"Stop moving so much."
"I can’t help it! It hurts!"
"Well, it wouldn’t if you’d stop moving around and let me work!"
"Ow! You’re making it hurt on purpose!"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because you’re mad that I’m stupid – ow!"
"I’m trying!" Daisuke tried to sound firm, but the words came out more whiney than anything. His left arm was trembling from the effort of holding up his right while Ken worked. "My shoulder’s cramping."
"Well, I’ll only be another couple of minutes here, so hold still." Ken was, at the moment, attempting to doctor up Daisuke’s ‘battle wound’. They were sitting on a park bench under a street light, and neither of them really knew what to do. It would be better, Daisuke thought grouchily, if Ken would actually explain things to him.
He decided to voice that out loud.
"Sure, I’ll explain." Ken’s voice was irritable, and his eyes remained on Daisuke’s wound. His skin was quite pale in the light, a startling contrast to his dark hair. His eyes were slanted in that flawless way that made his face almost exotic-looking. "You pissed off a drakken – which you should have read about, since they’re described in your manual."
"Hey, give me a break! I just got it today!" Daisuke protested, wincing as another firy lance of pain shot up his arm.
"I just got mine yesterday, and I’ve been through it twice," Ken replied, attention still riveted on the arm. "But that’s not the point. The drakken is one of those generally evil creatures that sane people steer clear of. They steal souls for fun."
Daisuke felt the bottom seem to drop out of his stomach. "And that thing is loose in this world now?" With so many people wandering around, unprotected…
"That’s the least of your immediate worries," Ken told him flatly. "A drakken steals a soul by first scratching the victim – the victim being you, in this case – and then slowly sucking it from them. It’s easier if they can hold on to you while they’re doing it, but…" He shrugged, the gesture seeming more tense than casual. "It still works even when they’re miles away from you."
His matter of fact tone, strangely enough, helped Daisuke stay calm as he took that in. "You’re saying that thing is trying to steal my soul?"
"You’re being drained as we speak." Ken finished with the injury and tied his roughly constructed sling around Daisuke’s neck. "But it shouldn’t be impossible to fix. Let me see your manual."
Wordlessly, Daisuke handed over the book.
"There should be a listing… Ah!" Ken found the page he was looking for, nearly at the end of the book. "Here we go. Right nearby. We’d better get walking, then." He stood.
Daisuke just blinked at him. "Huh? Walking where?"
Ken sighed, then shook his head. "Here," he said, shoving the book in Daisuke’s face. "Third entry from the top. That’s where we need to go. It’s only a couple of blocks away."
Daisuke looked. The page held listings of Rune Masters in the area. The third entry, however, had two names. It read, exactly: ‘Yagami, Taichi and Ishida, Yamato – Adept Rune Master and Level Five Element Adept – Available for consultation’.
The ‘Adept Rune Master’ part made sense. Daisuke had read about the levels on page ten. There were five: Initiate, Novice, Apprentice, Master, and Adept. Taichi was the highest level of Rune Master.
He was also Hikari’s older brother.
Daisuke stared at the page. "Taichi’s a Rune Master?"
Ken raised an eyebrow. "Someone you know?"
"His sister is one of my best friends." Daisuke hadn’t thought about the possibility that some of the people he knew might be involved in this. It was an eye-opener, that was for sure.
"Well, you’ll probably want to live to hang out with her, so come on." Ken reached down and lifted Daisuke to his feet, gathering his things. His hands were surprisingly gentle, and he helped a shaky Daisuke to walk with an arm around his waist. The red-head’s arm was slung around his shoulders, and he leaned heavily on the taller boy. His knees felt like jello.
"What about the portal?" Daisuke asked, as Ken guided him down the street.
"I took care of it," Ken assured him, seeming to be in a slightly better mood. "No one will see it. After your arm’s healed, we’ll come back and close it."
Ken actually smiled briefly. "Well, you didn’t think I’d leave you alone to mess things up, did you?"
"Guess not." Daisuke felt better. He smiled back, ready to start up a conversation with his moody and oddly fascinating savior. "So, what’s with the Level Five bit for that other guy?"
"Five is the highest level of Element Adept you can get to," Ken explained. "It’s the same as your system, except we don’t have names for the different levels, like you do."
"Oh." Daisuke let that sink in. "So what level are you?"
"One," Ken admitted. "Trial Pending, it says."
"Me too, ’cept I’m called Initiate." Daisuke gave him a grin. "It’s a whole lot the same, isn’t it? This is a lot of stuff for my mind to handle all at once, you know."
