Episode 22: The Good That Won't Come Out
Heavy footsteps echoed off the crumbling walls of a once-mighty temple. Once, this had been home and hall to the god-king Dinmon. The lands around it had been lush and fertile, and the temple-castle had stood tall, towering over trees and even mountains. Digimon had passed through it with greater frequency than even the greatest cities elsewhere in the digital world, seeking counsel and guidance and trading and making great advances in education and invention, laying out the framework for almost all modern Digimon society.
Nothing so impressive stood here today, nor had it in many thousands of years.
Now, the temple had sunken into the ground, abandoned and in disrepair, and the land outside was barren and cracked and desolate. The shattered remains of intricate stained-glass domes lay scattered on the ground; enormous murals had been destroyed by heavy claws, stone and tile torn like cloth tapestries. Dust and dirt and sand from the barrens above covered every surface of the highest levels, especially here in what was once a resplendent throne room; the levels below were as likely to cave in as anything else.
Jotunmon regarded the dusty stones below his feet with a somber contemplation. He had been sequestered here for far too long. He had not been alone; he was never truly alone, and especially not here, but he had still dealt with other digimon. He still knew what was going on in the world outside, and he knew what was to happen soon. Soon -- any minute now -- the carriers would be crossing over to the other world.
No digimon had ever crossed to the human world-- none had even heard of such a thing. No path to it had ever been open. The way would only be open for a short time; timing was key, and there were a great number of things that could have gone wrong.
It was likely he would never see this place again, and though he had no great love for it, it still felt bittersweet.
His own role was twofold: first, and most pertinently, to secure their safe passage, interfering if they were being followed.
The second was significantly more of a long game.
When the five digimon had been chosen to carry fragments, that power was sealed inside them, made dormant, to keep them safe until it was needed; it would do them no favors if they succumbed to madness and risked death before they were needed. Something would be needed to reactivate it.
Jotunmon glanced upwards and he backed into the shadows as five dark shapes ran across the shattered glass dome overhead. Moments later, those dark shapes dropped into the ruined throne room, some more elegantly than others.
"Where is it?" one of the shapes snarled, looking around. They didn't seem to notice Jotunmon, which suited him fine; they didn't need to know he was here. They didn't need to know about him at all, as far as he was concerned.
"It hasn't happened yet, dummy," one of the others said. "We have to wait until he pulls the plug. Which, really, he should get a move on, we're wasting moonlight."
"Be patient," another said, her voice calm and quiet.
"It's hard to be patient when we're being tracked," yet another said, this one the one who had brought up the back. "I'm not used to being on this end of the equation."
Jotunmon steeled himself; the carriers were indeed being pursued, and that meant that he had to be prepared.
"We'd better have not shown up too early, or we're going to have problems," the foremost of the group said, looking over his shoulder. Motes of dust danced in the shafts of moonlight coming down from above.
And then they froze.
The entire world seemed to freeze, in fact.
A shuddering tremor reverberated through the ground. A groaning noise rang out, echoing off every wall, like the force of water against a dam about to break, but turned up a millionfold. It was more than deafening; it was practically immobilizing. If anyone looked up, they would see the sky itself begin to buckle under the weight of something that seemed impossible.
Before them, directly over the crumbled remains of the throne, the very fabric of reality looked like it was shifting and rippling-- and that was because it was. It began to distort, like it was iterating on itself a hundred-thousand times a second, growing worse and worse as it struggled against an invisible force.
With the sound of every ocean in the world trying to flood into the same tiny lake, a brilliantly bright light split the air at the focal point of the rippling distortion. It shone and shimmered and was searingly, blindingly bright; it distorted and glitched and shifted countless times in the blink of an eye, providing cursory glimpses of something, somewhere, far beyond this dusty throne-room.
The five digimon who had just arrived began to run towards it, looking almost like their feet were moving without their own will. Chances are, that was exactly what was happening; it was almost hypnotizing, and it took a massive effort on Jotunmon's part to not move towards it blindly, to dig in his heels against the compelling force.
"They're getting away!" a voice from above cried, clear as a bell over the cacophony.
"Move! Now!" the apparent leader yelled, leading the charge. The five moved quickly, passing into the rift. The rift crackled and distorted as each digimon passed into it, but quickly snapped back to-- well. There was no normal here.
A forking bolt of radiant lightning cut through the darkness of the throneroom, but by the time it collided with ancient stone and the blinding light faded, the five digimon were gone. The angel came soaring down, emanating a light that illuminated the walls of this hall in ways they hadn't been for millennia, and her two allies dropped down after her, landing gracefully in the dust.
Jotunmon knew he likely wouldn't have stood a chance in a three-on-one, but he crept closer, keeping to the shadows as he watched. If he had to make a break for it, he knew he could brute-force through them, but he watched carefully, calculating, trying to gauge his options. They, too, seemed to be doing the same.
"We're going to have to follow them," one of the angel's allies said, her voice calm and even.
"It's our only chance. It's not going to last," said the other, tapping his chin, "so call me crazy, but I think we should get a move on it."
"Right," the angel said, nodding once, firmly. "We were prepared for this eventuality."
The three charged forward, and were swallowed by the rift in turn. The same distortion occurred around them as they were swallowed by the light.
Jotunmon knew he couldn't wait any longer. If he moved quickly, he might still be able to intervene. His claws grew, encased in ice; sleet and snow swirled around him as his feet pounded against the ancient stones, and he threw himself into the rift.
The moment he crossed through, it closed behind him.
Everything was blinding white. He felt like his entire body was being ripped apart-- like the top layer of his entire body was being stripped away, and as soon as it was bare, the next layer and the next layer were stripped away as well. He could see nothing, nothing, nothing--
And three dark shapes just ahead of him, distorting and shifting and struggling against an invisible force.
Far further ahead, he could almost -- in the blinding light -- see five smaller, more distant dark shapes.
