The nightmares started that night. With everything that had happened in such a short span of time, it wasn't an unusual occurrence for him. Like the nightmare MetalPhantomon had cursed upon him, these nightmares always had something coming after him, something he'd be unable to shake off no matter what he tried to do.

Except now he'd be stuck in a monotone-patched space of nothingness, and out of the blue, hands would come at his neck. Very familiar hands...

Every night. The same hands. He'd struggle against them, trying to bring his fists up to punch them away, but he couldn't even bend his arms up in front of him or make a fist. In the meantime, he'd try to dodge and find his way out, but every time, they would get him without fail. It was a terrible struggle, and he hated it. Yet, he couldn't bring himself to wake up. At some point, he even half-consciously realized that he was having a nightmare, that his actual self was still safe and sound in the hospital bed and that his mind was just giving him a bad time. He would even remember that he needed the rest for his body to recover, and it would give him the willpower to continue through the nightmare.

The hands would grab his neck and squeeze. He wouldn't be able to do a thing to fight back.

And then he would wake up, shocked by the sudden change of scenery of the sun shining in from the window next to him. He'd realized he'd just had a nightmare, and the memories of the details that happened within would quickly fade away. He'd forget everything that went through his mind as the hands had him in their grip.

He'd only remember the hands.


Most of the time, he had nothing else to do but do exercises with his upper half, watch TV or attempt to do his summer homework. Yep, compulsory school sure had its fun times. His school had been notified of the incident and they had sent him supplementary workbook packets to do for the last few days he had missed. He wasn't sure how it was supposed to replace schooling, but it wasn't like he cared much in the first place. Even with the summer break coming up, with how much school Tohma had told him he'd be missing, he wouldn't be surprised if he had to be pulled back a year anyway.

He honestly didn't have much to think about that. School was school.

He had flipped the TV on at some point and some news was reeling by about DATS activity and the "hiatus" of their TV program. Now that he thought about it, he never did get to see the reactions from his classmates about being exposed as a member of DATS.

None of his classmates had ever been to his house before, so he knew they wouldn't be able to hound him there either, which relieved him since he couldn't be home to protect Mother and Chika. At least Agumon was with them, so he could leave most of his role to his yellow subordinate.

They wouldn't be hounded anywhere else either since the location of the temporary headquarters, also known as Tohma's mansion, was kept confidential from the public eye as well. People would be able to see some of the interior and all from the television program, but it wasn't like the general public would know it was the Norstein mansion from that.

The hospital was very close to the Norstein mansion and about the same distance from Masaru's house, so his family and Agumon visited every few days, bringing the things from Tohma's list with them.

" You're doing your chores around the house properly and all, right, Agumon?" Masaru would stop and ask. " Don't go troubling Mom too much."

" Yeah, yeah," Agumon would reply, and all of a sudden Masaru would feel like he was the nagging mother talking to an adolescent, and he'd frown. But he honestly wanted to make sure his family was doing all right without him in the house.

" I'm thoroughly making sure he is!" Chika would say proudly. " He's the one with nothing else to do, so of course he should be doing it properly."

Yoshino and Lalamon came to visit after a few days, bringing a basket of pudding snacks for Masaru to treat himself. She also came with the news that the Noguchi's would be moving into Masaru's neighborhood so that Ikuto could help out DATS and start going to the same school as Chika. His parents had naturally been concerned about Ikuto dealing with more Demon Lords, but Satsuma reassured them that Ikuto was just as capable as the other DATS members despite his age. They would be in need of more Digimon Tamers without Masaru on duty, since Digimon would still be wandering into the human world too, and Ikuto himself wanted to help out in that area. Satsuma's persuasion and Ikuto's motivation seemed to work on the parents, for their attitude slowly transformed from that of constant worry to a calm pride and joy in letting Ikuto participate. Seeing Ikuto get excited about being able to do what he did best always brought a smile to Masaru.

And Tohma would visit almost every day. On most days, he'd only stop by for a few minutes, saying he was just on his way to check up some documents in the hospital or to inspect Masaru's healing process, as his physician.

Sometimes BanchouLeomon and Minervamon would come with him too, and there'd be conversation about the progress on the Demon Lords. Those Demon Lords were rather slippery fellows, for even when the DATS crew went hunting for them in Asgard, they wouldn't show themselves. After what happened to Lucemon, it was no surprise for them to be taking precautions and go around hiding.

Towards the end of the third week, Tohma ran some tests in the hospital.

" I must say, your healing rate is mind-boggling... I'd say you should be ready to start the rehab soon."

" Seriously?! What was that about more than a month or whatever?"

" I was just saying that as an estimate..." Tohma said as he looked through a number of charts on the clipboard in his hands. " Of course I didn't assume that it would apply to you. The hard part starts AFTER healing, remember."

" Yeah, I know. I'm gonna be even FASTER in that part though."

" Masaru..."

