighed. Pick your battles, son. More advice. A bit too late. "All right. I'll drop it for now." He didn't so much need to know the specifics as he wanted to know the reason behind Yamato's strange phrasing. There wasn't much hard to understand about 'Someone attacked me.'
He tried a different tack. "What type of wound is it? How bad?"
"Not too bad. Stab wound to the upper thigh. Blade was about three centimeters wide and it penetrated only about four. It missed the artery and I slapped a pressure bandage on it inside the fortress."
"Only four? That should be deep enough to reach bone. And you've been walking around on it this whole time?"
"Whoever packed that bag put in a lovely assortment of drugs. It had some heavy-duty stuff in it, but it also had some Isopril. Good shit -- moderate-relief, high-lucidity -- but it doesn't last long."
"The Isopril had to have been from Sora. It's illegal in my territory. I can't chance stirring up rumors and suspicion by allowing the sale of what's chiefly a battlefield drug." He rested a hand on Yamato's shoulder, urging him to lie flat. "We should take care of your leg now. The next dose of medication you get is either going to be too weak or it'll make you groggy."
"I want to stay alert," the blond gritted out.
"All right," Taichi agreed, though Yamato's eyes were hazy with pain. "I can't blame you. I'll just go get Jyou and be right back."
"Jyou?" Yamato tried to sit upright, but fell back.
"He's dabbled in medicine since forever. Didn't you know?"
"Didn't know. Still don't care. He's not touching me."
"It won't be that hard to get you taken care of and he works a lot on the Kidou slaves. You know how badly they can end up. From what I hear in my intelligence reports, he's performed a few miracles."
"They probably only let him work on the ones that were about to die. He just got lucky. Even spineless weaklings can have a good day."
Taichi exercised his patience and kept himself from calling Yamato on his prejudice. They'd just end up fighting and neither one of them needed any more injuries.
"Well," he began, knowing full well Yamato would like his next suggestion even less, "there's Koushiro."
"Your short, red-headed partner in torture? Never."
"Koushiro's my best friend. He helps patch up the incoming slaves and he's worked on me after a sparring match when the doc's been busy."
"I don't care. I don't need anyone's shitty help. Just bring what I'll need to treat myself here. I'll take care of it." But the strength of Yamato's resolve had weakened with each sentence to the point where the blond was looking somewhat unnerved by his own order.
"Adrenaline wear off along with the Isopril?" Taichi teased, more to force Yamato into accepting some sort of help than to be cruel.
"I treated myself just fine when it happened, so shut up."
Taichi sighed. "Sora would do it, if we asked politely enough."
Yamato's response had held even more finality than his refusal of Koushiro's help. Taichi would have wondered, but it wasn't the right time. "Jyou?" he tried again.
It earned him a glare. "No."
"Koushiro?" Taichi baited.
It won him a look of disbelief that held suspicious resemblance to a furious smile. "No, idiot."
Yamato tried flexing his leg, but it clearly seemed to be doing worse. He lay back, breathing harsher and forcibly even. If there had been a point in time where Yamato could've treated his wound himself, it had long since passed. He needed assistance and there really was only one person left.
"Yamato?" The man's head tilting a fraction was all Taichi had to signal that Yamato was listening. "I could do it... if you'll let me."
Yamato rolled his head a bit more to stare at him. His blue eyes closed slowly and stayed like that. "Fine," he answered in clipped tones. "This is your fault. You might as well fix it."
"I know, Yamato. I will. I promise." Taichi forced himself to swallow. "I'll be right back."
Hikari was only half-awake when she saw her brother about to enter the main room... without the Yagami suit. With a surge of panic fueling her, she leapt up and barreled into him at full-speed, forcing him far down the hall and back into the office. Angrily, she slapped at the control for the door.
"You IDIOT!" she hissed, rounding on him, almost too furious for words. She searched his face for any trace of intelligent thought remaining. Taichi looked completely drained and was accepting her pronouncement of idiocy with his brown eyes clearly expressing, 'Yeah, I know I'm a screw-up. What've I done wrong now?'
He started to speak, but she covered his mouth before he could get out more than her name. She crowded up against him, forcing him against the wall, then backed away and whacked him solidly on the chest.
"Is this how it always was?" she demanded, voice necessarily quiet, but still seething. "Maybe Koushiro was right. How can you be so careless?"
He tried to smile for her, but it didn't turn out so well. "You know me, more hair than brains."
The joke usually made her laugh, but she just felt disappointed. She looked at him sadly. "You still don't know what you've just done wrong?"
