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It didn’t register, at first, that there were smooth scales under his fingers instead of rough fur. Yuuri was just looking for comfort, in whatever shape and form and dogs were the best form of comfort.

Even now, when his heart was screaming from losing Vicchan and having stayed away only to gain public humiliation and nothing more, dogs were the best form of comfort. His fingers scratched and searched for knots of fur to bury into, and found instead scales to hook his fingers behind and that was fine. That was the same thing. He buried his fingers, then his head into his hands, and cried.

He made an odd noise, the dog he’d clutched. Belonging to one of the spectators probably, hanging around the benches while the humans crowded around the erect stage. Viktor Nikiforov was up there now: proud and tall and elegant and, unless something went drastically wrong, soon to be victorious. Viktor who’d already earned the crown of Digimon King two years in a row. Viktor who’d no doubt win his third and why had Yuuri thought it was okay to dream that high, to spend his allowance and some of Mari’s on cards and play with Phitchit and his other friends, Guang Hong and Leo, until his fingers had more paper cuts to count.

He worked so hard, they’d laugh. Too hard. It was just a game but still, there were amazing people in the game. Like Viktor, who’d donate his winnings to the animal shelter and played with the little kids who were far behind him in skill just so they could have fun. And Yuri Plisetsky, little pint-sized Yuri who could still match wits with the best of them even with a deck full of cards other people had left behind.

Yuuri wasn’t amazing, not like them. He was mediocre in everything but he wanted to be something special. Sure, he danced and skated and wore makeup but those things were him, who he was. They didn’t make him special in the least. They didn’t make him feel special. And that was okay too because he needed a sanctuary too, and they were those things. But this, this was a dream someone in junior high school could have and reach: a dream a child could reach.

But how could he have been so cruel? When was the last time he’d played with Vicchan in this park, instead of studying his cards with the miniature poodle in his lap, until he grew bored. And Vicchan was young and vivacious. Of course he grew bored. And he’d run around the onsen or go outdoors to play and of course he’d find trouble with no-one to keep an eye out for him.

Why hadn’t Yuuri thought anything when his goodbye to Vicchan had gone without an answered yip, instead of just assuming he’d gone into the backyard and couldn’t hear?

And why hadn’t he withdrawn immediately when he read Mari’s text, instead of trying anyway.

Too late now, though. He’d lost Vicchan because of his own carelessness and now he’d lost his chance to stand on the same stage as Victor too. And soon this sweet dog’s owner would come for him, and Yuuri would lose that one comfort too.

‘Hey, loser, what are you doing?’

Yuuri jumped and his hands tightened. The dog didn’t yelp, though. It should. Vicchan always yelps when he did.

‘Hey!’

Oh, right. Someone was talking to him. He lifted his head, only to be met with grey instead of brown or black. He blinked. Then blinked again at the not-quite dog-looking face staring back at him. Familiar, but not in a way different breeds of animals were familiar. Familiar like…

‘Monodramon!’ he yelped.

‘So now your eyes finally start working. How about your ears?’ There’s a pressure on his back suddenly, like someone’s trying to push him along. Except he’s not standing; he’s sitting and he’s not going anywhere quite yet. Neither is the Monodramon in his arms, whose twisted as Yuuri’s grip slackens and licks the tears away.

Yuuri lets him and turns. There’s Yuri Plisetsky with a foot trying to dig into Yuuri’s spine. It’s almost cute. It would have been cute if he cared, if he hadn’t just been bawling his eyes out onto something that only existed in the Digimon franchise. But his head had a fog in it now, from grief and humiliation and crying, and he could only stare.

‘You cried that much?’ the boy muttered. ‘Loser. Honestly, you made it into the championship tournament and that’s all you show.’

‘Yeah, I know.’ He didn’t defend himself. He didn’t argue. That was the way things had turned out after all, and the only comfort he could draw from it all was something that couldn’t feasibly exist.

.

He must have imagined it, he thought a couple of weeks later, when the fog had lifted just a tiny bit. Enough for him to go to school, though he begged out of going to their little hideout afterwards and playing more Digimon card games. Guang Hong and Leo nodded and let him have the space. Phichit poked him in class every day anyway: if not about Digimon (the reason they’d become friends in the first place), then homework, pets, the upcoming festival, and his low-key crush on Viktor Nikiforov.

Phichit meant well, and the constant badgering meant he couldn’t zone out and miss an entire class’s worth of material after the first one, but he didn’t want to talk about Vicchan or Phichit’s hamsters, or the new digimon movie that was coming out to celebrate its anniversary, or Viktor Nikiforov who’d, as predicted, cinched his third consecutive victory at the Digimon Grand Prix.

Still, he thought about all those things, and the dog who’d turned out to be Monodramon – but he simply must have imagined it. It was because he’d been in the tournament, because he’d still been there. Viktor must have just played it and the crowd cried it out, or something. Monodramon was Viktor’s favourite card, after all. The only one he never jogressed with another. It wasn’t his signature though: his signature move was jogressing and he managed combinations most could never put together. He was unpredictable, exciting, aspiring –

And Yuuri? He’d gone from being mediocre to being a failure on two fronts. To the point where he was hallucinating comfort from a Monodramon – perhaps Viktor’s Monodramon – because at least then he might’ve left an impression, however small. But that would have only worsened the humiliation. It was someone’s dog. It had to be someone’s dog, and they’d have come to find tears and snot dried out by the sun once the tournament was done.

And Monodramon was nothing more than a child’s fantasy brought to life in a card game, and picked up by a child prodigy.

Sometimes, Yuuri wished there were more dog digimon than just Doggymon. He was cute, but a troublemaker in appearance and canon lore and far better suited for someone like Phichit who lived for getting into trouble than him.

Phichit, likewise, lamented the lack of hamster digimon. Neither of them knew of any hamster digimon. But hamsters weren’t exactly common pets. Yuuri didn’t know anyone with them as pets aside from Phichit, and nowhere in person that catered specifically for them. But that was Phichit. And hamsters. Dogs were commonplace so why hadn’t a franchise aimed at children done more with it?

Well, there was Plotmon, he supposed. But Plotmon digivolved into Gatomon or Meicoomon, and both of them were cats. Nonsensical, and the root of many arguments between cat lovers and dog lovers – and apparently the reason that was Yuri Plisetsky’s signature line was because he couldn’t resist the chance to scorn dogs.

But cats hissed and scratched. Dogs… they wiped the tears away.

More tears rolled down his cheeks, and this time there was no dog to lick them away. Yuuri brushed them away himself, with his uniform sleeve.

Oh, he hadn’t even changed. He did that, slowly, and stared at his floor: so empty now that there were no cards spilt on the floor and no Vicchan to trip over. His parents had set up a shrine for Vicchan… and that only made things worse, because Vicchan was a part of a family to all of them and he’d just…

Sharp raps on his door interrupted those swirling thoughts. Must be Mari; his parents were gentler: never pushy, never scolding. But Mari was her own brand of supporting and maybe Yuuri might not have turned out very well if someone didn’t hold him responsible.

The door creaked open when he failed to answer immediately, and the smell of cigarette smoke hit his nose.

Yup, definitely Mari.

He rubbed his eyes one more time for good measure. His sister snorted, behind him. ‘Don’t bother, otouto. Nothing I haven’t seen before.’

‘Isn’t that line more suited for when you walk in on me in the private baths, or something?’ He twisted and rolled his eyes at her.

She rolled her eyes right back, far more practiced and effective. ‘Just wondering what you’re going to do now that the tournament’s over.’

‘Oh.’ Yuuri turned back to his bed, to the bare wall above it. He could still see the places where sticky tape had left marks and no doubt Mari could see it too. She also knew full well what had filled those walls before. And the floor. ‘Go to school, I guess.’

‘Well, of course. Education’s still compulsory for you.’ She rolled her eyes again, but she had every right to be proud of how her life had turned out. Sure, most people wouldn’t think much of a girl who’d dropped school in tenth grade and stuck around in her parents’ onsen until she was past normal marrying age. But Yuuri was proud of his sister, for defying society’s expectations and loving the onsen and being brave enough to give up any other dream that might have taken root in order to inherit it from their parents some day.

It was because Mari chose the onsen that Yuuri could choose to dream. But he was a fool and had chosen a child’s dream.

‘Nothing wrong with a child’s dream,’ Mari shrugged.

Yuuri didn’t know if he’d been speaking aloud or she’d simply read the words from the expression on his face. It didn’t matter either way.

‘I’ll support you either way… if you’re still dreaming, anyway.’

He heard that, loud and clear. If he wasn’t committed, then he was just wasting everyone’s time. But even if he was, even if he wanted to try again… ‘How can I? I could’ve spent more time with Vicchan instead…’

The tears started again.

Mari sighed, then gave him a quick pat on the head. ‘Dry up those tears, otouto,’ she replied. ‘Come on. You can’t take care of the customers with a face like that. Then I can finally get a smoke break.’

Yuuri snorted. Of course, she’d had an ulterior motive.

‘And if you want to rescue your cards, tou-san’s taking the trash out soon,’ she reminded.

A self-imposed time limit whose deadline was suddenly looming.

‘I know.’ He’d thrown them, when his face had been sticky with dried tears and snot and his heart had been in too many pieces to count. Even now…

And it wasn’t like their parents would have noticed; he’d thrown the whole box in, and it looked just like any other box that had been emptied out or filled with rubbish and tossed in the trash. He wasn’t the type to decorate his things. It was the stuff inside that mattered, after all.

‘If you think you’ll regret it, take them back for now. You can always throw them away later if that’s what you decide.’

That was true, in theory. But was he that strong? Or would his heart be so weak to chase after something with more than he could take back?

But wasn’t that what chasing dreams meant? Running as fast as possible, giving everything despite knowing you’ll never get it all back… ‘To make those sacrifices means you’re dreaming,’ Viktor said, when he first won the Grand Prix three years back. But he’d never said what his sacrifices were. He’d only smiled, as though there were no sacrifices at all.

But the smile was sad. Not like now; that smile was searching, waiting on baited breath…

Nobody else saw such things. They were hallucinations just like the Monodramon that had comforted him that day.

But he did want to know. He did want to see that face again.

.

He didn’t get a chance to go to the rubbish bags, because a soccer game had started up and so he was busy carrying drinks and snacks to and fro. Finally, Mari returned and Yuuri picked up the empty bottles one by one, leaving the empty trays and cups.

Mari glanced at him, understood, and took those back to the kitchen. He made a mental note to thank her afterwards… or perhaps this was what he’d earned, for taking half an hour of her shift when he was supposed to do his homework instead.

Not that he’d been working on his homework. But that was beside the point.

With an armful of bottles, he found the rubbish bags tied off and ready to be dragged outside. He eyed them. Surely one wasn’t quite packed?

Except he got distracted by something glowing in one of them, and dropped his armful on the ground instead.

They rolled and crashed and Yuuri stumbled back from the shower of shards with a shriek. His mother, from the kitchen, called a question and he mumbled back a reply: about broken bottles and the broom. It was an occupational hazard any place that served food and drink, but that hadn’t been mere accident: tripping over a rug or trying to carry too much. It was the glow: that had distracted him because there shouldn’t be anything in the garage that glowed.

Was it a fire? Someone’s phone?

He tore open the bag and stared. It was his card reader. And a single blue card amongst the normal green.

He was hallucinating again. He was just desperate for a reason to keep playing, a way to keep playing that now he was imagining his card reader calling out to him itself. Or maybe he’d fallen asleep on his bed and Mari’s interruption was just the start of a dream.

Either way, there was no harm in scanning the card, right? He did so, shuddering in the surreal feeling that enveloped him as the light danced off the splayed shards of glass.

He really should sweep those up. And double-bag the one he’d torn as well. And find a new box for his cards – and had he even decided to keep on going?

He blinked. His eyes watered and his head hurt from all those dancing lights and thoughts.

He blinked once more, because he thought he saw a pair of rather large feet.

No, the feet were still there, topped up by tufts of yellow hair and black pants.

Yuuri blinked a fourth time and looked up.

He was definitely dreaming now, because there was a Leomon of all digimon staring back at him.

Chapter Text

Leomon was more than twice his height. Which means he really wasn’t going to do well in the private living area.

Before that, Yuuri thought he should ask what a Leomon is doing right in front of him. ‘I passed out from blood loss, didn’t I?’ he asked. Never mind he wasn’s not bleeding, as far as he knew. He checked himself over just in case. A few scratches on the pads of his fingertips and palms but nothing oozing. And no deep gauge he’d somehow missed while staring at the apparition of a digimon.

‘You don’t seem to be bleeding to me,’ said the Leomon. ‘Nor am I a hallucination, if that’s your next thought.’

Yuuri wasn’t sure what his expression looked like then, but it was a wobbly smile at best and a grimace at worst. ‘It was,’ he admitted. ‘And I’m running out of explanations save you being a physical digimon. But that stuff only happens to anime heroes… and, well, I’m not an anime character or a hero.’

Leomon stared down at him, and he felt even smaller than usual (and his family were a little shorter than average on the whole). ‘Straighten your back,’ he said finally. ‘It is difficult to converse with you when you appear so timid.’

Yuuri… honestly wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or not, by that. But Leomon did have a point. He took a deep breath, and straightened like it was Minako telling him instead, in the middle of the dance floor.

It didn’t make much of a difference, considering he still needed to tilt his head back to see the other’s mane.

The digimon sighed. ‘I wonder why I’m always attracted to these characters.’

And it was said so quietly Yuuri wondered if he’d meant to hear in the first place.

.

Yuuri busied himself around the onsen. Part of it was because the onsen actually was busy and needed his help, but it was also because he now had a lion-man digimon sitting in his bedroom and he still didn’t know what to make of it.

No matter how much he thought, it simply didn’t make sense. From a scientific perspective, digimon were data. Initially they were little pixels on hand-held consoles and then the franchise exploded into anime adaptions and, more recently, the card game.

That reminded him… Leomon was always the wise guardian in the franchise. He was also the one who consistently wound up dead.

‘Does my presence bother you?’ Leomon asked, when Yuuri finally came up to his room, a bowl of steaming katsudon and green tea that may not be enough for two.

Yuri shook his head, vigorously enough to make his fringe slap his forehead and his glasses hop down his nose. ‘Nonono, no it doesn’t. It’s just me. I’m… well, I’m nothing special. I flopped out of the card tournament. I couldn’t care for Vicchan properly. I’m mediocre in all my classes and terrible at team sports and I go to dance class with Minako-sensei but most of the time I’m flopping around like a whale…’ He pinched his stomach to prove his point. There was always a bit of fat there, that he couldn’t quite shake off.

