" Argh!! I don't know if I'm supposed to be mad at Satsuma or someone else
for this, but ARGH!" Masaru punched the wall like no one's business, except that
it was one of the bathrooms in the Norstein mansion. And Tohma was there,
changing into his uniform. The oversized bathrooms on the ground floor had been
converted into pseudo-locker rooms, with places for the DATS members to place
their belongings as they changed into their uniforms. They were already
beginning their shift schedules, so while Masaru was allowed to stay in his
casual clothes, Tohma was to be on duty.
" It upsets me too, Masaru, but we'll have to deal with it. It IS our responsibility, after all."
" You're accepting this way too easily." Masaru crossed his arms as he spoke to the blond, who had finished changing.
" Well, what do you expect me to do about it?"
" I dunno, you could've reasoned with the old man! Reasoning's what you're good at, isn't it? I mean, it's not like he was around to see all that we went through to defeat Kurata," Masaru said with disappointment. " Not that I don't mind doing things solo, but we were all pumped to come back as a TEAM, right? Now it's like he's trying to separate us all. Captain Satsuma, he... didn't even know about ElDoradimon."
Indeed, Satsuma didn't know about what had happened with ElDoradimon... Masaru had even asked their Captain directly, and he had replied that he had been communicating with a different group of Digimon instead, although he refused to elaborate on that group of Digimon. Their Captain had been unaware that ElDoradimon had played such a huge role in Kurata's plans. Unaware of its significance, unaware of what had happened inside it.
Heck, even Masaru wasn't sure what had happened inside it. That's why he wanted to ask the one who was directly involved and clear things up.
Instead of continuing the conversation, Tohma started heading out of the bathroom.
" Wait, Tohma!"
The said boy in blue uniform paused at the door but didn't turn back.
" I need to be on duty now. Ask me later."
Masaru was about to speak again, but not a moment later, the last of Tohma slipped from his view.
Che. He left just right when he had more to say.
" Idiot. When's later?"
There was one short conversation Masaru had with the filming crew around the time when they first met...
" So what exactly are you guys looking to film for this TV program?" He had asked them.
Most of the crewmembers seemed to be people in their mid-20s like Kurosaki and Shirakawa. They'd already grown accustomed to being around the other DATS Digimon and had thus become friends with Agumon quite easily as well. A man wearing his baseball cap backwards had answered him. " Eh... action stuff. You know, getting rid of whatever's here to attack us and protecting people. People like seeing that kind of stuff."
Masaru had figured. " What about our fight against Belphemon?"
" Belphemon? You mean that big one that got people's attention in the first place? There's only like... crappy cell phone videos of it from far away and you can't really see what's going on in them. Either it'd be too dark or everything would be on fire and you couldn't see much either way. Did anybody here actually get to see that personally?"
" Nope, not me..."
" Not here either."
" Che, you all missed out on my glorious moment then," Masaru had said with an obvious pout. " I guess you'll just have to feast your eyes when the next battle shows up on my turf! After all, I'm Japan's toughest fighter, Daimon Masaru-sama!!"
" You go, Aniki!!"
The other crewmembers had just given him weird looks or shrugged at him as he pulled one of his manliest poses.
" Just you guys wait. Nobody beats me in a man-to-man fight!"
After all that boasting he'd done, having things come to this wasn't what he had in mind...
He was literally hounded by the recording crew for the TV program at every second of his shift. He tried to start off on friendly terms with them, but he soon grew completely fed up with their presence. They simply would never let him have a moment of privacy during his shifts. One of the crewmembers would even wait outside the bathroom whenever he went. They weren't making any video footage in the bathroom (thank god), but it was still unnerving as heck.
On top of that, all week, his only work was... paperwork and computer work. Not a single Digimon appeared during his shift. It just so happened to be that any of the Digimon appearances that week were all during Yoshino's late night shift, and since there were the most amount of employees and Satsuma around during the daytime, Tohma got to do all the crossing between the Digital World and real world. That left Masaru with all the boring work... It was completely unfair!
He was constantly tempted to take out his anger on the crewmembers, but then he'd remember what Satsuma had told them about staying aware of themselves and their goals, and he'd end up grumbling some gibberish to no one in particular instead. Agumon had resorted to making small chat with the crew most of the time to relieve his boredom.