A certain dark and magenta-haired woman peeked into the room. " Masaru, you awake? I've got more treats for you!"

" Sure am," Masaru replied quickly. " Yo, Yoshino."

" Ikuto's here too!" came a younger voice. Ikuto dived in with Falcomon following him.

" Hey, we're in a hospital. Don't run around like that!" Yoshino warned, tugging Ikuto by his neck like a cat. He was wearing a set of casual clothes that looked more "ordinary" than his usual Digital World outfit. He'd gotten rid of his face marks as well.

" Ikuto," Masaru said with a chuckle. " How's it like to be back with your parents?"

" Mommy cooks really good food!" was the first thing he answered. " And Daddy shows me all sorts of interesting gadgets. They're lots of fun!"

" The Noguchi's have already moved into your neighborhood. He'll be going to school soon," said Yoshino.

" School, eh... You excited, Ikuto?" Masaru asked as Ikuto went up to his bed.

" I don't know... I've never been to school."

" That's true. That'll be quite an experience, I bet. Just let Chika show you around." He ruffled Ikuto's hair a bit.

" Okay..." Ikuto looked a little unsure about dealing with Chika.

" There's another piece of news we've got for you," Yoshino said as she set a visiting gift down next to the bedside table. " Ikuto and I defeated two of the Demon Lords yesterday."

" Whoa, seriously?" Masaru said, his expression lifting visibly.

" Wow. Good work," Tohma said with honest admiration. " Which ones did you defeat?"

" Barbamon and Demon," Yoshino replied. " We were just wandering around Asgard and we came across this area covered in complete darkness... I swear everything in Asgard is just covered in darkness anyway. It must be some effect from the Demon Lords. So they were lurking over there, probably plotting some scheme to take over the world and junk. They seemed like those kind of characters at least."

Lalamon hovered over. " Don't they all? They're Demon Lords, after all."

" We got our Burst Modes!" The youngest one piped.

" Really? That's awesome, Ikuto!" Masaru said happily.

" You're not even a DATS member, yet you're right up in our ranks," Tohma added to the compliments.

" Hmm! Asgard not so scary either," Ikuto said, striking a haughty pose. " Just bunches of dark spaces."

" Is Asgard really like that?" Masaru wondered. " It's all like that cell we were in?"

Tohma put the clipboard down on another table in the room. " It's even less than the cell we were in. I suppose you'd get used to it after wandering through it for a few trips."

" Oh really... Hey, I thought of something recently," said Masaru. " Why aren't the Royal Knights or those 12 Onion Gods helping out?"

" 12 Olympian Gods."

" Yeah, whatever. It's their Digital World too, right? If the Royal Knights are anything like Omegamon, I bet they could take out the Demon Lords like no one's business. Not that I mind you guys saving the action for me, but..."

Tohma again stepped in with the explanation. " The Royal Knights serve Yggdrasil, and at times like this, Yggdrasil goes into observation mode, assuming the rest of the Digimon will take care of things. They won't bother doing anything until they see a direct threat to the Digital World. Or so Minervamon tells me."

" That's... kind of lazy."

" And the Olympian Gods... according to Minervamon, she hasn't met the other ones since the sealing. She doesn't know where to find them in the Digital World. Mercurimon was the only one she was close to."

The young genius pursed his lips, upset expression plastered on his face as he finished.

" ......"

Yoshino stepped in to break the silence. " All right, all right. Masaru, enjoy the pudding I brought you today, okay? I need to take Ikuto back with me, so we'll be going now. It was good seeing you!"

" Weh, already?" Masaru looked slightly forlorn at their quick warning of departure.

" Yeah, Mommy and Daddy go treat Yoshino for lunch at our new place. Bye bye, Masaru!"

" Get better soon!" Falcomon and Lalamon cheered.

They were out of the room as quickly as they came in.

Tohma sighed with a smile. " I really wonder if he'll be okay in school when he's like that at his age."

" Huh, with Ikuto? I don't notice anything particularly not okay."

" It's mostly his grammar skills, Masaru. And although Minervamon learned to read and write human languages, Ikuto hasn't, and he hasn't even been exposed to that much of human culture yet. Especially in Japan."

" Oh, I'm sure he'll be fine. I mean look at me, I've got fifteen years in Japan on him and I STILL can't read much out of the newspapers outside the sports section!"

Tohma sighed again. " I hate to say this, but I think he's at least got far better intuition than you for certain things."

Masaru was about to interject, but Tohma continued. " I think it's a result of growing up in the Digital World where one would have to survive without human-refined technology. Hmph, you got rid of my worries about him pretty quickly."

" Growing up in the Digital World, eh..." Masaru reiterated. " How's working with Minervamon? You've been mentioning her an awful lot."

" Oh, have I? Well, as a Digimon who's lived through ancient times, she has a lot of knowledge that could be useful for my research. That could be why I find her interesting."

Masaru thought Minervamon was interesting and all too, but something felt unsettling about it all.

