He was resting somewhere warm. Daisuke smiled sleepily to himself, not quite ready to wake up. His link with Ken was more open than it had ever been so far; he could sense his mind, be comforted by the steady flow of the taller boy’s thoughts. He was so content in that warm contact that he never wanted to move again – he just wanted to stay where he was and never be apart from his partner. I like it here… I like it a lot…
~We can’t stay here forever.~ Those gentle, comforting waves of feeling stopped as conscious thought came through. Daisuke sensed regret, and a hint of fear. Ken didn’t really want to move away either; he hadn’t liked their separation, and staying in that close contact would make sure that he wouldn’t lose Daisuke a second time. His fingers tightened in the red-head’s shirt slightly; he was holding the sleeping boy almost in his lap, clinging to him as if to be sure that they wouldn’t be torn apart again.
Daisuke read that from him, and tried to be reassuring. He couldn’t hide anything from Ken, especially not how he felt about the way they’d been separated. After a few tries, he gave up and just clung to his partner right back. We can stay for a while, he thought, half pleading. Just for a while. Not too long. Just… a while. Okay?
~Okay.~ Ken agreed to that with no arguments.
They sat for a moment, sending emotions and random thoughts back and forth through the link between them. Holding anything back was out of the question at that point. Daisuke could pick up on how Ken liked him, more than a friend… like how he’d used to like Hikari… He couldn’t any more, though. Not the same way. Because Ken was too much inside him, they were wound around each other until they started to blend. Everything was Ken. Ken was everything. He could realize it in that moment, without completely understanding or needing to understand. That was okay, Ken’s mind told him. Ken was patient; he would wait for Daisuke to figure it all out again.
Daisuke felt safe in that moment. Warm, safe, happy. And Ken felt it too.
That much, he would remember.
~We should get up,~ Ken’s thought told him, reluctanly. The taller boy started to shift, moving away.
Daisuke stubbornly held on to him. Why?
~Because I think we’re on a time limit here. Remember that dream?~
Oh yeah. Sighing, Daisuke let go of his partner and sat up, blinking. He was in the world he’d seen through the rift – the one made entirely of dull gold. The shadows weren’t even really shadows. Like in his dream, there was no real place to hide out in.
Ken moved away, completely cutting off the connection between them. Daisuke didn’t like that much. We should never be apart… It’s not fair! I wanna always be touching him! He scowled to himself, feeling childish and pouty.
"We have to catch that thing before we get the souls out," Ken was saying, either not noticing or just plain ignoring Daisuke’s sulking. "Takeru and Hikari told me that there are Runes you draw on its back to call out those souls. Then I use Spirit to take them with us. Do you think you can handle that?"
The bad mood vanished with that promise of new adventure. "Piece of cake!" Daisuke bragged. Then something else occurred to him. "Uh… did they say which Runes to use?"
Ken stood, brushing himself off. "Takeru said that they were in the ‘Reversal’ section."
"Oh, okay." Daisuke blinked and looked around for his manual, which he turned out to be sitting on. "Reversal section… Reversal section…" He flipped through to the more complicated uses. "Here we go! Reversals! And there it is!" He pointed triumphantly to the heading for drakkens.
‘The following Runes, when traced into a drakken’s back while it is confined, will draw back any souls taken while in the world the victims resided in. Once the drakken has left that particular world, however, the souls are digested. One hour after the drakken leaves the world, any souls taken from there become impossible to retrieve.’
Daisuke frowned. "What…?"
Ken was reading over his shoulder. "That means we’ve got just twenty minutes to get those souls back, Daisuke!" he explained. "Otherwise they’re gone for good – and we fail the Trial!"
"What!?" Daisuke stood abruptly, alarmed, and his manual spilled onto the ground.
"Well, there’s our time limit." Ken was still cool and collected, bending to pick up the book. "We have to find that thing before we do anything, so let’s get to it."
"Dude! How can you be so calm about this?" Daisuke took back his book hastily.
Ken shrugged. "What good would it do to get excited?"
"Good point. Let’s find it!" Daisuke flipped back to the page with the ‘locate’ Rune. "Just give me a second." He pulled out his dagger.
"Wait just a minute." Ken held up a hand. "Put up a shield first this time, all right?"
Daisuke blinked. "How come?"
Ken gave him a ‘look’. "Because we don’t know what’s living around here, and I’d rather not have my neck snapped while I was busy concentrating on finding that drakken!"
"Oh. Right." Daisuke rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "You know, I really need to try and memorize some of these," he commented, flipping through the book for the ‘shield’ Rune.
"All right." Ken nodded, once the shield was up. "Now…" He looked thoughtful. "Just one more thing, Daisuke. What happens if we track the wrong drakken?"