He shook his head. "Hikari, you're scaring me." He rubbed at his chest. "Plus, ow."
Well, that makes two of us! What possessed you, Taichi?
She took his face between her hands, thinking maybe he'd feel the warmth of her palms and realize his mistake.
"I love you, you big idiot. And I want you to be happy. But try a bit harder not to get us all killed?"
At his worried, but still-blank look, she flicked him on the nose and asked in a syrupy, childish voice, "Daddy, where's your mask?"
His eyes grew impossibly wide as the color drained out of his face. "It's back in the room... with Yamato," he answered, as if he couldn't believe it himself.
"What were you thinking?" She was less worried and more annoyed now that he finally recognized his grave error.
"I don't... maybe I'm so used to visiting him without it... and I need a med kit. That's what I was coming out for. Everything else just didn't seem to matter."
"You promised me you were fine!" she cried out in quiet alarm.
"I am. Hush now," he soothed, his arms coming up around her and pulling her close. Hikari pressed her face to his chest and clung so tightly it had to be hurting him -- she was savagely pleased about that -- but he didn't push her away. He just stroked her hair and whispered, "Honestly, I'm not injured. The kit's for Yamato. Somehow he got stabbed, and while he's not bleeding to death, he's in enough pain to prevent him from walking out here and getting the kit himself."
"So you just brilliantly decided to get it yourself," she groused. "You're lucky I caught you in time and that no one chased after me. I'll go get it, so stay here." She pulled back, grateful for a task to help focus her mind and restore her composure.
He tried to take the kit from her when she returned, but she held it tight. He owed her and she was still worried.
"How are things going with Yamato otherwise?" she asked, and saw what little fight still in him leave.
"He's agreed to listen to what, um... that old man... has to say."
"Gennai," she supplied.
"Right, Gennai. He might leave after that. I won't let anyone stop him."
Seeing as how she'd planned on letting Yamato have that very same choice, she couldn't fairly call her brother to task for risking their exposure. But Taichi had only answered half her question.
"That's, well, that's something. I meant personally, though. Do you love him?"
He looked about to play the silent, over-protective big brother card, but, in the end, he nodded.
Taichi bowed his head. "It's too soon to tell. I betrayed him. He doesn't trust me. And I can only blame myself for what's happened."
"He cares about you," she said, thinking of how Yamato had acted when she'd found him... and how he'd acted later, when they had negotiated his assistance. "He was good to me when you weren't here. He'll come around." She mussed his hair and gave him a wink. "Women's intuition."
He snorted, but there was a look of tender love on his face, love for her. "Aren't you too young to have that? I changed your diapers, you know," he said, pulling out a favored argument with a time-honored, predictable retort. She didn't let him down.
"Well, if you're going to believe the stories, then you should also remember how you kept putting the diapers on backwards and mom was blaming dad for months."
It didn't hurt to talk about their parents like this. Much. But they both needed it, this reminder of an infinitely simpler time. She held out the kit once more, only to stop him, their fingers entwined on the grip.
"It's going to be all right, Taichi."
He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I really want to believe you."
"So believe." She let the kit go. "Now, go on. Get him cleaned up. Gennai's going to talk to us all as a group once we land, but I'll make sure you're not disturbed until you come out."
And while Taichi settled things with Yamato, Hikari would check to see who, if anybody, had noticed his unmasked appearance. She hoped her brother's luck held out a bit longer.
When Taichi returned to the master suite, he was relieved to see Yamato hadn't barricaded himself in the bathroom or any other such nonsense. Instead, the blond hadn't moved much, if at all. He lay back against the pillows, eyes still closed.
Taichi set the kit down on the bed. He knew Yamato wasn't asleep, but the man had yet to acknowledge Taichi's presence.
"I'm back," he said softly.
Blue eyes hesitantly opened before Yamato managed to school them into giving a wary stare. "Obviously." He focused on something off to the side of the room. "You're going to need to help me with these pants. The bandage bled through and everything's stuck together."
Yamato was lying very, very still and he seemed calm, but Taichi could tell the display was far from the truth. It hurt that he didn't dare offer much comfort, knowing it would be easy for Yamato to misinterpret his intentions.
"Do you want me to cut them off?" Taichi's offer was met by an icy glare.
"Do you have some strange fetish for destroying my clothes?"
"I was just thinking it would hurt less," Taichi responded mildly. "The other option is to try to peel things apart, but if the wound's stopped bleeding, it might be better not to agitate it further."