" Masaru, it's written all over your face. I know how much you want to get back into the battlefield, but there's no use in getting jealous of Minervamon for it."

True, he was envious of Minervamon for getting action, but that was hardly what was gripping him... In various senses of the word.

But he was injured, after all. Even if he wanted in on the action, there was nothing he could do about it now except hurry up and get better.

Masaru pushed himself up with his arms to bend forward a bit. " I'm gonna start moving around tomorrow."

" What? But you're still healing."

" You said I could start rehab soon, didn't you?"

" I meant soon as in a few more days. If you do something harmful while your bones are still healing, you'll just make things worse for yourself."

" ......"

" ...If you insist, at least make sure I'm there to supervise you when you start. You'll always need someone there with you for this to start off, since it's both of your legs that need work."

" Right, right. I'll do that, then," Masaru said in a mild surrender, leaning back onto the bed.

But that was all Tohma needed to hear. " Good. I'll be back tomorrow then. Don't overdo yourself, okay?"

" Yeah, yeah."

Tohma gave him a light smile before leaving. Masaru returned it, but went back to a sullen face as he found himself alone again.

Yeah. Until he could step out together with his comrades again...


As he had said, Masaru started moving his legs the next day when Tohma arrived. Or at least he tried to. Even with Tohma watching over him, he couldn't even get his knees to bend no matter how much he willed himself past the pain.

" It really is too early for this, Masaru. Even for you," Tohma said after several failed attempts, sitting back down on the seat next to the bed. " Give it a rest and try another day."

" I just can't settle down like this... I gotta MOVE!!" Masaru said with utter dissatisfaction. He rolled his hands into fists and started punching thin air as much as his upper half would let him.

" Now that I think of it, you were like this at the end of the third week after we defeated Belphemon too..." Tohma observed, tilting back a little to avoid the punches. " It's rather unfortunate how you keep running through this string of bad luck."

" You're telling me." Masaru said pointedly, remembering how he had made his escape into Tohma's room and how things had snowballed from there. He stopped punching. " Ah, that's right. I left my bike at your place way back then."

" Oh, you don't have to worry about that. It's secured in our storage area. Do you want me to have it sent back to your house?"

" Naw, don't bother. It'll give me an excuse to come back to your place so we can finish that sleepover."

Tohma froze for a moment. Then he calmly looked at Masaru in a tacit agreement, then brought the subject back. " You should have seen now that it's too early to start moving around on those legs. Don't try it again for another few days, got it? I think by then, you'll be ready."

" Fine."

Tohma started heading for the doorway, this time pausing on his own, as if inviting Masaru to ask something.

So he took him up for the invitation.

" Tohma, why is it YOU who's in charge of my recovery? Couldn't someone else be doing this?"

Tohma hesitated to answer. " Do you think I'm not capable?"

" That's not it... I mean aren't you busy working on that Digital Code thing?"

" Not to be boastful or anything, but it'd be the most efficient to bring you back to full condition if I'm supervising you. Satsuma recommended it as well. It's for the benefit of DATS, since you're a valuable team member. That's all there is to it. I'll see you later."

' A valuable team member, is it,' Masaru repeated in his mind, humbly agreeing, yet at the same time, unconvinced. He could tell Tohma wasn't giving him a full answer still, but until he could sort out his own thoughts, he was going to let Tohma go without further badgering.

" Yeah. See you later."

He had to admit, he felt quite at ease with Tohma checking up on him. He was getting his meals from the Norstein residence as well, so he was definitely getting all the nutrition he needed for healing properly.

And while Masaru was paying close attention to maintaining his other physical abilities by himself, he felt more assured when someone as close to him as Tohma came by. At all other times, he'd be surrounded by the older women and men who worked in the hospital. While they were all kind and helpful people, they strictly kept up the barrier between patient and hospital worker. He even wondered if he did something to scare them... Then again, they all worked under DATS, so he had seen some of them before his incident. Maybe he had some kind of reputation from back then? He wasn't even doing anything that would cause them trouble. For himself, he was being extremely obedient and cooperative with them.

Tohma was the only one he'd argue with... Because Tohma had his thoughts clear cut and Masaru's methods didn't always agree with his. Because Tohma was willing to argue back. Because Tohma was willing to fight for what he believed in.

Because Tohma was there to support him...



That night, his nightmares started to transform. Instead of an empty, monotone void, he'd find himself in a deep valley, sort of like the one in his MetalPhantomon dream with the Numemon. For a while, the hands would still be coming after his neck, and he would still be unable to fight back, but if he managed to avoid them long enough, the hands would start doing different things...

They'd start to shove him around, push, pull, tug... Eventually, it would seem like the hands were starting to get a personality of their own as if they were enjoying bullying Masaru in various ways. Yet still, Masaru was unable to fight back, and enduring the teasing grew more stressful by the moment.

