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The next morning when Tohma came in, he said he had some last-minute things to do back at DATS and that he would return in the late afternoon to start their rehab. Which worked out just fine for Masaru, since Yoshino, Ikuto and their Digimon made a surprise visit for lunch to give him company in the meantime. They had brought along Agumon with them as well. They had just heard about Tohma finishing the Digital Code and they were hoping to have a small celebration with him and Masaru in his hospital room.

" What the heck is that Tohma doing after all that frenzy work he's done for the past month? Just when I put all this effort into making food for everyone... This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, you know? Yeah, I got a pay raise so I'm more willing to do these, but what gives him for skipping out?" Yoshino said with some bitterness as she went around serving everyone's portions. Ikuto, Falcomon and Agumon sat around on some stools while Lalamon settled on one of the taller tables to stay on eye level with everyone.

" How's living here, by the way?" Yoshino asked.

Masaru brought out his wheelchair tray for Yoshino to put his food on it. " ...Barely managing. This place makes me MISS going to school. Or I'd even want to run around in Asgard even though you said it's nothing but gloomy stuff. It'd still be better than being stuck like this all the time."

" That sounds pretty darn gloomy," Yoshino sympathized.

The others started chowing down on their lunches, which consisted of Yoshino's specialty onigiri, fruit cups, and her own blend of tamagoyaki. They weren't like Sayuri's, but they had their own homemade taste with just the right touch of tomatoes and green peppers inside. Everyone exploded in happiness at the taste, which Yoshino sucked in with justified pride.

" Well, I guess it's not THAT bad here. There's a park nearby where I can stretch out my legs when I want to. It almost feels like I'm living in some hotel with room service since they let me in and out whenever I want. But then... someone always has to be around supervising me when I go out."

" Masaru, no freedom..." Ikuto said sadly, the end of his chopsticks still in his mouth as he held them.

Agumon gave him an equally sad look, and Masaru couldn't help but grin at them. Of course, he wasn't up to telling them about the times he snuck out without supervision.

" I'll be okay," he said, patting the both of their heads at the same time.

" I would think so, with Tohma taking care of you and everything," Yoshino commented.

The others continued with some conversation. Agumon caught up the others with some house tales about Chika having too much time to bug him. Not only that, but she was dragging Ikuto around now that he was in the neighborhood as well. Unbeknownst to the others, Masaru had this daydreaming look on his face and he seemed to be paying only half attention.

Masaru watched Yoshino as the woman in the pink camisole plopped a piece of tamagoyaki into her mouth. " Hey Yoshino..."

" Hmm?"

He made a simple tilt of the head in her direction. " ...Is Tohma in love with me?"

The short-haired girl nearly spit out her food as she threw her upper half forward in her seat in surprise.

" Hoooooly..." she thumped her chest a few times, then sat back to regain her composure. " Masaru, there's a little thing called TIMING when you ask that kind of a question..."

" Err, sorry, I wasn't thinking about that. I just figured you'd have some better insight on this..."

Yoshino put her chopsticks down and looked at the brunet, but didn't say anything, as if taking her time to figure out the situation. Ikuto and the other Digimon looked at her and Masaru, not seeming to follow what just happened as they continued to eat.

And then Yoshino started clapping. Literally, she was clapping her hands like one would do at the end of a good performance.

" Congratulations, I guess you've finally figured it out," she said as she picked her chopsticks back up and continued eating calmly.

" Haa?"

" I almost thought you'd NEVER figure it out, especially with what's happened to you recently."

" Are you saying that... that... wait, he really IS then?" Masaru sputtered. " B-But I'm..."

" A man, yuh-huh," Yoshino said to complete his thought. " Do you really think that makes a difference here? Well, I guess it does, but that's not what's keeping Tohma from doing anything at this point."

" What do you mean 'at this point?'"

" Do you know how long this has been going on?" Yoshino asked, raising her eyebrows in suspicion.

" ...I guess I noticed something was going on since we found ElDoradimon."

The older woman blinked in surprise. " That long ago, and NOW you finally ask?"

" Well, there were situations. I just finished figuring out what it was recently."

" You boys..." Yoshino said with a sigh.

" Yoshino knew long before we met ElDoradimon!" Lalamon chimed in. " We even had a bet back then on how long it'd take for you to notice."

" ........" A hollow, dour hum came from Masaru.

" A bet? So who won?" Agumon said, joining in the conversation even though he obviously didn't know what was going on.

