The Next Level

 

Problems with Persuading

 

"No one’s here right now." Ken said the words out loud, despite the fact that his fingers were still laced with Daisuke’s. "I have to leave a note – did you want something while you waited?"

"Um… a kiss?" The red-head glanced up at his partner hopefully. The first that day had been sweeter than chocolate ice-cream, and he was more than looking forward to more.

The taller boy turned to smile at him. Ken’s face was practically glowing; he looked happier than Daisuke had ever seen him. In those precious few moments after they had admitted to being madly in love, his partner’s mind had opened to him completely. Because of the bond, they could trust each other entirely; there would be no room for mistakes. The walk home had been totally blissful, their minds connected through the clasped hands. They’d spoken out loud to each other, using the bond to bask in emotional contentment, and there had been an awful lot of smiling going on. Sometimes Daisuke even forgot what he was saying in the middle of a sentence. Ken didn’t seem to mind those occasional lapses at all.

"Sure." The dark-haired boy leaned down and carefully, softly, kissed Daisuke’s lips. Less rushed than the other two they’d shared, the gentle contact sent shivers down the red-head’s spine.

"You know what I think?" he asked seriously, when they broke apart. "You should try and get that flavor into an ice-cream. I’ll bet you’d make a fortune if you could. Nobody’d be able to stop eating it."

"You’re just buttering me up so I’ll buy you ice-cream." Ken’s cheeks flushed red with pleasure all the same. ~Daisuke, you’re one of a kind. I love you.~

I love me too. The shorter boy grinned. "But I love you more." You know, if you want to buy me ice-cream…

"Maybe after we have a chat with those tephi," Ken said, with a smile.

"That long? I can’t wait until then!" Daisuke pulled his partner toward the kitchen. "Are you sure you don’t have ice-cream in here?"

Ken shrugged. "You can check the freezer while I start writing out a note for my parents."

But then I’d have to let go of you! Daisuke complained. His fingers tightened around Ken’s.

His partner grinned at him. "Daisuke, unless we become joined at the hip somehow, you’re going to have to let go of me eventually, anyway."

"Yeah, but not right away," Daisuke said plaintively. "I can’t believe you’re making me choose between you and ice-cream! That’s… inhuman!" Despite his words, he let his fingers slip from his partner’s, missing the contact even before he lost it.

"I notice you still chose the ice-cream, though," Ken commented mildly, picking up a pen and a sheet of note paper.

Daisuke opened the freezer door. "That’s because the ice-cream doesn’t make me choose between it and you!" He gleefully snatched up a half-filled carton of Neopolitan. "Yes! Daisuke scores yet again!"

"Don’t eat it straight from the carton, okay?" Ken didn’t look up from his note.

"Hey, what do you take me for?" Daisuke chose to ignore the fact that he always ate it from the carton at home. "Some kind of jerk?" He pulled out a bowl and spoon.

"That’s an interesting question, Daisuke." There was amusement in Ken’s voice, and he looked up from his note with a smile, setting down the pen. "What do I take you for?"

"A total stud?" Daisuke guessed, scooping out a huge portion of the chocolate section into his bowl. "The most gorgeous hunk of manhood you’ve ever set eyes on? Superman without the spandex?"

Ken laughed. "Actually, Daisuke, I was thinking more along the lines of ‘adorable’. ‘Sweet’, even. ‘Pretty’ comes close, or maybe even ‘beautiful’. Wild, untamable, free…"

"B’oo’iful?" Daisuke got the word out, incredulously, around a spoonful of ice-cream. He swallowed. "Me? Hey, and doesn’t ‘adorable’ mean little-kid-like?"

"Definitely beautiful. And you are adorable, Daisuke." Ken grinned. "Maybe you should wipe the ice-cream off your face, though."

"Want to know what I think of you?" The red-head wiped his chin with the back of his hand, and didn’t wait for an answer. "Smooth, perfect, and exotic. I’d say untouchable, but that’s not real because you’re soft and warm, too. Kind and sensitive, and irresistible."

