The Next Level

 

Jealousy and Love

 

‘Izumi, Koushiro – Level Five Element Adept – Available for Consultation’

Daisuke took another glance at the address, to be sure that he was heading toward the right apartment. "Just a few minutes more, Ken. Hold on." He half dragged, half carried his partner down the street, talking more to reassure himself than to inform Ken – since the dark-haired boy probably couldn’t even hear him.

Ken’s mind was starting to calm a little. Daisuke kept his own mind completely open, hoping it might help. He couldn’t help reaching out a few times, trying to return some of the comfort he’d always gotten from the taller boy’s thoughts. Come back, come back… He repeated it as softly as he could, trying to draw his partner’s mind back to its usual order.

The apartment of the unknown ‘Koushiro’ loomed up ahead of the red-head, and he felt somewhat relieved. A Level Five Element Adept had to be able to help Ken, right? He walked a little faster, the arm around his partner’s waist tightening protectively.

~Daisuke…?~

Shock answered that. Daisuke didn’t stop walking, but he seized on that faint, far-away thought fragment. Ken? That you? Can you hear me? Ken, say something!

~Where are you?~

I’m here! Can’t you tell? I’m only dragging you around downtown, dude!

~I can’t feel a thing, Daisuke. I’m just… inside here…~

Daisuke hugged Ken’s waist a little, even though the dark-haired boy wouldn’t be able to feel it. I’m glad you’re okay, he thought, honestly. I was really worried.

~I’m not going anywhere yet.~ Ken would have smiled faintly, Daisuke thought, if he had been able to. ~But where are you taking me?~

I found another Element Adept who lives near here, Daisuke explained. He’s Level Five, so hopefully he can help us out. We’re almost there. He turned toward the front door of the apartment building.

~What happened to the tephi?~

They left. I got real pissed off for a while. Daisuke grinned a little, sheepishly. I thought they’d hurt you – I was sure they were gonna kill you. How come the Spirit thing didn’t work?

~Tephi have telekinetic abilities,~ Ken answered. ~I should have remembered that. They were expecting my attack, and they tried to hold my mind out of my body. It didn’t feel nice.~ If he’d had control of his body, Daisuke thought that his partner would have shuddered.

So is that why you can’t move around now?

~I don’t know… it feels…different… like I could see, or hear, but someone else is using it. It’s really strange…~

Well, maybe this guy can fix you up. Daisuke pulled Ken into the elevator and pressed the numbers for Koushiro’s apartment.

~Maybe…~ Ken seemed thoughtful. ~How’d you save me, Daisuke?~

I pulled your mind back away from them. He shrugged. Why?

Silence for a moment. ~Try letting go of me.~

What? Why?

~Just try. I want to check something.~

Well, okay. Obediently, Daisuke let Ken’s body go, gently lowering him to the floor.

~Done?~

Uh-huh. Daisuke stopped, then did a double-take. Dude, you’re still in my head!

~I thought so.~ Ken seemed satisfied. ~You pulled me into your body, Daisuke. It won’t be hard for this new Element Adept to fix, though. Just carry me up there.~

No problem, dude! The red-head bent to recover his partner’s body. Wow, that’s kinda cool! Does this mean you can take control of my eyes and my ears, and all?

~Only if you let me. It’s your body, not mine.~ A wave of feeling made Daisuke think that Ken would’ve been blushing if he’d had a body to control.

Want to try? Daisuke suggested, not really thinking about it.

~Could I?~ That seemed to have caught Ken’s interest.

Sure! Go for it. The shorter boy tried to sink away into his thoughts, and a few seconds later, he felt Ken gently push him out of the way. He couldn’t tell what his body was doing any more; it was like he was floating around in space. Cool…

~This is… interesting.~ He didn’t know what Ken was doing, but he got the blushing feeling from the other boy. ~How do you feel back there, Daisuke?~

Weird… I like it! He floated for a moment, in contentment. It’s like flying!