" I don't remember anymore... So much has happened since then," Yoshino said, pondering.

" Oh well," Lalamon said casually, shrugging as much as the others could tell with her little green shoulders. " I think we both lost anyway."

" Okay, fine, I get it!!" Masaru said testily. " So I'm slow. But I figured it out eventually at least, didn't I? And how come YOU guys are so sure about this in the first place?!"

" Because we've been around you two long enough to see it," came Yoshino's honest answer. " We haven't as of late, but even back then, it was pretty apparent to us, especially when we were in the Digital World. Buuuut of course I knew you guys wouldn't get each other's feelings so easily, so we were just amusing ourselves in the meantime. Sorry we didn't say anything. We meant no harm!"

Masaru puffed out an air of frustration. He couldn't blame them for anything, but it still ticked him off a little that he couldn't pinpoint what was going on for so long when they had it all figured it out for ages.

" So what are you going to do about it? You're free to consult now that it's out in the open among us."

" Wait, WHAT's out in the open? What've you guys been talking about?" Agumon finally asked.

" I don't think you'd understand anyway, Agumon," Lalamon replied. " This is just one of those things you learn about growing up with humans or spending too many years with them."

" Huh? What's that supposed to mean?!"

" I'm just saying..."

While the two Digimon bickered in the background, Ikuto and Falcomon turned their heads, slightly confused, then continued eating without any more care for the conversation.

Masaru looked down at his food, and suddenly even the purple grapes seemed to be mocking his dullheadedness. " I don't know what I'm going to do about it just yet."

" I think you already know, but Tohma intends to keep the relationship between you two as it is, probably until the end of time, unless you do something about it. What do you think of that?"

" Yeah, I do know that. I don't even know what to think of it though..." Masaru admitted.

The thought of last night's little "incident" came to his mind.

" At times, it grates on my nerves, but other times, I'm okay with it..."

" Only 'okay with it?' That sounds like it's more trouble than it's worth for someone like you. You're really 'okay' with seeing him go on his entire life without ever getting a response?" Yoshino said as she started popping grapes into her mouth.

Masaru looked at her briefly. Wait a second, his "okay with it" wasn't the "okay with it" Yoshino thought he was referring to. His "okay with it," was referring to Tohma... getting close to him...

But Yoshino had a point too...

" Grahhhhh...!" Masaru suddenly attacked the grapes on his tray and gobbled them up in one go. " This is too much for me to handle all at one time! Whyyyy is this all happening now?"

Yoshino cocked her head back, a little perturbed by the abrupt mood change. " Whoa, where did that come from..."

" I don't think I'll do anything about it until I recover completely. I need to do that first. And we need to beat up the other Demon Lords. I wouldn't have to be stuck here if it weren't for them!"

Yoshino continued with her disturbed expression.

" But I'll think about it." Just as quickly, Masaru brought his voice back to a lower audacity level.

The short-haired woman gave him a somber look, noticing the serious tone in his words. She smiled.

" All you boys are such blockheads."

----

When Tohma came back later that afternoon, the others had left already. Yoshino had left his and Gaomon's portions there, but he declined eating it when he arrived.

" We've already eaten lunch, so we'll eat it later. Besides that, we're going to go swimming."

" ...Eh?"

Tohma didn't even continue explaining; he started carting Masaru out of the DATS hospital wing, still wearing his doctor's lab coat.

He brought Masaru to the swimming pool on the other end of the building. No one else happened to be using it.

" I just had this pool built recently. We'll be the first to use it."

Masaru gazed up from his wheelchair seat. " Tohma, I thought you were going to do the rehab stuff with me. What's with this?"

" It's hydrotherapy. The other doctors here don't use it, but I will be." He pulled out a bag he'd been carrying in one hand. " Here are your swimming trunks. I asked your mother for them. The men's changing room is over there. Need any help?"

" No, I'll be fine by myself..."

Still a little confused, Masaru took the bag, went into the men's changing room and changed into his swimming trunks. He'd gotten the freedom to change out of the hospital scrubs as soon as he started walking, and at least now it didn't hurt so much just to change his clothes by himself. When he came out, Tohma was already in his swimming trunks as well. The blond proceeded to lead Masaru over to the shallow end, where he could wade in. Instead of a ladder leading straight into the water, there was a ramp that gradually led all the way into the deep end.

" Head on in," Tohma offered. Masaru just kind of stared at him. " Or do you prefer we race down there?"

" I've still got the handicap here," said Masaru. " Whatever. Here I go then."