The axes surged with black energy moments before they struck their targets. They forced themselves away, out of the line of fire, but they seemed to already be changing-- de-digivolving, reverting to smaller forms. He couldn't be sure whether that was the result of his attack, or--?
Jotunmon blacked out.
When he came to, he didn't know how long it had been. He tried to move-- and he couldn't feel his body. In truth, he didn't have a body to feel anymore. It was hard to tell if this was better than simply not being able to feel it. He had been reverted back to-- god, it seemed that he had been forced back to his in-training form.
He hadn't opened his eyes, but he could tell was dark, and he was in-- sand? But he heard the sound of machinery in the distance--
He cracked an eye open, and saw what was to him a quite tall creature crouching very close to him.
He almost immediately began trying to burrow into the sand, using his vestigial arms and blunt claws, but he quickly struck wood.
"Oh, good, you're alive," the creature said, and the little digimon looked up, partially because he was quickly realizing he had nowhere to go. "I was worried, on account of you weren't moving."
It was... well. He could only assume it was a human. He was guessing it was a young one, judging by how awkwardly small it looked; female. She had bandages plastered on her knees and her hair was choppy and messy, and her clothes looked like they had belonged to someone older and more masculine for quite some time before they had been given to her.
He peered up at her with an unamused expression on his face. He opened his mouth, preparing to say something, and instead he got a mouthful of sand.
The girl laughed as he spat it out and attempted to brush the sand off his tongue, which only succeeded in getting the sand on his claws into his mouth.
"My name's Lily. What's yours?"
"I'm--" he began, and the girl looked slightly taken aback that she had actually gotten an answer, but she immediately listened with rapt attention. He was aobut to say Jotunmon, but-- that wasn't accurate, was it?
The girl paused, titling her head in thought and puffing out one cheek. "That's a really weird name."
"So is yours," Frostmon said, more than a little defensive. He scowled, but she only seemed to find it funny. He looked around.
"So what're you doin' in my sandbox?"
Frostmon wasn't here to make friends. He was here to lay in wait, lie low, until he was needed. He was here to provide the catalyst for the reawakening of the great old god; he was here to ensure that the digital world met the end it had always deserved.
It can be funny how plans change.
As they had expected, the news stations were on fire immediately. It wasn't just the local ones, either-- a simple channel-surf revealed that the incident was a breaking story across the board. The more they watched, the more they knew they couldn't expect anything else. Standing from where they had been, focused on the digimon, it had been easy to miss how bad the damage had been.
The newscasters all repeated the same information-- mostly that a huge number of people - starting estimates at 50, creeping up to well over 100 as reports rolled in -- had suffered minor injuries. A sizable handful of injuries requiring hospitalization, mostly the result of falling rubble or shock from the impacts, had been reported as well.
"As of late, no fatalities have been confirmed," the on-the-scene reporter said, standing at the site of the attack. In the background, a crew were trying to excavate the wreckage. "But rescue workers are still on the scene. We'll keep you abreast of developments. Back to--"
Ryan killed the power to the TV with a push of the remote button.
"That's all that we needed to hear," he said, sitting down with a heavy sigh.
His apartment was not made, nor furnished, to accomodate nine people.
Natalie was on the couch, carefully wrapping the ice-burn on her leg in a borrowed heated-up hand-towel. Jen sat on the other side of the couch, while Eli sat on the ground immediately in front of the couch. Meghan had co-opted one of Ryan's two (count 'em, two) chairs and was sitting near the kitchen island, which separated the kitchen from the rest of the room and on which Xander was currently perched (because he was Xander). Sam sat on the floor, knees drawn to his chest; Peter sat not far away from Sam, legs crossed. Ryan had gestured vaguely at the only other free chair, doing some vague kind of inviting them to use it, but neither did, and so he took it for himself.
The digimon were staying minimized; those who had required a beating to come back down to their rookie forms were still unconscious, and the other three simply didn't want to try to maneuver such a crowded space-- and, really, such a complex emotional minefield didn't need even more voices to make things more complicated.
So it was that they had nine young adults of varying backgrounds and personal space levels and varying degrees of tolerance for the others' presence in one too-small one-person apartment. This would have been a recipe for disaster on its own; the fact that it came after what might verifiably be called an actual disaster could complicate things.
Indeed, the tension in the room was palpable. Everyone was still coming down off the adrenaline of the digimon fight, and the sirens in the not-far-enough distance were hard to ignore.
"So, sorry if this comes off a bit rude, buuut... who are you, exactly?" Jen said, looking over at Lily. "We didn't even catch your name," she said, gesturing at Ryan, Eli, and herself.
"And honestly, the rest of us don't have much else aside from that to go on, so, I mean, we're all kind of in the same boat," Sam muttered, but he didn't say it loud enough to really be heard.
Lily, for her part, was a little bit off to the side in the kitchen, staying unincorporated. She glanced over when she was spoken to, and she looked around to see all eyes on her. Even Xander, who had been in the middle of texting someone (read: his bandmates), was looking at her.
"My name's Lily," she said, terse, cautious. "I'm Br--" She stopped herself. "I mean, I'm... Draugmon's partner."
There was a short silence as that sunk in. They had all been filled in on that much, and indeed, more than one of them had theorized about Draugmon having a partner at all, but it was only now starting to feel real.
"... well, that's rough," Eli said, breaking the silence with a flat, frank assessment.
"There's an understatement," Peter said, shaking his head and frowning.
A quick round of introductions rippled through the gathering; Natalie had already introduced herself by name, but the others hadn't yet had the chance.
"We'd introduce you to our digimon," Meghan said, rubbing at the back of her head, "but..." But, you know, they're all kind of exhausted and-or just got the shit kicked out of them, so they're a bit out of commission.
"It's alright. I understand. Trust me, I understand," Lily said, shaking her head. She sighed, putting her hands halfway in her pockets.