‘You look like a perfectly ordinary teenage boy to me,’ Leomon replied, ‘and trust me, I’ve seen my fair share of oddballs. But why do appearances matter? My last partner was a dainty little girl… but she had a lion’s heart.’

‘A lion’s heart, huh,’ Yuuri repeated. He pushed his glasses back up and set the tray on his desk. ‘I’m not courageous though. I’m the guy who bursts into tears and needs to be rescued.’ By Mari at first, then Yuuko in dance class, and then Takeshi warmed up to him, and then Phichit and his friends at school… ‘I’m the guy who can’t meet people in the eye because I’m terrified of disappointing them, even when I know they don’t expect much to begin with –‘

‘Katsuki Yuuri!’ Leomon suddenly boomed.

Yuuri jumped on the spot and turned to meet his eyes. They were a bright, almost scorching, blue. Blue like the Bunsen burner flames sometimes were.

‘There,’ the digimon said, in a tamer tone this time. ‘You’ve met my eyes. And you’ve told me your fears and insecurities. Now met me tell you mine’

‘Oh-okay,’ said Yuuri, who fully expected to be told he wasn’t good enough, as he thought.

But that wasn’t the case. Or, rather, that wasn’t what Leomon had to say. ‘You know something about digimon, and that means you’re aware of at least some of the worlds out there.’ He waits for Yuuri to nod mutely before pressing on. ‘I haven’t had many human partners, but I’ve worked alongside the Chosen. Many Chosen. The first were seven children who’d arrived on File Island. Our nemesis was Devimon… and, in and amongst that, I was corrupted by black gears and saved by the light of the Chosen and corrupted again. The cycle continued until Devimon was defeated, and the light from the digivices allowed me to digivolve thereafter. I met the children again, this time facing the Dark Masters. Much to my shame, I died in battle against MetalEtemon, but I learned in another world that the army I’d amassed before that helped them. I’m grateful, at least, to that.’

Yuuri knew all that from the anime, but listening to Leomon made it so much more heartwrenching, more real. It wasn’t a story written by a group of people anymore. It was someone’s experience, someone’s tragedy.

‘When digimon die,’ Leomon continued. ‘We are reconfigured and reborn as a digi-egg. Sometimes, we return to the server we first recall. Sometimes we keep our memories. Sometimes we don’t. I awoke in a very different Digital World and I knew of humans, but no specific ones, nor the journeys I had spent with them. I recalled fighting – endless fighting. And digimon I came across shared that: the instinct to fight and grow stronger. So I fought. But there were also digimon who hid, who fled from fighting. So I also learned to avoid fighting near them, to avoid them becoming collateral damage and thus to indirectly protect them.’

At some point, Yuuri had sat down on his bed. He wondered how many worlds Leomon knew of. When his memories had returned. How he dealt with it: the cycle of gaining and losing, of birth and death and rebirth. But he asked none of those questions. He only listened. He could only listen, when Leomon bared his heart for him.

‘In that world, humans were tools to make us stronger. I hadn’t gone to the human world explicitely looking for a partner, but I wound up there chasing one of the little ones who’d slipped away. I found a girl: cute and frail but passionate. She chased me all over town, saying we were soulmates and fated partners.’ Leomon grew red as he said that. The girl he spoke of – Katou Juri – still had a tender place in his heart. ‘I didn’t think much of her words, but she didn’t have a digivice and so I didn’t stay. But her passion struck me, and her tears as I left. When we met again, I couldn’t look away. And we fought side by side. She gained a digivice in that battle, and we became official partners. We fought further together, and one day she too spoke of her weaknesses, her insecurities. But by then I had seen the strength she possessed inside. She had a lion’s heart and I told her so. And when I lay dying, I told her so again.’

‘That’s someone who learnt to fight so she wouldn’t be a bystander,’ Yuuri muttered, when it was clear Leomon was going to say no more for the moment. ‘Someone who stepped onto the battlefield without a digivice. Who fought even when separated from everyone else. Who found it in the heart to forgive the digimon that had… well, killed you.’ He trailed off awkwardly.

‘And you said nothing to a child who ridiculed you when he had no cause to, for something you should have been praised for instead.’

‘You saw that?’ Yuuri looked at his lap again. Yuri Plisetsky yanking his collar down and saying his performance was essentially pathetic… ‘Well, I did deserve it. People came looking for fun and intellectual battles. Not the mess I gave them. He deserved a better challenge than that.’

‘You may have fought poorly, but you fought while fresh with grief. That’s more than most people can say.’

They sat in silence for a bit after that. Yuuri didn’t know what Leomon was thinking about, but he himself thought of how much embarrassment and grief he would have spared himself if he hadn’t gone through with the tournament after all… or hadn’t ever picked up the card game. He liked games too much, though. It was a way he could interact with people without having to strip himself bare, and as long as he won a reasonable number of times, he could continue playing with them. Usually it was smaller matches. In the park after school. Sometimes on the shopping centre roof on weekends or in the community centre. But this was a big event and he’d been on a winning streak. He’d been confident, maybe overconfident. And then, between Vicchan’s death and performance anxiety, it all collapsed like a house of cards.

‘’I brought some katsudon from the kitchen,’ Yuuri said finally, when the silence was too much. ‘There’s always plenty of food around, so let me know if you want more. Or sneak down to the kitchens. Or… is this one of the worlds where others can’t see you?’

‘We are made from the same basic cellular structures as living organisms in this world,’ Leomon replied. I do not understand all the details. It was the basis of Hypnos research but I spent very little time with them, in the end.’

‘The anime didn’t spent much time, either, explaining the science behind bio-emergence.’ Not that it really mattered as far as kids – the intended audience – were concerned. ‘You’re organic, so you need to eat, sleep, rest and all that, right?’ Right, he could handle that. They lived in an inn, after all. The hardest thing was to stay out of the eyes of his family and the patrons. ‘I’ll give you a tour once everyone’s asleep. I can bring more food up if you’d like, before then.’

He turned away at that point, no longer playing host. His walls were far from bare, but right then it was a bare wall he wanted. He closed his eyes. That was good enough. He didn’t have to see Leomon’s gaze boring into his back, or that of the Viktor’s from his many posters boring into his skull.

Leomon said nothing. Instead, Yuuri listened to the comforting clutter of utensils. Something settled in his stomach: some awkward, indescribable feeling. He was partially dreading what else would come, partially excited, partially guilty, partially proud… There were too many emotions, too many possibilities. He could wake up and it would all be a dream, or he could wake up with it as reality. His card reader was now a digivice. Vicchan was gone but now he had a digimon partner he in no way had earned. And Leomon had lifetimes of experience, lifetimes of wisdom to impart… Why here? Why now? Why to him?

Of course it was a dream. The clutter of utensils was just the patrons in the dining room, and his family in the kitchen. Perhaps he’d wake up to Vicchan licking his face like he sometimes liked to. Maybe he’d wake up with his glasses digging into his face because he’d forgotten to take it off. Or maybe he’d wake up to the smell of katsudon gone cold because he’s left it on his desk.

‘Someone’s coming,’ Leomon said suddenly, and Yuuri, drifting off, started in surprise. Glasses didn’t help with the blurriness of having almost fallen asleep, and by the time the blur was gone, Leomon had tucked himself into the closet.

It was probably the only place in the room that would hide him completely, considering he was taller than Minako.

A sudden rapping on the door startled him, despite the advanced warning. The door opening without him acknowledging the knock wasn’t so much of a surprise, because only his family came to the residential area anyway.

Not surprisingly, it was Mari poking her head around the door. Six years older than him and already out of school and seamlessly settling into the life of a hostess… Their looks was where the similarities ended, but that was okay because they complemented each other: two parts of the family whole.

Except when she decided to dye her hair because they looked a little less alike from that point onwards.

‘Still brooding in your room?’ Mari raised an eyebrow at the empty dish and mug on his desk. ‘I’d say come eat with us, but looks like you’ve already eaten by yourself.’

‘Uhh… that was…’ And it wasn’t that unbelievable that he’d eaten an extra-large bowl of katsudon before dinner. He was prone to over-eating when he was stressed, or upset… and he had every reason to be upset. ‘Not really dinner,’ he finished awkwardly. Not that it really mattered. It was hard to regulate food in an inn. He snuck back far too often for extras and it showed. But the rest of his family was the same, even Mari who said her cigarettes helped tamper that habit.

But still… Yuuri looked down at himself, where the pale skin of his stomach peeked out from under his shirt. The stretch marks weren’t clear in the darkness but he knew they were there. Mari knew they were there too. So did their parents. They just never comment on it.

And even now… Mari just shakes her head in exasperation. ‘Come on down then. There’s more katsudon.’

The katsudon though doesn’t taste the same… or maybe it’s Yuuri, and not the katsudon, that’s different.

.

It was after midnight and Yuuri hadn’t slept a bit, but that didn’t really matter. He had promised Leomon he’d show him around, even if he hadn’t planned to stay up especially to do it. But he had questions, and answers he didn’t want to hear, and doubt and katsudon gnawing at his stomach… and all that made for uncomfortable sleeping. That and the impromptu nap he’d taken earlier meant he was still wide awake when midnight came and went.

It also meant that the rest of the inn including his family were asleep, and they could explore with a little care. After all, humans weren’t well-oiled machines. There were doubtless others who sleep eluded like him. So Yuuri kept his voice down and his eyes on the ground… or perhaps those were just excuses for him to employ.

Still, he pretended there was a regular guest following him, and not a lion digimon taller than his ballet instructor and stockier than either one of his parents. He pointed out the family quarters, and the guest quarters, and the banquet room that was always empty nowadays with their shrinking town, and the kitchen and the onset (and, more importantly, the rules of the onsen). He snuck out like he often did when he couldn’t sleep and showed bits of the town as well: his quiet, favourite spots. He showed them the Nishigori’s ice rink, and Minako’s ballet studio, and the quiet parks. He showed the bus stop out of town, to where they went to school and the larger shopping districts and the big park where they’d had the tournament. By three in the morning they were sitting there, on either side of that little bench on that little bus stop.

Yuuri didn’t know what Leomon was thinking about. At some point, he’d stopped treating him like a guest and had offered a window into his own place in the world. Maybe it was because Leomon had followed like a silent protector, tall and proud in the shadows. Maybe a part of him wanted to prove himself somehow worthy of being a Chosen… even if he didn’t think he was worthy, or ready, for such a responsibility. He didn’t even know the state of this digital world, or why Leomon had come, or what was going to happen. He hadn’t asked any of that.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, finally. ‘I didn’t think about you at all. Why you’ve come here. What’s happened in the Digital World. I just… I don’t see why me of all people. I’m not special, and most of me doesn’t want to be special. Being special means standing out, means more pressure and responsibility… but it also means feeling like there’s a reason I’m here, the reason I’m alive.’

‘It makes you feel like you’re a fragile but precious life on this planet,’ Leomon surmised. ‘I’ve come to see that, in my many lives.’

‘… I think,’ Yuuri replied, in the silence that settled over them, ‘that you understood that all along. You always protected those around you. You always died protecting those around you. You… is that why you’re here again?’

‘I don’t wish to die,’ Leomon said evenly, and far quicker than the last time. ‘But I wish for a peaceful world and to gain that, I must fight.’

‘But why come here?’ Yuuri repeated. The words trembled on his lips, but he wasn’t going to cry. Not then, not when he still didn’t know anything. ‘Is the Digital World on the brink of destruction? Is our world in danger?’

‘Not on the brink,’ said Leomon. He knelt in front of Yuuri, in front of that little town bus stop. ‘We’re overly cautious, I think, because we remember the past in this life. We remember how unprepared we were. Our desperation as we scrambled for purchase in a dying world. The sacrifices we asked of human children we’d only just met and the way we uprooted their entire way of life and then left a gaping hole when we were gone. And yet the only way we can fight is to forge such bonds. We are preparing for a war, yes, but we are seeking something else as well: something we didn’t have in our other lives. And I chose you to be my partner, just like I chose Katou Juri in another life.’

‘Are we not Chosen?’ Yuuri tilted his head. Wasn’t it up to fate, in most of the incarnations of the world as far as media told. God-like figures like Yggdrasil and Homeostasis controlled the selection process and yet it was always the perfect people to save the world from the destruction that someone sought. And, often, they broke away from the unseen hand guiding them, and yet still found a solution that benefited them all. Well written tales was what they’d always thought, but if it was true, then it could be nothing less than fate and a god beyond their worlds foreseeing it all.

But Leomon shook his head and offered a hand: large so that Yuuri’s own could be swallowed in it but comfortable and warm when he took it. ‘It was I who chose you, Katsuki Yuuri.’

And that’s still a heavy weight, but it’s warm, unlike the cold lead feeling of having been mistaken by fate.

Chapter Text

There were streaks of colour in the sky as they walked slowly back. Yuuri grimaced at that, because he had school in the morning and the morning was almost there. Still, it wasn’t the first time he’d gone to school on almost no sleep. He could manage.

He might as well forego the sleep entirely and go on a jog or something. Jogging always made him feel better, when he could get out of bed for it. He preferred sleeping late, generally, but no sleep at all was better than just crawling into bed in time to hear his alarm.

Actually… ‘How do you train?’ he asked Leomon. ‘Do you go for jogs? Stretch? Shadow fight?’

‘I fight,’ Leomon replied. ‘I suppose I run, sometimes, as well.’

‘Let’s run, then.’ Yuuri quickly explained his usual course. ‘We’ll meet in front of the onsen?’ He added that last bit just in case Leomon wound up outstripping him… or he wound up outstripping Leomon.

Neither of those happened, though. Despite his wording, Leomon seemed familiar enough with the concept of a jog. Or perhaps he was just keeping pace. Either way, they rounded the corner of the onsen together.

Then Leomon suddenly surged ahead and something clattered against something else.

‘Wha-?’ Yuuri blinked, then realised what had happened. There was another digimon – the feline digimon, Meicrackmon, if he wasn’t mistaken – standing with claws unsheathed. And Leomon was now in front of him, sword drawn and defensively raised.

Was Meicrackmon wild? No… Yuuri squinted. Someone was leaning against the onsen gates, in track-pants and with hair tied into a loose bob. ‘Yuri Plisetsky?’

‘Tch,’ the other muttered. He moved, though, away from the onsen gate to stand beside Meicrackmon where both Yuuri and Leomon could see him better. And it was Yuri Plisetsky: small but fierce and wearing a bitter scowl on his face. ‘It’s about time you showed up. Why the hell weren’t you in bed at this hour?’