But when it had come to that point, he'd stop reacting at all. Again, his consciousness would arise that he was having a nightmare, and regardless of what he did, his actual self wouldn't be any different as soon as he woke up. So he'd stop bothering with the hands and just lay back, practically going to sleep in his own dream.

And then the hands would eventually stop and leave him alone.


His rehab began regularly a few days later, just like Tohma said. He could move his legs again. Even if it still hurt, even if he was still doing slow, basic movements, it was such a gratifying feeling for him.

In order to recover faster, Masaru was asked to stay at the hospital until he had restored most of his leg functions. Supposedly, his right leg would take longer to recover than his left since his left had less damage, but either way, he was told he wouldn't walk on his own for a long time. That of course didn't matter to him, for he set his own guidelines and did slow movement exercises even when someone wasn't there to supervise him. He didn't have a knack for knowing when he was tired, but he DID have a knack for knowing what was out of his direct movement limits, so he kept going at it way more than the average person.

And with Tohma arranging his "super-condensed" therapy schedule, he was doing exercises almost the entire time he was awake. Part of it was just out of pure gratitude for being able to move his legs again, but most of it was his motivation to get back into action with DATS. To fight with Agumon as his partner, to fight with Tohma as his teammate...

He laughed when he came to this realization, since it was just like his motivation for defeating Kurata, except now he was in a completely different situation. And he knew Tohma was in full-support of him this time. Even though there was something odd going on below the surface between them that he still didn't get, Tohma was there for him. That's what mattered to him most.

He had a wheelchair to let him move locations on his own, but he couldn't spend so much time on it before the pain in his legs became so unbearable that he had to go back on the bed to keep them elevated. He only used painkillers to help him go to sleep, so whenever he was awake, he'd just pull through with solid manly guts. Yep.

A week or so into the rehab, his battle-comrade-turned-physician came into the hospital room with BanchouLeomon following after him. Masaru was on his wheelchair when he greeted them.

BanchouLeomon gave Masaru a solid look as the other returned the gaze upwards from his wheelchair, as if something about his appearance had brought a particular thought to the Digimon.

" How's the recovery progressing?" BanchouLeomon asked.

Masaru relayed his story to the banchou while the other listened with his usual, intent gaze. Tohma wrote notes for the other nurses on his clipboard in the meanwhile, passively eavesdropping on the brunet's talk.

" Of course, you've been moving around on your own without supervision, haven't you," Tohma said when the brunet finished.

Masaru kept his lips shut after letting out the tiniest "geh."

" Well, I've been factoring that into your rehab schedule already, so I'm not worried about that," Tohma noted, barely lifting an eyebrow as he continued to write on his clipboard. " In fact, keep it up. You're doing fine."

Masaru blinked a few times, surprised at hearing the compliment.

" Mm, indeed, keep up the pace," BanchouLeomon said with a nod. " And then come with us to the final battle and show me your Burst Digisoul with your renewed strength."

The Digimon placed one of his massive, lion-like hands on Masaru's head as a gesture of support. It was strange... the only ones BanchouLeomon ever bothered to get close to were him and Minervamon. He'd seen him and Minervamon, but he could easily sense the natural intent of that gesture since those two had been friends for so long. Now that BanchouLeomon had his hand on his head, he wasn't sure what to make of it.

Out of the blue, BanchouLeomon brushed his thumb over Masaru's forehead, pushing away some of his bangs momentarily. Masaru blinked with a questioning grunt.

" This scar..." BanchouLeomon said quietly.

" Oh, yeah." Masaru tilted so that Tohma could see it too. There was a small line of skin lighter than the rest at the very top of his forehead, normally hidden by his bangs. " I got this scar from falling off the monkey bars when I was little."

" Hmm." BanchouLeomon pulled his hand back to cross his arms. He turned to the blond next to him. " Tohma, it's about time for you to know. I have some clues you can use in producing the Digital Code when we get back to the DATS building."

" Clues...?"

The banchou only bid farewell to Masaru as he left the room.

Tohma looked at Masaru for any indication.

" Guess you'll find out when you head over there. You might actually get ahead on that Digital Code before I finish recovering," Masaru said with a grin.

Tohma put the clipboard with the finished papers on the desk next to the door, then went up to Masaru's wheelchair. He bent down and brought a hand to the brunet's forehead, just where BanchouLeomon had been brushing against earlier.

Masaru flinched.


He didn't even mean to. He... had no reason to. And why was it just with Tohma?!

Tohma pulled his hand back. " I have a feeling that BanchouLeomon's 'clue' is something big. He mentioned it to me earlier, but he wouldn't go into details... until now. Depending on what this clue is, I might be tied up working with it, so I might not see you for a while... I'll still be arranging your rehab schedule, but I won't have time to visit. Think you'll be okay?"

" Yeah, I'll be fine." He knew Tohma had seen him flinch and was feeling remorse from it, which made Masaru curse to himself. " Don't... push yourself too much."