~That’s good. I’m kind of… enjoying myself, too.~ Ken was still blushing, and Daisuke had to wonder briefly just what he was doing. The curiosity was barely a serious issue, and it passed over quickly, but Daisuke found that thinking about the things Ken might be doing – examining his new body, for example – gave him a feeling almost similar to what he’d sensed from Ken – like he was blushing. Strange…

~Well, the elevator bell just went off.~ Ken felt almost wistful, reluctant. ~I guess you’d better take over again.~ Daisuke felt him shift a little, getting ready.

Okay, just a second… The red-head fumbled about and finally managed to push aside his partner – partly. Hey, wait. If I just leave you here part of the way, d’you think you could see and hear what’s going on?

Ken felt startled. ~Maybe… I can’t control you any more. Try opening your eyes.~

Sure! Daisuke did so. It felt weird, having Ken’s mind squished in there with his. But not unpleasant… Can you see?

~Yeah, I can.~ Ken felt surprised, and pleased. ~Great idea, Daisuke!~

I know. Daisuke grinned, and stepped out of the elevator before the doors could close on him. Now we’ve just gotta find this Koushiro person and get your mind back in… He stopped for a moment, blinking. Hey, what d’you think it’d be like if I was in your body?

Again, the blushing feeling. ~I… um… I’m not sure.~

I guess we shouldn’t mess around with it, huh? Daisuke reached up and knocked on the door of the apartment that was recorded to be Koushiro’s. With my luck, I’d probably end up with Miyako hitting on me while I’m in there!

The feeling of Ken’s laughter made Daisuke smile.

Before either of them could continue the conversation, the apartment door was swung open and a slender, dark-eyed young man with clipped hair that was twice as red as Daisuke’s looked out at them. By appearance, he was probably a couple of years younger than Taichi and Yamato.

He peered curiously at first Daisuke, and then the limp form of Ken. One slender eyebrow raised. "Run into some kind of trouble?" His voice was steady and precise, the voice of someone who knew what was happening around him and wasn’t afraid to point it out to others. There was an open laptop visible on the counter behind him, and he was holding some kind of device in one hand. Computer equipment? Daisuke wondered. He wouldn’t know if it was, that was for sure.

From what he could tell, Daisuke got the feeling that Ken liked the guy already. Figures.

~Shut up, Dai, I know that Taichi is practically your idol!~ Ken felt amused.

Okay, okay, you got me. Daisuke realized that his silence was probably getting unusual. "Er… yeah," he said, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "The book said you were an Element Adept, and so is my partner here, so…" He shrugged.

Koushiro – well, Daisuke had to assume this was Koushiro, now – stood aside, holding the door open. "Come on in, and I’ll see what I can do." He smiled, obviously hoping to reassure the shorter boy. He had an open, friendly smile.

The apartment had the same orderly, precise feel to it that Koushiro had, and Daisuke felt the slightest bit uncomfortable, like he disrupted the room with his very presence. Ken felt just the opposite, he noticed – the room seemed to meet his approval, and then some. He fit in with it.

Daisuke felt himself being strongly and rather painfully reminded of just how different he and his partner were. Ken was perfect in every way, neat and tidy and precise like Koushiro. Daisuke was impulsive and careless and totally his opposite. He felt himself experiencing a brand new feeling at the pit of his stomach, like he was lost and the world was falling out from beneath him.

"So." Koushiro shut the door behind him, and turned to Daisuke with a smile still on his face. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Um…" Daisuke had to think that one over for a minute. "Some tephi were attacking this little girl, so we tried to stop them, and then they attacked us, and Ken tried to use Spirit, but that didn’t work ’cause they tried to pull his mind away, and then I grabbed him and they backed off, but now Ken’s mind is in my body and I don’t know how to fix it and neither does he!" He took a deep breath. "And that’s all."

Koushiro blinked. "That’s quite the story." He looked thoughtful. "Well, your problem won’t be at all difficult to fix, but if you saw the tephi attacking someone…" He frowned. "That’s quite a bit more serious."

"Yeah? How’s that?"

"Let me transfer your partner’s mind back to his own body first, and then we’ll talk." The fiery-haired young man approached Daisuke. "Now, what I’m going to do is try to draw your partner out of your mind – using Spirit – and then put him back into his own body. All you have to do is hold perfectly still, and just wait." He put his fingers gently on Daisuke’s temples, and closed his eyes.

