A Flare of Dragons


Part Four


(Koushiro's pov)

"So… what do we do when he wakes up?"

I glance over at Taichi wearily. "Figure out what you're going to do with us, I suppose."

He leans back, face carefully neutral. A few hours ago, I probably would've called it a blank look. "I'll have to talk to Ken about that," he says, in a casual tone.

I raise an eyebrow at him to let him know he's not fooling me any more. "Right." Then I let the subject drop. "Why do you say he has so much trouble opening up, anyway?" A safe enough topic of conversation - and it might help me if I understand.

Taichi shrugs. "Because his family wanted one thing during his childhood, and when he couldn't bring himself to fit the standards his parents set, he closed himself off." A pause. "His brother - you heard him mention Osamu before, right? - was the type to excel at everything. Ken tries very hard to be that good, and it never let him be who he really was..." He trails off. "Ah, anyway. Not as tragic as you and Daisuke."

"Depends on your point of view, I guess." Oddly, I find I can sympathize with Ken. I suppose if I was in any other position, I might even find that I liked him. "I'll be the first to admit I have my prejudices, but I guess you don't actually have to be poor to be involved in a tragedy."

He turns to give me a bit of a grin. "Does this mean you'll admit we're human, even being nobles?"

"Of course not," I reply, with a completely straight face. "'Noble' and 'human' are contradictory terms. Everyone knows that."

Taichi laughs. It's a nice sound. Goes well with his face, I suppose… I can't help but smile a little, and look away from him. I never thought I'd say this about a mercenary - particularly a mercenary of noble blood - but I honestly think he's not such a bad person.

This does not mean that I'm in love with him, of course. But I may be less inclined to despise him.

"I'll bet you and Ken would get along well if it weren't for this Daisuke thing," Taichi points out, turning to look at me. Slight shadows caused by the fire flicker over his face in a very distracting manner. "You're both way smarter than me. You guys could probably talk about stuff I wouldn't even understand."

"I don't know about that." My image of Ken hasn't quite been resolved in my mind. I still see an overly pretty mercenary with a smirk on his face, dragging a helpless-looking Daisuke off into his room. "Right at this point, I can't quite see it."

He shakes his head. "It's true, though - speaking from my nice, safe, objective point of view. Maybe you both need to stop being so stubborn. I'll bet it doesn't help Daisuke much, does it?"

He might have a point there, but I'm not ready to see it just yet. I keep my mouth shut and stare resolutely at the pot cooking over the fire.

"Boy, you're sure touchy, aren't you?"

I turn and meet his gaze, feeling a bit put out by that. I've heard his accusations before. Stubborn. Touchy. I can think of several he's probably thought but not said - others have told them to my face already. Stuffy. Boring. Prudish. "I've spent almost half my life being responsible for someone who doesn't fully understand the danger he's in - of course I'm going to be touchy! If you don't like the person I am, you'd better do your best to ignore me, because I'm not going to change."

"See what I mean?" He ignores my obvious irritation and grins at me, brown eyes dancing wickedly. "Touchy. When did I say I didn't like the person you are? Or are you just paranoid?"

"Wouldn't you be?" I challenge.

"Maybe, but we're never going to find that out for sure, are we?" Taichi shrugs. "Ken's not a bad person, if you give him a chance. He doesn't want to hurt Daisuke - this is just the first time he's ever run into a really bad run of infatuation."

The first time? Unlikely. Very, very unlikely. "I find that hard to believe," I comment dryly.

"Whether you believe it or not, it's the truth. He says he doesn't like getting 'involved' with anyone because it 'interferes' with his mission' - let me tell you, Ken can do a pretty good impression of a stuffy old coot for someone who's just turning seventeen."

I don't think I've ever spoken with someone this difficult. At least Daisuke tries not to be infuriating. I glance over at Taichi; he's not looking at me any more. His uniform has the sleeves rolled up and a few buttons undone at the collar. He doesn't look like any respectable royal soldier - more like a common workman. I was led to believe that the nobly born cared a great deal about their appearance. Ken certainly seems to, but his partner is almost militantly indifferent. And Taichi was doing his training shirtless; I've never seen a man above 'peasant' rank who would remove his shirt in public. The upper classes just don't consider it civilized.

I'm gifted with a vivid mental image to accompany that thought, and flush darkly, staring down at my feet. I only saw him like that for a moment or two… Why can I remember it so well? Just because he's tall and lean with a sleek, bronzed upper torso…

Perhaps it was just because of Ken's earlier teasing.