‘Why do you know I wasn’t in bed in the first place?’ Yuuri wondered aloud. His bedroom was on the other side of the onsen. And knocking on the door wasn’t going to wake anyone up at this hour. Reception was empty and the dining room was presumably empty too. All the lodgings, family and rental, were at the back of the property.

‘I looked, duh.’ Yuri looked a little pink at that.

‘You have too much water in your house,’ Meicrackmon hissed, sounding disgruntled.

Yuuri laughed at that. ‘We do run an onsen,’ he pointed out. ‘Please tell me, at least, none of the guests saw you.’

‘Of course not,’ Yuri snapped. ‘That would have involved us seeing them as well!’

Yuuri bent over laughing. Yuri sounded so awkward there.

‘It’s your fault,’ the boy snapped. ‘There should be a sign on the other side too!’

‘You don’t have signs in your house,’ Meicrackmon pointed out.

‘Shut up,’ Yuri hissed.

Yuuri took a deep breath, cheeks flushed pink. Leomon had stayed silent throughout that encounter, but Meicrackmon was tensing up again, either from ire at being addressed as such, or…

‘Did you jump into the onsen?’ Yuuri asked. The cat looked wet. Or wet fur drying out in the dawn breeze, anyway. ‘We’ve got towels in the guest area…’

‘We’re not your damn guests,’ Yuri interrupted. ‘We came here because you’ve got a digimon.’

‘They’re here to fight,’ Leomon surmised. He hadn’t dropped his guard stance, even though Yuuri had half turned to fetch the towels he’d mentioned.

‘Oh,’ said Yuuri quietly. Then… ‘You don’t think I deserve to have a digimon.’

‘You? No.’ Yuri scoffed. ‘And you know that as well as I do. You choked in the tournament. And that’s the first time in three years you even made it.’

Yuuri was surprised the other even knew about that. Yuri Plisesky wasn’t as big a name in the Digimon Card Games as Viktor Nikiforov, but he was a pretty big name. In that sense, someone like Yuuri who finally made it to the finals only to flunk miserably wasn’t really worth remembering. But not only did Yuri Plisetsky remember him, but he seemed to take that defeat as a personal insult.

‘It doesn’t matter, anyway. If you’re no good, then you’ll just become the stepping stones for those that are stronger.’

‘That doesn’t mean the digimon have to fight, though.’ But Yuuri was mumbling by that point. He doubted Yuri had even heard. Meicrackmon was still hissing. Meicrackmon… What did Yuuri even know about that digimon?

Not much, truthfully. Meicrackmon was a fairly new addition to the franchise. A feline type, abyss tribe, Ultimate level.

Leomon might be one of the oldest fighters in the franchise but he was a rank lower, at Champion. If those two did wind up finding, it wasn’t going to be good. Sure, Yuuri had cards but not with him and Yuri had cards as well. They weren’t an advantage against another Tamer. And besides, why should they even fight? The quarrel was between two humans. ‘We shouldn’t involve our digimon?’

‘What are you talking about?’ Yuri muttered. ‘Of course it’s about the digimon.’

‘We can have a rematch with the cards, if you prefer?’ Yuuri offered. There wasn’t much point offering that, really. There was nothing in it for Yuri to accept. ‘And it’s almost dawn, so my parents will be up and opening the onsen soon. We can have breakfast after?’

‘I just told you we’re not your guests,’ Yuri snapped.

Meicrackmon however looked more enthused. ‘Breakfast!’ she cheered, skipping away from Leomon. ‘Yay, cards and food. That sounds far more fun.’

Yuri groaned. ‘Fair enough. Fine, cards it is. But you better give a proper fight this time, Katsuki!’

Yuuri blinked, wondering how he’d gotten away with that. But he wasn’t looking a gift in the eye… or mouth, rather. ‘Is that okay with you, Leomon?’

‘It’s fine,’ Leomon replied. ‘I could go for some breakfast, too.’

He didn’t comment about the fight they’d avoided… but that was okay. They’d already talked about it, after all.

.

Yuuri took one look at his room and left to get a dustpan. ‘Please tell me you didn’t break any other windows,’ he called back.

Yuri mumbled something unintelligible.

‘We broke lots of windows,’ Meicoomon – who’d somehow devolved from Meicrackmon without any fanfare at all, helpfully replied. Her fur still stuck out in all directions, even worse now that Yuri was rubbing her with a towel. She seemed to enjoy it well enough though, and Yuuri was glad. Those claws looked sharp and his window was already in pieces. He’d rather the rest of the room stayed in one piece.

Though if Yuri and Meicrackmon had broken lots of windows around the onsen, then who was going to pay for them? ‘Fixing windows is pretty expensive,’ he remarked. ‘Most allowances won’t cover it.’

Yuri muttered something, turning away. Meicoomon just looked at him, wide-eyed. ‘Can’t we put it together? Like a jigsaw?’

‘Windows don’t really work that way.’ Yuuri shrugged, sweeping the bits of glass. At least no-one would step on them now, though his room was going to freeze. Not to mention… ‘Any chance you remember which windows are broken?’

Yuri muttered something again. Yuuri thought he caught something about a bath. ‘Any other bedrooms?’ he tried. ‘How’d you know this was mine, anyway?’

‘You’ve got posters of Victor Nikiforov in your bedroom,’ Yuri pointed out. ‘It wasn’t that hard to figure out. And yeah there was another bedroom, but we didn’t break that window. Heard a girl swearing at us.’

Yuuri snorted at that. ‘That would be my sister.’               

‘Your sister’s more badass than you,’ Yuri commented.

‘You haven’t even met her yet,’ Yuuri protested… though it was true. He was far from badass… and for the most part that suited him just fine. ‘Still, she’ll skin you alive if she finds out you were knocking on her window last night. Not to mention the windows…’

‘The honourable thing to do,’ Leomon added, ‘would be to apologise. I imagine the actual cost of repair would be beyond you.’

Yuuri nodded at that. ‘As long as you’re aware and sorry. I doubt my parents would make –‘

‘I’ll pay it back,’ Yuri snapped, to both their surprise. ‘Somehow. If… if you beat me in a card battle! That’s what we’re here to do, anyway.’

‘I thought we came for towels and breakfast,’ Leomon replied. Meicoomon agreed.

‘Then how about I get some stuff from the kitchen and we can play while we eat?’ Yuuri suggested.

They all agreed to that and Yuuri fetched the leftover katsudon, rice and fish. By that point, Yuri had dug up his game mat and cards. ‘You idiot,’ he snapped as soon as Yuuri came in with the trays. Leomon held the door open without being asked. Meicoomon just oogled at the plates. ‘What would you have done if you were attacked on the street?’

Never mind he’d been the one to stop them in the street in the first place. But still, he’d taken the non-fighting option easily enough. He’d been scared off by Mari. He was offering to pay for something probably well beyond his allowance. He was worrying about someone else’s inexperience or carelessness. He wanted to repeat their card battle because he knew Yuuri hadn’t been playing at his best in the Grand Prix.

Yuuri smiled. He was a good, straightforward, kid.

It was a shame about the window. He’d have to remember to tape it up once he (or someone) dug the tarpaulin out of storage.

‘What are you smiling at?’ Yuri snapped. ‘Honestly, you’re an airhead. Let’s just duel already.’

‘And eat,’ Meicoomon added cheerfully, already paw-deep in the plates.

‘Of course.’ Yuuri checked over his deck before shuffling them. ‘Let’s have a fun match.’

.

They wound up playing several matches, when Yuri found himself soundly defeated in the first, to his own surprise. It was the good kind of surprise though, it seemed, because he’d mellowed out quite a bit by the time Yuuri’s alarm went off. They’d also long since polished off the katsudon and Mari was hammering at his door, asking if he had any idea as to the broken windows.

‘I did that,’ Yuri snapped at the closed door.

Yuuri’s bedroom door slammed open. ‘What the hell, Yuuri?’ Mari asked, before looking at the guest. ‘Instead of sleeping, you’re entertaining a guest in your room? That’s a new one, night owl.’

‘Long story,’ Yuuri muttered.

Mari crossed her arms as she came closer. ‘And what was that, kid? About breaking our windows?’

Yuri looked right back at her, still wearing a glare. ‘I lost my temper, okay,’ he snapped. ‘I already said I’ll pay for them.’

‘Great.’ Mari took an unlit cigarette out of her pocket and poked it in her mouth. ‘Yuuri, let ‘kaa-san know we won’t have to worry about hiring hands for the next few years.’

‘I’m not a charity case.’ But Yuri did look relieved. He certainly didn’t have the money to pay for those damages and perhaps his family didn’t either… or he didn’t want to ask.

‘You’re free labour until I say you’re done, and I’m a hard taskmaker.’ Mari rolled her shoulders and stuck an unlit cigarette in her mouth, waving off Yuuri’s scowl. ‘Yeah, I know. No smoking indoors. Like I’d light up in my little brother’s bedroom anyway.’

She wandered off after that, presumably to light her cigarette. Yuuri scanned his cards quickly (Yuri really had gotten them all together) and shuffled. 'Ready?'

'Sure.' Yuri blinked. 'Your sister's something.'

'Of course she is,' Yuuri shrugged. 'She'll make anything go her way.'

'Hmm...' Yuri's green eyes were piercing, and Yuuri wondered what he was thinking about, to stare as intensely as that. Sure, he wasn't much like Mari. He didn't strong-arm his way to where he wanted to be, even when he was the more ambitious one. He certainly was a sore loser like her, though. He was just, in her words, snarkier about it.

'Snarky,' Yuri repeated.

Yuuri blushed when he realised he'd said that out loud. 'Mari's words, not mine,' he defended.

'Sure.' Yuuri couldn't read that tone. 'Anyway, you might as well go first.'

.

A half hour later, Hiroko came by to remind the two boys of breakfast. Yuri was frowning over the spread of cards on the mat. Yuuri was marvelling at all the cats Yuri had somehow managed to squeeze into his deck... but more amazingly than that was how versatile the deck was despite that.

'You really like cats, don't you?' he mused.

Yuri didn't reply, but Meicoomon does. 'He does,' she trilled. 'There's Potya, then the leapord throw and the kitten pillow and doona covers, and all the posters on the wall...'

'Better than having the old man plastered on the wall,'' Yuri muttered.

'But you cut out - ' Yuri dove for Meicoomon and covered her mouth. She whined into her throat and scratched at him. 'Fish?' she pouted, once she was released.

'I'm sure 'kaa-san will have made fish with breakfast,' Yuuri offered.

Meicoomon zipped off, leaving Leomon and Yuri racing after him. Yuuri was suddenly left with two decks of cards to sort out. Most of it was pretty straightforward. Yuuri's deck was more dog-oriented than cat-oriented, but on the whole he had a wide range of monsters thanks to Phichit and Phichit's other friends. There were still of the beast variety but he'd almost collected all the twelve Devas so that said something. He'd started with Caturamon, of course, and now the only one left was the elusive Vikaralamon, something Phichit found endlessly funny, considering his name and favourite food and the chief specialty dish of their onsen.

So the monsters were fairly straight-forward, though interestingly enough they both owned Leomon cards. Yuuri's was a little stained from the garbage though and he winced at that. He'd been careless with the cards he'd so painstakingly collected and, yes, he'd been hurting but that was no excuse to treat his things with such disrespect.

Granted, at the time, he hadn't intended to play again but that was apparently too rash a decision. He hadn't thought twice about a card battle with Yuri when the opportunity had presented itself, had he? Things had been a bit of a whirlwind after Leomon appeared, but that had turned out to be a good thing. Sure he'd pretty much lain around last afternoon (and good thing too, considering how little he'd gotten in the way of sleep that night) but they'd talked before the dawn, and then Yuri Plisetsky and Meicoomon had shown up...

'I wonder who else have partners,' he mused aloud.

'Several children, I imagine,' said Leomon, who'd returned soundlessly. 'Breakfast is getting cold.'

'Aah.' Yuuri looked at the remaining cards. They were all support cards, and naturally both Yuuri and Yuri ran beast supports. Their styles were still different for the most part: Yuri favoured power-oriented cards while Yuuri prefered more versatility. There was only one Hyper Wing so that was his. There was only one Traininng Grip so that was Yuri's. But they both had Strength and in the end he just put one in each pile (and same with the other duplicates he couldn't tell apart). It probably wouldn't matter because if he couldn't tell the difference, then chances were Yuri wouldn't be able to tell either.

How had their cards gotten so messed up anyway? Yuri had been more thorough in the post-game analysis than he'd realised.

But it had been fun, and that was enough to leave a warm satisfied feeling in his belly.

He was almost glad Yuri had broken all those windows. It had lightened his mood quite a bit... and Yuri would be a more frequent fixture in the onsen, because of that. They'd get more chances to have fun... and it would be interesting explaining this to Phichit, he thought, considering Yuri's reputation at school.

And speaking of school, he was going to wind up running there without breakfast if he didn't get a move on.

Chapter Text

He did run into Phichit on the way to school. He almost always did, even if Phichit lived in another one of the smaller towns. The busses all went to the same little crickety stand, though and Phichit was the sort who'd get up insanely early, dawdle on the way to the bus stop and miss the bus while half-filling his memory card, then still make it to the next bus before the student-only one (that most students took) arrived and then wander around until more friends trickled in at more reasonable times.

So, of course, the day Yuuri, Leo or Guang-Hong were all running late, Phichit was inevitably late as well.

This time, Yuuri picked out Phichit waving frantically, but there was no Leo nor Guang-Hong beside him. 'Hey, Yuuri!' he called over the din, and Yuuri quickly waved goodbye to Takeshi and Yuuko who wandered over to their own classmates. He caught Leomon's shadow as he did but not enough to tell how he was doing. He'd made the journey from Hasetsu on foot, after all. But he'd insisted and it would have been pretty tricky to get him onto a school bus that, by definition, only took students in uniform and only once a day. He'd have had better luck if he'd left earlier and gone on one of the regular busses instead... but Leomon was a beast digimon, even if he did stand on two legs. He wasn't sure how convincing a disguise he could wrangle from old inn jinbei or his father's closet.

Phichit had his camera away, surprisingly. 'Hey,' he said more quietly, as Yuuri reached him. 'You look better than I expected.'

'I had an unexpected visitor this morning,' Yuuri explained, which was the truth, if only less than half of it. 'Yuri Plisetsky was pissed at my performance at the Grand Prix and so smashes some inn windows, including the indoor onsen's and my bedroom's, and we wound up having a rematch.'