Masaru kept telling himself that it was just a bad, transitional week and things weren't always going to be like this anyway. Eventually, he wouldn't have to have these random people staring at him all the time, and he could go back to hanging out with the other DATS members. Indeed, he was realizing how much he missed the others after being stuck in such a situation for the whole week immediately following such an eventful past. It always had to be one end of the spectrum or another for him, and right now, he was in the nasty end of it.
Very, very nasty. And he wanted out. The others seemed to have something going for them, but Masaru felt like he was... stuck. Stuck in between the two eventful shifts. A filler. He knew his shift was shorter than the others because of school, but he still wanted to do something more than PAPERWORK after the long days at school.
And seeing Tohma for those few seconds right before his shift began never helped...
The crewmembers were always surrounding them, so he could never get a private moment with Tohma at DATS. And he had school during the daytime, so he couldn't see Tohma during his shift at DATS. Then again, even if he were to visit Tohma on the weekends when he didn't have school, the crewmembers were still there...
He was quite fed up after just one week.
" Why the heck do they have to be with us ALL THE TIME? Can't they give us a break for once?" Masaru ranted openly to Yoshino when she arrived for her shift. He didn't even care that the crewmembers were still watching them. None of them spoke up against him anyway.
Yoshino shrugged. " They record us practically all day, but they'll only need one hour of material per episode. It's pretty ridiculous if you ask me, but I can manage if it's only for three months. There aren't too many people around during the night shift anyway, so I don't mind the extra company."
" Well, I can't manage!" Masaru growled in frustration. " There are times when a man needs time to himself!"
" You know, you're not really even required to be at your shift every time, Masaru. You're not even at the legal working age."
" I know! But it's not about the job for me." Masaru said as the words of his comrades ran through his mind again. " It's about my duty as a man. Kurata did a lot of nasty things and now a lot of people are nervous about this whole Digimon thing, so I gotta do my part to let 'em know that it's not like that."
Yoshino grinned. " I agree with you, Masaru. What we're doing here is more reason to do it than anything else. Although I DO really appreciate the salary increase I got post-Kurata. Now I can finally save up for those things on my wishlist. Hmm hmm~"
Masaru gave Yoshino an odd stare while she lightly hummed to herself.
Three months without a moment of privacy at DATS... It sounded more like a curse to him than anything else now. When Satsuma had first announced the schedule, he hadn't thought about it as anything more than a little annoyance that he wouldn't get to fight with the others after everything they'd been through. But this lack of privacy was really grating on him.
A full week without fights, especially after a fight like the one with Belphemon, was really weighing down on him.
Not only that, but he was never able to get a chance to ask Tohma about that subject...
With the way things were going, he wouldn't be surprised if the next step would cause him to snap...
It happened at the end of the third week, which had been similar to the previous weeks, although it was worse with the stress piling up on him.
The day started off like any other weekday during those three weeks. He'd get up, eat breakfast, and go to school with Agumon in his Digivice as he rode on his bike. He'd sleep through half of his classes or whenever the teachers didn't catch him, head back home for a little break and early dinner, and then head off to DATS.
On the normal cycle, he'd just do paperwork or sit around with nothing fun to do. And at the end of the day, he'd go home, eat a light snack, shower up, maybe have some fun with Agumon and then head straight off to sleep.
Except today, he had a major school cleaning after classes. Their summer was coming up, and thus the staff wanted the school to get a good spring cleaning before it would be mostly empty for the break. He was with some of his old buddies, to top it off. He honestly hadn't gotten an opportunity to hang around with them ever since he got back, so he was rather grateful for the opportunity.
He and another buddy were mopping the floor, while one more was cleaning the whiteboards and overhead projector equipment. They had done small talk to catch up, and Masaru showed off some of his elite and manly mopping tricks that he'd come up with while he was on a certain other mission.
" Hey, you guys, they're starting that TV program about that DATS organization tonight," one of his buddies said afterwards. " I can't wait to see it!"
Masaru's grip on his mop jerked. ...Tonight? " Huh, you're actually interested in that stuff?"
" Hell yeah! It's the whole talk of the town lately. Especially after what happened with that Belphemon guy, everyone wants to know what the heck's happening. It's like... Godzilla for REAL, you know. You don't just ignore that kind of stuff, Masaru."
" Well, he HAS been busy with something, right Masaru? That's why you haven't hung out with us in so long. And before that, you had some kind of long-term leave, didn't you? What was that all about?"