That caught his attention. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"There’s bound to be more of them living here," Ken explained, tensely. "How are we supposed to find the right one? There’d be no way to know until after we caught it – and we don’t have enough time to go around catching every drakken we see!"
"Uh…" Daisuke’s face scrunched up as he thought hard. "We could… Hey! The drakken we’re looking for is the only one that scratched me, right?"
Ken gave him a perplexed look. "I hope so, unless you’ve been keeping something from me."
"Yeah, yeah, stupid question, I know." Daisuke shrugged that off. "But seriously, I could draw the ‘locate’ Rune to look for the drakken that scratched me. Then we’d only find the one we wanted, right?"
"Great idea!" Ken smiled. "Do you know how to draw that?"
"Of course I do!" Daisuke said confidently. "Just give me a minute, and I’ll have it all set up." He bent to the ground and traced out ‘locate’, then flipped through the book until he found ‘creature’ and wrote that out with ‘drakken’ beside it. Then he drew the ‘connection’ symbol, the Rune for ‘injury’, and his personal signature. Finished, it commanded ‘locate the drakken connected with the injury of Daisuke’s’.
"Done." He stood.
"All right." Ken bent and put his hand over the symbols, sending the command into the Earth. Daisuke felt that odd tugging, as Ken’s mind was pulled into the search, and again got that feeling of endless power. Endless power… that would be so cool to have. He stubbornly clung to his belief that the Runes were better.
Ken’s contact with the Earth ended a moment later. "It’s in the air," Ken told him flatly, and held out his hand, silently imploring him. Daisuke was more than eager to slip back into the contact with his partner.
Need me to draw out the Runes again? he asked, taking a shameless amount of pleasure from the contact with the dark-haired boy’s mind, despite the danger.
~No. These should do all right.~ Ken, he sensed, was forcing himself to concentrate on the immediate problem, but he enjoyed the way their minds fit together as much as Daisuke did. ~You’re something amazing,~ he thought dreamily, probably without meaning to, and reached out for the Air powers.
It might have been because Daisuke was prepared for it more, or because Ken was made stronger by the fact that they seemed to be growing ever closer to each other. But whatever the reason, it took a much shorter time to gain the control over Air. Ken sent out the Rune, and his and Daisuke’s minds followed it smoothly.
They found the drakken in minutes.
"This way!" Not waiting for Ken to catch up to his thoughts, Daisuke broke away and ran straight into the golden city, in the direction he still sensed the drakken in. "Come on!"
The place he finally came to a stop at was deserted, but he could sense the drakken’s presence, still. "Where is it?" He spun around, feeling the first faint hints of uneasiness. "Dude! That’s not fair! Who said it could turn invisible?" It felt like cheating, somehow.
"Daisuke!" Ken was still coming after him. "What are you doing?"
"We’ve got to stop it!" Daisuke shouted, desperation making him all the more determined. "It’s got to be put right!"
"You have to catch it first!" Ken yelled, running up beside him. "We can’t stop now, Daisuke! We’re running out of time!"
The city of gold surrounded them, casting dull shadows that hid nothing. They were out in the open, and their opponent was nowhere in sight. We’re going to fail the Trial! Daisuke thought desperately.
And then the drakken swooped down at him out of nowhere, shrieking in triumph, its claws poised to rip his flesh. Daisuke gave a startled cry and jumped back, as the creature hit his shield…
The barrier bent.
Daisuke gasped, and would have fallen if Ken hadn’t caught him. ~What is it?~ the taller boy asked frantically, in his mind. ~What’s wrong?~
"M-my shield – it…" He couldn’t get the words out. It bent! I think that thing could break it – it’s different here than it is at home; my Runes don’t have as much power!
The drakken crashed into the shield again before either of them could say another word. Daisuke got the sense of it bending again, and the thing’s claw reaching out for them – and then he and Ken were both yelling and clinging to each other, fear making them panic.
Then it backed off again, with a frustrated snarl.
My shield’s not going to hold out again! Daisuke thought, his heart racing faster than his mind could follow. He was shaking, and Ken was shaking, but he couldn’t just give up. They had to beat it. But how? He pulled the knife from its sheath…
"Daisuke!" Ken shoved him out of the way as the drakken swooped down, both of them avoiding those perilous claws by barely an inch. "You okay?" the dark-haired boy asked, concerned.
"Yeah." Daisuke stood up shakily, holding his dagger. "We have to catch it first, then get those souls back!"
"That’s our Trial, I know." Ken stood beside him. "But how?"
"I don’t know. It’s too strong to catch in the air…" Daisuke thought desperately, trying to come up with something that could trap it. "We gotta think of something!"
"We’re running out of time," Ken said again, urgently.
"We can’t! We have to catch it before then or those people will lose their souls forever!" Daisuke cried back. "What do we do?"
"I don’t know!"
"How much time?" He had to know.
"Ten minutes." Ken pulled Daisuke back as the drakken made another pass.
