"We did it," Simon said, and he sound dazed-- like he didn't believe it, himself.
"Yeah. We did," Egakumon said, looking up at his partner and smiling; Simon smiled back. Each human knelt to the level of their partners. Some were more visibly overwhelmed than others; Emily and Kamomon had tears in their eyes, while Julian and Iguamon merely shared rare smiles, (and they most definitely did not, in any way, have misty eyes at all).
But before they had a chance to really settle into this, come to terms with it, a familiar voice rang in their heads. It caused them all to jump-- both because it was, by its necessity, very loud and thought-dominating, and also because it was unexpected. (Why, it hadn't even been a day-- from their perspective, at least -- since they had last heard it; why did it seem so nostalgic?)
You have come far, Warriors.
The voice of the Sovereign of the Center was not softer than before, not at all; but it was... gentler. There was an undeniable pride in her voice, and they -- human and digimon alike -- couldn't help themselves from puffing up a little bit at that.
We have yet to regain our forms; much work will need to be done, she continued. But your defeat of the heretic's creation has freed our data once more. I speak now for all of us: we are grateful to you, Warriors. You have saved us, and protected our world from destruction. Your journey will go down in legend.
Above them, they could just barely make out the tremendous, misted shadow of Huanglongmon's form-- pale, barely perceptible, but there-- and she was beaming down at them. They looked around; they could just barely make out other shapes, even less there than Huanglongmon. There were two familiar ones-- Azulongmon and Zhuqiaomon -- but two they hadn't seen personally, as well. A tremendous white tiger -- Baihumon -- and a two-headed tortoise, a titanic tree growing out of its shell -- Ebonwumon. Each of them, all six heads of all five gods, had their heads bowed.
They listened close; they could hear cheering, cries, yells, from somewhere beyond-- outside the hollow. These sounds melted together into a roar-- the voices of digimon from all walks of life, every corner of the Digital World.
To say it was humbling was an understatement.
But even through that, there was something that could snap their attention away.
"What are you doing?" Toby asked; it was not accusatory, or angry, or anything of the sort. It was a genuine question as, gingerly, Luke picked Sampamon up onto his shoulders and began to walk towards the crumpled dark shape that Genesimon had spit out.
They all had no doubt what it was, but that didn't mean there weren't questions.
"I..." Luke frowned, looking over his shoulder; the words 'don't know' were left unsaid. Sampamon coiled a bit tighter around her partner's shoulders, something approximating a hug. When Luke looked sidelong to her, she nodded once and closed her eyes.
He couldn't put it to words. Oh, he hated Era as much as any of them; he truly did, from the bottom of his heart, every fiber of him hated the man that lay before them.
But even so, he walked forward. He did not notice that, carefully, quietly, the others were following him. Luke half-knelt beside Era (was he even Era anymore?), crumpled on the ground, to get a better look at him.
The man was a sorry sight. He lay there, limp as a rag-doll. His clothes were torn; his skin was a sickly pale. Dried blood matted in his hair; his chest heaved and fluttered with effort. His eyes were squeezed closed behind broken glasses. Fresh blood stained the front of his shirt, much the same place where the core in Genesimon's chest had rested-- where Kisekimon's sword had impaled the monster.
And, apparently, had impaled Era himself -- to some degree --, Luke realized with a sick feeling in his stomach. Of course, being part of the digimon at that time, and not actually fully the one attacked afforded him a lot; had he suffered the impalement that Genesimon had suffered, he would be several times dead. Instead, he merely seemed to have echoes of the wound, much shallower, much more survivable.
And still incredibly nasty.
"Are you okay?" Luke asked quietly. The boy hovered, prepared to jump backwards at the slightest sign of danger. He did in fact take a half-step back when Era's eyes snapped open.
"Don't you dare touch me," the man hissed, his eyes flashing. They contained disgust and rage and pain beyond imagining-- but more than anything, pure, unfiltered hate. Contempt.
Luke looked down at the man before him-- Era, Joshua, whoever he was. He wasn't going to pry where he wasn't wanted. He slowly stood up. After everything that Era had done to them, to him, and Luke had still tried. He shook lightly, having to bite his tongue to keep from speaking.
"You tried," Julian said quietly, stepping forward and -- slightly awkwardly -- placing a hand on his teammate's (his friend's) shoulder, not quite sure if he was doing the consoling thing right. Luke did not jump, but had not noticed that his friends had followed.
"Some people just don't want to be helped," Andrea said from behind, shrugging one shoulder. Luke turned, and looked to the others.
Each of them was... well, honestly, they were a sorry sight, not that much better off than Era himself. Whether human or digimon, they were pale and bruised and tired, their eyes tired. They had cuts and scrapes; blood was drying on their clothes, their fur, their hair. But unlike Era, they carried with them an air of... of warriors, of victors, of people (and creatures) who had fought long and hard and had finally seen their efforts work out.
A short, solemn silence followed.
"What will happen to him?" Toby said quietly, looking from Era up to the faint Huanglongmon above them.
The great sovereign paused, looking down at those below her; the silence was heavy, and for all the roar of the data around them, it felt achingly quiet. Was she conversing with the other sovereigns?
Our grievances with him are many, the dragon said, slow. As are yours. But he is of your world.
He was, then-- from the same real world as the children. He had contacted a different digital world, but he was... well. They could not help but note that Huanglongmon said your world-- not the humans', not the childrens' world. She knew, as much as they did in their hearts, that the seven digimon had adopted that world as their own just as readily as the children had adopted this one, simply by virtue of their partnerships.