He waded in, and slowly, he started to realize why Tohma had brought him there. He had much of an easier time moving around the swimming pool floor with the water surrounding him, and he found that he could lift and bend his legs around without nearly as much pain. The buoyancy of the water was supporting him and reducing the stress on his joints.

Tohma swam up next to him, and all of a sudden he realized he had waded in all the way up to his chin.

" How's it feel?"

" It's... pretty nice. The water's a lot warmer than I thought it'd be."

Tohma smiled. " Here's a kickboard so you can focus on your legs. Try a few laps around the perimeter for starters. I'll be in the other pool doing laps. There's no deep-end in this pool, so hopefully you won't need a lifeguard around all the time, right?"

" Hmph."

There was another pool next to the main one, just the size of a strip for one person to go swimming back and forth to each narrow side.

Masaru took the kickboard and watched as Tohma got out and jumped into the other pool. He looked at the kickboard, and finally shrugging to himself, started doing the perimeter laps as instructed.

Although he said he'd 'think about it' to Yoshino, what exactly was he supposed to think about? Tohma was acting like he usually did, objective to the point and leaving no room to open pep talks. How was he supposed to figure out anything?

He watched Tohma do his laps in the other pool. The blond's strokes were wide and strong, carrying him swiftly through the water like... the freaking superman he was. Che. Masaru wanted to do that too.

And thus he kicked around as much as he could and went through several laps around the pool. By then, Tohma had come back to his side of the pool and had waded into the shallow end.

" Tired yet?"

" No way."

" Seems like you're in pretty good shape, Masaru. Wanna keep going?"

" Hell yeah."

He went through another set of laps around the pool while Tohma did his thing in the other pool again. And when Tohma came back, he challenged him to yet another round. He just couldn't help it. Even though they weren't doing the same thing (and that provoked him enough already), he wasn't ready to just give up quietly. But after a few more rounds, he found his legs at their limit. He hadn't been able to do such strenuous exercise in a long time, so he wasn't quite ready to do it for such long lengths.

" It's been over an hour. You should call it a day for now," Tohma said as he waited in the shallow end for the last time, water trickling over his feet on the ramp.

Masaru was kick-paddling his way towards him, panting. " But you... look like you could... still go on another hour."

" You could too eventually. Just not yet."

" Shut up..." He reached the shallow end, and tossing the kickboard to the side of the pool, he waded up to Tohma.

And to his surprise, just as he stepped out of the water, his right foot gave in.

Eh? He was sure he could stand up just fine still, but all of a sudden, his legs felt so heavy without the water to support him...

" Masaru!"

Tohma stepped up and caught him before he fell down.

Masaru grumbled to himself, then he realized he'd gotten Tohma all wet again after the blond had just toweled himself off.

" Ah, sorry..." he said as he pushed himself up from Tohma's arms. He paused before letting go.

In front of him was the view of water dripping down Tohma's well-shaped abdomen. He gulped.

" Here, I'll bring you back to the changing room."

Shit, why was he blushing. Why was Tohma not even looking at him.

But Tohma did look at him after a while... with a nonchalant look as ever. A wall. He draped Masaru's arm over his shoulder and headed towards the changing room. The blond's other hand clapsed his waist in support.

Some wall. Although he had gone off and said that Tohma could go for another hour, he was starting to have second thoughts about that now. No matter how much of a wall that blond was putting up, he wouldn't be able to stop Masaru from noticing the tiredness in his eyes. He had noticed it yesterday, and just now, spending time in the water had only emphasized those fatigue lines even further.

But walls were supposed to cover the inside anyway. Even this close, with the heat from their skin in full contact, he was still confused about what Tohma was thinking inside. Why... Why him?

----

Masaru had to admit, even though he didn't get to swim as long as he wanted to, he suddenly had a ton of adrenaline running through him that he hadn't felt in a long time, and he found himself wide awake as he went back to his room in the hospital.

He had changed to a clean set of t-shirt and sweatpants, and Tohma had his lab coat on over his olive-black shirt again. Masaru went over to his bed, which had looked quite inviting for a short breather. He'd stopped using the reclining bed and was now quite happy to have a comfy one like his one back home.

" Any plans for the rest of the day?" the brunet asked. To his curiosity, the question caused Tohma to stop writing on his clipboard.

" No..." Tohma said slowly at first. " Not particularly. Some tests are being run back in the lab, but I won't be able to check on them until tomorrow. I was going to help with investigating Asgard, but BanchouLeomon and Captain Satsuma both wanted me to stay out of it."