"I'm sorry to intrude on--" she paused, and looked up, around at the motley lot of gathered people and tried to get a read on the room; it didn't go so well. "... whatever the hell this collection of people and relationships is? No offense."
"Better not to ask," Ryan said quickly, glancing sidelong at Natalie, who did not meet his eye. (Lily made a quick internal note that she would absolutely have to ask at some point.)
"The exact nature of it is kind of ephemeral, really," Peter said, adjusting his glasses.
"... or, in fuckin' English: we're not sure what's going on half the time, either," Xander cut in. Peter pressed his lips together but didn't contest this.
"I did kind of wonder," Lily said, leaning back against the kitchen counter she was standing by. "I wasn't expecting..." She paused as she realized she didn't know any of the names of the digimon. "I wasn't expecting the angel, red panda, and the fox to be helping," she gestured, "everyone else, from what I know from Brockmon told me. Is this a new development?"
A moment passed where glances were exchanged, as nobody could quite succinctly answer that.
"Before anyone answers that," Natalie said after a moment, looking over at Lily, "what exactly do you know?"
Truth be told, everyone was curious to hear whatever it was that Lily had to say-- she was someone with a D-Rive who had thus far flown under the radar. Pile that on top of the fact that Ratamon had seemed quite interested in her and her partner...
Well, come on. Anything she had to say was going to be interesting, if nothing else.
Lily shifted her weight a bit uncomfortably, and sighed through her nose. "That's fair. I can't explain it very well without Brockmon around, but..." But calling him out to back her up wasn't an option.
"Go ahead with whatever you can tell us, then," Ryan said, gesturing to imply that the floor was hers.
She nodded a couple times and took a deep breath.
"I got this-- thing," she said, and she held up her D-Rive; hers was pitch-black, both front and back, "back in May. I'm going to take a wild guess and guess that's when everyone else got theirs as well?" Indeed, everyone nodded. "Brockmon didn't know what it was, but we -- he, really -- figured out pretty soon it was digimon-related."
Lily turned her D-Rive over in her hand as she paused, trying to think of how to word what she meant to say. "He wanted to keep his head down," she said. "From the get go he wanted to keep his head down and stay out of things, and when Ratamon started showing up... Well. He said that as long as Ratamon didn't find him, things wouldn't escalate, and that the others would be able to handle things. I was on board with it, because honestly, I didn't want to deal with any of this shit. Not really my steeze, you know?" She smiled thinly, without humour. "But... I donno. As time went on and the incidents started getting worse I was kind of confused as to how he considered all of this acceptable collateral damage. He always just said it could always get worse."
It had, indeed, gotten worse; her smile faded. She paused, and was quite aware that all eyes were on her, and she re-gathered her thoughts into a coherent order.
"I think I need to back up. See, when I met Brockmon years and years ago, he told me that he was waiting for someone. He's always kind of refused to talk about it in detail, but he always said that someday, another monster would appear, and when that monster appeared, he -- Brockmon -- was going to come out of hiding and meet with them, that he'd be fulfilling some important role, that he was going to be the catalyst for something important."
A heavy silence fell for a moment.
"So Ratamon was looking for Brockmon because he's... like, a trigger?" Meghan said slowly, tilting her head.
"Sounds like it," Sam said, furrowing his brow.
Man, fuck Ratamon.
"But Brockmon... Brockmon changed his mind," Lily said, shaking her head. "I don't know when or how, but he was really resolute about staying hidden and keeping Ratamon in the dark. He said he wanted to lay low, but I think it might have been starting to get to him. He started getting really paranoid. He was jumping at every shadow and wanted to check my D-Rive all the time. I thought he was overreacting at first, but-- I don't know. I guess he had a reason to be worried," she said with a humorless smile, shuddering slightly -- involuntarily -- at the too-recent memory of Draugmon.
The room was very quiet.
"... so I guess that's my end of the story," Lily said once that had all had a chance to sink in. "Do what you will with that information. Or don't. Your choice." She folded her arms and kind of withdrew backwards, shrugging one shoulder. "That's all I've got."
"Well, that's great," Ryan said sarcastically, massaging his temple as he leaned back on his chair.
"What's great?" Natalie said, feeling a little bit of frustration well up in her. She was trying, really she was, but something about Ryan's condescending tone just set her on edge.
Ryan folded his arms. "She took Brockmon back, right? That's what we saw when we showed up?"
"Right," Natalie said, and Ryan continued.
"So if what she's saying is true, the chances of Ratamon coming back are a certainty. Look how well his showing up went tonight. No offense, but if he can force-evolve your digimon then that turns two thirds of the people who can deal with digimon into a liability."
"Hey, in fairness," Sam said, "he only force-evolved everyone because you showed up. I mean, not saying it would have gone better if you hadn't, but, you know, it may have involved less murderbeasts."
"We showed up because we were asked to," Jen said, and even though she was sitting, she put her hands on her hips in defiance.
"Right," Ryan said, tilting his head to gesture at Natalie. "Nat--"
"Don't call me 'Nat'."
Ryan ignored her. "-- Texted me saying there was shit going down and they needed backup."
Xander, Meghan, Sam, and Peter alike all looked to Natalie. They didn't look-- judging, but she could tell that they were all surprised by this. They had been helping each other out recently, but it still felt weird-- especially for Natalie.
"I thought you hated his guts," Xander said with his usual level of tact and subtlety.
"Hell, I hate his guts," Sam provided.
"Gee, thanks," Ryan said flatly.
(Sam replied with a just-as-flat you're welcome.)
"It's not about my feelings about Ryan," Natalie said, folding her arms and sinking back into the couch. She sounded like she was saying words she believed, but that she didn't want to. "It's about... trying to minimize the damage done. For all the good that did, but, you know, hindsight," she said, dropping her eyes.