As such, we will allow you to decide what will be done.
At that time, they heard a croaking, gasping snarl. Digimon and human alike turned their heads to see Era forcing himself to a sitting position. He was breathing heavy and ragged. His chest heaved with effort; a trickle of blood ran down his chin from the corner of his mouth.
"You do not dare," he hissed, correctly anticipating the pity that was forthcoming. Flinching from the pain of moving, he spat out a bit of blood.
He looked as though he were already dying. Andrea's words from mere moments ago rang in their heads-- some people just don't want to be helped.
But could they really, in good conscience, kill him? He was... one of their own, in a sick and twisted way. It wasn't that he was human; that alone was hardly enough to give him worth, especially considering how many digimon had suffered, had died, at his hands. The pain he had put them and, more importantly, this world in; the risk he had posed to this world.
But he hadn't changed, had he?
He was bitter and angry and alone. Thanks to his own actions, he destroyed everything he had.
He was despicable, he was irredeemable, they knew-- and for that, he had their pity, whether he wanted it or not.
"I would rather you kill me," Era hissed, rage bubbling in his mind when he saw that emotion on the faces of the children, of the digimon that allied themselves with them.
"Isn't that reason enough not to?" Rajamon said dryly, obviously meant to be heard by Era, even as he was looking up at Andrea. But even so, the tiger wasn't entirely serious.
"We can't let him die," Luke said quietly, brushing his hair out of his eyes. He looked, though not overtly, at the wound in Joshua's chest, then around him. "His blood would be on our hands."
One by one, each nodded-- Digimon and human alike. The digimon knew, just as well as their partners; while a human life held no more particular worth than a digimon's, and there was unbelievable blood on Era's hands, almost all of the digimon he had taken could be reborn and made new. Humans could not.
"So you're cowards and scum," Era snarled, a wild look in his eye.
"We are not," Iguamon said, quiet and laconic but with no trace of doubt in his voice.
Sampamon nodded once; her eyes closed, she did not look to Era. "We're simply not like you."
"We want to heal him," Simon said, decisively, speaking for the group as he looked up at the misted shape of Huanglongmon. "Is that possible?"
The great golden dragon squinted her eyes, and hesitated; when she spoke, her voice was doubting in tone. It is; though your choice confuses me, Warriors. However, we are indebted to you. We shall do as you wish, only insofar as it pertains to this. Though mind this; he is of your real world, not of data. We cannot simply bathe him in Yggdrasil and heal his wounds; but we will do what we can to improve his chances of survival.
"I refuse!" Era croaked, shaking with rage and almost on the verge of frantic-- and he was instantly shut down.
Huanglongmon roared the one-word command, her voice within their minds so loud it almost felt as though it made the earth shake, despite that being a physical impossibility.
You are being granted mercy by both warriors and gods who have ample reason to withhold it from you. You are in no place to speak, heretic.
Immediately, and for the first time, they saw something change in Era. They saw fear flash in his eyes; they saw him tremble. He was no longer Lord Era, the ruthless (fallen) tyrant, the god-like man on the road to destroying two worlds to sate his misguided thirst for vengeance. When he shook, the lord Era was gone for once and for all.
In his place, for the first time in ten or a hundred years, sat Joshua Amsel-- harshed and hardened and tired by his spirit living a hundred years while his body aged only ten. They knew, just as he knew: he was no longer a king, no longer even the most cursory of threats. He had failed. He was a broken, bitter man, and nothing more.
Slowly -- much more carefully, more delicately, than Genesimon had ever done -- the children and digimon could only watch as a thin stream of data shifted and moved, carefully and gingerly encircling Joshua, who did not protest. He merely leaned forward on his hands, looking as though he might throw up.
While it would be hard to say it left him as good as new, the bleeding had been stunted, some of the flesh pulled together. It certainly brought to mind a cliche: it was sure as heck going to leave a scar.
"I do not need," Joshua croaked; moving, speaking, still hurt, but he was desperately trying to save face, "nor do I want, your--"
"Save your breath, yo," Faris muttered, shaking his head.
Now that that is done, Huanglongmon said, what is to be done with him? We will not have him stay in our world.
"As well we shouldn't," Egakumon said, frowning and tapping his snout with one claw.
"He'll come back to ours," Emily said, looking up. "I mean... we can't risk a repeat of what happened last time he got kicked out of a digital world, you know?"
Andrea nodded once as a murmur of assent rippled through the group; Joshua spat out blood in contempt. "He'll be confined to the real world. Our real world," she amended quickly. "I don't know where he lived. I don't really care, being honest. But I'd rather he be in a world where someone knows what kind of crap he tried to pull."
Then so it shall be, Huanglongmon growled low, her ephemeral shape above nodding her head. She moved, preparing to send Era through the tree, but something else demanded attention quite suddenly, in quite a subtle way.
To the children and the digimon, it was hard to say whether what happened next was coincidence, or fate, or simply a bit of (well-deserved) cruelty on the Sovereigns' part. It was none; it was deliberate, it was independent action, and even the sovereigns were surprised to see it. It was like a ghost of a ghost, remnants of a code-- a code that had resided in Genesimon, integral to its core and released when the data stored within the beast was.