'Wow, I didn't expect him to be that prissy about it.' Phichit's eyes were wide. 'I mean, he went all the way to Viktor and lost, and he's hung up about the guy he battled in the first round?' Then he grinned slowly. 'Unless he's a fan?'

'No way.' Yuuri waved a hand. He hadn't enough prestige for fans. He wasn't even in the top five of famous players in their region and they were a pretty small region as far as the digimon fan base in Japan went. He wasn't going to get sent off for the inter-city battles and Viktor didn't only go to those but he dominated the very scene. So of course there was posters and merchandise of him, and lots of fans. 'He was probably grumpy that I shamed the "Yuuri" name, never mind that we technically use two entirely different alphabets to write our names.'

'When in Japan, do as the Japanese do,' Phichit sung. 'Doesn't matter if the angry kitten's from Russia originally. Though our district is lucky Viktor Nikiforov somehow wandered over from Russia too. Maybe the Russians are just crazy good at this... which would be a shame considering Digimon originated in Japan.'

'Digimon originated on the internet,' Yuuri corrected.

'Technically.' Phichit grinned. He pulled out his phone. 'Now, some photos for snapchat?'

Yuuri sighed. Phichit did always manage to drag his friends and classmates into his snapchat... and a good number of strangers. He'd gotten into trouble numerous times for it as well, but that didn't seem to change things at all.

And Yuuri had been friends with Phichit for long enough to know it was useless to try and resist that particular hurricane... usually. Phichit was only distracted from his regular photography when something interesting showed up. And Yuuri, in turning towards Phichit's camera hand, caught a glimpse of flashes behind him, particularly in the trees he'd seen Leomon take shelter in.

'Looks like you're not the only one taking photos this morning.'

'What?' Phichit spun around. 'Who's stealing my - oh.'

Yuuri blinked at the sudden deflation in Phichit's tone, and the way he was suddenly awkwardly shuffling to the right, as though to hide the cluster of trees. '

'Uuh... that's... Oh, stuff it.' He glanced around (presumably looking for Guang-Hong and Leo), then dragged Yuuri by the wrist towards the trees. 'Now, I know this is going to sound completely crazy but one day this blue -'

He didn't get further because they were suddenly face to face with Leomon looking uncomfortable and an enthusiastic Cameramon snapping photos.

Phichit didn't freak out, to Yuuri's surprise (and Phichit's idea of freaking out was snapping lots of photos). He just groaned.  'Cameramon, you can't just snap photos in public.'

'But you do it all the time,' Cameramon whined. 'And besides, here's your friend's digimon. I had to!'

'Yeah, okay, I would've done the same - ' Phichit stopped short.

At that point, the situation had clicked into place for Yuuri too and he was sprouting a sheepish expression once Phitchit spun around to stare at him. 'You -'

'You as well?' Yuuri offered... because, to be fair, he'd had Leomon for less than twenty-four hours and Phichit was the one who put his entire life on snapchat.

'You.' Phichit poked Yuuri in the chest. 'Geeze, I could have told you ages ago! Cameramon, why didn't you mention this sooner?'

'New partner!' Cameramon continues flashing away. 'It's a virgin partnership and we've got the honour of documenting the first out of town exposure.' The shutters paused for a moment. 'Did we miss anything?'

'You're an excitable pair, aren't you?' Leomon sighed. 'I suppose I should count myself lucky Juri didn't have a camera on her when we first met.'

'Probably,' Yuuri agreed. 'Phichit - and Cameramon apparently - will more than make up for it.' He turned back to Phichit at that point... because if Cameramon was anything like Phichit, there was no deterring him. And Leomon seemed to realise that as well because he just sighed and stood still and let himself be photographed. 'How long have you had Cameramon?'

'A few months,' Phichit said easily, and Yuuri found himself personally offended. Phichit didn't have to act so shocked, then,  considering Yuuri had had Leomon for less than a day. 'It's kind of a secret society kind of thing. Couldn't tell you unless you saw a real life digimon.'

'Some advanced warning would've been nice,' Yuuri grumbled. 'What were you shocked about then? I'm the one who just saw Leomon getting attacked by flashes.'

'It's not an attack,' Phichit pouted. 'It's artistry. And I was wondering how long I had to avoid this topic for no reason.'

'This morning,' Yuuri replied dryly. 'We met yesterday afternoon. A few hours after the disaster that was the Digimon Grand Prix.'

'Aah.' Phichit hummed. 'That was good timing, though.'

'I guess.' Phichit didn't know about Vicchan. Only his family and the onsen patrons knew about that... and Takeshi and Yuuko because news spread like wildfire in small towns and of course they'd heard about it. News spread like wildfire at school as well, but it depended on someone bringing it up. The presence of real digimon in their school had managed to go unnoticed, even with Cameramon (and who knew who else) lurking around for months. 'Yuri brought his Meicrackmon for the ride.'

Phichit snorted. 'So it was the full blown kitten attack, huh. How'd you not wind up battling him?'

'It was too early in the morning and he must've wanted a rematch more than he wanted a digimon battle?' Yuuri tried. He wasn't too sure, to be honest, but at that point he hadn't been about to look a gift in the mouth. 'I don't know, really. But he's just acting tough.'

Phichit laughed at that and elbowed him. 'Look at you, being all snarky,' he teased. 'But hey, this is awesome. Welcome to the club!'

'Who else is there?' Yuuri asked warily... but, really, there was no stopping Phichit.

.

Phichit seemed to be pretty on top of the population of Chosen in the area and Yuuri learnt a few very interesting facts. For example, he learnt that Viktor Nikiforov had a real life digimon as well: a Monodramon that often paraded as a poodle because the over-dramatic Russian couldn't bear to keep him hidden. Which meant the Makkachin Yuuri had buried his head into at the Grand Prix finals hadn't been a poodle at all, but a Monodramon.

That belonged in the bloopers of his life, honestly, and Phichit lamented the lost opportunity to get some video evidence. 'Of course I need it,' he said. 'I need all this embarrassing footage of you to play at your wedding.'

Yuuri was honestly horrified to witness what Phichit had planned for his wedding, and his amount of ammunition was only going to continue growing.

And then there was Guang-Hong who also had a digimon partner, mentioned in a whisper because Leo had joined them by that point and, as far as everyone knew, was lacking one. And Tapirmon sounded as though he had as interesting a character as the rest of the partner digimon, though they hadn't formally met by the time they'd arrived on school grounds.

Leomon had probably met him though. Hopefully he wouldn't get dragged into trouble because his track record in the franchise wasn't the best regarding that. How he'd been paraded around the human world in the Xros Wars manga. How he'd been wrangled into chaperoning during Digimon Adventure Tri and managed to lose his charges: a little bit of humour that had gone awry quite quickly, considering how that movie had ended.

Still, Leomon remembered his past. Meicoomon hadn't mentioned anything regarding that, but then again, neither he nor Leomon had asked. And maybe that was a can of worms Leomon didn't want to go in to. Leomon said he remembered his past, but he didn't talk much about the digimon he'd come to meet. He talked about Juri Katou. He talked about the eight children he'd first met what seemed like an age ago. He talked about the children who'd ruled armies. He hadn't talked much about them, granted, but he didn't mention his links with Meicoomon at all.

Yuuri didn't mention it either, because Leomon was well aware that the digimon franchise had revealed several extra aspects of his past than he himself. And that was a sad thing, because there were preconceptions everywhere. Anyone who met Meicoomon would remember the Libra. Anyone who met Leomon would remember all the times he'd met tragic ends (and which of his ends weren't clouded in tragedy, really?) That was another misconception that fed Yuuri's anxiety, because he couldn't recall a season or manga series in which Leomon or one of his evolutions survived. And the games didn't really count because everyone died in the games and were reborn: it was the very nature of those games.

Phichit's Cameramon was as little known as Meicoomon, and equally tragic if only he'd been a villain through and through in Appli Monsters but now evidently not. And could villains of circumstance really be blamed? If he'd belonged to one of Minerva's Appli Drivers, things might have been quite different. Still,  when someone else was hurt, blame was born. But that was amongst the humans who'd familiarised themselves with the merchandise, and amongst the digimon that remembered their linked roots. If Cameramon didn't remember, and nobody else recognised him, then it might never come up and thus would not matter. And same with Meicoomon, who had a limited number of digimon she'd interacted with.

The thing about Meicoomon of course was that Yuuri was sure Leomon remembered him. He'd reacted enough. Subtly, perhaps - but Yuuri knew his own mannerisms and when they appeared on others. He tended to be a bit obvious in terms of avoidance, sometimes, but his general efforts to avoid socialising with less familiar faces (which didn't always work, with Phichit being a case in point) and Leomon hadn't done much in the way of interaction that morning, and had avoided the topic while they'd walked to the bus stop. They'd picked up the topic of Chosen, again. Katou Juri, and then the others: people who'd beene selected by the Digital World versus people who'd seemingly coincidentally been roped in to those circumstances and then selected that path of destiny. Katou Juri had chosen Leomon as her partner. Akari Hinamoto and Zenjirou Tsurugi had also chosen their paths. Taiki Kudou however was selected. The children from the original series and their sequels had been selected. Takato Matsuki... he couldn't say. He'd drawn his own partner and dreamt him to life but he hadn't wanted the battles and the responsibility that came with it, at first. Jenrya Lee and Ruki Maniko were probably of the closest circumstances to their current generation of Chosen. They'd all been involved in the franchise and the card game, all favoured certain types of cards, and all by some power wound up with a partner from their selection. But "all" was only insofar as Phichit knew... though considering how quickly Leomon with his lifetimes of experience had been caught by Cameramon and Meicoomon, it was likely Phichit did know all there was to know on this topic too.

So, of course, Yuuri paid attention so he wouldn't be caught as unaware as he'd been last night and early this morning... and made very aggressive mental notes to stay from, or at least figure out how to deal with, the likes of Seung-Gil Lee and Jean-Jacques Leroy, who seemed to be far more eager than Yuri Plisetsky to battle, and for all the wrong reasons. It stopped being a game when he became too invested in it. It stopped being a game when Vicchan died. It stopped being a game when Leomon showed up and Yuri Plisetsky found himself in a debt he'd be paying off till his highschool years at the very least. It was perhaps a good thing in the end, because Hiroko had insisted he come by early mornings, have breakfast with them and then take a package for his grandfather (because, apparently, his parents were out of the picture and Yuuri didn't even know how his mother had managed to wrangle that bit of information out of the preteen, or how he'd been convinced regardless to get up before the crack of dawn every day to catch the first bus out of his hometown to Hasetsu), and then come back after the dinner rush to eat with the family. Which meant Yuuri would be seeing a lot more of him in the coming years, and he was lucky a meeting in his own home had gone a lot better than any previous preconception or personal knowledge of him.

Really, he mused, that should be a lesson to his brain to not jump to conclusions. But there were lots of little lessons like that and his brain had failed to pick up on all of them. Mari claimed it was a good thing, though. People like Yuuko and Takeshi and Phichit (and, with him, Leo and Guang-Hong) stuck around... and, for the time being, it seemed like Leomon and the other digimon would be sticking around as well.

Or, at least, he was starting to hope so. Things were rapidly changing, but so far it was a pleasant change for the most part. Riddled with anxiety, certainly, but he'd made a new tentative friend out of the deal, he had a little more course for confidence (and maybe, when his embarrassing defeat wasn't so raw, he'd be able to accept it a little better - because he'd redeemed himself that morning and that was the other thing). His parents were happy, too, and actually more forgiving of the windows than Mari had been, because Takeshi's parents could fix the windows quite a bit more cheaply than an out of town (and not a family friend) glass repairer. It was just like how he got cheap access to the rink and free ballet lessons, and Minako and the Nishigoris and Yuuko's parents often drank for free at the onsen. Phichit had teasingly wondered, when they were first getting to know each other and Phichit was still settling into regional Japan life, how any of them managed to make a profit. But, for most of them, the main profit came from tourists and it was far more advantageous (and a far happier lifestyle, as Hiroko would often put it) when they banded together to make the tourist experience the best they possible could while supporting each other on the sidelines. And it was the same with the surrounding teams. Hasetsu was known for its hotsprings and that was a domain the nearest towns didn't dare encroach on. Another town generated the wine. And another, the ceramics. The river that ran through Karatsu city was the home of many festivals and their school as well. Fukouka and Saga were the nearest airports, and then train lines came as far as Karatsu and then there was the busses to the smaller villages that made up the Higashimastura district.

And, really, the digimon franchise hadn't come to the Saga prefecture in terms of locations. There was Odaiba. Tamachi. Shinjuku. Shibuya.... all over the world during that one particular three-episode special, but not yet Saga. It was a matter of time, Phichit often said, because the current Digimon World Champion was based in Karatsu and Yuuri knew a lot of family businesses were hoping so, because that would attract more tourists and that meant work and livelihood for them.

Phichit poked at him. 'Your head's way in the clouds,' he laughed. 'Give them some time to come up with something after ReArise.'

'It could be another anime,' Yuuri protested... but really, he realised a moment later, he should have realised he'd started thinking out loud again.

'There's the Tri-Two rumour to get out first,' Leo pointed out. 'Also, did something happen? You're not the sort that usually gets fixated on revenue. That's up to the parents at this point in our lives.'

'A kitten got in and broke a few windows,' Phichit answered for him.

'The kitten will be put to work,' Yuuri shrugged. 'It sounds like more than a big deal than it actually turned out to be. It was actually funny, because kittens don't like baths.'

'So you were thinking of Viktor Nikiforov instead?' Leo asked. 'Honestly, I thought you'd be avoiding thoughts of Digimon like the plague.'

'Let's just say it was shoved in my face in a way I couldn't ignore,' Yuuri muttered. 'Nah, I'm okay now. Or better anyway.'

'I'm glad,' Guang-Hong said softly, and he glanced towards the gates as though saying he understood what Yuuri meant.

Poor Leo, suddenly left out of the conversation. Yuuri wonderered how he'd missed the hints, but Leo didn't seem to have noticed.

'I'm glad too,' Yuuri confessed. 'I'd lost my love for digimon, but that could have stewed for months instead of one afternoon.'

'Quick rebound,' Phichit grinned. Leo punched him lightly on the arm. Yuuri just blushed a little, because Phichit would no doubt bring up the posters in his room again (and at least Yuri Plisetsky just went on about how he didn't like Viktor Nikiforov as opposed to anything Yuuri may or may not feel regarding the subject) - or he would have if the bell hadn't gone at that point.

School would, hopefully, be uneventful. Enough interruptions happened to schooling as per the franchise, and Yuuri didn't want to start his first full day as a Chosen out of class because some disaster was happening.