"It would have been significantly worse," Lily said, cutting in, "if they hadn't shown up. I don't really want to know what Ratamon would have been willing to do if he hadn't wanted to duck out of dealing with their digimon."
Somehow, this didn't assuage Natalie's lingering guilt. There was still a lot of damage, a lot of people injured-- how much of that had just been from Draugmon, and how much of it had been from the second wave?
(But what would Ratamon have done if he hadn't been interrupted? Exactly how strong he was was hard to discern, and if he had the power to force-evolve digimon, then...
Really, what even was Ratamon? Sure, Shitomon and her party had vaguely guessed he was some kind of messenger for that yet-unnamed corruption, but...?)
"I mean-- it's not like it's your fault," Meghan said slowly, and she leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. "Like--?" She paused, frowning and looking around for backup.
Xander shrugged one shoulder. "Fucked if I know, man. Knowing what we do about ratfuck," (a snort of laughter from several of those gathered), "who can fuckin' say it wouldn't have gone worse if the cavalry hadn't shown up? Might've gone sunshine and roses. Might've been worse. Ether way it isn't worth sitting around wondering about what-if shit."
"Word to that," Eli said, pressing back against the front of the couch and letting his head fall back against it.
Natalie still couldn't say she felt much better about any of this, but she didn't see any value in belaboring the point right now, so she nodded with a heavy sigh.
"So, that actually brings me back to my original question. I realize Brockmon's information was a bit outdated, but I wasn't exactly expecting your digimon --" she gestured at Ryan, Eli, and Jen, "-- to exactly be on the refugees' best-buddy list. Are you working together now or something?"
(Apparently, refugees was just the accepted term.)
"Extenuating circumstances," Jen said simply.
Peter glanced over. "Which means what, exactly? You've been very vague about that."
"... do all of you not know what's going on, either?" Lily asked of nobody in particular as a murmur of disagreements and I swore we told you about that rippled through the group.
"We're... really bad at getting everyone on the same page. It's kind of a problem," Meghan said, sounding more than a little defeated as she half-turned around to address Lily directly.
"I can see that."
"I propose," Natalie said, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the low murmur, "we remedy that."
No time like the present. Indeed, no time like the inauguration of a ninth -- and they prayed, final -- D-Rive holder. (Yes, for those curious-- this was the extent of it. There were no D-Rives that weren't presently in this apartment. Rest easy in this knowledge.)
Through a series of conversations and arguments and interruptions (that -- trust me -- would be infinitely confusing to follow if written out, full of people talking over each other and repeating points and disagreeing and arguing and generally talking as people do), Lily managed to discern the following:
The refugee digimon had lost their memories; the three digimon following them had not.
She was treated to a quick recap of their clashes (which involved a whole lot of vocal disagreement over what any given sequence of events had been, who had started what fight, and who had been the bigger jerk). She was filled in that as soon as Draugmon had appeared, stronger emergent digimon had been emerging, and that ever time a refugee digimon evolved, it had gone pear-shaped.
This had led to the conclusion that the catalyst had already been activated, which had led to the very tentative ceasefire, as the three's goal had been from 'keep the corruption from reawakening' to 'attempt damage control now that it's already reawakened'.
Lily wondered what kind of clusterfuck mess she had been missing. She stood, taking in everything and listening close, taking mental notes, trying to keep track of who was who and partnered with whom.
"The point," Eli said in summary, spreading his hands out, "is that if the dormant corruption in the refugees has already been activated, then it's a bit too late to try and eliminate the corruption before it's activated."
"Yeah, that," Jen said with a decisive nod, "and we'd rather have the allies if it comes to that."
Well, that seemed sound enough, and who could argue with that?
Xander snorted, drawing attention to himself. "Yeah, okay, I just have one problem with this," he said. He couldn't keep quiet any longer-- and he had already exercised remarkable restraint in waiting this long to speak up.
"Working together for emergences, fine, I get that. Whatever. I ain't gonna turn down help. But tell me, why exactly are you acting like you're doing us a favor here? Just because you've decided to stop attempting to kill our partners doesn't mean we're going to be like, hey, yeah, let's disregard that time a couple weeks ago when you tried to kill our partners, we totally accept your BFF application."
Peter heaved a heavy sigh. "I don't exactly agree with his phrasing--"
"Thanks, I don't care."
Peter went on as though he wasn't interrupted. "But even though I might have put it another way, I agree with Xander." Xander looked slightly, albeit pleasantly, taken aback. "While I'm sure we all appreciate your help, it's kind of troubling that you're assuming we're all in agreement with you, just because you agreed on it."
"I mean, being totally fair, considering what little we do know for sure about your partners' histories," Ryan said, glancing around, "I think it's more than fair as a quid pro quo. It's less of a magnanimous assimilating you into us, and kind of a temporary truce."
Sam snorted; he was still looking at his phone and not the others. "Full offense, but considering we were never actively firing at you in the first place, it's not a truce, it's just you not shooting at us anymore. I mean, still great, we really appreciate you helping us out sometimes, but I'm not really sure why you're acting like we should feel grateful."
"I know we don't all know the details for certain or anything," Jen said, tilting her head, "but, you know. There's the whole thing about your partners being criminals on the lam who harbored the corruption. We weren't exactly starting on equal moral footing, yanno?"
"I'd say the fact that we don't know the details is kind of a big weak spot in that argument," Natalie said, folding her arms.
"But we're supposed to be the good guys," Ryan snapped back at Natalie, exasperation clear in his voice. The words seemed to have come out of his mouth before he had... really thought through them, but they was out there now, and he couldn't take them back.
Eli and Jen both had the expressions of people who agreed, but who maybe thought it didn't have to be said out loud, where everyone else wasn't quite sure how to respond to that.
"Ha ha wow fuck you," Xander said in a barking laugh.
"That's not what I meant," Ryan said, but it was too late, and he hissed through his teeth, running his hand backwards through his hair. "I meant-- shit."
