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The Shadow Game

Chapter Text

Barren was the beginning and end of all things in the Digital World. Footsteps resounded in the oppressive stillness, the rhythm almost mechanical as hard-soled shoes clapped against crystalline floors. The islands of crystal and columns of light hovered in an abyss that stretched on forever until whatever walls, horizons, bottoms, or tops were lost in darkness. This place was residence for very few entities, all of which were overseen by a digital god.

"God in the machine, god is the machine," a deep voice rumbled wryly in the silence, as ageless as time itself. The visitor paused before the sliding metal doors of the digital god's complex to wait patiently for the god's attendant.

He did not have to wait long. The sliding doors with the god's name embossed on their surfaces opened to allow the attendant egress.

"Why are you here, Millenniumon," the purple dragon child asked of him. Straight to the point he was, as always.

He was a digimon once, he remembered. Once he had a monstrous body that was the result of a fusion of two chimeras. It was destroyed long ago and good riddance. Being free of the body allowed him greater flexibility in his pursuits. The flesh was limiting, and as ZiydMillenniumon he was able to manipulate data streams in a way he never could before. However, being bodiless meant being unable to take enjoyment in the pleasures available to the flesh. Time passed, he was forced into the attendant's body for a while and broke out later. More time passed and he constructed his own body in the image of real gods. More time still had passed and he became bored. Partaking of all of the deadly sins to the point of excess had stopped being interesting long ago. And, as all things do when left alone too long, he began to fester. A breath, and he was painfully reminded of another who had festered.

"I have a proposal involving our partner," he said simply. No need to elucidate here when he would do so at length in the presence of the ENIAC.

The child gave him a long, measuring look, which he returned with little more than the shadow of a smile. They knew each other well, and time had been kind to Millenniumon. It was always on his side, after all, and the damage in him that drove him to take over the worlds and completely possess their partner had healed long ago. Now the coin had flipped, so to speak. While Monodramon was not completely satisfied, he was allowed passage into the ENIAC's chamber.

The second of the Digital World s two creators appeared as a swirling ball of light atop a flawless metal column. For some inexplicable reason, all these ancient computers manifested themselves in the Digital World in this manner. Rings of light spun lazily around the globe in greeting, and Millenniumon was well aware of the subtext. As he was now in a human body, he was no threat. He cracked a humorless smile, for the throbbing ache in his side was insistent. The pain of a fractured rib wouldn't have registered to a digimon.

"Why are you here?" it asked him, its voice sounding in from all sides. A ring tipped slightly in acknowledgement when Monodramon turned up at its column.

And so he started. "Are either of you aware of how Ryo has been changing over the years? We are Yin and Yang, eternally chasing the fragments of ourselves that we see in the other. At his core is a shadow of darkness, as there is a glimmer of light in mine. This balance had been kept for years. Quite frankly I would have been content with maintaining it. However, the older he becomes, the greater that darkness in him grows." They were so good at hiding these things, he and Ryo. He was sure that no one else would have noticed what was happening, nor would they until Ryo would finally succeed in killing them both.

"Wasn't that what you wanted?" Monodramon's normally wide amber eyes were narrowed with suspicion. Not that Millenniumon could really fault him for that.

"Once, yes. I am older and wiser than I was, and this change is too much a corruption of what he was that it is becoming harder to see the partner I love." My little broken human, he remembered thinking once he realized how deep that darkness grew over the years. I failed. It had been a terrible realization.

"So what you're saying is that now that he has changed, you've lost interest?"

"No, it is simply that I worry for him. Sooner or later he will come to realize the path he is on, and I do not wish him to bring himself harm." It was already too late, but far be it for him to sacrifice his partner's privacy to the well-meaning. He did have some sense of propriety and respected his partner entirely too much to reveal all their secrets. "What I propose is to make a minor change in the timeline. It will fix itself afterwards. Ryo will have what he wants and be happier for it."

Monodramon frowned at his obvious evasion. "One does not meddle with time and expect it to fix itself. Have you forgotten the damage you had done trying this kind of thing before?"

"I was trying to eliminate the ENIAC and set myself up as creator of the Digital World," he said, waving dismissively with his good hand as if the past was nothing more than a bit of unpleasantness to be swept under the rug. "The damage was fully intentional and would have been fixed once I set myself its place."

"Then what would you change?"

"A minor element. Hardly enough to change anything at all, and certainly nothing of importance in either world."

"Stop evading."