Preferably, no disasters at all, but with the digimon coming to their world, it was inevitable. He didn't want to fight. Leomon didn't want to fight. But they'd come together because, one day, they would have to fight and fight together.

'I'm going to do better,' he promised himself. He had to battle better. He had to know Leomon better. He had to know the circumstances of things better too, and that was another reason to be exceedingly grateful to Phichit, because he wouldn't be half as knowledgeable about anything that didn't happen in Hasetsu otherwise.

Chapter Text

The peace lasted until lunch time, and honestly, Yuuri should have expected that. He'd run into two other Chosen and their partners already, so of course he'd attracted the attention of others as well.

He was surprised to find Seung-Gil Lee had beaten Jean-Jacques Leroy to the punch, though. He knew the latter was quite quick and direct and always (as far as Phichit told it) went for the "I'll show you I'm stronger" approach. He'd lost to Viktor and Makkachin, of course. An unhappy Yuri and Meicoomon had lost. Phichit had appealed to that pride and made a folder of flattering shots of JJ and his Shoutmon that, of course, would probably never make it online due to the secretive nature of it all, and Guang-Hong and Renamon had simply dodged until JJ had gotten tired of challenging the pair.

Yuuri was a little disappointed, because he'd kind of wanted to know if that Shoutmon was the same king of the Digital World from Digimon Xros Wars. And Seung-Gil was kind of awkward, and it was made more awkward when quiet people like Yuuri or Guang-Hong were on the receiving end. Phichit was there too though, luckily, and broke the awkward staring contest and the fourth wall all with a: 'huh, to staring contests are the way to settle things, now.'

Yuuri huffed a laugh. Seung-Gil gave a deadpan stare (or perhaps it was a glare? He confessed he'd only ever seen Seung-Gil lose his composure with women, and Phichit swore up and down there was a story there but they were considerate enough not to pursue. In any case, Seung-Gil had a dog, which meant he had a soft-spot buried in him just like Yuri Plisetsky did.

'You two would get along great... but maybe not so much your pets,' Yuuri mused.

'Who are you calling a pet?' the Garurumon growled.

'I meant the husky!' Yuuri protested. 'And Potya, the... actually, I don't know what breed Yuri's cat is.'

Phichit laughed, the little traitor. 'A ragdoll.'

Seung-Gil just blinked. 'A ragdoll,’ he repeated. ‘And you thought a dog and cat would get along… why?’

‘More their owners.’ Yuuri was blushing a little now. The conversation had descended back into awkwardness and he didn’t really know which was better: silent awkwardness or awkward chatter.

Maybe awkward chatter, since Phichit was the sort of filled awkward spaces in conversation. ‘Why not?’ Phichit asked. ‘Think about it: would you rather be friends with someone who also has a pet or someone who kicks strays on the street?’

‘And you’re assuming everyone who doesn’t have pets will scorn them?’ Seung-Gil asked. ‘Your friend was partnerness until the weekend, was he not? Do you question his attachment to digimon, when he cried after losing a card game?’

‘Till last night, actually.’ And Yuuri stubbornly ignored the other, biting comment, despite how his cheeks burned and stung.

Seung-Gil just shrugged. ‘It matters not. Card games are simply luck and strategy. True digimon battles are what show strength.’

‘We don’t want to fight,’ Yuuri said immediately. ‘Leomon didn’t come here to fight.’

‘And you?’ Seung-Gil asked.

…well, Yuuri thought. At least Seung-Gil and Garurumon didn’t jump straight in with an attack. ‘I – I don’t want to fight either.’

‘You let your digimon march around in champion mode simply to flaunt him, then?’ His tone was biting, now. Accusatory.

‘I don’t,’ Yuuri protested. ‘Leomon is Leomon. He came like that, and he hasn’t devolved as far as I know. The Leomon in franchise is generally champion and higher as well. Also Tailmon from –‘

‘Enough,’ Seung-Gil snapped. ‘Taking note of exceptions from franchise sounds like little more than excuses, but it matters not. Digimon must fight if they are to grow stronger, and that’s true of the video games and true of real life as well. If you have no wish to fight, then you are either a coward or sentimental to the spirits the franchise have created, and from the way you ran through that list, I’ll assume the latter.’

He was a bit of a fanboy, yes, but it sounded to him like Seung-Gil didn’t regard the digimon as living creatures with their own free will. There were characters in the franchise, like that: Ken Ichijouji, Ruki Maniko, Akihiro Kurata…

Well, he hoped one of his classmates wasn’t similar to that madman in any other way.

And at least Seung-Gil didn’t launch straight into an attack when he’d been refused. He’d simmered down a bit, as well. Cool and watching the four of them, tucked behind a school building and out of sight of everyone else.

Who knew? Maybe he could stall all through lunch break?

‘Cameramon still hasn’t digivolved,’ Phichit pouted. ‘You two are lucky, you know.’

‘You don’t fight,’ Seung-Gil replied. ‘How can you grow stronger if you won’t fight?’ He looked at each of them in turn as he said that, and maybe he was right. But the strength that Yuuri was seeking was something else. The enemy he fought was something else: his own emotions, his own doubts, his own weaknesses… He didn’t need to fight other people to do that.

Seung-Gil turned away. Perhaps he’d decided they weren’t worth pursing anymore. Garurumon didn’t, though. He snarled and sniffed the air. Leomon, too, stiffened. ‘Something’s coming.’

‘What?’ Yuuri asked, caught by surprise. ‘Another Chosen?’

‘Nope,’ Cameramon’s lens whirred. ‘It’s a Velgemon. Fun.’

‘Velgemon?’ Yuuri and Phichit repeated, horrified.

Seung-Gil turned back around. ‘An overgrown crow,’ he deadpanned.

‘Wow, you really don’t keep up with the franchise,’ Phichit said. ‘Velgmon’s not a crow, it’s a carrion. And it’s one of the few digimon with interdimensional abilities, so avoid the red beams and absolutely do not get caught in its Zone Deleter otherwise you’ll be completely dissolved.’

‘It’s also equivalent to the Ultimate level,’ said Yuuri. ‘If it wasn’t heading right for us, I’d say we should get out of here.’

‘Then we draw it away,’ Seung-Gil said simply. ‘Digimon attract digimon; it’s simple natural instinct.’

Huh, though Yuuri as the three of them climbed over the school gates. Seung-Gil was actually rather nice. He hadn’t been about to force a fight, even if he had some biting comments to offer. And now he was acting to protect the school like it was second nature to do so, even though he’d claimed he’d been after power and nothing more.

Between him and Yuri Plisetsky, Yuuri wondered how the general consensus of personalities could have been so wrong.

Phichit snorted. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten what people say about you.’

That was true, Yuuri acknowledged. People often called him cold, selfish and stand-offish… but they were also the people who’d never seen him having a panic attack, hadn’t ever seen the layers of doubt that caked his skin, or the easy way he burst into tears at disappointment and tragic anime. They weren’t people like Phichit who’d decided to care enough to dig under all those layers, or people like Yuuko who’d adopted him as their cute little brother and never looked back. Granted, Yuuri had Mari, but Mari was seven years older and didn’t care much for school in the first place. She was the stay and home and run the business sort of girl, while Yuuri had wings that ached to stretch, as she put it. Wouldn’t be all surprised, she said, if he wandered off to another part of Japan (or the world) for university, if he wound up in a degree that didn’t have anything to do with the onsen, if he wound up somehow world famous because he just had to keep flying higher.

But Icarus flew too close to the sun and got burnt and that thought always fed into his anxiety when he dared to dream big. Still, deciding on university was a long time away. Deciding on a career was a long time away. He had lots of mistakes to learn from before he got there, like the Digimon Grand Prix and Vicchan, like getting to focused on one thing and that crushing moment when he realised he’d lost something else and the downhill tumble that had followed. Then the eye-opening encounters he’d had since: with Leomon, with Yuri Plisetsky and Seung-Gil Lee and now Velgemon…

Which reminded him… ‘Seung-Gil, come over to our onsen for dinner!’

To his credit, Seung-Gil didn’t stop running and trip from the momentum like Phichit did. ‘Why?’ was all he said – or asked, technically.

‘Why not?’ Yuuri shrugged. ‘kaa-san’s a great cook. Granted, we’ll have to hide out in my room. I haven’t mentioned the digimon… or the fact that one broke a few onsen windows this morning. Not that they’ll mind…’ He was babbling again – and people said he didn’t talk.

Like Phichit was prone to saying, those people needed to get their ears checked.  

‘Meicrackmon, I presume,’ said Garurumon – and this time it was Yuuri’s turn to jump in surprise.

‘Indeed,’ said Leomon, and suddenly the two previously silent digimon were having a discussion while Velgemon drew closer. ‘An excitable little cat she is, when she’s not lost in the hunger of battling.’

‘Don’t I know it,’ Garurumon sighed. ‘You are the same Leomon, right? From File Island?’

So Gabumon also remembered his past? Yuuri wondered what determined that: which digimon remembered their pasts and which didn’t, which appeared in their world at Champion level and which at Rookie, which lost themselves in a hunger for battle and which kept cool heads, which could choose human partners and which were fated to be alone. So many versions of the digital world in the franchise, and yet none of them really explained those core questions. Adventure talked of Homeostasis, of Yggdrasil, but there were still too many holes.

Maybe it was same sort of laws that governed their own world: out of reach and unattainable.

‘We should come up with a plan,’ Phichit, surprisingly the voice of reason (instead of the voice encouraging them to get into trouble) said. ‘And then enjoy victory katsudon at the Yuutopia once we take care of this carrion eater.’

Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to come up with a satisfactory plan before Velgemon had caught up to them. Cameramon went ahead with the only part they’d managed to agree would work, and that was take pictures like their lives depended on it and hope the flash would be detriment to Velgemon’s vision.

It worked, but Leomon’s sword and Garurumon’s claws weren’t doing too great against the leathery skin of Velgemon. Leomon’s Fist of the Beast King did produce some results, but then he had to deal with the single-minded vengeance of a very angry bird and Garurumon could do little to dissuade it.

Yuuri scattered his desk, searching for something that might be able to help. Garurumon’s water-based attacks weren’t helping. Leomon’s fire-based Fist of the Beast King did, and he had to have something with fire-based moves in his deck… There it was! ‘Geogreymon’s Mega Flame, activate!’

It helped, but Velgemon was still an ultimate and thus so much stronger.

Yuuri searched the rest of his cards. He had that entire digivolution line, so RizeGreymon and ShineGreymon should be somewhere too. Panic made it harder to search, but finally he found it. Was it a good idea, though? The Tamers anime hadn’t really gone into what would happen if one used a card above their digimon’s evolution.

He saw Seung-Gil had also picked up one of his cards and was staring at it. But Yuuri had RizeGreymon and he could see MetalGreymon now that he’d had the time to think a little, so that meant it was either WarGreymon or ShineGreymon he now held…

‘WarGreymon’s Terra Force, activate!’

‘Terra Force,’ Phichit yelped. ‘I mean, that sounds good on paper but that’s a mega attack!’

And Phichit (and Yuuri) had been right to be cautious, because Garurumon howled in agony and crumbled, shrinking to Gabumon, then further into the in-training Tsunomon. Velgemon left Leomon and turned, smelling the burnt flesh and easy prey.

‘Stop, you coward!’ Leomon yelled.

Velgemon didn’t seem to care it’d been called a coward. It simply shot for its new pray.

‘Hyper wing, activate!’ Phichit yelled, and Cameramon, sprouting new wings, quickly swooped in and grabbed the injured in-training.

‘Leomon!’ Yuuri cried, because they wouldn’t outrun Velgemon… but what could Leomon do, either? Seung-Gil had just proven, at the expense of his partner, that Mega and likely Ultimate digimon cards wouldn’t work, so what else was there? And Leomon was slowing down, taking more hits, crumbling under the weight of it all and if he fell to his knees, Velgemon could zap him into another dimesion or worse, annihilate him completely…

‘Yuuri.’ Phichit’s voice was suddenly in his ears. ‘Slow down. Breathe.’

He took a deep breath and the oxygen rushed to his lungs and his brain. Leomon could occupy Velgemon’s attention but he wouldn’t last for too long. If their fight attracted the other Chosen, then they might be better off (or not, depending), but regardless, Leomon needed to recover a bit first. He snatched up his support cards: heal, then endurance. Strength wouldn’t be much good.

‘Heal, activate!’ And then, ‘Endurance, activate!’

Leomon would still be overwhelmed eventually, though, and Mega Flame would only do so much. There didn’t exist a card yet that could multiply attacks. Really, there were very few ways a digimon could safely defeat another digimon an entire level above their own.

‘Good job holding him off,’ said a new voice, suddenly, and then Leomon was stumbling back, free from the barrage of attacks, and Cameramon was creeping out of his hiding place (and good on him for finding one in the first place) with Tsunomon in his arms.

Yuuri blinked at the grey and black blur in the sky. Was that a Cyberdramon?

Then another thought: didn’t Monodramon evolve into Cyberdramon?

Chapter Text

‘Viktor!’ Phichit exclaimed.

Indeed it was Viktor Nikiforov strolling up to them. ‘Yup.’ He grinned. ‘Now how did you three manage to attract an Ultimate? Especially a nasty one like Velgemon?’

Even Cyberdramon was struggling with Velgemon’s mindless fury.

Viktor wasn’t looking at Cyberdramon, though. He was surveying the rest of them. Yuuri with his card reader turned digivice on his lap and deck scattered in front of him. Seung-Gil with Tsunomon in his arms. Cameramon with the hyper wings that were yet to vanish.

‘Is that RizeGreymon?’ Viktor asked. ‘Can I borrow it?’

Yuuri wordlessly handed it over. Viktor’s digivice was purple, he realised. Why purple? Velgemon was better suited for purple, really… or rather, the human in Frontier who’d held Velgemon’s spirits.

He should probably count himself lucky they weren’t turning into digmon that that season’s Chosen.

Viktor raised his digivice and Yuuri’s card. ‘RizeGreymon’s Trident Destroyer, activate!’

And it was just enough firepower to blast that Velgemon out of the sky.

There was a flash near Cameramon, presumarbly to mark the moment.

And Yuuri’s heart finally stopped hammering.

.

The bell for end of lunch had long since passed by the time the four of them and their digimon made their way back to school. ‘Best to keep away from the area,’ Viktor said. ‘Remember Hypnos? There’s something similar operating in this world and though it’s a bit of a trip for them, they’ll eventually show up and we don’t want to be around when they do.’

Hypnos were basically the special police of the Tamers universe, dealing with all things related to digimon using human technology, and had initially considered the Chosen as nothing more than children playing war in a field of bioterrorism.