Yet Tohma still gave him a guileless look, one of firm confidence. " Who do you think I am?"

That supposedly rhetorical question stood out to Masaru like a black sheep. In one aspect, he could answer with no doubts. In another aspect, he'd be led by countless thoughts that would repeat in his head like a lame paradox. And just getting asked like that, he didn't feel he understood his own situation enough to answer even if he had to.

" And the same goes for you," Tohma continued for him. " When I'm done, I'll help you with some of the exercises myself instead of just planning out your schedule. How's that sound."

Masaru looked at him, caught too distraught to say anything.

" ...Masaru."

" Ah?"

The brunet snapped out of his little daze and stared back at Tohma. Tohma simply stared back for a moment.

" ...No, it's nothing. Do your best with the rehab, all right?"

He went to reach out with his hand again, but stopped before Masaru could even react. Yet Masaru still noticed when Tohma pulled back.

With that, the blond stood up and left after bidding his usual farewell.

Masaru watched the doorway for a while, still feeling lost. Tohma was doing so much for him, yet he couldn't get rid of his own trifling fears of the past? How ridiculous was that? He'd never accept himself like this, and he knew he had to start doing something about it as soon as possible.


The hands in his dreams, after they had stopped poking at him out of boredom, would settle on his shoulders and not move. Of course, it weirded him out even in his own dream to have just HANDS there, but nonetheless it was relieving that they weren't agitating him anymore. He'd pass through his nights peacefully.

He'd been naturally forgetting the details in his nightmares-turned-into-dreams not long after waking up, only remembering that the hands had been there and they'd given him a rough time before settling down.

But the latest few dreams would just keep popping back into his mind throughout his waking day.

He'd suddenly be running around the valleys, looking for a way out. Gone were the nights when he'd just peacefully lie still in the valley. He couldn't stand still, and he wanted out, but he couldn't find his way. He could move his arms freely again, yet even then he wasn't finding a way out. He'd climb the sides only to find himself in another valley. It was an endless abyss...

Until at last he would come across a door with a round doorknob... hovering right there in the sky, out of his reach. No matter how much he jumped and lunged himself at the door, he couldn't reach the knob.

And he'd be completely alone, no hands in sight.


Maybe he just had to do the opposite, even if it meant forcing himself a little. Rather than cringe back from his fears, he should confront them. He resolved to keep himself more open to Tohma the next time they'd see each other, perhaps even get in his face some to chase out any remaining desires of avoidance that was getting in his way. Yeah, that sounded more like him anyway. With his broken-down condition, he hadn't been getting in the mood to argue with Tohma like he used to. At least he was pretty sure that was the reason for it. Whatever it was, he wasn't going to let it get in the way of holding up to his manliness any longer.

He had plenty of time to prepare himself for, as weeks went by without Tohma coming to his hospital room. He'd see Tohma walk by here and there on occasional days, but he would obviously be busy with something else since the young doctor never even stopped by to wave from the windows.

Masaru had managed to walk on his own after a long slough of failed effort, except he would soon have to sit back down from the pain he was getting from putting pressure on his ankles. He'd quickly grow frustrated at himself for succumbing to the pain and try walking again on his own, but one of the nurses would eventually catch him and stop him.

It was a grueling few weeks, just working on getting his basic leg functions back and diminishing the pain. His mother, Chika and Agumon would still visit normally too, although he wouldn't have much of anything new to say to them whenever they did. He was fed up with the constant pain he was in, but his manly pride wouldn't let him complain about it, and everyone around him revered him for that at least. It was just enough of a confidence boost to keep him going on his road to recovery.

It just sucked that the last time he'd gotten a chance to deal with Tohma, he'd gone off and acted like such a coward against his own will...

Well, he wasn't so sure about Tohma either, for that matter. Whenever he saw Tohma come by, it'd be during a visit from someone else. So even if Masaru perchance saw Tohma walk by, his visitors would be occupying his attention. Of course, he could just forget them and start physically chasing after the blond, but at what cost for his weak legs? He at least wanted to save himself the embarrassment of the possibility of collapsing while chasing after another guy his age in a hospital.

In fact, even BanchouLeomon and Minervamon would visit him while Tohma passed by in the background. They'd tell him about the other things going on at DATS, particularly with Yoshino and Ikuto as they continued excavating Asgard in search of the Demon Lords. And with no luck either, since they hadn't even gotten close to encountering any of the other Demon Lords since their previous victory.

Masaru looked a little forlorn when he heard the news, but BanchouLeomon said it was nothing to worry about.

" We'll find them in time for you to come back. We're starting to get clues about how they go about hiding in Asgard... it's only a matter of time when we'll have them completely figured out," BanchouLeomon informed him. " You just concentrate on your rehab."

" Hey, BanchouLeomon... what exactly was the clue you told Tohma about?" Masaru looked at the banchou with all seriousness in mind.