Fire worked before… And if we could get it to the ground… "Here!" Daisuke traced the ‘fire’ Rune. Flames burst from it immediately. "Try and knock it out of the air! I got an idea!"
"What?" Ken put his hand into the flame, despite his question.
"When it hits the ground, use those vine things to catch it!" Daisuke was flipping through his book already as Ken let fire flow through the air to attack the drakken.
"Those won’t hold it long enough!" the taller boy protested.
"I know, but they’ll buy me time!" Daisuke traced out the symbol for ‘creature’ and wrote ‘drakken beside it.
"I hope you know what you’re doing!" A well-aimed shot of flames struck the drakken’s right wing.
"Trust me!" Daisuke traced the Runes for ‘arms’, ‘legs’, ‘head’, and ‘wings’.
The creature fell to the ground with a crash, shrieking in fury.
The Rune for ‘seal’ followed the others.
Before the drakken could rise, Ken grabbed Earth and used the vines to contain it.
Daisuke drew the Rune for ‘ground’ and threw all his energy into making it happen. NOW!
Just as the creature snapped Ken’s ties, Daisuke’s Runes took effect, calling and sealing the legs, arms, head, and wings of the thing to the ground. Determined not to let it break, the red-head held his control in place, stubbornly not letting up.
"Daisuke…" Ken grabbed his shoulder.
I’m making it stay! Sweat was starting to drip down his face with the strain.
Ken pulled him toward the drakken. ~Daisuke, you’ve got to draw those Runes!~
Barely able to focus on anything other than his containment of the drakken, Daisuke nodded. Hold my book up for me, Ken, okay? He raised his dagger.
The creature jerked against its bonds abruptly, snarling. Daisuke clutched his head, trying with all his strength to keep his Runes in place. "I can’t!" he burst out, against his own will. "I don’t have enough… it’s not going to work!"
"You can!" Ken told him vehemently, then grabbed his face in both hands, dropping Daisuke’s book, and kissed him. It didn’t seem strange, or out of place… Daisuke’s heart swelled, his mind melting into the contact as Ken’s lips held his own, deliciously. He could feel strength from the other boy – his belief, his faith, his love…. His heart pounding hard, next to Daisuke’s chest, against his own. My Ken, he thought awed. And I’m your Daisuke.
~Forever.~ A promise he knew Ken intended to keep, no matter what.
"Stay." Daisuke broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against Ken’s to keep them in contact. "Don’t leave, okay? I need your help right now, Ken."
"You’ve got it." Ken’s hand tightened on his shoulder, face determined. He retrieved Daisuke’s book and held it up so the shorter boy could find the right page. "Hurry!"
Thanks! He flipped to the page with the ‘Reversal’ section, feeling stronger because of the contact with his partner. Piece of cake. He smiled, trying to lighten the strain he felt, and lifted the dagger again.
It was easier that time. Much easier.
One of Ken’s hands rested on his shoulder, the other holding up his book for him to copy the symbols from. Daisuke fed shamelessly off of Ken’s strength, and his own, but he didn’t feel anywhere close to using all of it. We can do anything together!
The drakken snarled hatefully, and tried to break free.
Done! Daisuke allowed himself a moment of triumph. Hah! So there! I did it! We did it! We’re unstoppable, right, Ken?
~If I said "not by half", would you believe me?~
~Then I won’t waste my time. Shove over a little, so I can work.~
Daisuke laughed and moved over, feeling light-headed with his success and the still-active containment Runes. Ken put a hand over the symbols, the other still on Daisuke’s shoulder. The red-head’s manual had been placed on the ground, carefully.
Ken paused for a moment. ~Daisuke?~
~I’ve never done this before, so I’m not sure how it’ll affect me.~ He felt uncertain, but with a good amount of faith, Daisuke sensed. ~If I’m too out of it, I’m not sure how I’m going to contact Hikari to get us out of here.~
Kari? Instead of waiting for his explanation, Daisuke reached into Ken’s mind and went through the memory itself. Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll think of something, don’t worry.
There was a pause, and Daisuke got first shock, then rueful amusement, from Ken’s mind. ~Daisuke, you’re one of a kind, you know that? You really are.~
Huh? It was too late to explore that thought further; Ken was reaching out for the Spirit element, and trying to draw the souls that Daisuke had brought to the surface into himself.
It was weird, and Daisuke didn’t like it. To him, it felt as if Ken was bringing others into their link, and the red-haired boy didn’t like their bond being intruded on like that. He had a bit of a selfish need to keep Ken all to himself, and not share with anyone. It was stupid, considering that they were only trying to save those souls, and the intrusion would only be temporary at any rate, but Daisuke felt more jealous than he ever had of Takeru. He could hardly feel Ken’s thoughts any more, it was so crowded. No! He clung to his partner’s mind stubbornly.