"I'd say this is about ready." Taichi takes a look into the pot. "We should be able to get something to eat, then rest for a while. I'll be on watch soon enough." He takes a couple of crude bowls from the pack. "Then maybe you should get some sleep - while you can get it. We might have to leave early tomorrow."

I frown, but don't agree or disagree with his suggestion yet. "How long do you go on watch for?"

"Only a couple of hours." He shrugs. "It's hard to stay alert for much longer - and once you've lost it, you're pretty much useless out there if something's trying to sneak up on you."

"Oh." The way I'm feeling right now, a couple of hours of sleep couldn't hurt… But can I trust Taichi to watch Daisuke? I can feel my frown deepen as I stare at him, trying to determine if I should risk it or not.

"You're not going to be much good to him if you collapse, you know," he points out, and hands me a bowl of whatever was cooking in that pot.

I glare in response, but my more logical side is already nodding agreement. He's right… I just don't want to admit that he's right. "If anything happens to him…"

"I won't let anything happen to him."

He's serious. I don't know why, but somehow looking into that warm gaze makes me feel better. Taichi really isn't so bad… Perhaps I can trust him to watch over Daisuke… "All right," I agree, finally, and turn my attention to the food.


Despite that, I can't bring myself to sleep.

Taichi's still moving around - checking on Daisuke, stirring at the pot some more, or just generally keeping himself mobile. He's trying to be quiet about it, but it's very distracting. I'm exhausted and I'd love to let myself drift off, but I'm too worried at the moment to be able to sleep. I keep opening my eyes to check on Daisuke, who's lying next to me. I want to be there when he wakes up - and that means I should be awake as well.

Twice, though - twice - I caught Taichi checking on me. That just seems insulting, for some reason. If I can take care of Daisuke, I can certainly take care of myself. And the attention is not flattering - not at all. The reason I'm blushing so much is because… because I'm embarrassed that he's treating me as if I'm incompetent.

That's all.

"M… mm… K-en…?"

I sit up. "Daisuke?" He asked for Ken… Not a good sign. Really not a good sign… I push that aside for the moment and shift over so I can watch his face as he blinks wearily. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired." He yawns a little, but sits up, pushing the blanket down. "How long've I been sleeping?"

"I'm not sure," I confess. "You'll have to ask Ken - you were on his horse."

"Oh yeah." I do not like the look of the smile that forms on his face at that - sleepy though it may be.

"He's awake?" Taichi moves away from the fire and joins us. "You were supposed to be sleeping, too," he reminds me, with a wry glance.

I shrug. "I couldn't get to sleep."

Daisuke is looking around, a confused look on his face. "Where is Ken, anyway?"

"On watch," Taichi answers, before I can open my mouth. "That reminds me - I think it's almost my turn." He stands up, and offers us a small smile. "I'll go out and send him back in here. There are a few things we need to talk about anyway."

"Are you sure you trust us alone here?" I ask, before he can grab that huge sword of his and head out.

He grins over his shoulder at me. "You wouldn't get very far if you decided to run, would you? Neither of you is familiar with this place, and you don't know how to ride a horse. I'm sure you'll be fine on your own for a few minutes. I'm sure you guys have a lot to talk about that you don't need me to hear, anyway."

So that's why he's going. I stare after him, more than a little surprised. He's giving us time to talk privately - probably against any orders he might have been given to keep us under close guard at all times. My opinion of him has changed from 'all brawn and no brain' to 'deceptively competent' to 'surprisingly accommodating'. And the only conclusion I've come to from all of this is that I doubt I'll ever be able to understand him.

And… for some strange reason, I think I'm content not to.

"He's nice," Daisuke says. When I turn to look at him, he's giving me a curious look. "Are you sure you don't love him?"

I sigh. "Daisuke… let it drop, please."

"Okay, if you say so." He shrugs, then frowns slightly and gives me an anxious look. "What happened back there… did Ken…?"

"He knows," I tell him quietly.

Daisuke winces. "How much?"

"Everything. Your powers… what they mean… Just - everything."

Silence falls between us.

"Kou… you know…" Daisuke buries a finger in the dirt beside him and stares down at it with seeming fascination. "I don't want Ken to think of me in a bad way. I think… I might… I mean, he's…"

I grimace. Why do I get the feeling all my efforts were doomed from the start? He's already falling for Ken, and I can't do anything to stop it. "He doesn't think badly of you," I say instead, sincerely hoping that it's the truth. "He was worried, and now he's sort of upset, that's all."