Taichi opened the kit to see what he had at his disposal, giving Yamato time to make up his mind on how to proceed. Taichi was glad to see the kit had been designed with the novice user in mind and he quickly sorted out shears, an oral analgesic, a nanotech SaniPad, and a bottle of liquid stitches.
"Here," Taichi said, dropping three yellow pills into Yamato's open palm. "It's Praxadol. Might as well take them now before I start. The other stuff's bound to wear off soon if it hasn't already."
Yamato examined the manufacturer's mark on the drugs, then downed them dry. Berating himself for his thoughtlessness, Taichi went into the suite's adjoining bathroom and returned with some water. He set the empty glass on a nearby dresser when Yamato was finished with it.
"You decide what you want to do yet?"
"Do the twins have anything in here I can borrow?"
Taichi took that as his cue to rummage through the suite's drawers. The third one he checked yielded a pair of pants made out of black denim. "You might need a belt, but these should do."
"Fine. Cut these off me, then."
Taichi helped Yamato out of his boots, then began to cut up the side of Yamato's left pant leg. As he got higher up, he went more carefully, not wanting to cut apart Yamato's undergarment... or have Yamato accuse him of damaging it on purpose. But the second layer of cloth didn't appear at Yamato's thigh, nor when Taichi went higher and reached the blond's hip. Meanwhile, Yamato's breathing got quicker, despite obvious attempts to appear calm.
Taichi finished cutting through the waistband and looked in slight panic at the uninterrupted line of flesh from waist to ankle.
"You're, um, not wearing anything else under there, are you," he said for the record, already knowing the answer. He was managing to keep his libido in check, but it was a near thing.
"Thanks to your friend, no," the man muttered. Then Yamato stared up at him, wide eyes nervous but strong behind the haze of pain. "You touch me," he said softly, "and you'll live just long enough to regret it."
Taichi believed him. "I'll behave myself. I'd never want to force you. You have my word."
"Like you could," Yamato snorted. "Besides, your word's not worth much in my book."
Taichi caught up his hand, and waited until Yamato acquiesced to the touch. He could tell the blond wanted to pull away, but Taichi sensed something more than imperiled modesty was making Yamato remain still. "Maybe someday, my word will be worth more to you. I hope so. But for right now, let me take care of this. I know you could probably do this yourself, but it'll be easier if you accept my help. Maybe..." He needed a way to help Yamato see he wasn't powerless. "Try to think of this as me starting to work off the debt I owe you. You deserve all the help I can offer."
Yamato's jaw was moving a bit, like possibly the blond was biting at the inside of his cheek. But the longer Taichi waited, the less likely it seemed that Yamato would ask for (or even demand) his help. Taichi kissed Yamato's wrist, just beside the pulse point, before releasing him.
"Just smack me if you want me to stop," he offered before setting to work.
The majority of the left pant-leg was indeed stuck with dried blood to Yamato's leg, but a damp hand towel, a spare straight-edge razor found in a bathroom drawer, Taichi's thankfully perfect hand-eye co-ordination, and lots of patient swabbing helped in getting the fabric peeled loose.
Yamato had remained silent throughout, even during accidental tugs on his hair, which Taichi knew had to hurt. But by the time the whole flap was free, there wasn't much point in keeping up pretenses. Taichi slowly, ready to stop at the slightest protest, pulled the tattered garment off entirely. It was impossible not to admire the unobstructed view and he quickly tossed a clean hand towel over Yamato's body to restore a small degree of modesty and preserve his own sanity.
The wound looked worse than it was, he determined after some focused inspection. Blood had run and dried in a wide trail down the front of Yamato's pale leg, but the puncture itself was much smaller. Taichi wasn't sure where to begin. He knew dried blood didn't come easily out of hair, even hair as sparse as Yamato's. Cleaning only near the wound and leaving the rest to itch and flake off didn't seem right, but doing the whole leg would necessitate more touching than probably either of them wanted.
"Is there time for me to take a shower?" Yamato asked, looking down for the first time at the mess dried to his body.
"That might be easiest," Taichi agreed in relief, but then realized, "The wound should really be taken care of first, though. You don't want it re-opening under the water spray."
Yamato looked close to protesting. After a moment, he instead gave a slight nod.
"I should clean a bit more around the wound before the SaniPad goes on. Let me know if I'm --" he began, stopping when he saw the futility of the suggestion. The moment reminded him too much of when he'd done this for Yamato before. And even with the change in situation, it was useless to ask Yamato to alert him if he inadvertently was causing the man pain. The blond would either yell or not make a sound, and nothing Taichi offered was likely to make a difference. "Right. I'll try to be gentle."