There was some silence in the room. Masaru could easily see through that one too. When was the last time that weirdo had an opening in his schedule? And Tohma seemed pretty shocked at the realization of it.

" Wanna hang out here then?"

Tohma passed the shocked look to him briefly before clearing his expression. " Is that okay?"

" Sure, why not? I could use the company."

" All right then."

He honestly didn't mind. And there were things he wanted to confirm...

For a while, the young doctor went and wrote more notes on his clipboard, sitting on a chair next to the bed. Then he took out his Digiwindow and appeared to be arranging some other things while Masaru remained sprawled out on his bed, doing some light leg exercises and stretches while watching TV. There was nothing interesting on, so he turned it off after a while though.

" What are you working on?" Masaru asked as he peeked at the Digiwindow screen.

" Just organizing some data used in making the Digital Code and sending it to some backups. I'll be using it for my other research in the future."

" Hmm~ Speaking of which, what'd you do after Minervamon broke our communicators? Wasn't yours all nice and customized?"

" Well, it didn't take me as long to re-customize the replacement. At least she didn't break the entire Digital Dive equipment like you had before."

Masaru's lips twitched as he blinked with embarrassment. He grunted heavily, then turned his face away to look out the open window.

The sun was still high in the sky, bringing enough daylight to keep the lighting in the room natural. It was a nice and somewhat hot summer day, and the wind was coming in just enough to give Masaru a welcoming breeze.

Tohma cleared his throat. " On the other hand, at least that's the worst you've done."

When Masaru turned his head back around, Tohma had the clipboard in his hand again.

......Even Masaru was able to catch that one. ' It isn't even your fault, tonma...'

He put his hands behind his head on the pillow. Time for a subject change. " Hey, Tohma. So how exactly does this Digital Code thing work?"

" ...? You wouldn't understand even if I tried to explain."

" Aren't you a genius? Think of some way to explain it. Or is that too difficult for you~?"

" ...You're testing me."

" If that's how you want to think of it, sure. Show me what you got."

Masaru scooted over and tilted his head to peer at the Digiwindow screen over Tohma's shoulder.

Tohma moved back to avoid getting too close. Just as he suspected. Under ordinary circumstances, neither one would have probably noticed, but now...

" Are you aware of how genetic DNA and RNA function?"

" Uh..."

" How about nucleotides? AGCT? Codons?"

" ...Codons? Is that similar to condoms?"

" ......."

Masaru stared as Tohma stared back with a quick red blush on his pale face. Masaru blinked. Had he said something odd? He wasn't too familiar with his foreign words... It just so happened that he'd heard people in random conversations talk about "condoms" but he'd never heard of this "codon" thing. "Condoms" were just those things people used for... sex...

Shaking the blush off, Tohma sighed. " N-No, they're not related. ...I figured as much. Let me show you some diagrams."

He closed some windows on the screen of the Digiwindow and opened a new one with some interactive diagram followed by a long chart full of AGCT strings written in a seemingly endless pattern. Masaru blinked hard at the image, noticing that a lot of it was color-coded, but still not grasping a single clue about what the diagram was for.

Not that he was paying close attention to that anyway. As Tohma started explaining the diagram, Masaru brought up a finger and pressed the diagram on the screen. To his surprise, the object he had pointed to on the diagram started moving with his finger.

" Whoa, it's moving!"

" Because it's a touch screen. You never noticed me using it? Since there's no mouse or space on the pad for a touch pad, this is one of the faster ways to navigate through the functions on this device."

Masaru had started touching other things on the screen randomly.

" Hey! Don't mess around with it so much!"

But Masaru was practically giggling to himself like an immature kid at the entertainment of the screen lighting up and moving around with his pointing.

" Hey!" Tohma said again, bringing up a hand to stop Masaru. He grabbed the ponytailed one's arm and started nudging him back on his bed.

" This is so neat! How come our Digivices don't have this kind of thing?"

" Because you'd be touching it accidentally all the time! It doesn't have a shutter like this does! Stop it already!"

" Hmm, I guess that's true. Well then let me enjoy it now while I can! Wee~"

" Hey!!"

It seemed he wasn't doing anything damaging to the Digiwindow itself (miraculously), but the interactive diagram was definitely a messy splatter all over the screen by now. Tohma tried to push Masaru's hand away, but Masaru was being just as stubborn as he pushed back. On purpose.