Ken blushed. "You didn’t have a problem resisting me," he reminded his partner – but he looked happy with the praise all the same.

"That’s ’cause I’m an idiot," Daisuke replied blithely, gulping down his ice-cream. He’d forgotten to put the carton back away, but Ken reached behind him and put it away himself.

"You’re not an idiot!"

"Of course I am, at least sorta!" Daisuke grinned. It was the most obvious thing in the world; didn’t Ken see that? "’Cause only an idiot would not notice you."

Ken smiled at him. "Well, if you’re an idiot for that, then I think Hikari was a fool as well. She threw away her chance with you." He moved closer to where Daisuke was standing.

"Dude, we’re gonna drown in sweet stuff if we keep this up." The red-head set down his bowl and grinned expectantly at his partner all the same. "How ’bout a truce?"

"For now." Ken kissed him again, a short brush of his lips against Daisuke’s that was more a tease than anything. "I’ve got quite a few more sickeningly sweet things to say to you later, though, so consider yourself warned."

"Okay." He leaned up and stole a much longer kiss from the taller boy. "Deal."

Ken smiled. "Then maybe we’d better head off to face those tephi. You think?"

"Guess so." Daisuke shrugged. "Let’s go, then!"

It was only a half hour’s walk to the gate Koushiro had pointed out on his map. Not surprisingly, it was located near the back of another small alleyway. The gate was well-hidden, and when Daisuke and Ken got there, the area seemed to be deserted. No tephi around anywhere.

"Uh… so where are they?" Daisuke looked at his partner.

"I have no idea." Ken looked baffled. "They could be underground, of course. Or, out and about somewhere up here…" He shrugged. "I guess we’ll just have to wait."

"Great." Daisuke scowled. "If I’d known we were gonna be sitting around waiting, I’d have put this time to good use and made out with you on your bed for a while before we left!"

Ken blushed – again. "Didn’t we just get together this afternoon?"

Daisuke blinked at him, perplexed. "Yeah, so… what’s your point?"

"Never mind." Ken was smiling ruefully at him. "It’s not important."

"Okay!" Daisuke shrugged. "So, how long d’you think we’ll have to wait before a few of those tephi show up? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months?"

Ken shook his head. "Daisuke… come here."

"How come?" He obeyed, all the same.

"So I can do this." Ken brushed a hand through his partner’s hair, tilted back his head, and kissed him. "So you’ll keep quiet," he explained in a murmur, against Daisuke’s lips. "Otherwise people are really going to wonder about us."

The kiss went from sweet to intoxicating in a hurry. It had only taken a short while for Ken to make the jump from awkward to eager. Daisuke figured it was because Ken could tell he was enjoying himself, through the mind contact.

He was enjoying himself. So much so that he didn’t even notice that they had company until something smacked the back of his head.

"Ow!" Daisuke broke away from his partner and turned to glare at a group of snickering tephi. A glance downward told his that one of them had hit him with an empty sardine can. "Hey! What’d you do that for? I never did anything to you!"

Behind him, Ken sighed, threading his fingers through Daisuke’s. ~We fought with some of them just earlier today – and they’re all connected together, Daisuke, remember?~

Oh. Right. "Um… Sorry for fighting you," the red-head began, studying the small group of giggling creatures. "We just came to talk. Uh… like, with you. Right. Yeah."

~Beautiful.~

Oh, be quiet! Daisuke watched the tephi for signs of hostility. They grinned back at him. One of them made a mock kissing face, and the others started howling with laughter.

"Hey! Was that some kind of insult?" Daisuke started forward, but Ken held him in place.

~They’re just imitating what we were doing earlier,~ the dark-haired boy told him, in a successful attempt to placate him. ~Don’t get them angry, or we’ll never get a chance to talk to them.~

All right, all right! But I don’t have to like this! "Okay, ha ha, very funny. Now can we talk?" Daisuke found that he sounded plaintive and whiny despite his best efforts.

The tephi smirked at him.