Taichi attempted to keep his touch light, but the area directly around the stab wound was bound to be hyper-sensitive. Yamato's muscles clenched as Taichi's swabbing crossed over a sore spot. This was followed by a hissing wince and a glare.
"If I hurt you, smack me or yell at me or something, but don't tense up. That'll just put more tension on the wound."
"I'm starting to think you like getting hit by me," Yamato muttered, rolling his eyes.
Taichi pulled his hands away for a moment, not trusting himself to remain clinical. "I'd much rather deal with a minor inconvenience than have you suffer in silence," he said honestly.
"If I decide to hit you, it's going to be more than a 'minor inconvenience.'"
Taichi chuckled. "Promises, promises."
He resumed work on Yamato's leg, applying a SaniPad to draw out any infection, and was so focused on applying the liquid stitches that he barely registered Yamato's quiet words.
"Do you still think you love me?"
Yamato tilted his head away. "Nothing. You've done enough with the wound. Thanks." Yamato forced himself into a sitting position with a grimace. "I'll take care of the rest. There's still enough time for me to shower, right?"
Yamato wasn't ready. With an inward sigh, Taichi let his new-formed hope shatter back into pieces. He forced a smile.
"Yeah, go ahead. There's supposed to be some meeting after we land, but they can just wait until we're done here. Are you okay to stand?" Taichi asked, reaching out a hand.
Yamato shied away. "I'll manage."
On tenterhooks, Taichi watched Yamato swing his legs over the edge of the bed and stand up. The man's steps were slow and shaky, but Taichi didn't dare approach him again without direct invitation.
Unaided, Yamato made it to the bathroom door and shut it behind him. Not long after, Taichi heard the sound of running water. It figured that the twins' ship would have something as extravagant as a hydro shower, and since the ship had more than one master, Taichi hoped the water reservoir held enough for at least two uses. Even a sonic shower would help, though.
While Yamato was occupied, Taichi disposed of the ruined pants and did some hunting of his own, turning up clothes that would fit him well enough.
Yamato didn't take long. The door opened and Taichi couldn't keep himself from staring. The ex-Lord was mostly dry. One rich brown towel was draped around the back of his neck, while another hung firmly about his hips. He didn't appear to have any more trouble walking, probably owed to the pills kicking in, but upon seeing Taichi, Yamato paused in the doorway.
Before his blatant appraisal and inappropriate approval could make Yamato uncomfortable again, Taichi turned and picked up the clothes he'd chosen to wear.
"I'll let you change in privacy and be out in a bit." He nodded to the dresser drawers. "Pants are on the left, shirts are on the right."
The mostly naked man cleared the doorway with graceful haste and Taichi escaped into the private sanctuary of the bathroom.
According to the indicator light, there was plenty of water left and Taichi took eager advantage of the shower's automated program functions. The next fifteen minutes were filled with self-indulgent bliss. After having being trapped in the Yagami suit for so long Taichi took full opportunity to de-stress and work off the sexual tension that had been clouding his mind.
He used the shower's sonic setting to dry off, then put on the clothes he'd picked out earlier. They fit well enough, though the pants were a little on the long side. The Kidou brothers all had lanky frames. He finished rolling up the cuffs and then took a stern look at himself in the fogged mirror.
"You behave yourself out there, all right?" he ordered. Yamato's quiet, 'Do you still think you love me?' was running through Taichi's head on endless loop. "He's confused and vulnerable. You're not going to take advantage of him, understood?" But if Yamato still cared enough to ask, maybe, just maybe, it would be all right to give him an answer.
Not sure of what he would find when he left the bathroom, Taichi purposefully bungled opening the sliding door. The resulting clatter gave ample chance for Yamato to notice his imminent entrance and object if necessary. When no protest came, Taichi opened the door fully and stepped into the bedroom.
Yamato was dressed and the medkit had been repacked. The man stood at Taichi's approach and turned towards the door, avoiding Taichi's gaze.
"We've landed and they're waiting for us," he said stiffly, already moving away as Taichi came up to him.
Taichi reached out and caught hold of Yamato's arm, checking the man's movement.
"That question you asked me," he began. Yamato froze in place, ceasing his struggle to get away. More hopeful, Taichi continued. "What I was feeling before, when I was planning on telling you the truth about Yagami? I -- still feel that way now. My feelings for you haven't changed."
Yamato looked down and removed Taichi's hand. He swallowed. "All right."