He couldn't help it. Tohma was just so easy to bully when it came to stuff like this.

The pushing game elevated as Masaru brought his other hand over and Tohma finally tried to move away with the Digiwindow in grip.

" Geez, do you know when to stop?" Tohma said in frustration when he stood up and away from Masaru's bed. Masaru just gave him an unfaltering grin. Tohma took another look at the screen. " Wait, this is..."

Since Tohma was facing Masaru, the screen was out of his sight, but Masaru could tell Tohma had become entranced with something on the screen.

" What happened?"

" This combination... might actually be useful."

" Combination? You mean all that random pressing of mine actually came up with something comprehendible?"

But Tohma didn't answer, as he was focusing on analyzing the screen. " Yes... I'll transfer this back to the lab to see what results they come up with."

" Wow, did I make some major breakthrough or something?"

" Well, not necessarily. But that was certainly something I wouldn't have thought of. It'll probably be a good clue in the end."

Masaru cocked his head. " Another clue, eh? But this is for your other research, right?"

" Yeah. For my sister."

Masaru smiled. " Ah, for her. See? I'm not a hopeless case when it comes to machines after all!"

" Uh..."

" Okay, okay, maybe that's saying too much."

Tohma gave a light sigh and went to press some other parts of the screen to get the data transfer going. He placed the Digiwindow on the table and sat back. They watched as the data processing bar made its appearance and started filling up.

That Tohma... Even when the older guys had essentially told him to take a break, he was still doing things like this...

That Tohma... He must've been doing this for a long time. After all, his sister was how old? Seven, eight years old? If Tohma had been working like this ever since then... Dude, that was like half his entire life. And it'd only become more with the way things were.

But he'd come to accept a bit that Tohma was just like that. He was always fighting for a clear reason, even if that reason wasn't clearly evident all the time. He was difficult to read because of that, but Masaru had started catching on. And it had led to discovering what Tohma thought of him...

Masaru brought his hand up to his lips. He could still remember the heat from Tohma's breath, the same heat that was remaining on his arms when Tohma was trying to push him away just earlier.

" Hey, Tohma."

The blond gave a slight tilt of the head in response.

" Are you..."

......

He couldn't bring himself to say it. He put his hand down.

Something was still missing.

" What's your sister like?" he asked instead.

Again, Tohma looked surprised at the question. But he answered earnestly. " She's a sweet girl. She was... unfortunately born with a weak body, and she's unable to leave the house for long periods of time. She has to have doctors by her side 24/7 because she could fall into deadly seizures at any moment. Even in her condition, she's so kind to everyone she meets. She deserves so much better..."

Even as the data transfer finished, they were back to silence again.

Tohma sighed. It seemed like there was much more to the story, but he wasn't up to telling Masaru about it. What he had said already seemed to be a lot for the blond to admit.

Masaru almost sighed himself. Tohma really was the type to push himself too much, no matter how much he said he wasn't. Add on those slightly fatigued eyes that he could still notice...

" Maybe you should just go home and get some extra sleep."

" Eh?"

" I'll be fine here. You should go back."

" But... I'd rather stay here."

Masaru paused. There it was...

" Believe it or not, but it's actually quieter here than back in the mansion," Tohma continued. " There are always people hounding me in the building when I stay there during the day. Attendants coming in with messages and whatnot."

The ponytailed one gave an extra exhale. " Oh really... Well, I was thinking of getting some quick shut-eye anyway. They say an hour-long nap can work wonders."

" Who says that..."

" Not that it really matters to me anyway. You can hop on here if you want to too, Tohma. There's enough space."

" ...? But..."

Of course Masaru knew what he was asking. It was on purpose too, but he didn't mean anything malicious by it this time. It was... an honest offer. " It's just like my bed back home. It'll be fine." He moved over to give Tohma space, inviting him in.

Tohma still looked at him in dead silence, hesitating.

" Come on, it's the perfect chance to catch up a little. You haven't been getting enough sleep lately, have you."

Tohma opened his eyes wide for a moment, but then reduced his gaze back to that tired, usual look. " I'll be okay."

" No you won't. Come on. I won't bite or anything."

Masaru caught Tohma's fleeting blush again as the blond took his lab coat off and set it on the chair, then laid down on the bed next to Masaru.

Another sigh, and Tohma finally shrugged his shoulders. " All right, all right. If you so insist..."

" Of course. How can I expect you to look after me if you won't even look after yourself first?"

" ...Thanks."