Just as unclear and misty as Huanglongmon and her fellow sovereigns, a small shape appeared. It stepped forward, out of the shadows, not making a single sound. It didn't quite seem to fit in-- it was just as shadowy, just as unclear, as the visions the team had seen when the lines between the worlds were blurring.
It was small, and fuzzy-- both in terms of its foggy, barely-there appearance, and also because it appeared to wear a thick fur draped over its shoulders. It was a small, wingless dragon, with a long mane and little black horns. And though its body was white, adorned with green markings, the colour that was most apparent was very, very blue.
It said nothing, merely looked at Joshua. The man turned slowly when he realized that everyone present was looking behind him, and he froze.
"Lazu--" Joshua croaked, barely above a whisper; he did not finish the name. Almost instinctively, he reached out slowly with one hand, attempted to touch or hold onto an outstretched claw in some long-gone memory of an action.
The little incorporeal dragon took a step back and shook its head 'no'. Without a single word, it seemed to say so much, a thousand complicated emotions. Its face was hard to make out, but it was smiling in a sad and solemn way, bitter and nostalgic and lost in memory.
You threw this away long ago, Joshua, it seemed to say without words. You cannot take it back now.
It seemed to be torn, like it didn't want to be doing this, but knew that it had to be done.
Joshua's hand fell slowly, and he fell entirely silent. His head fell, his eyes staring down, unfocused. When he was no longer looking, the little dragon looked to the team of warriors. It bowed its head, smiled again, and was gone like a candle blown out by the wind.
The partners, watching, felt it was not their place to comment. They knew what they had just seen; even when it was their enemy, a man with the blood of thousands to account for, they knew they had just seen a digimon bid a final goodbye to his human.
They felt a pang in their heart when they remembered what lay ahead of them, even if the circumstances would be different.
Huanglongmon did not speak for a full minute. Nobody spoke a single word during that time, until the golden dragon broke the silence.
As much as I know you would appreciate further answers... but time is limited, and I know that there are things you wish to do. This is hardly the place to... deal with the affairs that must be dealt with, the Sovereign said carefully, taking care not to mention what the kids and digimon alike were dreading.
I would like to send you somewhere more comfortable. Should it suit you, of course.
They knew they had to say goodbye.
... so soon.
It was hard to face.
It is dawn. It had been almost full day since they had first entered Yggdrasil's hollow, then. You will have until sunset.
And with those words, a warm white light began to engulf them, as a team, for the last time. They could see, before them, Joshua Amsel did not move, nor was he moved; there he would remain until their return later that day.
It was like deja vu-- it was so surreal, some of the kids almost believed for a split second that they had been dreaming. They found themselves lying on the hard ground, staring up at a crystal-clear sky; the moons were setting on the horizon, and the first rays of sunlight were starting to peak over the trees. Above them, streams of data surged across the sky.
They could never forget this sight, no matter how many things they had seen.
They were laying on the ground a few hundred feet from Deekamon's hut. The place they had awoken so long ago, the first time. Behind them was a hill, leading up to a cliff; all around was thick foliage. It was cool and clear, morning dew still clinging to the leaves. It was exactly as it had been, except it was dawn instead of evening.
"Oh my god," Emily whispered, sitting up slowly. She shivered, both with cold and with emotion. She looked around herself as the other six children sat up-- and their digimon partners did the same.
"I never thought I'd be here again," Rajamon said quietly, looking around slowly. It looked like... like nothing had changed. Like it was still exactly the same it had been when they set out on this journey.
"I take it you've been here before?" Luke said, sitting up. He looked to his side, to Sampamon, as though confirming that she were still there.
"This is where we woke up when we came here," Toby said, quiet, almost doubting.
Simon almost let loose a don't you remember? before he stopped himself. That was right; Luke hadn't arrived with the rest of them. It was weird to think; he had become such an ingrained part of the team, it was hard to remember a time without him.
Slowly, they started to get to their feet.
They had a lot to do, and not enough time in the world to do it right.
Simon sighed heavily, leaning back. He and Egakumon had pulled themselves up into a tree-- not just any tree, but the tree they had (theoretically) been sleeping on that very first night, before they wandered off.
Before Egakumon had digivolved the very first time.
Simon and Egakumon had checked Deekamon's hut not long before now; it was empty and barren, and, just like the woods around them, looked exactly like it had when they had departed it. Had Deekamon been back at all?
Was Deekamon okay? They didn't know how he had fared in the fight in the Timeless River...
It was a bit corny to say, but it almost felt like this place, not the river, was the one that was timeless and unchanging.
"You know what?" Egakumon said, looking over at his partner. The boy looked over, and tilted his head; the rabbit smiled. "I think we did a good job."
Simon smiled and nodded his head. "Yeah. We did, bro. We did an amazing job. But do you know what?" he said, and Egakumon furrowed his brow. "I still can't believe a little rabbit with a paintbrush could be so cool."
He had said it back then-- why a paintbrush?. He still remembered that.
He knew now. That paintbrush was a sword, it was used to create and destroy and protect. He couldn't laugh at it anymore; he had seen what a paintbrush could do.
But he had to laugh anyway. He laughed, hearty and loud, and he didn't quite know why. Because he was happy, sad, angry, scared. Because he just had too many emotions in his head, and he wasn't used to feeling so conflicted.
Egakumon was confused for a moment, but before long at all, he found himself laughing too. He felt too many things that sat far too heavy in his chest; this was the only way either could think to take care of them.
"This isn't fair," Simon said, and as he stopped laughing it was clear that there were tears in his eyes. "How am I ever gonna find another friend like you?"