‘Not that they’d make me part with Makkachin,’ Viktor smiled, petting his Monodramon on the head. Yuuri considered the rookie, all dolled up in some sort of surface programme that made him look like a poodle.

‘I wish you’d tell me how to do that,’ Phichit whined. ‘It’s so hard convincing people Cameramon’s a camera, you know. And he actually is a camera. Monodramon is not a poodle!’

‘He’s my heart poodle.’ Viktor gave the Monodramon a big hug.

Yuuri’s lips twitched. Seung-Gil’s lips thinned. Monodramon grinned. ‘Being a poodle is great. I get to go to the spa every other week.’

Was there even a spa nearby? Yuuri wondered. And on behalf of his family, he was offended that Viktor and Makkachin weren’t considering the option.

‘Your family’s onsen?’ Viktor repeated.

‘Yeah,’ Phichit nodded. ‘We’re having victory katsudon and you simply have to come! I mean, it wouldn’t have been much of a victory if you hadn’t shown up.’

‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ Viktor was still grinning, though now he was eying Yuuri with a degree of intensity that was making him a little uncomfortable. ‘If I’d shown up a little later, I bet Yuuri here might’ve figured out a solution outside the box.’

Yuuri felt he was far from figuring out a solution. He’d just figured out a way to prolong the fight, really. He said as much. Viktor just shrugged it out. ‘I’m a champion,’ he said easily. ‘I’ve got a good eye for this sort of thing. You just need to be more flexible more often and not choke under pressure.’

Great, even Viktor Nikiforov had witnessed the disaster that had been his Digimon Grand Prix Final match against Yuri Plisetsky.

‘I tell him that all the time…’ And even better, Phichit was providing Viktor with more ammunition.

Also, they’d just as good as invited Viktor into his room… with all the Viktor memorabilia. Oh boy.

.

Yuuri lagged behind the others as they made their way to Yuutopia that afternoon. Phichit wasn’t chatting someone’s ears off for once, but that was because Seung-Gil and Viktor were talking about Tsunomon and the card game. Tsunomon seemed to be doing better, and by his own admission he’d be back to a Gabumon once he’d devoured a bowl of katsudon, and now Seung-Gil (and the rest of them) knew they couldn’t just use a Mega card on anything lower than a Mega and expect good results.

Seung-Gil had eyed the cards Yuuri had been using as well, and now he and Viktor were discussing the intricacies of the game. He’d learnt that paying attention to the franchise wasn’t a bad thing, after all. Lots of knowledge came out of it. Lots of strategies. But, even then, there were some things that hadn’t been explained before, and some ground that hadn’t yet been covered. Who knew? Maybe they’d all wind up playing at Yuutopia after enjoying the katsudon.

Hopefully he could deal with his memorabilia problem before they wound up in his room, though.

His mother was happy to see new friends (and, of course, the Katsuki family was well familiar with Phichit). And she had lots of katsudon for them (after the white lie of Viktor having an appetite for six, which was happily accepted with some over-dramaticism on Viktor’s part) and Mari had lots of teasing.

Yuuri made sure to take a half-portion because he was well aware of how much he’d had recently and a morning jog wasn’t going to take the edge off that slippery slope if he kept it up. Still didn’t stop Phichit from poking his stomach. ‘Come on, you worked hard Yuuri. We’d have been creamed if Leomon hadn’t held Velgemon’s attention.’

‘That was Leomon,’ said Yuuri, filling the rest of his bowl with salad. ‘Not me.’

‘Don’t discredit yourself,’ said Leomon. ‘Our strength comes from our bonds with our partners, and beyond that, your cards were of great help to me. And once I can digivolve again, we will be capable of even more. You’ll see.’

‘I guess we will.’ And Yuuri accepted that smile with a soft shy one of his own.

‘Yeah, you were great once you got your head on straight,’ Viktor chimed, mouth full of katsudon. ‘But why do you choke under pressure? You should have done much better in the Digimon Grand Prix, you know.’

‘Leave him alone, Nikiforov,’ Mari snapped from the kitchen (and thank goodness she didn’t poke her head in the doorway straight away because the digimon wouldn’t have hidden themselves fast enough. ‘You try playing a card game if your precious Makkachin dies.’

Viktor, surprisingly, was silent, staring at Makkachin the Monodramon (still wearing the poodle disguise programme) and then at Yuuri.’

‘My toy poodle,’ said Yuuri, trying to glare at the door and failing miserably. ‘He was my best friend, but I had so many things I wanted to do I was spending less and less time with him and then suddenly…’

Hot tears were slipping down his cheeks and into his half-eaten bowl. He pushed it away. Everyone was staring at him, he knew. Even the digimon from their hiding place. Viktor who was suddenly sprouting a look of pity. Phichit who was looking at him like he’d grown an extra head. Seung-Gil who had… a look of respect on his face?

He was reminded of what Leomon had said to him yesterday. That trying and failing was a sign of strength, a sign of courage, and not a sign of weakness after all. It was only those who didn’t know the circumstances who’d thought that… and by the end of that morning’s match with Yuri Plisetsky, it seemed the other had been trying to figure out what had happened at the tournament.

‘You didn’t tell them?’ Mari asked, raising an eyebrow as she studied each of her faces. ‘Well, can’t say I’m surprised at that stubborn pride of yours…’ She gave him a quick pat on the shoulder and then wandered off.

‘Stubborn pride is right.’ Phichit shook his head while the digimon crawled back out of hiding and dug into their meals once more. ‘I’m impressed you were playing any semblance of a duel at all, frankly.’

‘I’ll say,’ Viktor added. His tone was suddenly much more mellow, almost sad. ‘It took meeting Monodramon, for me…’

They all blinked in surprise at that, even Yuuri who suddenly couldn’t see much of anything with the tears in his eyes. He rubbed at them, because while he cried easily, it wasn’t as though he wanted to showcase his tears to everyone. And Viktor was saying something: something important, something none of them had known about, despite him being a public figure in their little community.

‘Makkachin was originally a poodle’s name,’ Viktor explained. ‘My poodle. And she’d been getting on in years but she’d been all I had. And then one day she was gone. This was back in Russia, of course. And somehow Yakov got it into his head that I needed a change of scenery and his ex-wife knew Minako and she helped set me up here. Granted, I’m not much into ballet so there was no point actually being in Hasetsu…’

Huh. Yuuri hadn’t known much of that and Minako was basically a second monster to him. ‘Your –Yakov’s ex-wife is Lilia Baranovskaya?’ He’d almost said father, but that didn’t sound quite right with the way Viktor had worded all of that.

Viktor nodded. ‘Ex-prima and she’s one of the most sought after instructors in Russia, now. And Yakov’s an equally famous skating coach. He also has a tendency to pick up mouthy strays. That’s the other reason I wound up here. He’s an old friend of Nikolai Plisetsky as well. Yuri’s grandfather. And Yuri’s not the sort to let anyone mope around… even if he does call me an old man because of my hair.’

‘He calls Yuuri “katsudon” too,’ Phichit said with a grin, slightly breaking the sombre mood. ‘So little Yuri is a big softie on the inside. Who knew.’

Viktor shrugged. ‘He’s a little prickly on the outside but his heart’s in the right place. I was a bit worried when I met Meicoomon but it doesn’t look like the Libra is inside of her in this world. Actually, all we’re dealing with so far is the occasional stray digimon that winds up crossing the border between our worlds without the intention of finding a partner. It’s the calm before the storm. But it’s because of that that I met Monodramon, that a found another lifelong friend in him, and something that gave me a purpose. After Monodramon found me, I reached out for every piece of information I could find about digimon, and the franchise is huge. It was just lucky I had all that time and nothing else to spend it on.’

‘So the secret to your success is time,’ said Seung-Gil flatly. ‘And no natural talent.’

‘Oh,’ Viktor smiled. ‘I’m sure natural talent has a place, but not many people can single-mindedly focus on a card game, even if it’s evolved to the point where there are national tournaments. It’s not a livelihood, after all. And not everyone has old money supporting them. Look at Yuri, after all. It’s probably a good thing Meicoomon smashed those windows… though the pair of them both need to learn some restraint as well. But still, it takes a bit of the pressure off of Nikolai, to have Yuri working and staying out of trouble as opposed to…’

‘…causing trouble?’ Phichit offered.

Which answered Yuuri’s question as to the Plisetsky family situation.

‘And we seemed to have gotten terribly side-tracked.’ Viktor offered another smile. ‘Anyway, my point was I spent months doing not much of anything after Makka passed, and you went to a competition on that very same week to not disappoint anyone.’

‘It wasn’t really like that,’ Yuuri mumbled. ‘I’d spend more and more time on other things, and then I just had to compete because I would’ve wasted all that time I didn’t spend with Vicchan if I hadn’t. I wasted it anyway, though.’ Or maybe he hadn’t. He met Leomon. He got to know Yuri Plisetsky better than before. And maybe he would’ve met Leomon anyway but no way would Yuri have been interested in a card rematch if Yuuri hadn’t messed up that badly in their official match and caught his interest. ‘But I met Leomon – and all of you – through that, so I guess I can’t call it a waste after all.’

Phichit sniffed dramatically. ‘He’s learning. My baby’s learning.’

‘I’m older than you,’ Yuuri muttered. It did nothing to deter Phichit though.

.

They did wind up in his bedroom eventually. And see the posters there, which had Phichit giggling, Seung-Gil curiously examining the poster of the Digimon Grand Prix final participants (had he seriously not seen it?) and Viktor scrawling signatures, much to Yuuri’s embarrassment.

Though at least he could sell them on ebay, especially if the real Viktor wound up being a more frequent fixture at Yuutopia.

‘Also, where is Yuri?’ he asked, suddenly. ‘He should be around, shouldn’t he? We should have invited him to eat with us.’

‘Oh, he’ll get katsudon,’ Yuuri smiled, ‘but Mari has him cleaning the men’s baths at the moment.’ And he was grateful for his sister, because that was usually his job and one of the worst. And Mari, of course, would clean the women’s baths, which was equally bad.

Phichit grimaced. ‘One of the only reasons I wouldn’t want to live in an onsen,’ he said.

Yuuri couldn’t blame him for thinking that. He felt the same. The food was amazing, and the hot springs, but cleaning the baths was about the worst part of it. His family was amazing as well, of course, but they’d be amazing no matter where they lived or what sort of work they did.

‘But getting to eat katsudon every day…’

‘We don’t eat it every day,’ Yuuri protested. ‘We’d get fat.’

Viktor poked him in the stomach. ‘You’re starting to pick up some flab,’ he said teasingly. ‘Maybe you should start jogging with Leomon. It’ll keep the two of you in fit fighting condition.’

‘We did that,’ Yuuri muttered, though really it had only been one day. ‘You’re surprisingly blunt, you know that?’

‘Am I?’ he smiled brightly.

It was so weird how he could smile so nicely and yet still say such things, sometimes. Not that he was wrong, really. Not that Yuuri was particularly sensitive about his weight, either… really, it was his eating that was more sensitive. Good moods meant he was more productive. Bad moods meant he ate and slept too much and gained too much weight.

Leomon had saved him, this time around.

‘What do you eat if not katsudon?’ Seung-Gil asked. ‘Isn’t that the onsen’s specialty?’

‘Yup,’ Yuuri nodded, after he’d gotten over the surprise of Seung-Gil asking a question out of the blue and not related to digimon. ‘Grilled chicken or fish and vegetables, or curry… and or leftovers if we’re making a particularly big order of something that isn’t katsudon. But we try to stay on the healthy side for the most part, because although running around the onsen is plenty of exercise, the amount of kilojoules in a serving of katsudon is insane.’

‘Insane is right,’ Phichit laughed. ‘I’m glad for my family genes.’

‘No need to rub it in.’ But they all laughed, four humans and four digimon – and Yuuri wondered how things had turned out like this, with someone that wasn’t from Phichit’s side of socialisation as well as the digimon king himself sitting in his bedroom like they were old friends.

Chapter Text

Yuuri, Phichit, Guang-Hong and Leo are interrupted on the way to school by Jean-Jacques Leroy and his Shoutmon. Out in the open. With Leo knowing nothing about how digimon are actually roaming around their world.

Yuuri could already picture this going badly and nobody had even said anything yet. At least their partners had the sense to keep out of sight for the time being.

And at least Phichit had the sense to talk really fast, somehow convince Leo that Shoutmon was JJ’s pet computer science project and drag them all away like the Shoutmon was going to malfunction at any minute.

And at least JJ had figured out, from that encounter, that someone in their group didn’t know about digimon (and it really wasn’t hard, with three digimon and four humans) and somehow cornered Yuuri alone between periods.

‘I saw the mess yesterday,’ said JJ. ‘Unfortunately, we were too late for the glory but your Leomon was wearing the most battle scars out of all of them. Did Nikiforov swoop in just in time to steal your glory?’

Yuuri blinked. He took a moment to process that, but it didn’t sound like JJ had shown up for a fight like Phichit had warned. In fact, JJ sounded more incensed on their behalf. ‘I mean, Viktor said as much as well,’ he hedged, ‘but it’s not like any of our digimon could evolve past Champion. We would have been defeated eventually, no matter how much I healed Leomon and increased his endurance.’

‘Really?’ said JJ dryly. ‘You’ve watched the anime, haven’t you?’

Of course he has.

‘And when do digimon digivolve for the first time?’

‘When their partner’s in danger and they’re at the brink of defeat – ‘ Oh. ‘You think Leomon was about to digivolve? But we’ve only known each other… a day and a half?’

‘A day and a half?’ JJ repeated, folding his arms. Shoutmon mimicked the pose… and Yuuri wondered if that was the same Shoutmon from Appli Monsters. He was certainly quieter if that was the case. Or maybe he was just letting JJ say his piece first. ‘Huh, you’re something else, Yuuri Katsuki. Fancy taking the king’s crown for yourself?’

‘No?’ Yuuri asked, before he registered the question. ‘I mean, yes… maybe. Someday.’

JJ sighed. ‘You’ve got to do something about that confidence if you plan to be a threat.’ He spun around. ‘Don’t think I’ll let you off easy, though. After school, at the park. Bring your friends along… except for whichever one didn’t know about the digimon.’

.

Yuuri passed along the message, and Guang-Hong promised to run interference so it was only the two of them and their partners going to the park.

And Yuri Plisetsky who’d somehow heard about the meeting and was jabbing a finger into JJ’s chest.

JJ was laughing. So was Shoutmon. ‘You’re a few years too early,’ he said. ‘We’ve already beaten you, right Shoutmon?’