After some light adjustment, Tohma immediately shut his eyes and started dozing off.

Actually, Masaru wasn't sleepy at all. He just knew Tohma sure as hell was.




' Idiot. '





After a few minutes, he carefully turned around to face the blond.

It was... an honest offer indeed. He wasn't uncomfortable with Tohma there next to him on the same bed. The thing was... he never really WAS uncomfortable with that, but the fact that he wasn't uncomfortable still disturbed him somehow, as odd as it sounded.

Tohma was snoozing off peacefully, his hair and olive-black shirt rustling subtly with the wind coming in from the window.





' Idiot. Tonma.'





' Idiot. Myself.'






Masaru couldn't believe himself. How did this guy, so completely different from him every way except their age and obstinacy, end up this close? Was he really thinking about doing that to their relationship...

Perhaps. Since after a whole month of being apart, he still had that idiot blond on his mind way too often.

Since no matter how much he tried to forget the troubles between them, he'd keep remembering.

Since he'd become so conscious of Tohma's condition that he was doctoring Tohma, even though that genius was supposed to be HIS physician.

Since his chest hurt to see Tohma hurting himself.

Since he was a man like Masaru who had sparked so much competition between them... competition and comradeship.

Since he was there to support Masaru.

Since he even cared in the first place.

Since he would get angry and keep the fighter in check when he was being overly irrational.

Since he would give Masaru such a reassuring look whenever things looked tight.

Since he would actually take Masaru seriously when it counted, to give him that reassuring look.

Since he would take on Masaru's punches and still come off strong in the end...

Since Masaru couldn't take his eyes off...

Since it was Tohma.





Yet he couldn't bring himself to open up to the blond that much. Not yet.

Masaru had his own pride too, a pride expected of him as the man of his family. A pride he held for himself, so that he would be stronger than anyone. And he knew Tohma held something similar. Yet something was different. Something was causing them to hold back on themselves, to hold back on each other... a stray link. Every time he came to think about Tohma, going through that cycle of thoughts, he'd come across it.

If only... If only he knew what that stray link was.



----

The next day, Masaru's legs felt the most sore he'd ever felt possibly in the whole fifteen years of his life. Even so, Tohma pushed him to spend another hour of laps around the pool. If it hadn't been Tohma, Masaru likely would've never gotten the motivation to keep going despite his sore condition. Just seeing the blond swimming next to him, swimming away at full power, would set him off key and give him plenty of a reminder.

The pattern repeated for several more days, and by the end of the week, Masaru stopped noticing the soreness altogether. He could get up from his wheelchair and walk around places through the hospital without anyone needing to watch over him. And by then, he had to snicker at himself. This had been Tohma's intention for the hydrotherapy, and it was working like a charm. Within a single week, not only had he reduced the pain in his legs, but he was getting back the fitness he had before the incident.

Tohma then put him on pool exercises for an additional hour per day, which Masaru accepted in full stride. From there on, the road to recovery was quick and smooth for him.

One day, when Agumon was visiting, the old duo went wandering around the DATS wing and ended up coming across the security room, where the guard had stepped out for a quick break and forgotten to lock the door. Inside were the monitors for the entrances to the wings, where security check cards were needed for access, and good 'ol Masaru somehow managed to mess up things with just a little toying around the machines. At that point, the people at the hospital conveniently figured it was just the right time for Masaru to leave and return home.

Instead of bringing the wheelchair, he only brought back a crutch for his right leg, which needed a little extra time. Even then, the natural fighter completely abandoned the crutches within days of returning home, and before everyone knew it, he was venturing the streets just like in the old days.

He could hang out at the game center again. He could go to the batting cage again. He could practice his boxing again. Those other delinquents who were familiar with him cowered at his sight, knowing he was involved in more than just street-fighting. He was a bit surprised to see that the effect of a single television airing on DATS was still carrying through people's consciousness, but later he found out that he'd been the luckiest of the group. Tohma and Yoshino had to wear sunglasses whenever they went out into populated areas to avoid getting pointed out.

On the other hand, Agumon was quite excited for him. One afternoon, when they had been asked to come to DATS, they walked together to the Norstein mansion. Tohma was on duty for his shift, although it seemed like he was busying himself with the other lab researchers as usual. BanchouLeomon and Minervamon were overlooking some documents in the ballroom-turned-main HQ room. Gaomon was with them. Masaru and Agumon greeted them and they returned it, beckoning them to come over and check out the documents with them.