"Hey, you heard it here first: we're the bad guys," Sam said sardonically.
"Yeah, I mean, we've only been trying to keep shit from getting out of hand," Xander said, "as opposed to running around trying to murder other peoples' friends when there's obviously more at work than hey we've got the murder signal 15 years late, and then acting like it's a great act of magnanimous charity when you realize that there is something else going on. Clearly you've got moral high ground."
"That's not what I meant," Ryan said again, more forcefully, his frustration apparent.
"Then what did you mean?" Natalie prompted, arms folded. Her diplomacy was wearing thin, even though she was trying her damndest not to start any fights.
Ryan hissed through his teeth. "I just meant that if it hadn't gotten this far, I think it'd be ureasonable to assume that our digimon would be on the--" He emphasized words throughout his little diatribe not only with his voice, but with hand gestures as well. He struggled to find a way to not say the good guys or the good side, because he didn't need to dig that hole any deeper.
"Considering our digimon's job when they first came here, it makes sense that it's also their -- our -- job to continue to do what's best for everyone," Jen added in, shrugging her shoulders. "But, yanno. Whatever."
"... why do you think it's your job?" Lily spoke and people looked to her, even though she wasn't speaking loudly. "I mean, not to sound rude. It's a legitimate question. Why exactly do you think this is a job you were given?"
"Because we have--" Eli began, but he cut himself off. He was going to say, because they had D-Rives, but he realized before he even said it that it wouldn't hold even the slightest bit of water, considering that everyone in this room was in possession of just such a device. "Hm. ... hm. Can I get back to you on that?"
"I'm assuming you were going to mention these things," Lily admitted, turning her D-Rive over in her hand, "I don't know for sure what these are for-- maybe one of you has worked that out and just declined to tell me. I'm out of the loop. But for what it's worth, from a relative outsider's perspective, they seem pretty important in all of this to me. I mean, if all of us have them, and you think they're evidence of us having a job to do, then I'd think we'd all have the same job." She shrugged.
"... I mean, let's be real, the D-Rives are kind of the biggest gap in our knowledge base," Sam said, rubbing the back of his head. "I sure don't know shit about how they work, except for the fact that they do work. Fucked if we even know why we have them."
"Now that I think about it, though, Ratamon doesn't seem to know what to make of them, either," Natalie said slowly, thinking-- he had just tonight hissed something about what are those things. "And if he'd known what they could do, I don't know if he'd have given me it back when he stole mine."
"At least there's that," Peter muttered. "Anything Ratamon knows that we don't seems to spell disaster for us, so at least he doesn't have that up on us."
"I mean," Meghan said, scratching her nose. "Considering they can do that thing where they like-- kind of seem to quarantine the corruption, wasn't that what Sam said?"
"Hold up, they can do what?" Eli said, raising an eyebrow.
Even as they began to discuss the D-Rives (which was mostly Eli and Sam exchanging notes a little bit tersely), the tension never quite recovered after Ryan's comment about being the good guys. It was nearly eleven o' clock by the time they started filtering out, and it felt like nobody was leaving happy or feeling any more secure about the state of affairs, but they had at least avoided a straight-up fight.
That was going to have to count as a victory.
Or at least as progress.
Natalie was the last one to leave-- not because she had any particular desire to be around Ryan for longer than she had to, but because she was busy wringing out into the sink the warm, damp towel that she had been using to wrap her cold-burned leg. Even in the short amount of time that the icy hands had been in contact with her bare skin, they had caused a fair bit of damage, and it was hard to tell what was discolouration because of the freezing, and which was discolouration because of the icy grip leaving bruises.
"Just-- here, I'll take care of that," Ryan said, shaking his head. Shitomon, who had materialized as soon as the apartment had cleared out, was being uncharacteristically quiet. She stood watching from the other side of the kitchen island, peering around it.
"It's... thanks," Natalie said, shaking her head and handing it off. She hesitated, not yet moving to the door. The awkwardness hung in the air heavy and stagnant, and she chose to break it rather than let it linger any longer.
"... what was it you wanted to talk about the other day? You never got back to me about that."
And then a really awkward pause ensued. Ryan didn't immediately answer.
"I think we mostly covered it with our discussion here," he said after a just-barely-too-long silence. He paused, then groaned. "Look, Nat--"
"Stop calling me Nat," Natalie said, feeling an almost-reflexive negative reaction to the nickname.
"Fine, Natalie, are you happy now?" Ryan spat, instinctively defensive, then he paused, groaning as he massaged his temples. "Fuck. Look. I know you hate me. I get it."
"Forgive me if I don't entirely believe that you do," Natalie said, frowning and looking to the side. She debated whether or not she minded that Shitomon was overhearing all of this. Ultimately, anything she said was going to get back to the little rabbit-thing anyway, just as anything Ryan said would get back to Raumon, so she decided it wouldn't matter. "You've never actually apologized for, like, literally anything."
"I've tried," Ryan said, "and every time you just act like I've spit in your face."
"No, you've tried to find a way to make everything my fault, or getting passive aggressive with me for not wanting to talk to you," Natalie said back, trying very hard to keep an even tone, "or digimon business gets in the way. I don't blame you for that last one, but, you know, it doesn't help."
Ryan folded his arms, sighing. "I just wanted to ask if you could put aside the fact that you hate me for the sake of digimon shit. That's all I was going to ask, and, hey, considering you actually deigned to ask for our help, I figure you can. Cool. Thanks. I feel great now."
Could you try to sound a little more bitter?
Natalie looked over at him for a moment as she gathered her thoughts.
"... look, Ryan, if we have to be on civil terms to deal with digimon stuff in each other's vicinity, that's fine. I can grit my teeth and do that. Thanks for your help earlier tonight. I mean that. But knowing you, gritting teeth in each others' vicinities isn't really what you want." The slightly guilty expression that graced Ryan's face for just a split second confirmed her suspicion. "Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think you want to be friends again."