" Now that I think about it, you came back right after the Belphemon incident. Were you even around for that, man? Weren't you out of town?"
Masaru found himself unable to find an answer for a moment. How could he, considering that they'd be seeing him on TV that night... His mind was just full of " Ugh, ugh ugh ugh" upon hearing his buddies. He was already prepared for DATS to become a "public highlight" but he definitely was not interested in people seeing him do paperwork on worldwide television. Naturally, he'd been hoping for a good fight to come his way so he could call out to challenge the rest of the world or some ambitious thing like that.
Of course, no one had been around to record the Belphemon fight. That would've given him some glory at least. Ugh.
He pulled a nasty looking face for himself and took out his mood on the mop. " You'll find out soon enough. How about we change the subject?"
" Oh right!" said the first buddy. " I spotted you heading over to that big mansion in town the other day. Is that where you've got business, Masaru?"
Another heavy "ugh" sunk into him and his arms sunk as well, lowering the mop.
The other buddy spoke up. " What, THAT mansion? I could've sworn you were going to some special place to go for fights or something..."
" Yeah, THAT mansion. Those guys have gotta be freakin' rich. I saw you... It happened over a week ago... Yeah, a Friday like today, so I kind of forgot until now. So what's the deal, Masaru?"
" Not your business."
" Oh, come on man. Aren't we your buddies? You can at least tell us!"
To be honest, he was just buying time to think about how to answer. He didn't want to lie to them. " Fine, fine. I... do have business there. With the guy who lives there."
" Huh? You fight rich guys now?"
" He's not just a rich guy," Masaru growled, " He's an arrogant nobleman who's obsessed with strategies and perfection and some other things that I don't get. He's also some freak superman who doesn't need to go to school anymore because he's got a doctor's degree even though he's about the same age as me. On top of all that, he's so oblivious to the weirdest things and just plain out spaces out sometimes when I'm trying to talk to him. Geez, why does someone like him..."
" Whoa dude... how'd you even meet the guy? Looks like you spent a lot of time with him if you know him that well..."
" Eh? H-How I met him doesn't matter..."
Spent a lot of time with him...? All he could think of lately was how much he HADN'T gotten to spend time with him. N-Not that he was so desperate to spend time with that weirdo...
" That's some odd guy to be getting involved with..."
Ah, crap, he thought to himself. What was he rambling on about? These were just the guys he talked random shit to and relieved his boredom with. It didn't matter to them. TOHMA was the one he needed to be dealing with. And no one else needed to be involved.
His grip on the mop as he dragged it around tightened audibly. " What's it to you? Like I said, I've got business with him, so stay off."
The other two looked at him as if they'd been offended, causing Masaru to feel a little guilty. They probably didn't mean any ill, yet he was still snapping at them.
" Sorry guys, it's just...... I'll tell you some other time."
Right. The program was going to air that evening during his shift. After that, his buddies would probably look at him differently. He knew they would, although now that the time had come, he was really starting to realize that he wasn't so content with the way things were going. Not just with DATS, but with himself, and with Tohma...
No doubt the filming crew would be watching the program right in the main headquarters while he did paperwork. And he was right.
It was the dead middle of his shift, and he was once again tapping and clicking away slowly at the computer to organize reports. There were five crewmembers in the main headquarters with him, all chatting amongst themselves and with Agumon, as they had fallen into a habit of doing, since it wasn't like Masaru was doing anything interesting to record anyway. They were rather enjoying themselves with feeding Agumon random treats they picked up from who knows where. Masaru cursed under his breath.
" Aniki, you've gotta try this stuff! This guy's cousin's friend's brother or something or other makes these Taiyaki things and they're sooooo good! And then this guy's from America and he brought some stuff called puppy chow, but it doesn't taste like dog food..."
" Later Agumon, I'm in the middle of something..."
Meanwhile, other noises erupted from the background.
" No way, he did that? I can't believe him..."
" Yeah, he even had the nerve to show her the picture! Just think of that!"
" ...and so Miyako wouldn't stop talking! She'd just keep going on and on, no matter what we'd try to do. I didn't know what else to do!"
And all the blabbing around him wasn't helping him finish his task. ' Gotta stay aware of yourself, aware of yourself...'
" Oh hey, is it 8 yet? The program should be starting now!"
" Quick, put it on the big screen!"