" What's going on here?" Masaru questioned, poking his head between Gaomon and Agumon to see what was on the papers. He was met by a long list of random numbers that sent his head whirling. " Err... the heck?"

" Oh, you probably wouldn't understand any of it... but it's our key. Our key to finding the remaining three Demon Lords," Minervamon explained.

" You found them?" Masaru eyes widened, excited at the news.

" Yeah, and we're busting in on them tomorrow. All of us. That is, if you're up for it."

" All three of them at the same time?" Agumon said in awe.

BanchouLeomon nodded. " We've got more than enough manpower if all four of you members, Minervamon and I go. These last three have been extremely cautious, and it took us just this long to figure out how they've been cloaking themselves. It's hard to say they'll take any chances to fight us separately unless we strategize something or use enough force on them."

" Ideally, Yoshino and Ikuto will take on one of them, BanchouLeomon and I will take on another, and you and Tohma have whoever's last. Six Ultimates against three. Sure, it's unfair for them, but we can't take our chances either~"

Masaru took a moment to let the news sink in. His returning fight back at DATS and it was the perfect setup for pairing teamwork. This was definitely something he was looking forward to...

The operators Kurosaki and Shirakawa came by in full spirits, obviously excited by something as well.

" Masaru, long time no see!" they said in unison.

" Tohma's holding a party tonight here in celebration of your recovery and as a pre-celebration for the battle tomorrow," Shirakawa informed.

" Although we'll probably have another celebration after the battle. Well, it's not like I have anything against these!"

" A celebration, eh..." Masaru repeated.

" Give him some glory, all right?" Kurosaki said smugly, " He gets a lot of praise from the doctors around him, but you're the only one around his age who'd really understand everything he's doing."

" Huh? What are you trying to tell me..."

" Just some advice," Kurosaki replied off-handedly. " We'll see you later tonight then, okay? We're going to do the preparations for the party."

The others watched the two girls as they left the main headquarters room.

What kind of advice was that? Of course he knew...

Tohma had kept coming in and out of the main headquarters room, sometimes with another doctor following him. That Tohma...

Masaru watched in the corner of his eyesight as Tohma chatted with the doctor standing next to him. Reading the atmosphere around them, it seemed like the two were discussing some light matters. Suddenly, Tohma gave a chuckle and pat the older doctor on the shoulder. Just when had Masaru gotten so used to seeing Tohma act like all the other grown-ups? Besides Ikuto, who didn't even have a DATS uniform anyway, they were the two youngest people in all of DATS, after all...

" Aniki, hey are you listening?" came Agumon's voice, interrupting his thoughts.

" H-Huh?"

" Geez, you weren't listening at all! BanchouLeomon was telling us how we're going to raid the Demon Lords' place tomorrow! We're the only ones who don't know yet! Don't you wanna know?"

" Oh, I do, I do." He honestly did. He turned towards the group of Digimon, but not without catching Tohma leave the main headquarters again with the older doctor.

Fighting, together with Tohma again, eh...








----

It was a much bigger celebration than he had imagined. Even with the ballroom already occupied with the DATS equipment, there was still plenty of room in the Norstein mansion with its massive reception room providing space for everyone to meander and socialize. Streamers and other decorations filled the room, the maids and butler busied themselves with serving food and refreshments, and with a steady stream of classical music playing out of the surround system, Masaru could definitely feel the celebratory aura of the night.

All of the DATS members he was familiar with were there. Satsuma, old man Yushima and their Digimon greeted Masaru for the first time in what felt like ages. The Noguchi's had come with Ikuto and even the little Yuka seemed to be having a happy time as Yoshino, Kurosaki and Shirakawa spent most of their time playing with her. BanchouLeomon and Minervamon were enjoying some refreshments while gazing out the balcony on the outer side of the room. Ikuto as usual was romping around with the other Digimon, while Chika stayed by her mother's side as they went around the party area.

Masaru had his convivial fun with all of them, when he finally noticed that Tohma wasn't even in the scene. He asked the people around about his whereabouts, but none of them seemed to know. Except old man Yushima.

" He's probably still back in the research facilities on the other side of the building. Why don't you come bring him over? He's missing out on all the entertainment," said Yushima, tapping his cane behind him as Kamemon came up to give him a glass of sake.

That was for sure. What was the point if the party host wasn't even there?

He went down the long hallway of the Norstein mansion towards the research facility room. The stairs leading to the second floor were on the way, and as he passed by, he heard voices from above. One of them was obviously Tohma.