"Very well. I propose to arrange the rescue of Ichijouji Osamu from the accident that killed him. He was… very dear to my partner and I have reason to believe that his survival may help prevent Ryo's downturn. I would so hate for my uniqueness to be diminished by Ryo becoming another me. The multiverse can only handle one." A minor lie — even in his darkest moments, Ryo preferred self-injury to lashing out to others. But there was always that slim chance that the tables would turn and Millenniumon would find himself in the unique position of trying to stop the very thing he once tried to create. And should that happen, he had no more Dark Seeds to blame. The odds of Ryo playing the villain were so low as to be negligible, but he wasn't inclined to dismiss the possibility outright.

Monodramon looked struck by what was, for all appearances, an incredibly magnanimous gesture on Millenniumon's part. One that would have been uncharacteristic of him many years ago. But he had lived a thousand years, or so it seemed, and had enough of what he needed for a thousand more. If all worked out, he would still have what he needed in any new timeline. He would have to monitor the timeline carefully, make sure it remained stable. To do that, he would have to become a digimon once again, for the human shell could not withstand the power required.

The ENIAC remained silent, as if mulling over his words and considering all possible repercussions. As it deliberated to itself, Millenniumon could feel every bruise and fractured bone, old and new, cry out for relief. Ryo's depression was getting deadlier the more time passed, and he was sorely tempted to knock over the ENIAC and reclaim his original powers just to get this over with. He gritted his teeth as the pain medication's deadening effects tapered off; some small, mad part of him wondered if this was a test. Finally, the rings settled into a sedate orbital plane as the ENIAC came to a decision.

"You would sacrifice what you have now for an uncertain future?"

Millenniumon stopped himself from displaying much annoyance, but if anyone noticed a slight edge of impatience in his voice, they didn't say a thing. Just as well. "He is my partner and my world. If changing one event in history will save his soul, I will do what I can to ensure that it happens. The timeline will be monitored closely to prevent fragmentation." He paused, then gave a smirk. "Everything I have done since meeting him has been for his sake."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Monodramon admitted. The child watched him closely, then sighed when he realized he wasn't going to see what he was looking for. "But things change. So have you, apparently."

The digimon in a human's body watched his old Jogress partner. Part of him wanted to confess that he was tired of the accidents, of taking care of a partner who no longer cared to take care of himself, of finding razor blades and poison half-heartedly hidden away, of seeing the pain of Sakuyamon's one-time gift of power flare anew through Ryo's nerves ever so often and having to make sure his partner never swallowed too many pills, of waiting out or talking through the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinging like he had been to the memory of a younger, happier partner was selfish, and the only thing he could think to do was to change their timeline. For Ryo's dignity, and his own, he remained silent.

"You have one chance. Fifteen percent of your original power will be allocated to you for this task. Should you prove amenable to maintaining the timeline's stability, more of your power will be returned. Does that suit you?"

"It is all I need," he responded with calculated ease. "Enough to assume a physical form and access another part of the multiverse. Afterwards, I will hibernate." He smirked, his mood alleviated slightly by the relative ease he had in getting what he needed. "The multiverse only needs one of me."

"Very well. Prepare for the upload."

If Millenniumon was a little too glad of his success in breaking out of ennui, it didn't show. If the pain of a dying human clone body was nearly too much as data flooded through him as it had so long ago, it didn't show. The data was warm, stimulating, and welcoming. As he shed the body, it collapsed in a broken heap of burnt flesh. He had enjoyed being human, but reverting to his bodiless form was a welcome change. Millenniumon could finally get to work on making the past what it was meant to be.

.*.

Clouds gathered on what was once a sunny day in the Tamachi of March 15, 2000, dark and threatening in the sky like an omen that was never meant to be. The electric charge in the air was high enough that even humans noticed it, and anyone who looked up would notice the faint green tint lining the clouds. A young child ran haphazardly across the street; an older one, irritated, yelled out for the boy and ran into the street once he was sure the boy wouldn't obey. A truck barrelled down the street, and the older boy was sure to be hit—

And, out of nowhere, an inhumanly tall man darted in and grabbed the child moments before the truck would have hit him. They rolled, the boy held tight against the man's chest until they were safely against the curb. The boy would recall looking up, shocked, into a mask that should have rendered the wearer blind. The stranger seemed to look at him for a moment, then ran off in a flutter of an absurdly long red scarf.

Later reports said it was a Kamen Rider publicity stunt, but the company denied all involvement. All anyone knew was that Ichijouji Osamu had been saved by a stranger who didn't wait around for thanks, and there was an unusually sharp scent of iron and ionized air around the corner the stranger had run past. The sky cleared as if the clouds never were.

The older Akiyama Ryo couldn't survive being in the same universe as his younger self, and Justimon de-rezzed into the only thing that could: the bodiless form of Millenniumon. When Millenniumon would return to the ENIAC later that day, it was with a small orb of light cradled more closely and protectively than his own digi-core. The older Ryo hadn't been fully human for a very long time, and Millenniumon would keep his memories until the younger Ryo was ready to claim them.