However, the lion man merely shifted the leaf in his mouth to the other side of his face.

" You wouldn't understand even if I told you. I suggest you ask Tohma himself about how he's handling things."

" Well, I'd like to, but he hasn't come in ever since you told him."

" Hmm? That's unusual."

" Yeah..."

BanchouLeomon gave Masaru a long stare.

Minervamon cocked her head, not completely sure what was going on. " He does seem a little off-kilter lately. Or is he ALWAYS that boring? I dunno how you deal with him, kid."

Masaru jerked his head slightly. Tohma, boring? But he always felt on edge whenever he was around... " He's a good fighter, you know. Not as good as me, of course, but he's good."

" Heh, really? But I've already got BanchouLeomon to spar with, so I'm not really interested in trying him out."

" Hmph, I'd sure like a chance to spar ANYONE right now..."

Minervamon frowned with pure guilt. " Sorry..."

" No, it's fine. It's not your fault."

" But..."

" I should've been stronger. If I'd been stronger, I could've broken out of the Demon Lord's control like Tohma had and this wouldn't have happened to me."

The realization sunk in further. If Tohma hadn't broken out of the control on his own, if he hadn't brought out his Burst Mode to defeat Lilithmon... he probably would've choked Masaru to death. Masaru wouldn't even have his life spared.

" If Tohma thinks he's undeserving of any thanks for that incident, what does that make ME who couldn't break out of the control at all..." he said to himself, gritting his teeth.

He suddenly felt a heavy gaze from BanchouLeomon, heavier than anything he had noticed before.

" That Tohma really is a strong one, isn't he," the banchou said quietly, yet solidly.

" ...Yeah," Masaru replied, a little awed that the Digimon was making such considerate remarks towards another human besides himself for once.

Masaru blinked some. Now that he thought about it, it even seemed like BanchouLeomon had a different personality when he dealt with Masaru and his comrades compared to how he interacted with Minervamon. It was a subtle, subtle difference, but even Masaru was beginning to sense something.

He suddenly felt a hand on his head again and he jerked in surprise. It was BanchouLeomon.

BanchouLeomon stood up and went to the doorway to make his departure. " I'll see you again, Masaru. Come on, Minervamon. I've got one more thing for Tohma."


It'd been about two months since he was admitted into the hospital.

It was nighttime, when the level of activity in his part of the hospital simmered down, yet was still alive with hospital workers roaming the hallways.

Tohma came into view in the window, walking with his white lab coat on and with a clipboard in hand as usual. But this time, instead of passing by as he usually did, he walked into Masaru's room.

Masaru blinked in surprise from his wheelchair. Then he gave a quick wave with his elbow and hand, still looking a little bewildered.

Tohma just stared at him. Something was definitely different about him, as if he had just heard some shocking news. No, it was even more than that. Masaru could readily tell that things were piling up on the blond and he hadn't even gotten a chance to sort through most of it.

" Had a long day?" Masaru started. ' More like a long month?'

At first, it seemed Tohma didn't even register the question. Then he shook his head slightly, took a deep breath, and took a seat next to Masaru sitting on his wheelchair. He set his clipboard down on the desk nearby, took another deep breath, then finally answered. " More like a long month."

Masaru chuckled. So for once they were thinking on the same lines. This was a good start.

" Heh, yeah, you haven't come in since then. Did BanchouLeomon give you that much of a good clue that you couldn't even stop by and say hello once in a while?"

Tohma's eyes widened and his mouth hung open as he looked off to one side. That... was sort of a strange reaction.

" Did something bad happen?" Masaru asked.

" N... No, it's the opposite, really," Tohma said as he snapped himself out of his mini-daze. " Progress on the Digital Code is essentially complete. We've sealed up the Demon Lords that we've defeated already... All that's left are the three that we haven't found yet. The Digital Code as it is right now is only guaranteed to work when they're Digieggs, but as Ultimate levels, their amount of data would likely be incompatible with the Code, so we still have to defeat them once we find them."

" Whoa, you finished the code thing? So that means you won our competition, doesn't it. Hmph, at least I didn't bet anything this time," Masaru said with a sarcastic frown. " Seriously man, that's awesome."

Tohma stared at him again, still looking as if his mind wasn't really in the room. Masaru was hoping the blond would look a little happier than he did right now. ' Be happy, smile, or SOMETHING!' he kept thinking.

So he punched the doctor's gut. Just enough to jolt him. And after a whole month, it was quite satisfying.

Tohma responded rather vocally. That and he almost fell off his chair since he had been sitting to one side of it, but he managed to regain his balance at the last moment.

" Dude, Tohma. Are you really okay?"

" Y-Yeah," Tohma replied with some nervousness. " Sorry, it's just that... I feel like I've discovered a lot of things today."

" Discovered? You mean for finishing the Digital Code?"

" Well, that's one, yes. And even more, but I could just be thinking too far into it... I haven't told you yet..."