He started heading up the stairs and was about to call him down, when he started hearing the actual conversation.

" You know she's only your half-sister, Tohma," came a deeper voice.

" Yes, but I still grew up with her. She's the sole person who would smile for me in that country back then."

" I know. You really are protective about the people you care for."

" Certainly more than you, apparently."

" Tohma!"

Masaru stiffened up at the yell followed by silence. Was he perhaps listening in on a conversation he really shouldn't be hearing? Who was Tohma talking to?

The other voice continued, bringing his tone down. " How dare you say that, Tohma..."

" You gave up your single most chance to defend my mother. Even after her death, you wouldn't defend her. Not in front of grandmother, not in front of me... Not once in almost ten years."

Tohma's mother... death?

Masaru froze on spot, too shocked to move. Was he really hearing this?

" I had my circumstances."

" That's just an excuse. Clearly, you're free to defend Relena as much as you like because SHE's not 'common blood.' But hear me on this... I'm not looking to cure her just because of her lineage. I'm not doing it for the Norstein family."

" Tohma, I..."

Another silence. He knew he was hearing something really personal right now, but he couldn't find it in himself to pull away.

" You might not be so proud of me, but I want you to know... that I'm still proud of you, Tohma."

" ......Father?"

" If something horrible were to happen, I would never be able to face her..."

" Don't worry, Relena will be fine. It's only a matter of time before the research is complete and she'll be cured."

" I'm not talking about Relena. I'm talking about your mother. I'm talking about YOU. Come back safely tomorrow, will you?"

Masaru heard Tohma gasp. He couldn't see what was going on, but he could tell that something big had just happened.

" Father..."

And all of a sudden, Masaru started putting the pieces together.

Another minute or so passed by and the older voice spoke up again. " We best get to the party, Tohma. They're probably wondering where their host is."

" W...Wait, Father."

" ...What is it?"

" ...I'm... I'm glad you could come today. It really means a lot to me. Thanks."

" ...Hm. Happy birthday, Tohma. Now let's go."

...?!?!?! came Masaru's reaction. But he didn't have any more time to react on it since he heard footsteps heading his way. He backed up so it didn't seem like he'd just been eavesdropping on their conversation just now.

" Masaru?
What're you doing over here?"

" Me? Oh, eheheh..." he replied with a hint of uneasiness. " Yushima told me to go fetch you."

" Sorry for waiting. I'll head over right now. Oh, Masaru? This is my father."

Masaru swung his ponytail head a little to see the taller man next to Tohma. He recognized him from before. So that was his father...

" Franz Norstein. Masaru, is it? I hear your recovery is going to allow DATS to close up this crisis in the Digital World."

Masaru grinned. Normally, he'd imagined that the older nobleman would be stiffer to talk to, but maybe it was the situation they were in that made their relationship easier to deal with. " It sure is. Just leave it all to the great Daimon Masaru-sama!"

Franz raised an eyebrow, looking slightly bewildered, but he passed it off and they continued walking down the hallway together, back towards the reception room.

Walking besides Tohma, Masaru had to wonder about the conversation he just overheard. Actually, what gripped him even before that was... it was Tohma's birthday?! Then didn't that mean their celebration today was a sort of birthday party for him too? He assumed none of the others knew about it, since there hadn't been any mentioning from them. Was he keeping it a secret on purpose?

He stared at the blond as they walked on. Weirdo.

Of course, there were a lot of other things he'd just heard too, and he knew he would need some time to let them sink in.

Tohma's father... had such a stern-looking expression on him all the time. So this was the European half of Tohma... Then what about his mother? His... deceased... mother...

" Something the matter, Masaru?" Tohma turned towards him as he realized Masaru was staring.

" ...Nothing..."

He turned to look down the hallway instead, not ready to bring up the subject on his mind.














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Author blab
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Party to be continued...

You know, I never really understood how the Digimon used chopsticks. Did they use chopsticks in the Digital World? Otherwise Ikuto wouldn't have a clue on how to use them either. People don't just like... naturally know how to use chopsticks if they didn't grow up using them. Dude. Well, it's Digimon. XD

I know the Japanese (or is this an Asian thing?) are generally real pricks when it comes to sleeping in open air "because you'll catch a cold" and junk like that, but really, on hot days with a good wind, why resist? D8

I don't believe Yoshino's parents would be so keen on showing up to these Digimon events. Does her father even exist? We only ever hear and see a little about the mother in the series. Sadness!