"He's not upset with me, is he?" Now he's tracing paths in the dirt, frowning down at the designs he's creating.

"No… just… with the way things are." I debate with myself briefly, then go on. "Taichi told me that Ken's not used to feeling like he does about you - he's probably upset that there are so many things going wrong."

"So he's probably going to decide he doesn't like me so much, huh?" Daisuke looks up at me with a bit of a sad smile. "I wish I weren't like this. It's such a pain. If I were a normal person, maybe I'd have a good chance with Ken."

I suppose there isn't much I can say to that. "I don't think he's decided that," I tell him, with a certain amount of certainty. Ken seemed to still like Daisuke… I haven't made up my made whether that could be a good thing or not. If he's stubborn enough to try and find a way around Daisuke's 'gift'…

"You think maybe we could work something out?" He looks at me hopefully.

I sigh. This is clear proof that he has not listened to a thing I've told him since I discovered the danger his powers presented. "Daisuke, we've talked about this. I've told you…"

"Yeah, I know… but maybe for a little while, right?" Again, he's not listening to me. Talking to Daisuke when he gets like this is nearly as frustrating as talking to Taichi. "I can control it if I'm just kissing."

"No," I say, emphatically.

He sighs.

"Am I interrupting the two of you?"

I glance up. Ken's still got that cool look on his face… For a moment, I can't help but feel apprehensive. If he gives Daisuke any of that attitude of his… I might deserve to receive it, and perhaps Taichi as well, but Daisuke certainly does not. Granted, my younger companion can normally take other people's attitude in stride, but after he's asked me those questions…

"Nope." Daisuke beams up at the mercenary. "We're just talking. Want to sit down and join in?"

Ken blinks, pauses, and then a hesitant smile creeps onto his face in response. "All right," he agrees, and pulls out a blanket to sit on.

"Sorry if I worried you," Daisuke goes on, even as he does. His eyes are bright as he watches Ken - probably as bright as I've ever seen them. This does not look good at all… "My recovery time's getting a lot better, right, Koushiro?"

I let out a long breath - then give up. "Yeah."

"I can almost control it now," he goes on, boasting just a little. There's a brash grin on his face - typical Daisuke. "In fact, I'll bet some day I'll even be able to use it against bad guys. Like a real hero."

"You still have a lot of work to do before then, Daisuke," I remind him flatly.

Ken only gives me the barest of glances before smiling encouragingly at Daisuke. "Maybe I can help you with it," he offers.

Not good. Really, really not good.

I'm going to send myself into a panic attack if I stay here and listen to them talk like this… I push aside my blankets and stand.

"You going somewhere?" Daisuke asks, looking up from Ken - for once - to give me a curious look.

"Yes, I think so." I turn my gaze on Ken. "Where is Taichi right now?"

To his credit, he makes no comment, although he does give me a small, knowing little smile. "Straight through the woods that way," he replies, and points.

"Thank you." I walk around them and head off into the trees without looking back. There's no way I could hope to compete with Ken for Daisuke's attention, and trying to relax while listening to them court disaster is ridiculous even to contemplate.

At least it's not likely that Ken will try anything just yet. Daisuke's still too weak, and it's still too soon after I've explained about his… condition.

Taichi looks up as I approach, and gives me a quizzical look. "How come you're out here?" he asks, raising an eyebrow as I sit on the log he's chosen, beside him.

"I'm not anxious to drive myself insane by watching the two of them stare into each other's eyes," I tell him, in a dry tone. "Besides, I get bored… There isn't much to do around here besides talk."

He grins at me. "I can think of a few things."

"Oh, sure." I can probably guess what those 'few things' are, too. Perhaps it was a bad idea, coming out here… "I'm not too certain being bored is such a good excuse for that sort of thing."

"Depends on the situation." Taichi shrugs, keeping his eyes on the woods around him. "And who you're with." He glances my way. "You've never had anyone that you…?"

I can feel my face burning; it's getting to be a habit. "I've never really had time for that sort of thing."

"That's the thing, though," he replies, turning to look at me fully. "You have to make time for it. Though I guess I can't speak from experience." A small smile turns up the side of his mouth.

That's… unexpected. I would've thought someone like Taichi… "I was under the impression that nobles…"

"Had trouble keeping it in their pants?" he finishes for me. A wicked grin takes the place of that smile. "Maybe I just haven't found anyone I wanted badly enough."