Ah, there it was. Their weeks of separation were getting broadcasted on television now... came Masaru's first thought. Naturally, since no one had been around to record the actual fight against Belphemon, all the people would ever know about it was what the media reported. What the people would be seeing in the program would be their first up-close impression of DATS.
He paid about half of his attention as he watched. Naturally, Yoshino had the most amount of airing time with her Digimon encounters. In fact, that was probably 80% of the content. And yes, they did show Masaru doing his paperwork. He wanted to laugh at how disgruntled he looked on television, but he couldn't even bring himself to do so, and before he could reconsider, the scene had already moved onto one with Tohma in it. He was making adjustments to the Digital Gate for a Dive, but the program ended there as a slight cliffhanger, making the audience wait for the next episode if they wanted to see what the Digital World was like. That is, the next episode that wouldn't air for another two weeks.
The crew chattered about the program, which Masaru ignored to finish up more paperwork, until the conversation subject changed...
" Hey, I heard you got a chance to talk to Tohma alone today. How was it, girl?"
" Oh geez! That's so embarrassing to ask...!"
" Haha, she's blushing. Did something good happen?"
" What, what? Something good? That's dangerous, girl. He's only fourteen, you know!"
" Are you serious?! B-But... doesn't he have a PhD? Even though he's a genius, I thought he'd be at least 20..."
" You seriously thought he was that old?!"
" Well, doesn't he act like it?"
" Yeah, but... wow, that just makes things so much more interesting. Wow, Tohma!"
" Hey, hey, that just means he's underage, girl..."
Masaru could almost feel a headache come in. Gotta stay aware of yourself...
" Hey, you know we're not allowed to talk about the DATS members like that while we're on duty..."
" It's not like we're recording now anyway. Why not talk about it?"
" Yeah, I wanna know! So how was it?"
" Well, he... I asked him what he thought of DATS as it is now compared to how it used to be."
" Ohh. Profound."
" And what'd he say?"
" He started off by saying that he was progressing with a lot of his research. I wanted to ask him about his research afterwards, but when he continued his answer......."
" What? What'd he say?"
" I dunno, I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about, to be honest. Maybe it was a bunch of technical mumble jumble that I didn't get, but the whole time, he kept talking. And he looked so... so..."
" ...empty? I think is what I'm trying to say. Like a robot. No, not even like that. I mean, I was there for his first recording session, and back then he seemed like a completely different person. There was something... exhilarating about him, like he'd just come back from the best vacation trip in his life."
" Well, he was in the Digital World for quite some time, wasn't he? Wasn't it because of that then?"
" But he still goes to the Digital World sometimes during his shifts. Even then... he slowly started losing that animated feeling, I think. I wonder why..."
" Maybe it's because there's no one to go with him besides his Digimon? Then maybe he's lonely? You should've used that chance to offer to go with him, girl!"
Masaru really didn't want to be paying attention, yet he found that he couldn't ignore the conversation. He spoke up from his far end. " Hey wait. You guys don't go with him to the Digital World?"
" Err, not yet at least. Tohma says the gate isn't stable enough to transport additional people. He does his own recordings of the Digital World for us to use while he's there."
And here he thought the crewmembers had to be with them constantly because of some kind of security or government spying reason beyond his intellect. Maybe that wasn't the case?
But Tohma... he must've been lying about the Digital gate. Even Masaru knew that Tohma's system for the gate could easily send multiple people in, even the temporary one in the ballroom they were in. He had a faint idea of why Tohma would be hiding that fact from the crewmembers though. Okay, maybe not just faint, but a CLEAR idea.
Hearing the crewmembers talk about Tohma really made him want to talk to him more than ever. The question he wanted to ask had been plaguing him more as time went on, and the longer he had to put it off, the worse it made him feel when he would remember it again.
" Oh right! Well, it's not like you've had a chance to hang around with him for a while, but I'm sure you still remember. Was Tohma really like that before?"
" W-Wha?" Masaru turned back towards them when he realized they were talking to him.
" Exhilarated. Animated."
" Well, that's got a lot of meanings... be more specific, will ya?"
" Hm..." the girl who had been talking about Tohma thought for a long time. " Well, he just seemed... really happy about something all the time back then. But it wasn't like he was happy about the present, but something that had happened a while back. Know what I mean? Like a delayed reaction, I guess."
" Wow, that's REALLY profound there, girl. How do you sense that much?"
" It's because that feeling never came back the same, so it must've been something from the past. So back to the question... did you notice that too, Masaru?"