‘Right,’ said the Shoutmon cheerfully. ‘In true JJ style.’

Phichit groaned. ‘Please work your magic on him, Yuuri. I can’t stand that catch-phrase.’

‘Neither can I,’ Yuri muttered, wandering over to them. ‘Kick his butt, Katsudon.’

‘Katsudon, huh,’ said JJ. ‘Singing his praises already?’

Surprisingly, Yuri blushed. ‘Shut it, JJ, or I’ll tell Isabella what’s hanging on your walls.’

Yuuri wondered why Yuri even knew what was on JJ’s walls… but it was probably best not to go there. Though he still couldn’t help but wonder if broken windows were involved again.

‘Why are we fighting?’ he asked instead. ‘We have other ways of growing stronger. Other ways we want to get stronger.’

‘Like the card game?’ JJ asked. ‘Fine by me. Mastery of the cards is more important than unlocking the digivolutions at this point… and besides, the chances of unlocking a digivolution in a friendly spar are slim to none. And then there’s the more likely chance of it turning into that mess with Gargomon.’

JJ had a point there. But when he said unlocking a digivolution… ‘Shoutmon’s Ultimate form?’

‘Hell yes. I can’t let Nikoforov hog all the glory forever.’

‘Never mind the rest of the world doesn’t even know who’s destroying the majority of the digimon,’ Phichit muttered. ‘I mean, not much glory to be had being the silent hero.’

JJ ignored him. ‘So, card battle then?’

Yuuri exchanged glances with Leomon, who shrugged. ‘It’ll be good experience, especially if his skills are as he boasts.’

And Yuuri thought so too, especially with the way he talked. Viktor said there were a few ways to get around the problem of the level gap, and it sounded like JJ had been searching for it.

.

Yuuri did lose, but in a better showing than he’d given the Digimon Grand Prix Final. Yuri stalked off, grumbling about disappointing idols (and that made no sense to Yuuri), but Phichit clapped him on the back. ‘That wasn’t bad,’ said Phichit. ‘But man, JJ’s slippery.’

‘He is,’ Yuuri agreed, head spinning with strategies. ‘He’s the second person to say I could do a lot more if only I kept my head clear… but I thought I did, that time.’

‘Well, there’s a difference between clear and crystal clear, right?’ Phichit shrugged. ‘Maybe try some meditation?’

Yuuri considered that. Relaxing things for him were dancing and ice skating. Then there was the waterfall behind the temple if he was really desperate. And, of course, studying the game. There had to be a better way of supporting Leomon and he had to find it. It was as simple as that. He wasn’t the sort of person who went into a fight, guns blazing, and sometimes – like that Velgemon – a fight would be unavoidable. And maybe that was why JJ hadn’t bothered pushing for a spar. He, in his own way and for his own reasons, had wanted to show him that as well.

‘You should have invited him over for katsudon,’ Phichit said, skipping ahead a bit.

‘You just want to have more katsudon yourself,’ Yuuri sighed, but Phichit wasn’t wrong. But maybe once he’d tried to improve a bit himself, first.

There’d be a rematch with JJ, one day.

.

He did go ice skating soon after he got home, and there was an interesting moment when Leomon slipped and slithered on the ice. ‘Sorry,’ he said, fighting back a laugh. ‘I don’t think Yuuko’s family will have skates your size.’

‘I don’t think I fancy skating anyway.’ Leomon gingerly stepped back off the ice, clinging to the barrier. He watched for the rest of the time and Yuuri did figures in the empty rink. He was lucky, in that sense, because they were outside of normal rink hours and so Leomon didn’t have to hide and Yuuri didn’t have to skate around others; he was free to skate the way he wanted. And it was the same, later in the studio, though Leomon did attempt to mimic him with some rather amusing results.

‘Here.’ Yuuri offered a hand, showing some more straightforward moves for Leomon to follow. It was still amusing, though, to see how off-balance a graceful warrior could be. ‘Maybe it’s the sword?’

‘I can’t walk around without my sword,’ Leomon replied. ‘As much as I would prefer not to fight, we are warriors by nature and –‘

‘You’d just feel uncomfortable – naked even – without your weapon.’ That was fair enough. ‘It’s fine. It just means your centre of gravity is a little off, so we’ll need to walk around that.’

And walk around that they did. And Yuuri even got to see how a lion sweated by the end of it.

‘A dip in the onsen?’ he offered.

‘Do you have something – huff – cooler to offer?’ Leomon asked.

‘Cooler…’ There was ice cream and regular showers, but his mind jumped straight to the waterfall.

And so half an hour and a jog later, the pair of them found themselves shivering under the waterfall.

‘I didn’t realise you were this hard a task maker,’ Leomon grumbled.

Yuuri laughed awkwardly. ‘Well, everyone says it’s because I hate to lose. I mean, I get what JJ was trying to say and Viktor said pretty much the same thing, but still…’

‘You don’t like to fight head on, but you hate to lose so you find ways of getting stronger which don’t involve taking a sword or fist to someone.’ Leomon closed his eyes. ‘It’s certainly a practical way of approaching things, while you’re able to keep your own passions alive.’

‘What do you mean?’ Yuuri asked. His cheeks were starting to go numb now… not to mention his fingers and toes. They should probably get out from under the waterfall soon… and then jog back to the onsen to warm up.

He wondered if he’d be doing more of this sort of thing if he’d gone ahead on the path to becoming a danseur or figure skater. He’d decided against them, in the end. He knew how he was, choking on big stages (and sometimes not even big stages, but certainly not performing at his best), and stubbornly pushing on because he wanted to win that badly… If he’d chosen a career in one of those, he might have grown to hate it. And, right now, he hated the very thought of that: of hating what he loved.

‘I enjoy moving my body,’ Yuuri said. ‘And my mind. I play all sorts of games. I dance. I skate. I jog. I also enjoy eating katsudon, but I usually eat the most Katsudon if I win something or if I’m feeling down. And I enjoy winning, if that counts. I hate losing, even though I know there are things to be learnt from losing. I try to find those things, then fight again. If I fight enough times and learn enough along the way, I’ll come out on top – but I don’t know if I’d still love what I loved then in the process.’

‘Everyone has things they like to do, and things they must do.’ And the two of them made a right pair, chatting away under the waterfall. ‘Some of those things are quite basic: eat, sleep, survive. But the human world is more complicated than ours. You must marry to procreate –‘

‘It’s too early to think about that!’ And Yuuri’s cheeks heated up, despite the freezing waterfall.

‘And work to earn money,’ Leomon continued, skipping over the awkward interruption. ‘We digimon do have our own currency, but it’s not necessary for our livelihoods to earn nor use it. And our hierarchy is a rather simple one. The strongest or the ones who escape fighting survive.’

‘It seems rather sad,’ Yuuri offered. ‘We have a great variety of dreams. It means there are more options, more fears, more ways to do things… but it also means we can all be different, that strength isn’t everything.’

‘Strength isn’t everything,’ Leomon agrees. ‘And there are all manners of different strengths as well. But tell me, is this infernally freezing water calming you?’

‘Not really,’ Yuuri admitted. ‘But talking with you is nice, now that I’m not terrified of meeting some warrior standard.’ Actually, considering Leomon did retain his memories of past battles… ‘What do you know about the card game? Can you offer any pointers?’

‘Not particularly,’ said Leomon. ‘I know different cards have different levels of power, and that they correspond to our own innate strength. A champion can sometimes use an Ultimate’s power if the situation is appropriate, but it is very easy for Tamers to mistake situations and thus result in more damage than aid. I also know that the attributes and elements of digimon and their attacks factor into battle, but I doubt it’s a simple matter of using attacks with greater effectiveness.’

‘It’s not,’ Yuuri agreed. ‘There are lots of different types of cards. Digimon cards, which can be used as attacks or stat-boost changes. Then support cards, like strength, endurance, healing, poison, numbing and a few others. Those are the two main categories. Of course, the card game is a little different to using these cards in battle. And then there’s the blue card.’

‘The card that grants wishes,’ said Leomon. ‘I remember that card. It was what united Jeri and I. What allowed Takato and the others to digivolve their digimon to Ultimate, and then later to biomerge.’

‘Biomerge,’ Yuuri repeated. ‘Do you think we’ll reach that, too? Or does this world have another way of digivolving to mega.’

‘Who knows,’ said Leomon. ‘I do not even know what enemy we fight, or when we’ll find them. All we can do now is grow stronger in our own ways. And if for you that means understanding the intricacies of this game that elude you and defeating opponents that have once defeated you, then so be it.’

.

Yuuri stared at Leomon thoughtfully as they jogged home together, hair and fur dripping still with the water from the waterfall.

‘Do you want to learn how to play the game?’ he asked. ‘You’ll probably bring a different perspective to it than humans.’

And so they hunch over the rule book and videos of the Digimon Grand Prix Finals and Yuuri’s collection of cards together, and though Leomon had never played the digimon card game before, he had a wealth of knowledge about the digimon they embodied, and about himself as well.

And one thing nobody else had pointed out, but in a battle they should use the cards that best complimented their partner, not what worked best in the game. His deck was animal-themed but that didn’t mean his cards were specifically nature and earth support.

Also, something he knew but hadn’t quite registered beforehand… Leomon’s support effect was that, if his level was lower than his opponent, his physical attack power was increased. All its original moves are physical, as well. Against Velgemon’s leathery hide though, that had been pretty useless. But they hadn’t been able to come up with enough firepower when using magical moves like Mega Flame.

‘Hmm…’ He went through the rest of his cards. He didn’t have one: a way to turn physical attack power into magical attack power. Was there even a way? Fire Emblem had the Levin sword, but that was Fire Emblem.

‘Levin sword,’ Leomon repeated, staring his straight blade. ‘Well, the theory is sound, anyway. Is there any way to acquire such a card?’

.

Unfortunately, Phichit didn’t think such a card existed either, and Phichit was one of the best researchers Yuuri knew. ‘You could ask Viktor,’ he suggested. ‘Viktor’s probably got the most knowledge with the card games.’

They never got the chance to ask Viktor, because their walk to school was interrupted by another stray digimon. This time it was an Orochimon, which Yuuri and Leomon both recognised from Digimon Tamers.

And Yuuri winced, because Juri had defeated that digimon with her champion-level Leomon and he had to do it too. But with its eight nasty heads and its regeneration ability, that was a tall order.

He rifled through his cards. Twin Sickles would only hit two heads in a row. They needed a way to take down all eight. Piedmon’s Clown Trick would probably do it but Piedmon was a Mega digimon. What other digimon did he have with multiple attacks?

He tried Twin Sickles anyway. As predicted, the heads regrew. At least Cameramon was keeping the other heads busy with his flashes.

If physical attacks caused regeneration, what about magical attacks? Damage the basic protein structure and they’d be denatured, right? But again, what would be strong enough? Juri had used the card of an Ultimate digimon, but Juri had more time, and a greater period of danger, and presumably a deeper bond. Yuuri needed another way. A barrage of attacks was probably the right track, he thought. He just needed a way to make it happen.

‘Phichit, do you have your Recharge card.’ he asked.

Phichit tossed it over. Two copies of Recharge, and Mega Flame. That made three consecutive attacks. If only they had more copies of Recharge between them, but at least this way he’d know if it would work. If it even slowed down the regeneration, that three card combination would eventually win out.

It did, but Yuuri’s fingers were burning from swiping those cards by the end of it. ‘There has to be an easier way,’ he groaned. ‘Why do we keep on running into enemies that don’t like physical attacks?’

‘Why can’t we do more than take pictures?’ Phichit shrugged. ‘Granted, we’re good at support, but we’d be toast if we got caught on our own.’

Really, it was a wonder Phichit didn’t get caught on his own, but that was a problem for another time.

‘Hey, Yuuri. Look!’

Yuuri looked at where Phichit was pointing. There, with the cards he’d dropped looking for his own copy of Recharge, was a blue card.

‘It’s a little late to the party,’ Phichit remarked. ‘But does this mean you’ve unlocked your Ultimate form, now? Congrats!’ He didn’t sound bitter, to his credit. He had every right to sound bitter, really.

Yuuri swiped the card. Phichit was wrong, it turned out. It wasn’t for digivolution.

It did answer Yuuri’s wish, though. It turned into a card called Levin, with the same ability as the Levin Sword from Fire Emblem.

Chapter Text

‘Oh my god, that was so amazing!’ someone suddenly shouted, causing both Yuuri and Phichit to jump, and the two digimon to dash for cover. They weren’t fast enough, considering they’d already been spotted, but it didn’t matter anyway because the kid with yellow and red hair was accompanied by an Agumon.

Who knew which franchise’s Agumon that was, though. He acted more like the Savers one, Yuuri thought, all excitable as he was. Or maybe that was his partner’s influence. The kid looked plenty excitable himself, scurrying around the battle site.

And then he caught a closer look at the pair of them. ‘Oh my god, you’re Yuuri Katsuki.’

Phichit coughed something. Yuuri didn’t get a chance to translate that before the kid was in his personal space. ‘This is like a dream come true,’ the kid said, wide-eyed. ‘My wall’s covered in posters of you!’ A pause, and then: ‘Oh my god, that sounded terrible, didn’t it. But will you come over and autograph them?’

Phichit erupted into peals of laughter. ‘You do have a fan,’ he cried. ‘And here’s the proof.’

‘I’m the number two fan,’ the kid pouted. ‘But I’ll earn the spot of number one someday! Just need to beat that Plisetsky first…’

Yuuri choked on air. It was official. He’d knocked his head somewhere – probably before they defeated Orochimon. That was the only way Yuri Plisetsky being a fan of his made any sense. That was the only way him having fans in the first place made any sense, because he was hardly a big name like Viktor Nikiforov, or even the other finalists their little seaside collection of towns managed to produce, like Christophe Giacometti and Jean-Jacques Leroy… and even the dark horse Otabek Altin who’d beaten out the favourites to come in third place last weekend.

‘You don’t just think about the strongest digimon and the best strategies,’ the kid continued. ‘You love the game and you love your cards, and you use cards other people would laugh at and still beat them at it! And something was going on last weekend. You looked miserable, frankly, and yet you still got out there and played knowing there were people watching you –‘

‘It wasn’t really the people,’ Yuuri mumbled.

But the kid pressed on as though he hadn’t heard Yuuri. ‘And you still tried, and you proved that life doesn’t go on hold when the world deals you a bad turn. I only wish you’d managed to beast Plisetsky because he had that awful look on his face when he lost to you, you know…’

No, he didn’t know, but it made sense.