They’re not answering me. Daisuke looked at his partner again, hoping for some clue on what to do. When action was required, he always had a spur-of-the-moment plan. This talking thing really wasn’t easy. Ken, you’re better at this stuff – you try something!

~Um…no need.~

Daisuke looked up. The tephi were heading straight for them, slowly, still grinning widely. Uh… Is this supposed to happen?

~Well…~ Ken looked behind him, at the apparently solid ground. ~We did want to go to their base. The entrance must be hidden somewhere behind us.~

So how do we know whe – "WAH!" The ground beneath Daisuke’s feet began to shake. "H-hey! What’s happening?"

"I don’t know, but it can’t be goo – " Ken’s voice was cut off in a scream as both of them fell abruptly downward, into darkness.

~~~~~~

There was a pale, sickly kind of light. Daisuke barely opened his eyes, squinting. He could make out a few fuzzy, blurred forms crouching around him, but his vision wasn’t clear enough to tell what, exactly, they were. He was uncomfortably sprawled out on hard stone, and there was an insistent buzzing at the back of his head, like someone had used his skull to trap a bumblebee.

Ken…

He blinked, and shoved himself into a sitting position, feeling as if he’d been doused with cold water. Where’s Ken? Daisuke looked around, not seeing much of anything until his eyes fell on the familiar shape of his dark-haired partner, on the ground beside him. "Ken!"

The taller boy stirred, and when Daisuke reached over to touch him, his mind was already shifting from hazy confusion to a gradually returning state of wakefulness. Ken, are you okay?

~Fine, but… where are we?~

Daisuke looked around. They were, as far as he could tell, in a circle-shaped room with no obvious exit, made entirely of stone. There was a weak sort of yellowish light illuminating the place, with no visible source as far as he could tell. And all around him were the creatures that had been introduced as tephi, staring at the both of them with really creepy grins on their faces.

Wish I knew. Then maybe I could leave.

Ken sat up slowly, warily, and immediately threaded his fingers through Daisuke’s, for comfort and to keep them in contact. ~We don’t know what they want yet, so don’t do anything.~

Anything you say, Daisuke agreed, straight away.

"Interesting."

The word wasn’t spoken out loud – but it wasn’t the same as the mind contact between the two of them, either. Daisuke found himself looking around apprehensively for the source, and from Ken’s sense of unease, he was likely doing the same. What they found was fairly typical.

One of the tephi, to the right of Daisuke, was standing conspicuously free of the crowd, with space on both sides between it and the others. It was grinning at them, like the rest, but this one was clearly the speaker, of sorts, so Daisuke automatically shifted a little to face it.

"What do you want?" it asked, plainly. Its creepy-looking grin didn’t move an inch.

~Let me do the talking this time, Daisuke.~ Ken straightened a little, still remaining seated. "I think that’s something better asked of yourself," he replied, in a quiet tone that didn’t offer any sort of disrespect.

The tepha tilted his head at him. "You are asking what, exactly?"

"Why have you gone against the agreement between our kind and yours?" Ken asked immediately, politely. Daisuke saw straight-away why Ken wanted to be the one talking. Somehow, his partner could ask the question and not make it sound like an accusation. He was impressed.

"You mean to ask why we have been entertaining ourselves with those of your kind." The tepha stared back at him. Daisuke wished it would lose the freaky little grin. It was disturbing.

"There was an agreement made that our two kinds would leave each other in peace," Ken reminded it, still in that soft, agreeable tone. "Is there a reason you choose not to follow it?"

"No." The tepha sat back a little, resting its paws on the ground. "We’re lived here a long time, and so has your kind. There comes a point when resisting natural urges becomes too much. Conflict is inevitable, as long as our two colonies co-exist."

You’ll explain this later in English, right? Daisuke felt a little lost.

~Of course. Just be quiet.~ "Are you saying you won’t stop?"

"We’re telling you that we can’t. It’s not something under our control."

Ken frowned. "Can’t you move your colony somewhere else?"

"Can you move yours?"