" ......." Masaru wouldn't answer. He COULDN'T answer because he honestly hadn't thought about anything of the sort that the girl was talking about. All he could think of when it came to Tohma was his behavior towards him...
" Huh? Masaru, are you okay?"
" That... damn Tohma."
A fire started burning up in him that refused to settle down.
Another guy stepped into the conversation. " Now that I think about it, he lives right in this mansion, doesn't he? We're always in this huge room, so it never seems like this is part of a mansion, but he's probably got some private part of the floor on the other side, doesn't he?"
" Yeah, those noblemen are sure out of this world..."
Masaru took one good look at his surroundings. All of the crewmembers were sitting back on comfort chairs, fully relaxed, with Agumon in his own seat. And they were all farther away from the door than Masaru.
He'd finished his current task, and he had more, but did he really care?
" You guys don't need to follow me everywhere I go, right? ...I'm gonna take a little break and visit."
Before the others could say anything else, he had zipped out of the ballroom. Even Agumon hadn't seen it coming.
He ran as fast as he could so that the others wouldn't catch him if they were going to try. Of course, he wouldn't mind brawling with them for his freedom, but only if they were really asking for it. The mansion was huge though... and while he knew how to get to the inner ballroom from the main entrance, he didn't know his way around the rest of the building at all.
Still, he was going to find Tohma tonight.
His best guess was that the bedrooms were all on a higher floor, so first he had to find stairs to go up. He eventually found a set of stairs that started off parallel to the hallway, but changed to perpendicular halfway as he met up with the wall of the building. He soared up them. At the second floor, he had to take a long look to fully realize that Tohma was standing right there in the hallway. In a bathrobe. Having just finished a shower, apparently.
Muffled noises erupted from the floor below.
" Is he over here?"
" I don't see him!"
" Do you think he went upstairs? Are we even allowed up there?"
" I don't see why not..."
Masaru gave Tohma an uneasy look that clearly said "Don't let them find me!" which Tohma snerked at for deciphering so easily.
" This way," Tohma said, his wet hair glistening as he turned around and headed towards one of the rooms. Masaru followed without hesitation.
They entered the room without turning on the lights, and Tohma pulled out his DATS communication device as he closed the door behind them.
" Butler, can you handle the intruders in the hallway? I'm about to prepare for bed."
" At once, sir," came the reply barely moments later.
So Tohma even customized his own communication device to handle household matters... Masaru wasn't sure whether to be in awe or to laugh at the silliness of it, but he was too grateful for the butler and Tohma to do either.
The two didn't peep a word as they heard the clamor of footsteps approach their doors. A thin amount of moonlight seeped through between the high-rise curtains at the opposite end of the huge room. Other than Tohma's silhouette, he couldn't see anything else in the room.
" Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but is there a reason for you to be here during these hours?"
" Um, we're just looking for someone..."
" I'm sorry, but the only persons who are on this floor right now are Master Tohma and his attendants. Please leave."
" Mm, but I couldn't sworn I saw..."
" Please leave. Master Tohma is not to be disturbed during his resting hours."
" ...Fine, I got it! Sorry for intruding."
Tohma and Masaru stood still next to the door in the darkness. Masaru let himself breathe a sigh of relief as the sound of the footsteps dimmed away.
" So what's this all about?" Tohma asked as he turned on the lights.
It was unmistakably his bedroom. His larger-than-king-sized bed, on top of a gigantic plush carpet, stood against the lower middle of one wall, while another wall was covered in tall bookshelves. Another wall had open closets of his wardrobe... Actually, it was those closets that gave it away the most.
" I'm not going back down there tonight."
Tohma pulled a slightly distressed expression. " What about Agumon? Didn't you leave him down there too?"
" Mm... Those guys are spoiling him anyway. He won't mind... He might as well go home already. It's not like any Digimon are ever going to show up on my shift. And I'm sick of paperwork."
" I can ask the butler to send him back home for you."
" Ah? What about those crew guys then?"
" Well, you're not going back downstairs anyway, are you? They can handle themselves."
Masaru stared for a moment. Tohma... wasn't going to berate him for skipping out on work or anything?
" What are you looking at me like that for?" Tohma said lightly. " If a Digimon really were to show up, we can be contacted on our communication devices like we always used to. We don't need Tamers in the main headquarters 24/7. The main reason why we've been split into different shifts in the first place is to satisfy the producer's odd habits in creating this program, you know. Captain Satsuma did claim it was to make us 'step out as individuals,' but he was just dampening the real reason behind it."