At first, Daisuke felt nothing, but then a light touch brushed him, barely. Slowly, carefully, with a precision that was so neat it boggled the mind, that touch lifted Ken’s presence and pulled it away from Daisuke’s.

The loss was gut-wrenching.

Ken’s with Koushiro, and not me. He felt a stabbing pain in around the area of his chest, like the hot feeling but about a hundred times worse. Daisuke would’ve liked nothing better at that moment than to sink to the floor and submit to a round of pitiful crying – and if it weren’t for the fact that he was scared to see what happened if he messed up Koushiro’s spotless floor, he probably would’ve done just that. It feels like he’s not even mine any more!

Oblivious to Daisuke’s self-imposed suffering, the older boy turned from him and bent down in front of Ken’s limp body. His fingers rested on the unresponsive boy’s temples, much like they had with Daisuke’s, and barely a breath later, Ken’s violet eyes slid into view, locking with those of his rescuer.

The dark-haired boy blinked a few times, clearing his vision, and then smiled shyly at the older boy. "Thank you."

"My pleasure." Koushiro smiled back, brightly, and let go of his head.

Daisuke scowled.

"You two never told me your names," Koushiro reminded them, helping Ken to his feet. Both he and Daisuke’s partner seemed totally oblivious to the brown-eyed boy’s obvious distress. "Mine is Koushiro – but I’m sure you knew that already." He extended his hand.

Ken took it before Daisuke could. "I’m Ken, and that’s Daisuke," he replied, politely. "I’m sorry to cause you trouble, but we’re still fairly new at this. I forgot that tephi have telekinetic abilities."

"Don’t worry about it. I made a few mistakes myself when I first started off." Koushiro paused. "Hey, are you the same Ken and Daisuke that Taichi and Yamato bonded together last month?"

Daisuke’s surprise overrode his self-pity. "You know Taichi and Yamato?"

"Of course! Taichi and I have been friends since we were little." Koushiro turned toward a computer sitting at a nearby desk. "We even found our manuals together." He chuckled. "And I got to hear every second of it when he fell head over heals for Yamato."

Ken seemed – to Daisuke – to take a suspicious amount of interest in talking to him. "If I may ask… how exactly did those two get together?"

"Through persistence, genuine compatibility, and Taichi was really thick-headed about it." Koushiro turned to give him a wry grin. "Yamato had a girlfriend at that point, if you can believe it – but, Tai got what he wanted in the end. He always does."

A strange, wistful sort of look had settled on Ken’s face. "Must be nice."

"Well, you know what they say: if you want anything good from life, you have to earn it." Koushiro turned his attention back to the screen. "I’m calling up a reading on the underground activity in the city. Once that’s up, I can pinpoint the tephi’s location."

Daisuke was trying to follow the conversation. "Underground?"

"Tephi live underground," Koushiro answered, not taking his eyes off the screen. "I should be getting something right about… Ah! There we go!" He typed a series of rapid commands, and an overhead map came up on the screen. "These are the different areas underneath the city where some of our creatures live. Most of them don’t come to the surface very often – if at all." He frowned. "Before now, the tephi were one of those types."

Ken leaned forward to look over Koushiro’s shoulder, and Daisuke started feeling sorry for himself again. "What do you think happened to change that?" the violet-eyed boy asked.

"It might just be restlessness. It’s hard to know for sure until someone goes to communicate with them." The older boy typed some more, and four blinking red dots appeared on the map. "There we go. Those are the gates leading down to the tephi habitat. At least, the habitat of the tephi living here."

"Should we go talk to them?" Daisuke asked, partly to try and be helpful and partly to draw Ken’s attention to himself. "After all, we’re the ones who found this problem. We should solve it."

Koushiro nodded. "That would be my guess. It’d probably be a good idea to check your manuals, though." He looked thoughtful. "If it is the case, you’d better pick a gate and go directly to them. The only way they’ll bother to communicate with you is if they’re in their own environment."