His gaze is disconcerting. I look away, trying not to think about Taichi and his pants and whatever he might be keeping in them. "I still have too much to worry about even if I did find someone like that," I say instead.

"The theory is," he points out, "that when you find a person like that, you can't help yourself."

I'm not quite sure what to say to that, so I sit there in silence.

"Well… no need to worry too much about it." He apparently decides to take pity on me, and changes the subject. "So how did you and Daisuke survive after you decided to travel together?"

I don't mind telling him more about that… Strangely, talking to Taichi is almost comforting. At least he's willing to listen.

Whether or not he's willing to care, I guess we'll find out for sure later on.


(Daisuke's pov)

My mind is reeling in what feels like thirty different directions as Ken settles into a comfortable position. His eyes, when they do look in my direction, aren’t as warm as they were the other day, but then again, Koushiro told him. He knows everything!

But he still sat down, a part of me points out, but it’s the very small and hopeful side of me. I fidget a little, trying hard to seem cheerful and smile. I could stare at him for hours on end. Now that Koushiro’s walked off, I mean. I think he’s lonely sometimes. It’s a bad feeling because I know that I don’t make things easier for him.

Ken clears his throat and glances at my face. "He’ll be alright," he says, somehow knowing what I’m thinking. He’s smirking just a little. "I think he does like Taichi, even if he won’t admit it."

"I know," I finally respond, grinning back. "Do you think Tai likes him? In that way?"

Nodding, Ken lets out a soft laugh. For a while after that there’s nothing but the sound of the fire, the woods and the beginning chorus of nightly sounds. I’m warm and my stomach is relatively full, and there’s a gorgeous boy watching me with incredible eyes. I feel…almost normal.

"Daisuke?" Ken breaks the silence unexpectedly, but his voice is soft and hesitant. "May I ask you something?"


"Can you…really do those things?"

My eyes narrow, and out of habit I toss a twig into the fire. I glance at him sideways, but he’s watching the fire as well. What had Koushiro said—that Ken isn’t used to feeling these things? "Ken," I begin carefully, and shrug. "I…I can do several things. I don’t know how I do them, but it’s just there. Like walking."

"Have you killed before?" he asks. By the tone of his voice he seems unconcerned, but he still doesn’t look up at me. I know, somehow, that he’s had to kill before.

I blow out a puzzled breath. "Well, yeah. When I first met Koushiro—you know that he saved my life? He was running away from home and there were these guys. I was almost eleven, or maybe twelve, but I was trying to steal from them. I got caught and…I killed them." My motion pulls his gaze from the fire and onto my bared arm, showing a thin faded scar, then tilt my head to trace the line almost gone from my cheek. I can still remember the pain of it.

I make myself continue before I lose my nerve. "They were going to kill me. Back then, I couldn’t stop it. I avoided everyone because I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but with them…I didn’t want to stop it." I hear myself get a vicious horrible voice, and say "I’m glad they’re dead! They deserved it!"

Ken was watching me with a carefully neutral expression, his eyes dark and glittering.

"Besides, after I met Koushiro, I learned how I could control it, and found out the other stuff, and I never used them unless someone tried to hurt me…if it wasn’t for Koushiro, I think I’d be dead, or worse…"

"He said you were family to him," Ken confides, smiling a hesitant smile at me.

"Did he?" I ask, feeling oddly warm. I can’t help smiling back. "He really did?"

The mercenary nods, and says, "About…last night…"

"It was an accident!" I hear myself claim indignantly. "Really, I’m sorry I pushed you!"

Ken shakes his head, a more rueful smile on his face, and finds a twig of his own to toss into the fire. "No, I suppose I deserved it. You were trying not to…do whatever you do, right?"

I nod slowly.

"Then it was my fault. I just didn’t know why. I thought…before I knew all of this…I thought I’d be able to kiss you again. But that would be a bad idea, wouldn’t it?" he admits, hugging his knees to his chin and smiling wistfully. He looks so young as he does this, young and heartrendingly sad…

Kiss me again? Again!? I think. What’s stopping you!

"I’ve never kissed anyone besides you, before," I reply in a whisper to the fire. "It was weird, but I liked it. Koushiro says I’m not allowed to do that anymore, but…" Oh, jeez, I think I’m blushing. I can’t begin to say the rest—I’m going to be in so much trouble—I know better—

he’s looking at me! I think, trying not to catch his gaze and unable to keep from looking. I don’t think smiling like that is legal!