Ken shook his head. "Just wait until you get to the section on various ‘creatures’. There are enough to make your head spin. And those are just the ones they know about."
"Great. More to learn." Daisuke’s head felt both light and heavy at the same time. "You know, I really don’t… feel… good…" He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"You’ll be okay," Ken assured him. "We wouldn’t want to lose one of the league’s best soccer players."
Daisuke flushed with pleasure at that, abruptly forgetting his discomfort. "Really? You think I’m that good?" From what he remembered, Ken was an awesome player.
"Your defensive play could use a little work," Ken told him, honestly. "But your offensive style is excellent. You’re a very good team player, too. Did you take any courses or camps?"
"A few," Daisuke admitted. Ken was trying to distract him from his injury, and it was working. "Did you? I mean, you could probably run circles around me on the field…"
"I took a whole bunch. That was before yesterday, though." Ken smiled a little. "I don’t think I’m going to need soccer as much as I used to need it." He colored a bit. "I was just trying to impress a certain someone, too – by being so good…"
"Ooh, you mean a girl?" Daisuke warmed to the subject immediately, smirking. "Someone you’ve got a crush on?" He dropped the teasing mode and smiled, hoping to reassure his new friend. "Don’t worry, I won’t bug you about it. I know what that’s like."
"I guess…" Ken sighed. "Just never mind. Forget I said anything. It’s stupid, anyway." He faced forward, moodily. "It’s that Hikari girl, right?"
Daisuke was having a hard time keeping track of the conversation. "Huh?"
"The one you have a crush on," Ken said, glancing sideways at him. "Hikari, right?"
"Wha – How’d you guess?" Daisuke stared at him incredulously.
Ken actually laughed. "Well, you’ve made it a little obvious, don’t you think? I think just about everyone who’s seen you around her knows it."
"Huh." Daisuke smiled sheepishly. "Well, it wasn’t supposed to really be a secret, I guess."
"Let’s hope not, because if it is, it’s a very poorly kept secret." Ken stopped walking in front of an average-sized apartment building. "Well, we’re here. I guess we should go inside." He turned, a little awkwardly with Daisuke in tow, and started toward it.
Taichi and Yamato lived on the fifth floor. Ken led Daisuke into the elevator, which was empty, fortunately enough. They probably would’ve had a hard time explaining why there was a sling made of a jacket around Daisuke’s arm, and the red-head himself looked ready to pass out. He tried to think of something else. Kari walking through a field of flowers, smiling at me, telling TO to get lost… Yeah…Unconsciously, he let his head loll against Ken’s shoulder. Me and Ken alone in an elevator, with me sick and leaning against him, and him comforting me… Wait, that’s really happening! Whoops…
The elevator bell went off. "Well, here we are." Ken had to almost drag Daisuke down the hall – the injured boy was feeling weak and dizzy, and his thoughts swam. He struggled to stay aware as his friend knocked on one of the apartment doors.
An unfamiliar blond, looking about college age, answered a few seconds later. He looked at the two of them quizzically. "Is there something I can help you guys with?"
Ken held up Daisuke’s manual. "It says here that you’re available for consultation…"
The blond looked at the book, then smiled and held the door open. "Yeah, that’s us. Come on in. Taichi!" he shouted, over his shoulder.
"Yeah, yeah, just a second!"
The blond – Yamato, obviously – rolled his eyes and shut the door behind Ken and Daisuke. "You two are new, huh? What seems to be the problem?"
"A dimensional rift opened up at the Odaiba Soccer Field," Ken explained, getting straight to the point. "I wasn’t there, but Daisuke was. He was trying to close it when a drakken came through and scratched him. We scared it off with fire, but it’s probably still out there. And… well…" He looked down at Daisuke, who was putting all his energy into keeping himself from either throwing up on the carpet or passing out entirely.
Yamato took this in with surprising calm. "All right. You need us to heal him. Are you two Rune Masters or Element Adepts?"
"He’s a Rune Master," Ken answered. "I’m an Element Adept. You can help him, right?" There was a note of quavering anxiety in his voice. Weird, Daisuke thought absently. Ken had been so cool through the whole thing. Oh well…
"Sure, no problem." Yamato looked toward the other end of his apartment and sighed. "That is, as soon as my lazy-ass partner gets off his butt and helps. Taichi!"
"Coming, coming!" A slightly shorter guy, with a mass of brown hair that more than made up for the height difference, strolled placidly out of the next room. "What’s the problem, Yama?" he asked, looping a casual arm around the blond’s shoulders.
Ken’s face abruptly turned wistful. Probably thinking ’bout that girl he likes, Daisuke thought, almost dreamily. He would’ve laughed if he didn’t feel so nauseous.