Tohma repositioned himself on the chair to make sure he was sitting properly this time. " And something else... Before coming here, I was on the phone with my father to tell him the news about the Digital Code."

" Your father..." Masaru repeated, faintly conjuring up the image of the brief moment when he had seen the older Norstein months back. " I remember seeing him once. What, is he involved with the Digimon like my dad?"

Again, Tohma made a sudden, gaping expression. But he soon pulled himself together and responded.

" No, he isn't involved with the Digimon... The reason why I got myself so deeply involved with the Digital Code was because establishing the biochemical link between humans and Digimon could lead to the discovery of a cure for a certain human disease that's currently incurable. And this disease... is what my younger sister is afflicted with."

Masaru shifted back. " Younger sister?"

" You might've seen her before she went back to Austria. She's in a wheelchair."

" Oh, her... Yeah, I remember." Masaru took his gaze off for a moment to get some time to think. Mostly, ' Whoa, he had a little sister?! That was her? I had no idea... Then again, Tohma doesn't seem to have any other family living with him here. They all went back to Austria then? And Tohma's still here? Wha...'

He'd never thought that far about Tohma's family situation before. It'd almost gotten to the point where he thought it just didn't exist, because Tohma seemed so PERFECT that it wouldn't make a difference whether he had a family or not, as odd as that thought was to him now.

Wait, that meant he'd had so much extra motivation because he was out looking for a cure for his younger sister? No wonder... Actually, for Tohma to be so dedicated for his family's sake, Masaru found himself holding a renewed sense of respect for the aristocrat.

" So this is all for her..." Masaru said with a subdued tone. " And here I'd thought you were just some perfect genius prince with a soft spot for Digimon all this time, but there's a lot more to you than you make yourself out to be."

Tohma cleared his throat. " A soft spot for Digimon...?"

" Isn't it true? That's why we struggled together against Belphemon and all, right? It was for the sake of the Digimon. And then you and Gaomon always have this odd, silent relationship thing going on... he's with you right now in the Digivice, isn't he?"

" Mm, well yes, right now he is since it's nighttime. He does sometimes stay at DATS when I visit here during the daytime, you know. But why..."

" And Minervamon..."

Masaru didn't even know what the heck he was saying. It really didn't have to concern him, yet...

" Masaru, what..."

" Ack, that's not what I'm trying to say anyway!" Masaru raised his voice. " I'm saying... that it's awesome... It's awesome that you're doing this for your sister and everything. Seriously, that's being a man. Hey, you should totally introduce her to Chika when she's better. They're around the same age, right?"

" I think Relena's a little younger, but they're close. Yeah, I'll introduce her."

" Cool!" Masaru said, perhaps with too much vigor. " Sorry, I don't know what I was talking about earlier... It's just hard for me to admit this stuff, yeah? I mean, I'm happy for you, just don't forget that I'M the one who's going to bust up that last Demon Lord when the time comes, so... don't forget... that I'm here..."

Huh? Now he really didn't understand where he was going...

And Tohma's confused look was matching his thoughts. " Masaru, I thought I was following you in this conversation, but you just lost me again. Why do you think I'm visiting you right now?"

Masaru scratched the back of his head sheepishly, fishing for words. " Well, that is... err... you said you were going to do the actual rehab exercises or such with me after you finished the Digital Code, right?"

" Yes, I do remember saying that, and I intend to stay with that plan."

" Then..." Masaru found his face heating up a little when he couldn't find another way to say it. " Make sure you don't go around thinking about other things and losing your focus when you're with me, got it? I know your sister's important, and I appreciate that, I really do. But if your mind's not with me when it counts... you'll... you'll mess me up too."

Tohma raised his eyebrows. And then a single laugh erupted from his throat. Followed by several more. Masaru just watched him as he finished laughing. " Were you... worried that I'd be so distracted that I'd be a hindrance to your rehab sessions? Sorry, but I still have full confidence that you'll have the fastest recovery ever for someone with your injuries. The pain while you're walking has started to diminish already, right?"

" Yeah..." Masaru answered blankly, his mind still caught with the other things Tohma said.

" Then you're progressing smoothly. That's good," Tohma said with a smile. " Really, the way you think sometimes... It's still beyond me."

" Eheheheh..." Normally, he'd join in on the haughty act, but he was honestly still confused. Yeah, he was "worried" that something might be up with Tohma that would affect his rehab, but he wasn't "worried" just for THAT...

Huh? The way he thought was confusing for himself at times like this, but he was so close to getting something now. And he was determined to figure it out.

After all, even Tohma still had difficulty reading him. Tohma, the genius? True, he knew they'd been like that when they first knew each other, but they'd been around each other long enough that Masaru thought Tohma would be able to read him better by now. Even just now, Tohma had only hit part of Masaru's reason for his concern. But then, Masaru didn't know his reason himself. He just knew that Tohma didn't know either.