The other boy is smiling at me, eyes lit up and his face so vibrant, so beautiful. He scoots a little closer and my heart gives this odd crazy thump. A part of me—the other part of me—swirls tightly in place behind my control. His fingers reach out and brush mine, not quite touching, but there.

"Daisuke," Ken says. Neither of us are looking at each other now, thought we’re sitting close. Very close. Close enough that Koushiro would freak out if he was here—

but he’s not.

I think my mind is melting.

"Not…not anything else—I don’t want to hurt you, so it can’t be—" I babble.

Ken turns my face in his direction before I realize his hands have moved, and he’s whispering, "I know. Just a kiss. A kiss is okay?" and his voice is a breathless needy and if I dared…

…his thoughts are warm and formless, strange heat. In his mind, barely brushing together, I meet a reflection of myself, a collection of impressions of how Ken sees me—I slipped away before I could see more, my face tilting upwards in a weird relief. It’s almost rude to be in the mind of another when he’s about to kiss you.

Then he does kiss me, mouth barely touching as the fire crackled. Like before, it feels weird and exhilarating, excited and almost-fear turning my insides to mush. Just a touch, and then Ken is pulling away.

"Open your mouth?" he asks. "Just a little bit, so I can really kiss you."

Really kiss? Then what was that…? I think. I don’t understand, but I open my mouth obediently, parting lips that were tingling in a funny way. Kissing with an open mouth? I had never even thought about it…


Oh…a part of me felt like dying. Oh gods. I make a funny sound as Ken slips his tongue into my mouth, warm slick motion that felt even weirder and good, and even things I couldn’t name. the other was rising in rapid response, and I could feel it, but it wasn’t hard to hold it off.

Just a little more

Ken cups my face in his hands, dutifully keeping himself from doing anything else that might convince me to let him, not that it’d take much—and he pulls away. He swallows, breathing fast, and I blink lazily at him, eyes dropping to his mouth and the way his pulse is beating in his throat. I feel close to knowing something, to…

His hands dropped away. "…" Ken breathed out. "Perhaps that was a bad idea,"

I stare at him in a funny sort of trance. Too close, a part of me warns. I can’t help asking "Why?"

Ken licks his lips, sending that funny heat rushing to my head, and blushes. "I don’t know how I’m going to stop from kissing you again," he admits in a faint voice. His hand brushes back his hair, and smiles in a endearingly shy way.

"Oh…you’d better not," I reply, blushing warm in the heat of the fire. "It’s…I-I’m…"

Too close! Too close!

But Ken merely smiles sadly. "I said I wouldn’t do anything, and I won’t," he says, and brings his hand to brush at mine. I inhale slowly, trying to calm myself down. I know from an inward glance that my other power hasn’t risen to the point where Koushiro would come running—or maybe he knew that Ken wouldn’t do anything—but it still feels…different. Violent, and unstable.

Maybe Koushiro was right when he said that I shouldn’t even kiss anyone…I swallow, closing fingers over Ken’s hand and wrap a stern control around myself. I won’t regret it. "Ken…"

If I was normal…if I wasn’t like this…I want to say. If I wasn’t…

"Hush," Ken says before I can get the words out. He leans in and presses a kiss to my forehead. "Don’t."

I guess my face must have spoken for me. I sigh, smiling and lean against his shoulder. I find a lot more comfort in such a position than I ever expected, but it’s enough. Maybe when I can control it better…

Maybe then…


(Koushiro's pov)

"You know, I think you and I have opposite positions when it comes to this sort of thing."

I glance over at Taichi curiously. We've been swapping stories - I've told him about some unimportant misadventures Daisuke and I have been involved in, and he's been countering those with various assignments he and Ken have been sent on. "What exactly do you mean?"

"I mean when it comes to our partners - if you want to call them that." He offers me that easy grin. "You're obviously the sensible guy - the serious one who needs Daisuke around to make you smile and laugh and live a little. But I'm the one who has to tell Ken it's okay to lighten up once in a while."

"You might have a point," I agree, nodding. Speaking with Taichi like this, without reference to the subjects that make me uncomfortable - such as Ken and Daisuke's dangerous attraction, or Taichi and Ken's mission to take us somewhere I'm certain we don't want to go - puts me at ease.

He's the perfect person to talk to; he can make you laugh without effort, make your worries seem like nothing at all, and he's got a really nice tone to his voice that just makes you want to sit back and listen to it.

"When this is over," he says, stretching a bit and keeping his eyes on the forest carefully, "let me take you out one night - just for fun. I'll show you exactly what you've been missing."