He did not stop her, and she gathered all her nerves and forced herself to keep talking. "But... if you're not even going to try to actually genuinely apologize, then... sorry, but that's not going to happen."
The silence was heavy for a few seconds.
"Ouch," Ryan said, rubbing the back of his head.
"Yeah," Natalie said slowly, shifting her weight uncomfortably. It felt like there was something else left to be said, and this time, at least, Ryan didn't wait until the pause was awkward.
"You all got pissed at me for saying it, but... fuck, you all think you're the good guys too, though. I know you do," he said, wringing the towel even though it had no more water left to give.
"Kind of hard to believe that when our partners have been wrecking everything in sight," Natalie said, rubbing her arm nervously. She glanced over at Shitomon, and the little rabbit-angel's expression was hard to read, but it didn't seem unsympathetic.
"Yeah, but you know what I mean."
And that cut straight to the heart of so much of what had been bothering Natalie, and she was furious that it was Ryan of all people who said it.
Of course she -- all of them -- wanted to dig in their heels and find a way where they were all on the same side, where they were doing the right thing despite all evidence to the contrary and all the damage and everything else.
Natalie sighed. "I mean, everyone wants to think they did the best they could have done. Nobody wants to dig in their heels and then turn out to be wrong."
Again, an awkward and heavy moment followed.
"Right," Ryan said, setting the towel down and sighing. "Yeah. Have a good night."
Natalie nodded and saw herself out, feeling remarkably proud of herself for having maintaned her composure, even if she was shaking a little bit.
As she walked down to the street, she looked around; it was dark, but the streetlamps and the moon, just barely a waxing gibous, provided ample enough light. Sirens were still going off in the distance, but it looked like just about everybody had already cleared out.
Just about everyone, anyway-- lingering near the stairs, such that Natalie almost ran into her, was Lily.
"Oh-- sorry," Natalie said, readjusting from almost crashing into the other girl.
"Was wondering when you'd be out, but didn't want to creep," Lily said. "I just wanted to thank you."
Natalie blinked a couple times, still trying to recalibrate her head after her little conversation with Ryan. "What for?"
Lily raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her. "For helping me earlier. For helping Brockmon. You didn't have to make your partner evolve like that, or help distract Ratamon, or call in the," she paused, looking up in the direction of Ryan's apartment, "cavalry, let's say-- which I maintain was a good choice."
"I can't really take the credit for any of that except the last part," Natalie said, shaking her head. "It's ultimately Raumon's choice to evolve, and it was everyone else who distracted Ratamon, so I mean." She shrugged one shoulder, smiling.
"Learn to take a compliment, girl," Lily said, rolling her eyes, but she smiled faintly. "Take some credit where it's due, come on, what's wrong with you?" She shrugged her shoulders, and leaned against the dusty plaster wall. "Also I figure I ought to find out a way to keep in contact. I don't want to go through another couple months of wondering who the heck any of you people are."
"Makes sense," Natalie said, smiling faintly, and the two quickly exchanged contact information. "I can't even imagine what the past few weeks have been like for you," she said as she hit the save button on her screen, looking up at Lily.
"It's been rough, but what can you do," Lily said, shrugging. Natalie got the distinct feeling there was a lot more to it than that, but having just met this girl tonight, she knew better than to start prying. "I'm sure he'll have a lot to share," she said, looking at her D-Rive with a sigh.
"No kidding," Natalie said, frowning. "Ratamon's going to be back soonner than later, I'd bet money on it."
"Guess Brockmon'd better get used to-- what did you call it?"
"Minimizing," Natalie provided.
"Right. That's like, one of the few things we worked out about these things, but he preferred just staying at home, so..." Lily said, then paused. That was, after all, what had gotten them into so much trouble.
"You get used to having them with you every moment of every day, honestly," Natalie said with a smile, feeling into her pocket where her own D-Rive was; she couldn't deny that it almost felt like a security blanket.
"I'm sure," Lily said, huffing a little laugh, cradling her D-Rive in her hands. "I'm glad he's back," she said, more to herself than anything. She looked back up at Natalie. "Anyway. I'll see you, I'm sure."
Natalie nodded and waved as Lily took off.
Natalie let go of a breath she wasn't entirely aware that she'd been holding, and she felt a weight fall off her shoulders.
Ryan sighed. He couldn't relax, every part of the evening -- from monster fights to now -- playing on repeat in his mind. He stood at the sink, doing what few dishes he had, just because he needed to be doing something with his hands, and since he was already standing there...
Shitomon was sitting on the kitchen island, watching her partner and lost in her own mind in turn.
"You know," Ryan said; setting down a glass that he'd washed for the fourth time, "I think my life would be a lot easier if I were a little better at not constantly shoving my foot into my mouth every time I opened it, but here we are."
It wasn't like he was sitting here beating himself up, feeling like he was totally wrong the whole time. He still felt like his logic was at least understandable.
"It's a gift we both have, I suppose," Shitomon said, shaking her head. She stayed quiet for a moment, listening to the sound of the city outside. She frowned and scratched her head. "At least we got things under control tonight-- at least on the digimon side of things."
"At least there's that," Ryan said, sighing. "At least you did a good job of that."
Shitomon smiled, a little bit bittersweet.
"How many unread messages you got from she who must be obeyed now?" Xander asked; since he had gotten to the (now very trashed) concert with his bandmates, she had driven him back to his place, and they were killing a bit of time. In true refusing to sit on things like a normal person fashion, Xander was sitting on Meghan's car's hood, with Meg herself standing right in front of him.
See, it wasn't even that Meg hadn't texted her mother saying she was alright, because it had been just about the first thing she had done the moment they had gotten away from the scene of the fight, but that didn't stop--
"Fifteen," Meghan said, dread and resignation in her voice.