"I gotta tell you, I donno. It'll definitely be hard to find anyone as cool as me," Egakumon said-- wiping away one big shining tear with one big blunt claw.
"You know what the really dumb thing is, though?" Simon said, and Egakumon tilted his head, but said nothing, waiting for his partner to speak at his own pace. Simon looked at his hands as he began to speak again. "I've told you this. I was kind of a loser kid. I always, well, wanted a friend who'd help me stand up for what was right. Who'd stick by me no matter what." He paused, looking up from his hands to look at the rabbit. "I guess I got it, you know?"
Egakumon tried very, very hard to suppress the fact that his eyes were tearing up. He failed. Spectacularly. "I waited my whole life for you," he said, choking a bit, voice growing thick with the years. "I know what that's like."
Simon looked at the rabbit, and smiled slowly as an idea struck him like lightning. "Hey," he said, digging into his pocket. "Here."
Egakumon looked bewildered for a moment, but after a second, he found that everything was very dark.
Simon had pulled his signature beanie hat out of his pocket. It had been wadded up in his pocket all this time-- and now it was sitting on Egakumon's head, draped over his eyes. He pushed it up with the butt end of his paintbrush, and couldn't help but grin a big goofy grin.
"I don't think I'm gonna be able to wear it anymore," Simon said, rubbing the back of his head. "And... you know. I think you should have it."
Egakumon shifted on the branch, and carefully inched closer to Simon. Without warning, he threw his paintbrush to the ground below and slung his big blunt-clawed arms around Simon's neck, and embraced his partner tightly. Simon wasted no time in embracing the rabbit right back.
"I'll miss you, Egakumon," Simon said, ignoring the fact that he was getting a mouthful of fur from his partner's neck-ruff. It was okay; he was crying full-on now. He was had been one to hide his emotions.
"It's been an honor," Egakumon said as he pulled away, and he had a big, if sad, grin on his face and no shortage of tears in his eyes.
Andrea and Rajamon sat just outside of Deekamon's hut. After Andrea had poked a bit at the ashes of a long-ago-extinguished fire, Rajamon had taken it upon himself to spark some embers up, and before long -- with a little bit of gathered wood -- they had a little fire burning away, helping to warm them in the slightly-chilly morning.
Now, the girl was staring into the heart of the fire; she sat in the dust, knees pulled to her chest with one arm. Rajamon lay astride her, his head resting on his paws.
"We've come a long way, haven't we?" Andrea said quietly, after a long quiet, not looking at Rajamon. They could hear the faint sound of the others talking around them, but she paid them no heed. They wanted their privacy, just as she wanted hers. "It feels weird to be back here."
Rajamon looked up at his partner, and a frown tugged at the sides of his mouth. He could see tears gathering in her eyes; he knew she was trying to make small talk to try and distract herself. He reached out with one paw, and put it over Andrea's hand that wasn't occupied with holding her knees.
"Being brave doesn't mean you have to hide your emotions, or pretend you're not feeling them, you know," Rajamon said quietly; Andrea smiled thinly and hung her head. Aided by gravity, a single teardrop fell onto her knees-- and was quickly joined by more.
"I know," she said, releasing her legs and wiping her eyes. "But come on."
Rajamon smiled sadly, and nodded his head. "It's hard. I know. I'm scared, too." He sounded like he was choking on the words-- like they didn't want to come out-- but he forced them to come out anyway.
"I thought you weren't scared of anything," Andrea taunted, giving a sad smile of her own and sticking her tongue out.
"Hey! I've been scared a lot," the tiger said defiantly, sticking his tongue out right back. "I've been afraid that we wouldn't win." He paused; if his face wasn't covered in fur, a deep-scarlet blush would have been making his cheeks glow. "I've been afraid that I'd lose you."
Andrea couldn't stop the tears from welling up in her eyes, but of course, she tried to hide it. "Oh, knock it off with the mushy stuff," she said, but her tough tone was dropped in a heartbeat. "You're gonna make me cry." Rajamon grinned lopsidedly-- if a bit sheepishly.
Andrea wiped away her tears, sniffling just a bit. "But no, that's not even fair. You don't get to pull that on me, not when I'm about to..." What she meant to say was lose you, too, but she couldn't force the words out of her mouth. She balled her hands up into fists, breathing out through her nose. She looked to Rajamon, who looked up at her in turn.
"I always wanted a friend like you," she said after a moment. That had been it, hadn't it? She didn't know how or why, but... that had been it. A friend who was strong, who helped her be the same; who stayed strong when she wasn't, and who she could be strong for in return.
After her mom had died, she had tried-- she had been tough, she had pushed down her emotions, she had been loud and abrasive and mean. She knew now, that was all a front-- trying to fake it only led to disaster. It explained a lot.
Man, some cosmic force had a really sick sense of humor.
Rajamon paused, and then nudged his head into Andrea's side. He slid and wriggled his way onto her lap; she didn't mind that he was heavy. He nestled his furry head under her chin, and placed one paw over her chest. "You'll be okay, Andrea. I know. I already told you-- you're as much of a lion-heart as I am. Maybe more."
He sounded a bit odd, talking heart-to-heart like this, but the sincerity in his voice more than made up for any awkwardness.
Andrea smiled, and pulled the tiger against her in a hug. She knew he was right. She had been afraid before, but Rajamon... he was trying to give her his courage, one last time. "Thank you, Rajamon. For everything."