"That's assuming you decide not to take us to the Tower," I remind him. "Otherwise, I doubt our paths will cross again."

He frowns. "You know, the Tower might not be what you're expecting."

"I doubt that." I smile wryly. "And anyway, I couldn't just drop everything and leave Daisuke behind for the night. I have to watch out for him."

Taichi shakes his head. "This," he says, raising an eyebrow at me and grinning just a bit, "is exactly why you need that night. You're trying to do everything all by yourself - worry about everyone but yourself. Take a little time for just you."

"This is a little too important for that to matter very much," I point out, dryly.

"I think it matters a lot," he counters. "And the fact that you don't think so is really sad. I'll bet you get awfully lonely, thinking that way."

I open my mouth to reply to that - and realize I have nothing to say.

"Well…" Taichi stands abruptly, and offers a hand down to me casually. "It's probably about time for Ken to take a turn again. Are you coming back with me, or did you want to stay here and wait for him?" There's a bit of a mischievous glint in his eyes as he says that.

"Don’t be ridiculous," I reply - but can't help smiling anyway. I let him help me up.

"Koushiro, you're asking the impossible. I invented ridiculous."

I can certainly believe that.

My good mood slips away almost the instant we come in sight of our campsite. The first thing that catches my eye is the almost-full pot of food that Taichi and I ate from earlier. Strange… Daisuke eats a lot when he has the opportunity. Why would he pass it up this time? And the fire's burned down almost to embers.

The reason for both becomes clear when I make out the two figures snuggled under the blanket at the far end of the clearing.

Daisuke's head rests comfortably against Ken's cheek; his eyes are blissfully shut, and he lies on his side with one arm flung carelessly over the mercenary's waist. One of Ken's hands is lying over his; the other is visible just over his shoulder. They could be asleep or awake, but they both seem much more relaxed - much happier - than before.

Naturally, this immediately sends me into a panic. They're both still fully clothed, and it looks completely innocent… but still!

Taichi has the presence of mind to clasp a hand over my mouth before I can demand to know what's going on.

"We'll give you two a minute," he tells the comfortably snuggled pair, and drags me back into the woods.

They ignore him completely.

I think that's the final nail on the lid of my coffin.

"You can shout at me when we're away from them," Taichi tells me, in an irritatingly pleasant tone. "We really shouldn't disturb the moment." He moves on for a few more paces, and then lets go of me.

"Did you see what they were - !?"

"Yeah - and I haven't got that worry factor going for me the way you have." Taichi offers me a half-smile. "Ken knows the danger, and so does Daisuke. Can't they share something despite that?"

"But…" I want to protest. Doesn't he understand? There are so many ways this could go horribly wrong, and so few ways it could possibly turn out all right. "Daisuke…"

"How come you can't believe me when I tell you Ken's not going to hurt him?" Taichi lets out a long breath, giving me a rueful look. "Why do you think I'd lie? He's a good person - and I'm sure he can understand the situation…"

"It doesn't matter if he's good or bad," I retort. "A situation like this is doomed from the start; why do you think I've been working so hard to protect Daisuke from this sort of thing?"

The expression on Taichi's face sets stubbornly. "Let me tell you something, Koushiro," he says, in a rare serious tone. "You can't protect people from unhappiness. You could keep Daisuke under a rock for the rest of his life, and he'd be just as miserable as he would be if you let him fall in love and he got his heart broken. If you manage to separate those two, they're both going to be unhappy, and how will that spare Daisuke any pain?"

I don't have an answer. Who could answer something like that? "I…"

"Don't you think he deserves to be happy - at least for a little while?"

And with just that one statement, he's disabled any argument I might make. What can I say? I've been doing everything I can for Daisuke… But I'm not capable of offering what Ken can offer. And if that's what will make him happy… even if it can't make him completely happy…

Who am I to say it's wrong?

Taichi watches me for a moment, then hesitantly reaches out to put a hand on my shoulder. "You've got to let go some time," he offers, with a hint of teasing in his voice. "They all have to break away and be independent sooner or later."

I can't help but smile. "But they grow up so fast…"

He laughs. "Come on… I've got to send Ken out on watch again. Otherwise we could end up in a lot of trouble. And you can stop worrying - when he's out there, he'll be paying attention to business."

"I guess so…" I let him lead me toward the campsite again, trying not to look as upset as I feel. I'm not happy about this - not at all.

But there's really not much I can do about it, is there?