"They had a small problem with a drakken," Yamato explained, taking the affectionate gesture with unruffled calm. "The injured party is one of yours, love. Want to take it from here?"
"Sure, why not?" Taichi turned and grinned at them. Then his eyes widened a little. "Daisuke? That you?"
Daisuke would’ve answered, but he didn’t feel like throwing up. "Mmm," he croaked, nodding as best he could. Ken’s arm around his waist tightened a little.
"You guys know each other?" Yamato asked, raising an eyebrow.
"He’s a friend of my sister’s – and your brother’s, too, remember?" Taichi moved over to Daisuke’s other side, taking him from Ken’s hold. "We’ll just sit him over here while I work my magic," he said lightly, lowering the limp boy into a kitchen chair.
"He’s that Daisuke?" Yamato suddenly grinned. "Wonder how TK and Kari will react to this."
"Oh, they’ll be happy for him." Taichi disappeared into the next room as Ken took the seat next to Daisuke’s. "Yama, where did I leave those daggers?"
"Try the closet," Yamato suggested.
"I am! I don’t see them. Do you remember when we used them last?"
"After TK and Kari got promoted to Apprentice and Level Three," the blond reminded him. "I don’t know what you did with them after that. Who knows where you hide stuff?"
"I do not hide stuff!" Taichi’s protest was hidden in a clatter of metal, wood, and plastic. "And they’re not in here! Where else could they be?"
"Oh – here!" Yamato hurried into the room with him, shutting the door. Muffled sounds of their continued arguing came through the thin wood.
Ken turned to look at Daisuke. "You doing okay there?" he asked, reaching out as if to touch him, then hesitating. "You’re looking kind of pale."
Daisuke took in several deep breaths to try and clear his head. "Uh huh," he managed to get out, in a croaky, pathetic-sounding voice. "Jus’ fine."
"Because ‘fine’ sounds a lot like a constipated frog, huh?" Ken raised an eyebrow, and Daisuke smiled weakly. "You feel like crap and you know it – why not admit it?"
"’kay." Daisuke’s vision swam, and his world spun. He started to keel forward, but Ken caught him before his head could smack against the table.
"You’re really out of it, aren’t you?" Ken’s voice was flat and almost overly un-emtional. The tightly controlled way he spoke made Daisuke start to think, dreamily, that maybe Ken was really concerned, and that calm, cool manner of talking was just his way of coping. He’s really worried about me, the red-head thought, feeling oddly touched. He wanted to tell Ken how much he appreciated how nice he was being, but all he could manage was some feeble, incoherent mumbling. He flopped against the taller boy, feeling heavy and weak.
Ken held him up in his seat. "Just don’t lose consciousness," he warned. "And you’ll be fine. Taichi and Yamato know what they’re doing and they said you’d be all right. So you will."
The older boys had seemed fairly calm about it. Daisuke relaxed, a little.
The door to the next room opened and Yamato and Taichi came back into the room. Both looked a little disheveled, and they had identical stupid-looking grins on their faces. "I’ll make the herbal stuff," Yamato said, and moved immediately toward the kitchen. Taichi continued to grin after him.
So they’d stopped arguing.
"All right, then." Taichi snapped out of his Yamato-induced trance and came over to stand beside Daisuke. He had a strange silver knife in his hand, like pictures of swords the red-head had seen, only much smaller. "Let’s get started. The arm that was injured – is it his writing hand?"
Ken glanced quickly at Daisuke, who managed to make a faint affirmative noise.
"Damn." Taichi frowned, and glanced down at the knife regretfully. "Oh, well, it’s not like I don’t have more of these. Could you give me his manual, please?"
The violet-eyed boy held it out immediately.
Taichi glanced at the cover symbol. "Nice one. I’ll get started then." He set the knife down on the counter and starting tracing Runes on the table, quickly. The lines he traced seemed to glow briefly; Daisuke felt his skin tingle as he watched Taichi’s fingers flicker through the more complicated Runes. He ran out of space on the table and traced them directly up, on air.
The knife started to glow.
With a slight cutting motion, Taichi stopped tracing and reached for the still-glowing knife. "Good. Now… binding it…" He held the knife out on the palm of his left hand, and with his right, carefully copied the lines of Daisuke’s own Rune. The symbol seemed to hang in the air for a moment, and then it was pulled into the glow of the knife.
"Done. All right, Yama, I’m finished! Is the drink ready yet?" Taichi transferred the knife to his right hand again and glanced impatiently in the direction of the kitchen.