Rajamon smiled, and tried to blink back the tears in his eyes to no avail.
Julian and Iguamon had taken off up the hill; they sat on the lip of the small cliff near Deekamon's hut, looking out over the forest. They had changed so much, and this place hadn't. But no-- it had. Era was gone. This world was finally free. That was a pretty big change. But that was a double-edged sword-- now this world didn't need them.
That was kind of hard to accept.
Julian's legs dangled off the cliff into the open air; Iguamon, having much shorter legs, was not really able to do the same.
"I feel like everything has changed," Julian said quietly, threading his fingers. His head was bowed, his eyes cast down. "Since we got here. Since we left Deekamon's hut."
"Not everything," Iguamon said, looking sidelong to his partner, but Julian only shook his head.
"I'm learning that change is a good thing, though. ... being accurate, I've learned." He paused, and smiled dryly. "If I hadn't learned that by now, I'd be a bit worried. But... no. I always resisted it. I've learned a lot here."
"It can be both a good thing," Iguamon said quietly, "and a bad thing."
Julian looked over at him; the dinosaur's eyes were downcast just as his had been, looking down at the trees, the rivers that cut across the scenery, the hills that he had known so well. It was clear what he meant when he said what he did.
"... I'm really going to miss you, you know," Julian said, barely above a whisper. "For the rest of my life." Iguamon said nothing, but looked to his partner, and quirked his head just so. A sad half-smile pulled at the side of Julian's mouth. "It's true. I do have emotions."
The way he, somewhat sheepishly, wiped at his eyes with the back of one gloved hand was hard evidence for that claim. "But I never would have believed it if somebody had told me that my life would be changed by a talking dinosaur. That's just illogical."
Iguamon cracked a rare smile. "It's weird how things work out, isn't it?"
"You have no idea," Julian said, twiddling his thumbs and breathing out heavily.
He had been the first to figure out that they all had the fountain in common; who could have guessed that that little thing would be enough to change their lives forever?
He had wanted someone -- a friend, he corrected himself, insulted at himself that even now he seemed to flinch from the word -- to help him accept what he could not change; he wanted someone who understood him.
That was why they were chosen, he knew -- well, guessed rather than knew, but regardless. To help them bind with their partners, no doubt; children with strong hearts, powerful virtues, but something missing. And... the fountain. Where Yggdrasil touched their world; that was how they knew, how they chose them, right?
It made sense.
But the intellectual part of him was one thing; the emotional part was something else entirely.
He wanted to say a thousand things, thank Iguamon, scream at the top of his lungs-- maybe even cry a little bit. Or a lot of a bit.
Julian shifted uncomfortably; he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do. In contrast to his usual stoic demeanor, he quite blatantly telegraphed this fact; he wanted to say something, but couldn't find it, and the energy turned from unstated words to nervous energy.
"Julian?" Iguamon said quietly, frowning slightly. His words cut through his partner's reverie, but he did not respond. Iguamon lowered his eyes and -- a bit awkwardly -- placed one of his claw-gloved hands over his partner's. Julian turned his head at that, looked from the clawed hand to the digimon that owned it. He turned his body to face Iguamon; the dinosaur followed suit.
It seemed that this time, they couldn't say all they wanted by just exchanging a look. Without warning, Julian threw himself forward, pulling the dinosaur digimon into a hug. This time, this goodbye was a final one; there was no going back, no visits, no keeping in touch.
"I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this," Julian mumbled.
"What?" Iguamon said, and though his voice was dry his eyes were wet; his words were muffled by his snout being pressed into his partner's shoulder. "Saying goodbye, or showing emotions?"
It wasn't even that funny, but Julian's laugh echoed in the valley below them as the first traces of the sun, not just its rays, began to rise over the horizon.
Not far from Deekamon's empty hut, a small stream -- one of many -- roamed through the forested landscape, cut into a small gulch.
It was almost painfully idyllic, like a painting, Faris couldn't help but note. He was sitting on a fallen log, a makeshift bridge over the gap; the boy's feet hung about two feet above the bubbling water, swaying idly. For her part, Delfinimon lay belly-down in the stream amongst the smooth pebbles, her face half-submerged. Both were uncharacteristically quiet; if they had any time to waste, they would have enjoyed the quiet and the calm, but instead, it hung over their heads like a smothering blanket.
This sucks, was the mantra that was stuck on repeat in Faris' head. He was starting to shiver, the cooling effect of the water compounding with the chill of early morning, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. He looked down to his partner. Delfinimon couldn't hide it; there were tears, in abundance, in her eyes. To her credit, she wasn't even trying to hide it. She was simply allowing the water of the stream to wash the tears away.
Faris all but folded in on himself, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. The words were dying in his throat, as though out of protest-- he felt, honestly, like an entitled brat, talking like this. In exchange for the words he lost, tears began to streak down his face, his body shaking lightly. He didn't want to go back home, back to living a thousand miles away from his brother, back to being another awkward loser resigned to cracking bad jokes to cover that fact up. Even if this place was dangerous, he'd still take it a thousand times over the real world.
Delfinimon lifted her head out of the water; Faris didn't seem to take note. It tore her up to see him like this, even when she was in no better state herself. Her mouth pulled back into a thin, determined expression. With one smooth motion, she pulled her body up and smacked her tail-fin down into the water, expertly angling it so as to splash water up at Faris.
"Wh--" Faris was shaken out of his half-trance by the water.