Blargh. He was getting lost in his thought process again. This wasn't how he did things. Didn't he resolve not to do things like this anymore?

" Tohma, there's something I don't get still."

" ......"

" Hey, Tohma."

Masaru slowly stood up from his wheelchair, startling Tohma slightly. But the blond was even more startled when Masaru put his fist in front of him, right up in his face.

" ...?"

" Do me a favor. Stand up and knock your fist against mine here. We'll make it an official pact, all right? We gotta concentrate on sealing up those Demon Lords, and I'm gonna be there when it happens."

" ......"

Yes, he knew it was an odd thing, asking outright. But he had to make sure, and this was the one way he knew always worked for him. Not like he was a palm reader or anything of that sort, but if there was only one thing about himself that he had confidence in, it was this fist he had in front of them. If Tohma wasn't going to tell him directly or give him explanations, he could at least get his own sense of what was going on.

After a wait of reluctance and suspicion, Tohma stood up. He looked Masaru straight in the eye, then at the fist, off to the side, then back at Masaru's eyes, each time apparently in another thought. But Tohma could tell just by looking at how serious Masaru was being. He brought his fist up--his left hand for Masaru's right, then stopped.

" This isn't some sort of substitute for having a boxing match in your imagination, is it?" Tohma asked off-handedly.

" Haa? What the heck gives you THAT idea? Just for that, I'm totally going to sock you a good one when I recover. We'll have a REAL boxing match and I'll TAKE YOU DOWN. But for now, I just need a little knock here."

" Are you sure?" Tohma asked quietly before moving his fist. " You aren't going to flinch, are you?"

Masaru felt something in him hollow out a smidgen. He quickly passed it off as his legs complaining, and he stood with more pride. " I won't. There's no reason for me to."

Tohma smiled again at the answer. Then all of a sudden, his eyelashes closed over his eyes just so that his downward gaze made his facial appearance seem surreal somehow, as if he were on the brink of his eyes watering up, yet he was holding even that back.

The silence reverberated throughout the room, enhanced by the lack of activity in the rest of the hospital.

Fist hit fist. Tohma's hit Masaru's in just a way that their knuckles overlapped each other, and a crisp sound of flesh on bone hitting against flesh on bone echoed through the room.

Neither of them pulled their fists back after the sound fell far back into the silence.

Tohma had once mentioned that Masaru's fists rang in people's hearts.

With their fists connected, it was almost as if Masaru could sense Tohma's heart.

But it was filled with such complicated feelings... Feelings of joy and pain at the same time. Feelings of complication itself.

It seemed neither of them wanted to pull back.

" Masaru..."

He could feel it in his chest, a hint of elation whenever Tohma said his name. This was...

The fighter felt blood rise up his cheeks. Their fists were still connected, practically leaning into each other to stay up.

Apparently, that blood rose so much that he didn't realize his legs had given in until he started seeing the ceiling as he fell back.

In that instant, Tohma grabbed Masaru's right wrist and brought his other arm around Masaru to keep him from collapsing. Masaru felt pain sear through his legs as he recovered his balance, but he quickly forgot about it when he saw Tohma's face right in front of him, staring back at him.

Normally, that would be the moment for Tohma to ask if Masaru was okay, but neither ended up saying anything. They just stared...

Ah. He hadn't seen Tohma this close for over a month. The nobleman's familiar scent was still there. There was a certain fatigue in those crystal blue eyes, unbefitting of his age, yet they held a sort of entrancing effect on Masaru. Maybe it had something to do with how they drooped in just the way that when Tohma stared at him, they seemed to be telling him that everything would be all right and nothing else mattered, and he believed it...

At the sensation of the tip of their noses brushing lightly against each other, Masaru snapped to attention. He felt the heat of Tohma's breath blow over his partially-open lips, and his eyes widened. Just what were they...

Tohma suddenly backed off, leading Masaru staggering back to his wheelchair.

But the blond's movements were obviously rushed. " I'll... be back tomorrow to start the rehab. Rest well tonight, Masaru. ...Good night." he said quickly. He walked through the doors and was out before Masaru could even see him off.

Masaru found himself breathing heavily all of a sudden. It seemed he had been holding his breath for some time.

They had only connected fists, but he'd actually gotten a chance to think through the action this time until that moment afterwards. He had recognized it as clear as it could be. It couldn't be anything else.

Despite Tohma claiming that he cherished their friendship, Masaru could tell...

Tohma wanted something more than friendship with him.

He realized one other thing for certain. He... was getting some kind of rush feelings himself.

The corner of his lips twitched. He could almost feel the heat of Tohma's breath on them still. They had barely been a breath away from... from...

Of all things he thought he had been missing from Tohma... no matter how much he tried to forget it all, he still wanted to know. No matter how much he tried to reverse things, they only kept coming back and confusing him. But now he knew exactly what was coming back to him...

Everything that had been going on with Tohma always holding back on him was for this?


Author blab







........Onion Knight!!