Daisuke opened his eyes. Ken was trembling with the effort he’d put into it, and his eyes had rolled back in his head. He looked dead to the world.
"Ken?" No answer. Ken? Still nothing.
Damn. Well, I said I could handle this…
Still keeping a stubborn hold on his containment Runes, Daisuke pushed through the familiar bond and went directly into Ken’s mind, determined to turn over every inch of it until he found what he was looking for. He likes opera? I knew it… Erk, Daisuke, pay attention! It’s gotta be somewh – aha!
There, in a small corner of Ken’s mind, was a faint, barely-there presence that felt like the girl Daisuke had crushed on for four years.
Dude! Could I be any more cool? He grasped the link eagerly. Kari?
~Daisuke?~ Her "voice" was very faint, but she sounded surprised. ~What happened?~
Ken’s a little busy, he explained. So I’m filling in. Want to come get us now?
Surprisingly enough, it was Takeru’s voice that answered him. ~I’ll have it open in just a few seconds, Daisuke. Don’t move.~ He faded out.
Stupid TE… Rebelliously, Daisuke moved to pick up his book.
A rift very much like the one that had first opened at the soccer field cut smoothly into the air in front of them, to one side of the drakken. No explosion this time, which Daisuke decided was because this gate was being opened with a purpose, and the other was just an accident. On the other side, clearly visible, were Takeru and Hikari.
Getting over his initial surprise quickly, Daisuke took hold of Ken’s arm and started to lead him toward the gate. Then he stopped.
I can’t just leave that thing here… He was surprised, for a moment, that he could actually feel sorry for the creature that had tried to steal his soul, but, seeing it helpless… There’s probably other things around here that’ll try and attack it, and it won’t be able to fight back!
He chewed his lip for a moment, torn. If he let it go, it’d probably attack them… Well, it broke through my shield. I’ll bet if I stopped concentrating, it’d eventually break through this too. Cautiously, he took his mind off the containment Runes.
The drakken jerked harshly against its bonds, feeling them weaken. "Whoa…" Daisuke pulled Ken hastily through the rift, feeling the now-familiar darkness take them both for a minute. "Close it!" he gasped when they stumbled through the other side, and fell forward to collapse almost immediately.
Takeru drew his Runes smoothly, and the rift shut, no trace remaining.
Daisuke felt Ken let out a breath, and the multiple presence in his mind split up and faded back into just his own partner’s. Good. His hand tightened on Ken’s arm, involuntarily.
Hikari was bending over them. "Are you two okay?"
Ken coughed, then smiled weakly. "We’re fine."
"Nothing to it!" Daisuke bragged, pushing himself up while still keeping one hand around Ken’s arm. We did it! We pulled it off! he exalted, to his partner alone.
~Yeah…~ Ken turned his smile on Daisuke. ~We did, didn’t we?~
"How did it go?" Takeru asked curiously, joining them.
"Piece of cake!" Ken echoed Daisuke perfectly. They looked at each other for a moment, not thinking or talking, and then they both burst out laughing.
"Level Two." Ken was looking over Daisuke’s shoulder at his book, one hand resting on his partner’s arm. "We really did it, didn’t we, Daisuke?"
"We sure did!" Daisuke turned, with a huge, triumphant smile on his face. "I’m a Novice Rune Master! This is so cool! We’re gonna make a great team, you know!"
I hope so. Ken didn’t bother to try and smother his feelings, gazing into Daisuke’s deep brown eyes and returning the smile. And I also hope that we –
A car horn interrupted that thought, and Ken and Daisuke both glanced up from each other to see Osamu pull up by their park bench. "That’s my ride," Ken said, reluctantly letting go of Daisuke to stand up. "Were you going to call me tomorrow, or should I call you?"
"You’d better call me. I lost the soccer list, so I don’t know if I even have your phone number any more!" Daisuke grinned sheepishly, standing up as well. "See you then?"
"You bet! Bye Daisuke!" Not wanting to draw out the good-bye, especially while his older brother was watching, he turned and got in the car, reaching for his seatbelt.
Osamu glanced at Ken out of the corner of his eyes, pulling away from the curb. "Who was that?"
Ken shrugged. "My partner."
"Your bondmate, you mean?"
"Kind of." Ken watched Daisuke in the rear-view mirror, until they turned a corner and he was out of sight. "I wouldn’t call him my mate or anything. But we are bonded."
"You like him though, huh?" His brother’s tone was lightly teasing.
"Maybe." Ken smiled faintly, happily, to himself. "But then, he’s something special."
Daisuke stood for a moment, staring after the car that carried his partner away from him. Then he smiled too, a wide grin that threatened to take up half his face. "You’re something special too, Ken," he said, seriously, and starting walking towards home.
Life was suddenly a lot more interesting.