Delfinimon was looking up at him expectantly, her head cocked to the side.
"It'll be okay," the dolphin said, even through a sniffle or three-- and she cut off Faris before he could voice his retort. "And if it won't, then we'll make it okay, yeom. Don't you get that yet, you big dummy?" Her voice was cracking; she was on the verge of a fresh wave of tears, herself, and her emotions were like a large-print open book.
It took a moment, but eventually Faris smiled, lopsided and sad, but genuine regardless.
Instead of answering, he pushed himself forwards and off of the log, landing in the water. Delfinimon threw up one of her flippers to protect her face from the splash; when she lowered it again, Faris had his arms akimbo, and despite his misty eyes, he had a definite air of (obviously feigned) cockiness.
"You started a splash-fight, but you didn't expect any return fire? Come on, tuna fish."
If anyone had stumbled upon them in the next five minutes, they would see a boy and a dolphin engaged in the splash-fight to end all splash fights-- or at least give all other splash fights a run for their money. It was one of those things that, in the long run, was on the stupid side, but at that moment, it was all they were thinking about-- and that was just what they needed to do.
The morning was chilled already, and the cold water only compounded this problem. Soaked to the bone and with the sun only now starting to peek over the trees, Faris was shivering something awful as he and Delfinimon both lay on the rocky stream-bank, staring up at the sky.
"If I get sick because of this," the boy said, affecting a carefree air with limited success, "I'm blaming you." He turned his head to look at Delfinimon; she was looking at him already, and beaming. Even so, there was a sadness that couldn't be explained, couldn't be put into words.
Faris sat up and pulled Delfinimon into his arms one more time, hugging her close. Even if it wasn't okay, they'd make it okay anyway, somehow.
Simon and Egakumon weren't the only ones who found themselves seated in the trees.
Emily sat with her back against the trunk of the tree she was perched in, on the highest branch that could comfortably support her. Kamomon had taken wing above. The bird had known, instinctively, that she needed a bit of distance, a bit of space; but he was hesitant to upright walk away.
"Follow me," the bird had said, kicking off the ground and flapping hard. His partner had scrambled up into the tree where she now sat, eyes focused up on her partner.
He was a bit graceless, a bit messy; Kamomon, in this form, was nowhere near as graceful as he was in higher levels, even with a far-more-maneuverable size. Emily didn't care. She watched every movement, every subtle shift of his feathers that he used to control himself, even if it was sloppy. His long tail-feathers streamed behind him like ribbons, deep blue against a powder-light morning sky.
With a pang in her heart and a weight in her stomach, she couldn't stop herself from thinking that she was never going to fly like that again-- neither on Ospreymon's back nor as part of Rocmon.
They had seen it through to the end; but that meant that there was an end. It was going to come to a close, and sooner rather than later. It felt like both mere days and a thousand years that they had been in this world; it had seemed to exist outside of time. Even when they knew what was coming, it had never felt like it was going to end-- at least, not to her.
Maybe it had been denial.
The girl lowered her head, cast her eyes down to the ground. She held onto her arms, hugging herself to keep herself from shaking as the years began to well up. It was all crashing down now, and it was too much.
She didn't notice, until she felt a hand on her shoulder, that Kamomon had landed on the branch on front of her, light and careful. She looked up. "Emily?" he said, his brow furrowed. When his partner said nothing, merely averted her eyes again, the bird frowned and bowed his head.
Instead of taking off again, he took a seat astride her.
"Emily?" Kamomon said again after a moment, cutting through the quiet.
"I'm proud of us. I mean... us as a group. But also of us, as me and you." He talked fast, a bit flustered; he swung his legs to try and get some of the nervous energy out. "And whatever you do, I know it's gonna be great."
Another brief silence followed; Emily shifted, and for a moment Kamomon feared he had said the wrong thing. He looked over; the girl still was still averting her eyes.
"It wouldn't be half as great if I hadn't met you," Emily said, lifting her head to look at Kamomon. She smiled a small, sad smile, wiping away tears with the back of her hand.
"You won't forget me, then?" Kamomon said; under his feathers he was blushing bright.
And oh, those five words broke Emily's heart. How could she ever forget? With Kamomon, she had fought, she had flown, she had believed in her own strength and abilities more than she ever could have alone.
"I'll remember you until the end," she promised, her voice breaking a little bit. "Of course I will. I'll remember everyone and everything. Especially you."
Kamomon couldn't help his feathers from puffing up a bit, but they were squashed back down when he flung himself at Emily, throwing himself into a hug. She pulled him right back into it, smoothing her partner's feathers down.
What happened then was something Emily had never expected-- Kamomon began to sing, albeit quietly. She didn't understand the words, as they sounded like no language she had ever even heard of, but it was smooth and flowing regardless, riding a gentle melody. Kamomon's voice, though it was a bit uneven from disuse (she didn't believe she had ever heard him sing), it was clear and, quite honestly, pretty.
Emily found herself compelled to sing along, though she didn't know the words, as she got the distinct feeling that Kamomon didn't, either.
Some of the kids were a bit better at containing their emotions than others.
Toby and Lammon barely moved from where they had awoken; the boy sat with his back against a fallen tree-trunk, his knees hugged to his chest. Tears ran freely down his face, but he did a fairly good job of muffling himself by burying his face in the overlarge hood gathered around his neck.
Lammon lay at his side. For a long time, she said nothing; she merely brought herself in close, laying her head down on her hooves.