Xander snorted. "If you want to crash here instead of walking back into the belly of the WASP beast, you're welcome to. I won't even try any weird shit," he ammended the last last part immediately, but it didn't stop Meghan from flushing a rather amazing shade of fuschia that was immediately evident even in the low light.
"My mom would skin me."
"Consider that she's probably going to do that anyway," Xander retorted, and at that exact moment Meghan's phone went off, and Xander quirked an eyebrow. "Sixteen unread messages."
Meghan thought for a moment, considering very seriously, but eventually, she just sighed heavily. "While I appreciate the offer, I'd rather just go home and get it over with. I don't want to worry her more than she already is. She might, like, blow a blood vessel or something, you know?"
Xander rolled his eyes. "Eh. I think that'd be funny, but it's probably not worth the argument."
"Get off my car, I've gotta go home," Meghan said, sticking her tongue out. She was more than exhausted, and she really did just want to get home and the inevitable drama over with, and more importantly, make sure Oremon was okay.
Xander snorted, slipping off the hood. What he wasn't entirely expecting was for Meghan to dip in, stand on tiptoes, and press a quick kiss to his lips; he was not, however, complaining.
"Night," she said as she circled back around to her driver's side door.
"Yeah," he said, lifting a hand as her engine roared to life. "Night."
As Meghan drove away, a blue light flashed, and Desmon -- very exhausted, very beat up, only half clinging to consciousness, but still Desmon -- was clinging to his back like a backpack.
"Not a word, you overweight mood-killing winged chihuahua."
"Ha ha. Gross."
Xander didn't even bother trying to minimize Desmon again, even if she was a massive pain in the ass to carry as he hauled her up the stairs with her ever-so-innocently wondering out loud if anyone would be so magnanimous as to let her have the leftover lo mein in the fridge.
Sam groaned as he fell into his computer chair with an exhausted exhale. He was alone in the house, so he had nobody to answer to for showing up this late. Even if he had, he would have made the same beeline to his room anyway.
He kicked his shoes off and set his D-Rive on his desk, then began the search for a bottle of water with enough left in it to swallow pills down with. He dosed out a healthy number of painkillers in addition to his normal medication, tossing the pills into his mouth and washing them down before he had a chance to taste them. By the time he tilted his head back down, Gelermon had, with her typical flash of green light, materialized next to his chair in a quadrupedal stance, looking like she had seen better days.
"If you start working on anything that isn't sleeping," she said, peering up at him, "so help me god, I'm going to eat every last one of your hats. I will go full wild dog 'it would have done less damage if you'd put them through a wood chipper'. Don't test me."
"Every single one of your hats, Sam."
He couldn't argue with that, and even though it took a colossal effort -- after all, he had just sat down -- he shoved himself up and over the, like, three feet to his bed, and flopped over gracelessly. Gelermon leapt up onto the bed alongside him, curling up at the foot.
"How long have you been conscious again?" Sam asked, glancing down at her.
"A while. Donno for sure, kind of hard to keep track in there," she said with a pointed look at Sam's D-Rive. "I heard part of the conversation, at least, so you won't have to fill me in on everything."
"Thank god," Sam said.
Really, he hadn't realized how tired he was until he laid down; he had been all ready to power through and sort through some footage and information, but now that he had stopped, he could already feel himself fading. In short order, he was out cold.
"At least you got some good out of it, huh?" Hulimon said, peering over Eli's shoulder. "Finally got to compare some D-Rive notes with what's-his-name."
"Yeah, except for the fact that every new piece of information just makes everything, like, five thousand times more complicated," Eli said. Hulimon was piggybacking on him as he went down the stairs, heading down into his basement room.
"Such is the way," Hulimon said in a faux-cheerful tone, and he jumped off of Eli's back as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He wavered slightly, and debated that maybe jumping off was a bit of a bad idea. "I've known for years that every single thing I stick my nose in makes everything a lot more complicated. That's what makes it fun."
"You have a really weird definition of 'fun'," Eli said with a wry smirk.
"Need I remind you," Hulimon said, grinning a bit wider than normal, "about the zamboni?"
"... you know what? That's fair. And also partially your fault."
"Tomayto, tomahto," Hulimon said, handwaving it away, and then he paused and looked around the dimly-lit room. "You gotta think it's fun," he said, shrugging as he set his bag aside. "If it's all going to shit anyway, you may as well make the most of it, you know?"
"Yeah, I feel you."
"Hey," Peter said as he pushed open the door to his flat. The lights were on, and the TV was chattering away; even if he couldn't see his roommate, he was definitely present, since he wasn't working tonight.
"Damn, you're not dead yet. I guess I lose the betting pool," Ian's voice drifted from the kitchen area.
"Not for lack of trying," Peter said coolly, rubbing the back of his head. "It's been kind of a long night."
"No fucking kidding, dude," Ian said, coming around the partial wall separating the living room from the kitchen. "It's been everywhere. At this point I just assume that if some monster-related emergency comes up, it's gonna have something to do with you."
"Thanks, I think," Peter said flatly as he dropped onto the couch. Without warning, Ian beaned him in the forehead with an orange. "What the fuck was that for?"
"First of all, it's for making me deal with really awkward questions from your mom," he said, and when Peter raised an eyebrow, he elaborated, "you weren't answering your phone, so she called me. Second of all: it's for Banmon."
"Christ," Peter muttered, rubbing his forehead before he began to tear the peel off of the orange. "What did my mother want?"
In a flash of light, Banmon appeared on the couch next to Peter. She looked... disheveled, her bandages hanging a bit looser than normal. As Peter handed off a segment of orange to her, she mumble-squeaked a very quiet thank you, pulling down the scarf-like gathering of fabric around her face so she could put it in--
Well. Where her mouth would be.
"She was convinced she saw you in the shitstorm hellscape on the news, my dude," Ian said. "I'm going to take a wild guess and assume you still haven't told her about Banmon?"