"Got it. Relax, Tai." Yamato came into the room, carrying a steaming cup of some liquid. He moved to the other side of Ken. "Give him this to drink," he told the dark-haired boy.
Without questioning, Ken took the cup. He shifted Daisuke’s limp form against him, until he could raise the mug to the injured boy’s mouth. Not having the strength to resist – even if he had wanted to – Daisuke swallowed down the whole cupful.
Almost immediately, his mind was freed up. The nauseous feeling disappeared, his vision became clear, and his thoughts stopped being so clouded. It seemed like the part of him that thought and felt had drifted away from the rest of him; he stared blankly out through his eyes, not able to show or feel any kind of emotion. It felt… distant. Detached.
"What happened?" he heard Ken ask, dimly finding the worry in his voice.
"It’s to keep him from being drained any more while we go through this," Yamato was explaining. "And to keep him from being hurt. I’ll be right back." He stood.
"Don’t worry," Taichi said, smiling reassuringly. "I have to cut open that scratch, is all. If he were conscious, it would hurt. That’s why he isn’t. He probably won’t remember anything we say or do from now until it wears off. Hold up his arm for me, would you?"
"All right." Ken freed Daisuke’s arm from its sling, and held it up.
Taichi studied the wound – which, Daisuke noted dully, ran along almost the entire length of his forearm. It was puffy and ugly, swelling up red and blotchy just like a balloon. "Ready," the older boy said calmly, and reached out with the glowing dagger to slice open the injury, boldly. Blood started to ooze out lazily.
"Here you go!" Yamato came back in with another cup. He held it out to Ken. "Drink it up quick – it tastes better when it’s hot."
Ken slowly took the cup, staring at Yamato with a suspicious look on his face. "Why do I have to drink this?"
"You don’t want to be fully conscious when we slice up your arm, do you?" Taichi asked him cheerfully. "You didn’t forget to add flavor, did you, Yama? That stuff is disgusting without it."
"When you what!?" Ken nearly dropped his cup.
"You need blood to bond," Yamato told him coolly. "Didn’t you read that in your manual? Of course I didn’t leave the flavor out, Tai. I’m not stupid."
"Absolutely out of the question!" Ken stood up abruptly, nearly knocking his chair over. "I’m not bonding with anyone! The idea is just… just…"
"What? We’ve bonded." Taichi shrugged. "Anyway, you want him healed, right?"
"Y~eah…" Ken drew the word out, looking torn. "But…"
"You want him to get all of his soul back, right?"
"Of course I do! But – "
"Well, in that case, someone is going to have to bond with him and it sure as hell isn’t going to be my Yama! Now sit down!" Taichi gave him a ‘look’.
Ken sat down, hard. "But… the book said both partners should agree," he protested, weakly.
"If we could ask him," Yamato answered, sounding amused, "I’m sure he’d choose to bond with you rather than lose his soul. Anyway, it’s not so bad. Once you learn to control it, you can block it out to the point where it seems like it’s not even there."
"Great," Ken mumbled, hunching over and burying his face in his hands. "And what if it’s too late by then?"
"Too late? You mean he’d realize you have a crush on him before you can hide it?" Taichi grinned. "Just try not to think about it. And don’t picture him naked when you’re messing around in each others’ minds. That’s usually a dead give-away."
Ken let out a groan and tried to use his fingers to cover his flaming cheeks. "How did you find that out?" he demanded, looking up to glare at Taichi accusingly.
"You just told us, actually. You didn’t think Tai was actually that observant, did you?" Yamato smiled wryly as his partner made a face at him. "It’s not a big deal. You’ll either end up together or you’ll get over it and form a friendship. Are you ready?"
"Fine." Ken sighed, looking decidedly not happy. "I’ll sign away the rest of my life. Heck, why not? Let’s get this over with." He snatched up the cup and drank the whole thing down, not pausing for air. A second later, his eyes glazed over and he slumped in his chair, staring blankly ahead.
Daisuke watched, uncaring, as Yamato took up the knife and cut a wound on Ken’s left arm that was identical to the one on the red-head’s right. He set the knife down and held up Ken’s arm.
Taichi lifted Daisuke’s right, and, in perfect sync, they pressed the two together.
Every single part of him at that moment – everything that made Daisuke himself – seemed to come alert at that contact. He felt like it was all grouping up together, gathering up into his arm, where it came into contact with Ken’s. And then something even weirder happened.
Some part of Daisuke seemed to break off, crossing the line where he stopped and Ken began. In return, he felt like that empty spot was replaced – with a small part of the violet-eyed boy who was about to become a very big part of his life.
Daisuke’s world went black.