Her voice, when she spoke, was so quiet that it was easy to miss.
"We've come a long way," she said, her voice shaking a little bit.
"Yeah," Toby said, words a bit choked. As he spoke, he wiped his red and puffy eyes with his sleeve. He wasn't the most dignified sight right now; he didn't care, and he knew that none of his friends would judge him for it even if they saw. But he didn't feel he had come far; through all these battles, everything they had gone through, he was here-- where it all started, still afraid and crying and so unsure of where he was going from here.
Lammon sat up, then; she quirked her head at her partner. She hesitated, before she leaned forward, gently touching her partner's cheek with her nose. "You are so much stronger than you believe you are," she said, "and if anybody ever doubts you, remember that."
Toby pulled his knees closer to his chest. "I wouldn't be if not for you," he said.
Lammon paused, then shook her head. "I merely helped you find what was there already." She paused; she knew what Toby feared. "It will not go away once we are no longer together."
"How do you know that?" Toby mumbled, but he was calming down somewhat; he was sitting a bit straighter, relaxed his grip on his legs.
"I know it, because I know you," the sheep said, nodding once. "You will be okay. I did not give you any strength you didn't have; I merely helped you to find it, just as you helped me find mine."
Toby sniffled a bit, and relaxed somewhat. He shifted a bit, burying his face again in his hood. There was no denying that he was scared; he had been scared so many times, but they had always had each other's backs -- he and Lammon, them and the rest of their team-- their friends. They had his back, but he has theirs, too.
And that... that had been something he had never really had, had it? He had only experienced doubt, however well-intentioned. If anyone tried to tell him he couldn't stand up on his own, do things himself, contribute-- he had fought to save their worlds. He had been instrumental in their victory, just as everyone else had been.
Not that anyone would ever believe him.
He knew, somewhere deep (or maybe not so deep) down, that Lammon was right.
But that didn't mean he wanted to face the fact that soon, she was going to be gone. Tears began to gather in his eyes once more.
As if on cue, Lammon gingerly maneuvered herself so that her front half was lying across Toby's lap. The perfumed light smoke of her ponytail all but surrounded them with its gentle sweet scent. "You will be amazing," the sheep said then-- indeed, a bit sheepishly. She looked up and smiled, small and faint. "And we'll always remain a part of you."
Toby looked down at her, and had to smile back. He surely couldn't stand to prove her wrong-- even if he was a bit unsure, he couldn't let Lammon down. She believed he could; so he could.
The tears in his eyes still fell, but he knew in his heart he could believe what she said. If there was anyone he could trust, Toby knew it was her.
Sampamon slithered her body across the forest floor, a streak of black liquid and flashes of colour in the underbrush. She was following her partner-- he wasn't hard to keep a tab on, as he was moving rather inelegantly. Luke wasn't exactly running, but he was walking fast, crunching twigs and dried leaves under his feet and leaving an easy trail to follow. (Easy, at any rate, for someone whose face was quite near ground level.)
Sampamon had more than an inkling of what was wrong. She could see it in the way Luke walked, the tightness he carried in his shoulders, the way he kept his eyes focused dead ahead but was moving his body on auto-pilot.
And, of course, it was just a pinch of common sense.
And so she followed him dilligently, not willing to let her partner go off on his own. She had the feeling he knew she was following, but understood that he was very much in his own world at the moment-- he likely wouldn't be up to talk.
Sampamon noted to herself that she had been this way before, but she doubted if any of her allies had.
All at once, some ways down the path, Luke stopped. His body shook, but he stayed silent. As though something had knocked his legs out from under him, he fell to his knees right then and there and wrapped his arms around his head in an elegant tangle. Though he kept himself silent, his body was wracked with tremors, and it was plain for anyone to see that he was crying.
This was of course obvious most of all to Sampamon.
She said nothing; she merely slithered her way over, careful, quiet. Just as careful, just as quiet, she slithered her way up her partner's back, settling herself around his neck. She squeezed lightly at his shoulders in her imitation of a hug. Though it did not assuage his dismay, the shakes seemed to die down just slightly.
Sampamon could say many things; how they weren't going to be gone, not really, they were just going to be part of the great tree that connected their worlds; that in some sense, they would always be together; even that, to some degree, she understood. In a way, she understood the pain and the fear and not wanting to go back to from whence one came.
Though she could say a great many things, she didn't.
They reconvened once the sun was higher in the sky. No formal plan had been made, but eventually, all of them found themselves gravitating back to Deekamon's hut. Rajamon and Andrea kept their campfire going; the others scouted for food, which they had little trouble amassing.
The rest of their final day was both too fast, and terribly slow. It went by in a blur, their perceptions fogged by the metaphorical cloud that was looming overhead (despite the crystal-clear literal skies).
The kids exchanged information so they could get in contact with each other once they split the party. They talked, they ate, they told stories -- some a bit more obviously fictionally-enhanced than others -- and joked, they recounted battles. Through it all, they stayed close to one another-- the partners with each other, and these pairs to the others. They had eachother. Despite the weights in their hearts, human and digimon alike, they willed themselves to be light one last time.
But when the sky began to fade from crystal-blue to a pale dusty pink and orange, that weight settled in their stomachs once more, and nothing could dispel it. They turned and watched-- the sun was starting to sink below the horizon beyond the trees, beginning the descent into night. For a moment, they fell silent. For a moment, they almost hoped that it was a fluke, that something would turn in their favor-- but it was not to be.