"I see." Ken turned back to the screen. "There’s one in Tamachi, not far from my house. What do you think, Daisuke?"

The red-head brightened. "You bet!" He grinned at Ken.

But his partner had already turned back toward Koushiro. "Is there any way you could help us out? Like, if we need anything special to handle this?"

Daisuke’s heart plummeted. His mind was abruptly torn back to the previous day, when Miyako had batted her eyes at Ken. "Maybe you could help us some time… you think?"

Did Ken have a crush on Koushiro?

As Daisuke watched, feeling a rush of conflicting emotions, Ken seemed to hang on the older boy’s ever word. He barely glanced at his partner, not once. He can’t, though. Can he? The idea made a lump rise in his throat, and he felt horribly jealous.

"You shouldn’t," Koushiro was saying, in answer to Ken’s question. "Just a few persuasive words should do it. Try to be honest. Tephi can tell when you’re lying, and they don’t like it."

"All right." Ken smiled. "Thanks a lot for your help, Koushiro."

"It was nothing." The older boy stood, and moved toward the door. "You two should get going if you’re going to deal with this today. Trust me, you don’t want to get your parents worried – it limits your freedom."

"My sister would cover for me," Daisuke boasted, desperate for something to make Ken look at him again.

The taller boy didn’t even spare him a glance, turning as he left the apartment to look back at Koushiro. "We can stop by later and let you know how things went, if you’d like."

That did it. Daisuke was officially sulking. Didn’t I carry him all the way over here? And I let him share my body and all… All that know-it-all did was move him from my mind back to his own, and he goes all ga-ga! Some friend he is!

"That’d be great, you two. Good luck!" Koushiro gave them a smile and a friendly wave.

"Thanks again." And that was it.

"We’ll have to take the train to my apartment, Daisuke," Ken told him, stepping into the elevator and pressing the button for the ground floor. "I’ll need to stop there and leave a note for my parents so they don’t worry if I come home later than they do."

"Sure, whatever." Daisuke scowled at the unoffending elevator doors.

There was a moment of silence, and then Ken glanced at him. "Is something the matter, Daisuke?"

"No, everything’s just fine." He crossed his arms and frowned, just short of a childish pout.

"You’re a horrible liar."

"Yeah, well, I’d like to see you do any better." Daisuke jerked into action as the elevator bell went off. "Come on, you want to catch the next train, right?" He hurried out toward the street, not looking back. That’ll show him!

He heard Ken sigh, behind him. "Whatever you say, Daisuke."

The train was packed, so Daisuke’s silence wasn’t outwardly painful, but the red-head knew it was a far cry from his usual chatter. The fact that Ken didn’t even attempt to touch him and talk mind to mind was extremely frustrating.

It was painful, but Daisuke stubbornly refused to say anything to Ken about it. He’s being mean. He needs to apologize first, then I’ll talk. Satisfied, he settled into a good sulking session.

Ken didn’t say anything until they were out of the station, and on their way down the nearly deserted street leading to his apartment. "All right, Daisuke," he said then. "What’s the matter?"

Daisuke kept his arms crossed over his chest. "I don’t know. Why don’t you just ask Koushiro for advice? I bet he’d tell you what to do." His voice was heavily coated with resentment, but he was secretly basking in his partner’s attention.

"Koushiro?" Ken frowned. "Is that what this is about? For heaven’s sake, Daisuke!"

Of all the ways Daisuke had thought Ken would react, this wasn’t one. "Hey, what’d you expect?" he protested, in defense of his own irrational jealousy. "You were hanging all over him the whole time! You didn’t even look at me once, and I’m supposed to be your partner! It’s like I wasn’t even there or something!"

Ken sighed, and moved to walk ahead of him. "You’re being ridiculous, Daisuke. I’m not even going to listen to this."

"Well, you didn’t listen to me then, either!" Daisuke almost shouted, feeling self-righteous and hurt. "You were too busy with Mr. Brainiac to even notice I was around! I’m your partner, not him!"

"Would you stop it?" There was an edge to Ken’s voice.