"Of course not, but our situation is different." Ken tightened his fingers around Daisuke’s, probably unconsciously. "There is a significant portion of our kind who would not be able to comprehend the reason for leaving. It could cause an uproar that would take years to settle."

"Our colony is permanent. Moving is not convenient for us, in any case."

"Then you would continue to bother innocent humans?" Ken’s voice was carefully kept neutral, but the emotions coming into Daisuke’s head were, for the most part, extremely strong.

"Our basic drives give us no further options."

"Those of our kind who know about you would have to fight with you," Ken told it flatly, just the slightest edge in his voice.

"We would not expect less." It seemed to be amused, tilting its head at them again.

"It could mean war."

"It could. That is, when our actions are reported."

Ken frowned. Daisuke could feel him tensing up, his mind becoming ever so slightly afraid. Ken, what’s the matter? He glanced back and forth from his partner to the tepha, trying to figure out what had just happened.

~They’re going to keep us here.~

What!?

Ken ignored that. "Is there anything we could do to resolve this peacefully? Or did you bring us down here just to tell us that war is pretty much inevitable?"

"Perhaps. Why should we concern ourselves?"

"Because we want to fix things so that we don’t have to fight!"

"Unless you invade, we won’t be fighting you directly."

"But you will eventually be fighting."

"That’s a possibility that does not concern us at the moment."

"So you’ll let it happen?" Ken’s mind was outraged, and he was glaring at the tepha. Daisuke glared as well, at least understanding the ‘fighting’ talk. There’s going to be a war, and they’ll just let it happen?

~We’re in trouble, Daisuke. Big trouble.~

"We have nothing further to say to the humans." The tepha made no outward motions, but some of the others began moving inward toward the two prisoners. "We can’t allow you to leave, I’m afraid."

"Of course not." Ken’s voice was sarcastic. "So where are you going to keep us now – in your dungeon?" He moved closer to Daisuke, who tightened his hand around his partner’s.

"Something like that."

The ground gave a lurch beneath them suddenly, and then they were dropped below the floor level. This time wasn’t as fast or sudden, and the ground moved with them, bringing along several of the tephi as well. The creatures grinned at them, but made no movements.

Daisuke freed his hand from the dark-haired boy’s and slid both arms around his waist instead, partly to give comfort and partly to get it. What’s going on, Ken?

~They’re taking us to something like a dungeon.~ The taller boy hugged his shoulders, with the same basic intent. ~It’s okay, though – I don’t think they plan to hurt us.~

I wouldn’t let them! Daisuke thought back to what had happened that afternoon, and how he had reacted to it. If something threatened you, I don’t care what it was, I’d kick its butt!

~I feel the same way about you, Daisuke. I’m glad we’ve at least got each other down here.~ He felt worried. ~I’m just hoping that they won’t keep us for long. Or that we find some way to get out.~

Well, I sure as heck don’t plan to spend Christmas down here! He smiled a little, trying to reassure Ken. We’ll find some way to get outta this place, I know it!

~I hope so.~

They seemed to reach their ‘floor’ at that point, because the ground stopped moving. Again, that faint sickly light oozed its way into existence, and Daisuke saw that they were looking down a long, straight tunnel. The tephi moved in that direction, giggling, and the two boys had no choice but to go along. Fighting would’ve been a bad idea, considering they didn’t even know exactly where they were.

Their destination turned out to be very much like a dungeon – a small room with no windows and with bars on the doors. Once their prisoners had been herded into the cell, most of the tephi left, with just a few staying behind – to guard them, Daisuke suspected.

He hugged Ken’s waist. How long d’you think they’ll keep us here?

~Not long.~ Ken felt almost despairingly pessimistic. ~They only have to keep us until whatever air they’ve given us runs out. Unless we do something first.~

That won’t beat us! I could draw the Air Rune, and you could get it to flow around us, if we wanted. Daisuke looked up at Ken, hoping to make his partner feel better.

~And how long could we keep that up?~

Daisuke didn’t have an answer for that one. He just hugged his partner closer. We will get out of this, somehow… won’t we?

 

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