Perhaps they had expected to be taken back to Yggdrasil's hollow; but it was not to be. Standing and sitting here, beside Deekamon's hut, it would draw to an end.
"What's going on!?" Simon blurted as Egakumon was engulfed in a light like the light of digivolution-- as were all of the digimon. They were as alarmed as their partners were, truth be told; they looked down at themselves, frantic.
"It's starting," Andrea said in barely above a whisper, shaking slightly.
The light engulfed their partners fully, and in a flash, where the seven child-level digimon had once stood, there were seven familiar little blobs-- their Baby II forms. In a heartbeat, they found themselves scooped up into the arms of their human partners. The children hugged the little digimon tightly to their chests, all of them-- now was no time to try and save face, look cool.
"It's okay," Efudemon squeaked up at Simon.
"This is what needs to happen," Cindemon said, nuzzling his head (and body) against Andrea.
"For all of us," Paleomon said, quietly; Julian only hugged him closer.
"Be good, okay, yeom?" Finmon said, sniffling in the least dignified way she could, bopping her snout against Faris's chest.
"It sounds silly, but a part of us will always be with you, you know," Mismon said; Emily smiled sadly, wiping away the tears that were gathering on the feathers near his eyes. Around him, as well as the other digimon, they were starting to glow again-- about to shift down once more.
Fuwamon nuzzled her nose against Toby. "Remember what I said, okay?" she said; Toby sniffed and nodded, hugging her against him.
"We'll always be together," Plumon said; though it was barely above a whisper, she was speaking for and to all of them. She coiled herself around Luke's wrist so she could give him as close to a hug as she could before she was covered entirely by the light.
One more flash. Most of them had not seen their partners in so low a form, their Baby I forms; of course, there were Sinjmon, the tiny ball of red fluff, in Andrea's hands, and Gemon in Luke's arms, the ruby on her forehead staying a constant throughout all of her forms.
But in Simon's arms was Sketchmon, a tiny blue blob with shiny, coal-black eyes tiny, gel-like nubs in place of ears, and no other facial features to speak of. Emily clutched Downmon, whose blobby body was pale blue and yellow, but otherwise somewhat reminiscent of a newborn bird without feathers, complete with a protective blue-speckled yellow egg propped on his head (body). Faris took care in holding Babbumon, whose tiny body seemed to be comprised entirely of one big bubble, with squinted-closed eyes and three smaller bubbles running down her head-slash-body in a small ridge; Julian held Tokamon, whose plain little white body was decorated with a mess of green spikes, button-black eyes peering up at his partner. Gakumon was nuzzling herself down in Toby's sleeves, as she lacked any of her typical wool except for a single ball of fluff atop her little black body.
The kids were silent, trying to find a way to sort out the words they carried in their chests-- but they knew there simply wasn't enough time to sort them out, and instead, they came out as tears.
The digimon found themselves at just as much of a loss for words-- most of them were too busy crying big blubbery tears to get any coherent words out, even the usually-reserved Tokamon and Gemon. Their partners held them close, as though maybe it might keep the digimon with them.
But try as they might, before long at all, the light began to overtake the little digimon.
It was hard to tell, really, who was the first to say, "I love you", but whoever it was, it began a chorus; human or digimon, they cried it, they repeated it like a mantra, as though to make up for the times before that they didn't or couldn't. They poured everything they could into those three words-- their love, their gratitude, their fear and their hopes and their sorrow. It was all too much.
But soon, the words changed. As the digimon began to fade away, slowly, so slowly, the seven little digimon changed it.
They squeaked and mewed and chirped and made every other sort of noise, repeating those two words over and over and over-- "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" -- until their friends began to do the same.
"Thank you!" Simon said, and Andrea said, and Julian and Faris and Emily and Toby and Luke-- they yelled it as their partners began to fade into light in their respective colours. "Thank you!" they said, as that light began to lift out of their hands. "Thank you!" they cried out as the orbs of light shot into the sky, leaving faint streaks behind them as they swirled around eachother into the too-quickly-darkening sky. Their D-GEARs were reacting too-- they were glowing in their pockets. and a thin streak of light shot out of all seven. They followed the coloured light up into the sky, flickering like star-light; the kids watched, but they didn't stop. They didn't realize that in their pockets were once again simple cell phones, instead of digivices.
"Thank you!" they yelled, even as the tears streaked down their faces and their bodies shook.
They didn't care; they hollered and yelled and jumped, screaming those two words. They yelled because it hurt too much to be quiet. They didn't need to question if their friends could hear them or not.
They didn't have to question it; they knew they could.
So caught up were they that they didn't notice that they were beginning to glow themselves.
They didn't notice, and they didn't stop yelling, until it overtook each of the seven children, and everything went white, one last time.
Moments later, seven children woke up in their bedrooms.
Seven children stood up and walked out of their rooms, and were bombarded. They were met with questions, with panic and gratitude and relief. Parents, siblings, guardians. Why are you crying, we were so worried about you, how did you get in without us noticing? Plates and cups were broken, dropped in disbelief.
But none of them really had anything to say. They had too much in their heads to talk.
Too much had changed-- too much that nobody was going to understand. There was an emptiness in their hearts that they simply couldn't explain. They knew that they would always be out of place, trying to explain that.
But they had eachother-- each kid had six others who knew, who had been there, who remembered. Because of that, for the first time in a long time, all seven children felt like they knew where they belonged.