"No!" Daisuke glared at his back. "We’re supposed to be friends! I can’t believe you’d just ditch me to go all lovey-dovey over someone we’ve just – "

"That’s it!" Ken suddenly shouted, whirling. His face was flushed, and he looked furious. "I’ve had it! I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, Daisuke, but I’ve had enough! So stop it!"

"Wha…?" Daisuke backed up a step, caught off-guard. Wasn’t he the wounded party here? Ken was actually angry with him… "But Ken," he began. "I – "

"Don’t ‘but Ken’ me! I’ve had it up to here with getting my hopes up for nothing!" Ken’s face twisted a little, looking pained and angry at the same time. "The first time, in the park with Miyako, I thought for sure that it meant something. You felt so jealous, it had to mean you wanted me." He laughed bitterly. "You know, I had half-convinced myself that you were going to throw your arms around my neck and kiss me. What a joke, huh?"

Daisuke’s mind reeled. "Kiss you? But…"

"What, don’t you even remember our Trial?" Ken shut his eyes, looking as if he were trying to compose himself, but the hurt leaked out anyway. "Figures. The best moment of my life, and you can’t even remember. Well, I certainly wasn’t trying to give you mouth-to-mouth!"

The red-head was too shocked to reply, his mouth working silently as he tried to put his confused thoughts into words. Kissed me… he kissed me… I do remember…

"I shouldn’t have even thought for a minute that you would return any of it," Ken remarked, turning his face away. His voice had gotten soft with pain, but he sounded as if his whole heart went into the words. "I cant help how I feel, Daisuke. And I can’t help falling for you more each day. But I don’t deserve your mockery!"

"It wasn’t mockery!" Daisuke protested, spurred into saying something by the false accusation.

"Really?" Ken’s voice was thick with sarcasm. "I don’t suppose it matters if you’re lying or not, though, because I can’t pull back now. We’re bonded for life, and as if that weren’t enough, you stupid, lovable jerk, I love you!"

That drove the point home. "I…" Daisuke blinked, taken completely aback by the words, and the passion in Ken’s voice as he spoke them. "I never thought that…" He struggled to find words.

"Of course not." Ken smiled wryly. "God, Daisuke, I could prance into your room decked out in leather and say ‘take me, I’m yours’ and you still wouldn’t get it!" He shut his eyes again, probably against tears. "I’m kidding myself. I really am." His shoulders slumped, in defeat.

Daisuke tried several times to find the right thing to say, and failed. "I’m sorry," he blurted out finally, awkwardly. "I didn’t mean to… make you feel bad. I mean – that is – I like you, Ken. All right? I like being around you, lots. I like… doing the mind thing, where we…" He stopped, frustrated, and reached out impulsively to thread his fingers through the dark-haired boy’s, bringing them into that close contact again. I’m happy like this, okay? he continued, abandoning his useless vocal cords. I’m kinda… comfortable. At first, it sorta freaked me out, but now it’s like I can’t get enough. I never even thought you might want more, ’cause it was always enough for me. I didn’t think about kissing and all, you know… It just… didn’t really occur to me, I guess.

~So you didn’t want me like that.~ Ken’s pain was so clear that Daisuke’s heart hurt as well. ~I should’ve known – you never think of me as anything but a friend… Just a friend…~

Daisuke held tight to his hand, stubbornly, not letting him pull back. I’m not as sharp as you are, Ken, he thought, with as much sincerity as he could manage. I know I’m slow and really dense when it comes to this sort of thing. But just because I didn’t ever think of it before doesn’t mean I never wanted it!

Ken looked into his eyes, hope once again coming through his despair. Daisuke could feel that brief spark, and the thought that came with it: ~He wants to be with me? He wants me like that? Could he…?~

"I’ll say it out loud: I love you." Daisuke stared straight into Ken’s eyes, trying to get across just how unnaturally serious he was right then. "We belong to each other, Ken – I couldn’t ever want anyone but you." And you know it, too, he added, firmly.

Ken was crying silently. ~I didn’t want to get my hopes up all over again… I wanted to believe it, so much.~ "I love you, Daisuke," he choked out, and this time the red-head knew exactly what to do.

He threw his arms around Ken’s neck and kissed him.

 

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