"There's a great many things I don't tell my mother," Peter said frankly, shrugging one shoulder as he handed another orange segment to his digimon partner.
"Yeah, I figured, so I played dumb," Ian said, shaking his head and leaning against the wall. "I don't think she bought it. But you ought to like, explain your shit to her sooner or later. It was really fucking awkward." Beat. "She was worried, dude."
Peter could only imagine, and he sighed heavily, focusing on the mechanical process of ripping peel off of the orange to hand to Banmon instead of dwelling on that. "Yeah. Sorry about that. I'll figure something out when I don't feel like the walking dead."
Ian accepted that and went back to what he was doing when he had been interrupted (making himself a sandwich), leaving them alone agian.
"You doing okay?" Peter said, looking over at Banmon.
"I've probably been worse?" she said after a moment, and Peter sighed, gently placing a hand on her hooded head.
"I still don't like all this fighting."
Meghan crept in through the back door and into a mostly-dark house, and she felt like every step she took, she was risking stepping on a booby trap that would cause all the lights to explode to life.
No such thing happened. She got all the way to the top of the stairs and spied the light in her mother's bedroom on, and she sighed, preparing herself.
The entire front hall lit up for a split second with a flash of brilliant orange as a very harried looking Oremon appeared next to her. She nearly jumped, but she was in sneak mode deep enough that she managed to contain it.
"You might want to just get to my room," Meghan said in a hushed voice, glancing over at him. "This is probably gonna suck."
"Moral support," Oremon said gruffly, shaking his head once.
"You've been through enough tonight," she said, frowning.
"And you haven't?"
... okay, fair enough.
The two of them still crept as quietly as they could, and they exchanged looks and heavy sighs before Meghan rapped her knuckles on the half-ajar door.
Natalie didn't go straight home. She was sore and limping and tired, but she knew where she had to go first.
The late-August summer night hung heavy and thick, and the wind rustled through the leaves of the trees that surrounded the stream in the park. That was the only noise as she walked up to the bridge, hands in her pockets.
The purple light of Raumon's re-emergence flickered off the water. He hadn't materialized on the drive back here, and she didn't expect him to, but she couldn't help but feel a little bit of relief as he solidified next to her.
"Thanks," he said, sounding tired but entirely genuine.
"Sorry about all of that," she said, leaning forward on the railing of the bridge.
"It's fine. It all worked out as well as it could have," he said, "and I'll count that as a victory." He paused, looking up at her. "I know my opinion is biased," he said after a moment, "but I think you did the right thing. Overall. In general."
"You're very biased," she said, but she couldn't not smile. "But thank you." She leaned down and ruffled the feathers on his head.
After all the hectic bullshit of tonight, they just took a moment to enjoy the flow of the river and the quiet of the night.
Jen flopped down on her bed, face-down.
"Christ, I'm ready to never have a night like that ever again, yeah?" she said, muffled, into a pillow.
Lurumon nodded her assent, but said nothing. She was sitting down cross-legged on the foot of Jen's bed. Her long tail was wrapped around her legs, and the red panda rested her hands on her knees, her eyes closed and her breathing steady. Jen's dropping onto the bed and talking to her didn't seem to perturb her at all.
Jen sighed and smiled a bit. Lurumon had been trying for the past few months to get Jen to learn how to meditate. It wasn't going to work -- Jen had a hard enough time getting her mouth to stay shut when she had an opinion or a thought most of the time, let alone get her brain to be quiet, but she admired the little digimon's attempts.
Maybe she should really give it a shot. She got the feeling she might be able to use it in future.
Lily opened the door to her apartment. It was still kind of a mess, but... She had to manually materialize Brockmon, because he was still out cold -- no pun intended -- so she knew she had a little while to get things in order before he woke up.
With Brockmon situated comfortably on the old beat-up couch, she finally set to picking things up, something she couldn't have been assed to do at all in the past few weeks. She kept the curtains drawn, the window locked, and her D-Rive on hand as she did, but her small and cluttered apartment finally didn't feel inexplicably too damn big and too damn empty anymore, and frankly, she'd take that.
Ratamon grumbled to himself. He sat on the rim of the massive cracked canyon, and yes, if he wanted to pout and be a little upset before he got back to work, he was going to be upset and pout a little, dammit. He sighed grumpily, resting his chin on one hand.
He had lost track of Draugmon for one goddamn minute (okay, maybe a bit more, but you get the point), and everything had cascaded out of control. He had lost the catalyst-- and with that, he had lost a lot of security. Who knew what he would tell them?
The outliers had shown up, and he'd rather run to see another day than try to deal with them himself... maybe the refugees would have sorted them out.
It was a bit of wishful thinking, he knew.
Admittedly, he had never really stuck around to see how they had brought their so-called partners back down out of a cataylst digivolution, but he was willing to blame more and more of his problems on those stupid little devices. Maybe he should have stolen that purple one for good when he had borrowed it, instead of handing it back, but it was entirely too late for that.
He couldn't rely on the refugees having solved the problem; he had to treat the catalyst as though it were lost. Which... mechanically, that was fine. It was awake again. He didn't need to wake it up any more than he already had.
But he didn't know what that stupid badger would tell them.
And that was a problem. The angel's group, they knew some, but he felt like he could rest easy in the knowledge that idiot-king Dinmon didn't see fit to tell his pawns even half of the truth. Brockmon, though... Brockmon had been privy to much more, information that posed a much bigger threat to this plan going off without a hitch.
This all would have gone so much easier if those stupid digimon -- all of them -- had just done what they were supposed to do. He supposed he only had the humans to blame for that. They were turning out to be quite the spanner in the works. He'd been an idiot to underestimate them, but he wasn't about to make that mistake again. If the catalyst was already lost, then he was going to take the time to do this right.
Which, really, was fine by him. Time was something he was about to have a whole lot more of.