Masaru felt like he had a bombshell hit him. " For something like THAT?! What?! I don't... get it... ARGH!" He clenched both of his fists in mid-air, then got additionally frustrated when he realized Tohma's comments about the communication devices were completely true. Why hadn't he thought of that before? Come to think of it, his had been in his belt pack ever since they re-established DATS... no, longer than that. He checked his belt pack to see if it was still in there, and lo and behold, it was. He never was much for machines, or even remembering that he had them.
" You hadn't even realized that, had you," Tohma said. " Hmph."
Masaru wanted to sock him a good one, but he stopped as he saw that Tohma, who had crossed his arms and went to look towards the curtains was... smiling. And it wasn't a mocking or forced kind of smile at all. It was just a natural, and somehow nostalgic smile.
That girl in the filming crew had said he had been empty or something lately. In other words, void of emotion.
But this Tohma...
" You don't have school tomorrow, right? Do you want to stay here for the night? I said I'd invite you to sleep over next time, didn't I?"
" Tonight? Uh..." Shoot. The reason why Masaru was there at all... If he asked right now, would Tohma still be saying that? " Dude, that's not why I came up here."
" Hmm? But I'm asking you anyway." Tohma gave him a slightly puzzled look.
" Sure, fine then. But first, there's something I've gotta ask you."
His solid stare said it all. Tohma stared back for a while in blank silence.
" Ask me after you shower and change."
" We'll talk all you want after that. Or do you intend to hang around here in the DATS uniform?"
Tohma cocked his chin a little to indicate Masaru's attire. Masaru frowned.
" Oh... fine."
" The shower room's down the hallway. The butler will bring you a change of clothes when you're done."
Tohma swiftly guided him out of the doors and closed them behind him. From there, the butler approached him and led him to the shower room. Within the same minute, he had stepped into the shower room and was taking his clothes off to shower.
Was it just his imagination or had Tohma timed everything a little too conveniently just now? Well, no matter, he'd just ask after he showered.
Even so, showering in the Norstein mansion... He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but the shower room he was using seemed rather... modest? It felt almost the same as the public showers in their old DATS HQ building. Well, except it was a fully enclosed space. And it smelled nice...
He caught himself in the middle of dazing out and chastised himself for it. ' Ugh, that tonma. I'm DEFINITELY going to hear everything out of him tonight. I swear my fists on it.'
As resolve fired up within him, he quickly forgot about his location and ended up only thinking about the upcoming "confrontation" with Tohma. Scrubbing his hair furiously in determination, he finished up his shower and stepped out without a second thought, then blinked when he saw all the open space surrounding him. For a moment, he thought he really had been back in the DATS HQ shower stalls, so he had expected to see the bench outside with his towel on it. But there was no such object.
Instead, the butler was there. The wet-haired brunet almost flipped back when he saw the tall man. The butler had kept so quiet that he hadn't even sensed his presence. He wanted to say something to the butler, but he ended up remaining quiet as a white bathrobe was handed to him. As he wrapped it around himself, he noticed the Norstein emblem embroidered on the backside.
" I will be going out to take Agumon back to the Daimon residence now. If you need assistance while I am gone, you may ask one of the maids," the butler stated. He pointed to the maid on the opposite end of the hallway who looked like she was ready to go to sleep herself, dressed in nightwear and yawning. " They'll be sleeping in that room over there, but they will not hesitate to come to your aid if necessary."
The butler bowed. " Tohma is waiting for you back in his room. If you'll excuse me now."
As the butler took his own way, Masaru went back to Tohma's room and helped himself inside.
" Oh, Masaru. Was the shower okay?" Masaru walked in to see Tohma get up from his position, sitting in front of his dresser's mirror. His Digivice was flashing on the dresser, indicating that Gaomon had just entered and was likely heading off to sleep inside it.
" Come sit down over here. I'll blow-dry your hair for you."
" Haa? Don't bother, I can do that myself..."
Tohma looked at him with chagrin. " This is something I want to personally do. Humor me, will you? Just take the moment to relax. I'm your host for tonight, after all."
Masaru shrugged, closing his eyes in mild defeat. " Fine, fine. I'll humor you. Don't try pulling anything funny on me or I'll pummel you out of the building, got it?"
" Rest assured that I won't."
He knew he couldn't rest completely assured, but he did want to get his hair dried first so they could get down to "business." He sat down in front of the mirror and watched Tohma pull out a hair drier and brush.
" You knows, guys don't usually do this kind of thing during their sleepovers," Masaru said with a little sigh.
" Guys don't usually have hair like yours either," Tohma countered with a little smirk.
" Hmph. Just get started already."
There was a click and the loud whirring of the hairdryer echoed throughout the giant bedroom. Naturally, that loud whirring kept them from continuing their conversation. Masaru was left to just sit still as Tohma tended to his wet hair.
Tohma's hairdryer was a powerful one, easily sending Masaru's hair almost 180 degrees opposite of whatever direction. In the midst of the blow-drying, Tohma brushed Masaru's hair with the brush in his other hand... with paced and deliberate strokes. Not too slowly or too lightly, but just enough to act as a massage.
It was definitely a different feeling when someone else was brushing his hair, and he could remember the times when his mother would brush his hair when he was younger, and she'd always be pretty rough on him. It was always a matter of disciplining him to take better care of his hair and all that motherly business. Now that he thought about it, his mother was the only other person who had ever handled his hair. Guys would try to grab his ponytail in fights, but he made sure it never happened... His peers at school wouldn't even dare try to get near his hair.
But Tohma wasn't one of those random school people. He wasn't his mother or those other street fighters either. He wasn't even like his school buddies even though they were around the same age... Tohma was just Tohma. On the other hand, while he wasn't soft on him either, Tohma was very relaxing in his actions as he handled the brunet's hair. Masaru had to admit, it felt quite comfortable.
Just like his warmth...
Masaru shook his head. Tohma gave him a curious look, but he continued silently.
When Masaru's hair started to feel dry, Tohma set the hairdryer to its low setting and raised his voice slightly so Masaru could hear him over the buzz. " So what DO you usually do on a sleepover? Besides board games, since all I have here is chess and I doubt you're interested in that."
A brief thought of how Tohma would kick his ass in chess passed through Masaru's mind before he coughed and moved on. " Hmm... Well, before Ikuto came, it'd been a long time since I went to a sleepover. I mean, I must've been like seven years old or something. Back then, we'd just play games all night that my friends had at their place, I guess."
A few more moments passed and Tohma turned off the hairdryer, continuing to brush Masaru's hair.
" Once I started junior high school, I guess I stopped having them... I've stayed at friends' places pretty late just talking about random stuff, but I'd still go home afterwards."
" Talking about random stuff, eh."
" Yeah. But it's not the same here. I mean, a lot of the stuff I talk about with them is pretty meaningless and it's just for the laughs." Masaru said softly in the silence. " It's different with us."
At least during moments like this, Masaru felt like he connected with the blond more than his classmates. True, Tohma was different from all of his classmates, despite being the same age as all of them. It was just like he had ranted to them; he was the biggest strategy-obsessed perfectionist he'd ever met, like some superman. Plus a nobleman who got a lot of attention either from his status or his looks. Probably both. Or at least the latter if it were a complete stranger in Japan.
Erk... but there was way more to it than that! The two of them had experienced so much together ever since entering DATS. They had witnessed the cause of human emotions attracting Digimon into the real world and protected people through a great deal of cases. They had spent nights together in the Digital World and traveled through it far and wide. They had saved both worlds from destructive tyranny. They had survived through unfortunate deaths of their comrades and betrayal in order to protect those they held dear...
" It's because we're both working at DATS and we've got the Digimon to look after," said Tohma.
.....Huh? No? No wait, yes, that was true too, but... that wasn't where Masaru's line of thought had been going.
" Looking after the Digimon? It feels more like babysitting than anything else when you put it like that..."
Tohma smiled sympathetically. " You haven't had any fights since then... Well, neither have I, for that matter."
" At least you get to explore the Digital World," Masaru muttered. " Say, I hear you haven't been letting any of the film crew Dive with you."
Tohma didn't say anything at first as he continued to brush Masaru's hair. " It's too dangerous to bring those without Digimon partners to the Digital World."
" Is that really all there is to it?" Masaru said in doubt. " Don't you get fed up with them following you around everywhere too? I bet you get some good private time with Gaomon there in the Digital World."
" Let me just say this, but I was only making trips to the Digital World for certain research purposes. It doesn't have anything to do with DATS's mission specifically."
It seemed Tohma noticed Masaru sulking even though the brunet wasn't trying to show that he was. " So that's what brought you up here? You couldn't stand them following you around everywhere, so you went upstairs instead of back home? I know you have some issues in the logic department, but this..."
" Hey! I have an actual reason, thank you very much!" He stared at Tohma's reflection in the mirror in front of them. He cleared his head and remembered. " I need to ask you... Answer me honestly. Something... something happened back on ElDoradimon that you're not telling me."
Tohma had been in the middle of a brushing, and Masaru felt the slightest bit of faltering in that grip before it returned to normal.
" What exactly are you referring to?"
" ...Do I really need to tell you?"
Tohma looked back at him in the mirror's reflection. Masaru tried to read his expression, but it was so mixed that he couldn't get the faintest idea of what it was before Tohma replied.
" Masaru... that... Forget it ever happened."
Tohma let out a breath spilling with his usual knack for concern. " I'm glad enough that I can still be here talking to you like this at all. Dealing with Kurata back then was... tremendously difficult."
Masaru brought his gaze off the mirror for a moment and went to look back at the real Tohma.
" The hell you on about? Kurata's gone now. It's thanks to us. All of us. I don't know what the heck you were doing by pretending to be on Kurata's side, but now I know that it was all for a good deed still. If you hadn't come back... I seriously would've thought you went and gone insane," Masaru paused. " I'm glad you didn't."
" Hmph," Tohma replied in a near grunt. " We should leave it at that then. Forget about everything else that happened around there."
" ...I can't."
They were silent again. Tohma sighed. " Then what do you want me to do about it?"
Tohma had a point there. He hadn't thought that far. He had asked, hoping to get a full answer and to resolve things, but what kind of resolution was he expecting?
" Hey, YOU're the genius here..." Masaru said in a sulky voice. " I bet you can figure it out. That's... that's why I'm asking in the first place."
Masaru shifted slightly as he heard his name. The look in those azure blue eyes was that of someone who had more to say. But something was holding him back.
" Argh, where am I even going with this? Maybe I'm just going nuts because I haven't had a fight in a long time. You know what? Enough with the asking games from me. I'm still not getting anything."
They both ended up staring at the mirror for a while. Masaru knew clearly that he was frustrated at everything going on recently, and he was starting to feel a little bad about dumping all that frustration onto Tohma now.
But wait a sec, a lot of that frustration really was coming from Tohma in the first place, right? After all, Masaru had gone without fights for periods of times like this, such as the times after he had gotten in trouble with the police. He'd be able to wait it out back then rather painlessly. This time was completely different since he had such unresolved issues with Tohma.
He wasn't even sure what kind of resolutions he was going to get, but he just wanted SOMETHING to clear his mind somehow, even if it meant lashing out a bit.
" Just tell me already."
" Tell you..."
" I don't know what it is, but you're not telling me something! Or just... SOMETHING's missing! I... won't feel settled until I find out what it is. All I know is that it has to do with you."
They went back to a direct staring contest of sorts. Tohma expression slowly started to change out of its stoic wall into one of solemn surrender. Was he finally getting the resolve to talk?
And then sudden beeps echoed through the room, causing Masaru to jump slightly. It was coming from their communicators.
" Shit. Don't tell me those guys are trying to find me..." Masaru muttered. No bloody way was he going to let the filming crew interrupt at such timing.
Tohma looked at Masaru for a moment before he went to answer his, no longer holding that surrendering face he had on just earlier. Was that a glint of disappointment he saw in Tohma's eyes? Disappointment of what?
" Tohma speaking."
" Where did Masaru go?" came the operator's voice. It wasn't Kurosaki or Shirakawa during Masaru's shift, but another lady of similar caliber whose surname was Aoi.
Masaru was in the middle of making a motion to take away Tohma's communication device when the next transmission came in. " Anyway, we've got a Digimon on the loose."
" What, seriously?!" Masaru shouted before he could hold himself back. He couldn't stop his grabbing motion, but it didn't matter since Tohma had easily dodged him anyway. He practically fell down.
" Masaru? Good, you're there. It's a real emergency; we need to send the both of you out there!"
" Both of us? What's going on?"
" It's a big one... It's an Ultimate Level! An Ultimate Level Digimon appeared!"
Memories can be haunting... and they can be a blessing. Boys, what will you make of them...
Actually, what a mess. *patpats them*