‘Yuuri got his revenge,’ Phichit grinned. He’d finally stopped laughing, at least. ‘And this explains a lot. I wondered why someone would be happier to lose than to win, but now it makes sense. Yuri Plisetsky was disappointed his idol wasn’t delivering.’

‘Yeah, exactly!’ Then the kid blinked. ‘Oh my god, you had a rematch and I missed it. Please tell me someone recorded.’

‘I didn’t.’ And Phichit suddenly looked miserable. ‘My utter failing as a social media guru but it couldn’t be helped. It was all hush hush, very secret.’

‘It was spur on the moment,’ Yuuri corrected – but nobody was listening to him.

‘You’re phichit+chu!’ the kid exclaimed. ‘Oh my god, I follow you! I mean, all Yuuri fans follow you because Yuuri never updates his own page…’

Phichit elbowed Yuuri in the side for that one. ‘See Yuuri? Your fans are thirsty for content from you.’

‘It’s giving you more followers,’ was the best Yuuri could come up with in response. ‘Don’t complain.’

Phichit just grinned. ‘And now that you know who we are, who are you?’

‘Oh my god I didn’t introduce myself,’ the kid said, wide-eyed. ‘I’m Kenjirou Minami. I go to the elementary school down the road and I’m a big fan!’

‘And I’m Agumon,’ said the Agumon. ‘I’m also a big fan of those awesome cards… though I don’t really know how it all works.’ He looked sheepish as he said that – or at least as sheepish as an orange lizard could look.

‘It’s not a bad idea to learn,’ said Leomon. ‘Yuuri and I were discussing strategies last night.’

‘Oh my god you play the card game as well?’ Kenjirou shrieked. ‘Yuuri is so amazing and he’s got an amazing digimon partner as well!’

So this was what it was like to have a fan? Yuuri wondered, a little dizzyingly. How did Viktor manage to keep his head around them?

.

They did wind up at Kenjirou’s house after school, because it was impossible to say no to him. And Yuuri did wind up signing all his posters, and again wondered how easily Viktor had done the same for him. It was rather disconcerting being on this side of things… but also a little flattering.

And Phichit was having the time of his life in the knowledge that Yuuri was forced to admit he had fans. They did have a great time, though. They played several rounds of card games against each other and even traded a few (because Kenjirou’s collection was impressive and Yuuri realised he needed another two copies of Recharge anyway). And Minami’s mother brought up some cake and green tea which they enjoyed afterwards.

‘We should have a big get-together at some point,’ said Phichit, as they got ready to catch the last bus back to their respective towns. ‘How many more kids at the elementary school have digimon?’

‘Uhh…’ Kenjirou hummed. ‘Letsie, there’s me and Yuri Plisetsky, and another… three? From what I know anyway.’

‘So five,’ said Phichit. ‘And then there’s me and Yuuri, Guang-Hong and Seung-Gil, Otabek Altin and Christophe Giacometti, Jean-Jacques Leroy and Viktor Nikiforov.’

‘Oh wow.’ Kenjirou’s eyes were wide at list. ‘All the best card game players. And some of them are on the meta circuit too.’

‘Like Otabek Altin,’ said Yuuri. ‘People called him the dark horse of the card tournament because they don’t pay as much attention to video game rankings but he’s consistently one of the top five. And then there’s Yuri Plisetsky, of course. And Viktor who’d good at all things digimon.’ Because, by his own admission, he doesn’t spend much time elsewhere.

He was the opposite of Yuuri, in that way. Focusing on one thing saved him, which it had proven to be detrimental to Yuuri. It was almost strange, because at first glance Viktor seemed to be the flightier one, but it was Yuuri who was everywhere: dancing and ice-skating and a part of many gaming communities that Viktor had never touched.

‘I didn’t know that,’ said Kenjirou. ‘Is that why you’re so good? Because you play the video games too? Is that why Viktor Nikiforov is the champion? Is that how you’re going to supplant him?’

Phichit chortled: ‘You’ve had your gauntlet thrown for you, Yuuri.’

It would be extra pressure when crunch time came around again, but for now it was nice to know someone other than his friends and family believed in him.

Or someone believed in him before they became his friend, strictly.

.

Phichit did wind up organising a get-together, and predictably it took place at Yutopia Katsuki. Yuuri, once again, filled half his bowl with salad and it was perfectly filling. There wasn’t as large a hole as there’d been last week. The hectic whirlwind Leomon had brought with him had done a lot of good, in that respect. And he knew more people, was being more social, was playing the digimon card game with more people and picking up new strategies along the way… He was getting stronger, in his own way: in the way he wanted to get stronger.

This time, Yuri joined them as well. And he and Kenjirou immediately got into a quarrel which was quite amusing to see. It was also rather amusing to find JJ rolling in laughter at the sight of a fan spat that didn’t involve Viktor Nikiforov’s fanbase.

Yuuri didn’t know whether Viktor would find that amusing or offending, but he was laughing and joining in on the teasing as well.

And then Viktor dropped the bombshell. ‘I’m a Yuuri fan too, you know. It’s because of him that I started exploring other avenues of the digimon franchise.’

Well, that was news to him. And his mouth was hanging open in surprise as Phichit photographed the moment.

‘Way to go, Katsudon,’ Yuri muttered. ‘You gave your rival his Excalibur sword.’

‘I didn’t even know,’ Yuuri replied, still shell-shocked.

‘Honestly,’ the Russian grumbled. ‘And you, old man. Stealing what should have been Yuuri’s spotlight and you call yourself a fan.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said JJ. ‘Yuuri’s interesting for sure, but in terms of skills he’s still growing. He’s the turtle who’ll get there in the end, but after some of us have had their glory.’ He grinned. ‘You might miss out, though, considering you’re young and trailing him his shadow.’

Chris laughed as well. ‘Preferably after I manage to beat Viktor at least once,’ he said. ‘It is unbelievably frustrating to come in second every single time, you know. Though I’m grateful we haven’t had a repeat of Ryo Akiyama with the Digimon King going on a three year hiatus and leaving me to play reagent with a crown I didn’t really earn.’

‘The two of you get along better than Ruki Maniko and Ryo Akiyama did in the anime, at least,’ Yuuri offered. ‘Granted, they got there in the end, but all the trouble they got into in the digital world because of that rivalry…’

Chris shrugged. ‘I’m an easy-going guy,’ he said. ‘Granted, no-one hurts my friends and gets away with it, but a game’s a game. So long as we’re not fighting real digimon who are trying to destroy our time, only my poor pride suffers if I lose.’

‘That’s a very mature way of looking at it,’ said Yuuri thoughtfully. ‘I’m more of a sore loser, myself.’

‘No!’ Viktor gasped.

‘By sore, he means he’ll find the hole in his strategy, plug it, and come back stronger than ever,’ Phichit explained, before turning to JJ. ‘Want to try him out? You two are just about due for a rematch.’

‘Sure,’ said JJ. ‘I’ve been looking forward to it.’ He didn’t sound worried though. Maybe he wasn’t expecting Yuuri have improved so fast. Or maybe he wasn’t expecting Levin.

Levin caught them all by surprise, honestly. Though only Yuri Plisetsky understood the significance behind the name. ‘From Fire Emblem?’ he gasped. ‘How even did you – I want one!’

‘It came from a blue card,’ said Yuuri apologetically. ‘I think it’s one of a kind, at least for now. And most of your deck doesn’t need it, anyway. Your Salamon line is strong magical attackers and Meicrackmon has a magical attack.’

‘That’s true.’ Yuri stared thoughtfully at Meicoomon, who was curled under the futon and purring happily.

JJ, on the other hand, was staring at the spread of cards much the same way Yuri had when Yuuri had first defeated him. ‘So you used Leomon’s prowess with physical attacks and his support boost and instead of beefing that up to counteract the disadvantage against physical defenders, you used Levin to switch the stats to magical so Leomon’s usually meagre magical stats wound up off the charts.’

‘Granted, he defeated Orochimon with a barrage of Mega Flames and Recharge,’ Phichit piqued in.

‘Stop bragging,’ Yuuri muttered.

Phichit grinned. ‘My job as your best friend.’

‘Don’t let Yuuko and Takeshi hear you say that.’

‘They don’t count. They live in Hasetsu too so they’re practically siblings.’

‘And don’t let Mari hear you say that.’

‘Right, right. Jealous big sister.’

‘I heard that Chulanont!’ Mari shouted from the kitchens. The digimon scattered, except Chris’s Salamon and Yuri’s Meicoomon, both comfortably asleep under the futon.

‘Why Mega Flame?’ Seung-Gil asked, getting back to business.

‘Denaturing proteins,’ Yuuri muttered. ‘It was the best I could think of. And fire attacks are strong against nature monsters.’

‘While keeping Leomon’s natural resistance against other nature-types,’ Viktor nodded. ‘That was clever. And lucky, though there are cards to change resistance as well if that wound up being a problem.’

Truthfully, he hadn’t been thinking about resistance. He may have played longer and had more experience with a variety of games, but he still couldn’t come up with stuff on the go like Viktor could.

‘You beat JJ though,’ said Yuri. ‘Good on you, though you should have done it last time so we didn’t have to hear about how you’re not ready for the big leagues yet.’

‘I didn’t say that!’ JJ protested. ‘He’s a finalist so of course he’s good enough. But when you’re dealing with powerhouses like Nikiforov and people like Christophe and I who’ve been at it for years to dethrone him…’

‘And they forget you exist even though you outranked JJ last season,’ Yuri muttered to Otabek.

Otabek shrugged. He seemed to be more interested in topics of video games… and, like Yuuri and Yuri, he went beyond the digimon franchise. ‘You haven’t played Fire Emblem?’ Yuuri asked. ‘You can start from a number of different ones. Some are continuous, but usually they have their own story. There are lots of different classes of characters, but the generic weapon’s triangle of sword, lance and axe for the most part, and a magic triangle as well with light, dark and elemental, and beasts and bandits and someone trying to destroy the world…’

‘Typical fantasy tale,’ Yuri grumbled. ‘But it’s got decent gameplay for a board-style game. And the split between physical and magical attacks is useful in figuring out the digimon mechanics… granted moreso in the later games when some characters can use both.’

The three of them detached themselves from the other conversation to talk about the different Fire Emblem games. Yuuri offered his Awakening disk to the other to borrow, who offered to do a borrow trade with the latest Kingdom Hearts (which Yuuri and Yuri were both still saving up for). It was nice, Yuuri thought, to be able to talk in person about games like this, even if Otabek was a couple of years younger than him and Yuri was still in elementary school. Age didn’t matter when it came to games, or when it came to digimon apparently. And Leomon was comfortably slumped with a full belly, like all the other digimon. All of them were comfortable, and even though they also all knew it was the calm before the storm because the digimon wouldn’t even be in their world otherwise, they could enjoy the peace they had, in the warmth of Yuutopia Katsuki and with katsudon in their bellies.

‘We’ve got to do this again sometimes,’ Viktor cheered, when the others all got ready to leave afterwards. ‘Granted, we should probably start paying before the Katsuki’s lose too much business.’

‘Then we’ll play for it,’ Yuri offered. ‘We all play the card game. The loser pays… and naturally if it’s Katsudon, it winds up on the house.’

‘Or you,’ Yuuri said softly. ‘Your expenses while here at Yuutopia are on the house as well, and that includes hanging out with your friends.’

‘What are you talking about,’ the boy muttered, but he looked a little pleased. Yuri enjoyed it too: this companionship the digimon had brought to them.

 

Chapter Text

He’d known of Otabek before the digimon came to their world, but hadn’t known him all that well. He was in Phichit’s class, like Leo was, but unlike the other two tended to keep to himself and, unlike Yuuri, was immune to Phichit’s charms.

Funnily enough, it turned out he wasn’t immune to Yuri Plisetsky’s charms. He and his Solarmon became frequent visitors at Yutopia while Yuri was working, and always insisted on paying for his share of katsudon even when the Katsukis attempted to convince him otherwise.

It did mean, at least, that Yuri got to play Kingdom Hearts III on Yuuri’s console during breaks. And the three of them could play a few rounds of something or other after dinner (or poker with the rest of the Katsuki family and Minako joining in). And Leomon was always there, in the shadows or sitting beside him or watching from the stands as he skated… The only thing was his bed felt a little cold, sometimes, with no Vicchan there.

Otabek also helped Yuri out with his homework, something they were all thankful for because none of the Katsukis could convince Yuri to accept help from Yuuri (and Mari was too long out of school to help much herself. ‘It’s because you’re his idol,’ Mari laughed, ‘as weird as it is to think my little brother is someone else’s idol.’)

Sometimes Phichit came over too, and the others. It was fun, all in all.

But all of them were still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

.

They’d been lucky so far, with the wild digimon. A few Ultimates, but for the most part they were Champions that they could all handle solo if needed… except Phichit and Cameramon who weren’t really fighters, but they also had the insane luck of never getting caught by themselves for very long to ever need to.

And Phichit didn’t seemed too down on lacking a Champion mode at the time being. Yuuri only hoped the pair wouldn’t find themselves caught out or something.

But before Phichit got caught out, trouble came towards Yuutopia. It was only Yuuri, Yuri and Otabek that day… and that turned out to be a very good thing when they found themselves trying to keep a Slayerdramon from mowing down the onsen… and stop the rest of the Katsuki family or any of their patrons from looking outside and seeing what was happening on the street.

Luckily, Meicoomon had a talent for breaking windows on the other side of the onsen. Unfortunately, that meant more cost for the Katsukis and Nishigoris, but at least this time it wouldn’t be pinned on Yuri and it kept everyone out of the battlefield.

Now the problem was dealing with Slayerdramon with three Champions, once Meicoomon digivolved and joined them. Slayerdramon was a mega, and none of their three digimon could even reach Ultimate level.

In other words, not even thinking outside the box was going to get them out of this mess. Viktor’s Monodramon could digivolve to Ultimate, but Viktor was at least half an hour away. Could they even stall that long?

They had to, and Yuri and Otabek both seemed determined to pull it off as well.

‘We’ll work on a rotating schedule,’ said Otabek. ‘Considering we have no hope of defeating a Mega, all we can do is keep it distracted and that means being nimble and avoiding as many attacks as possible. And while we’d take less damage going in all at once, to actually last a half hour –‘

‘We need to go one by one to give the other digimon time to recover.’ That wasn’t ideal. That was far from ideal, but the truth was none of them (much less the digimon) were going to last a half hour straight fighting an unbeatable opponent.

Otabek and Tankmon went first, to give Yuuri time to clear his head and come up with a strategy, and Yuri time to get Meicoomon back and digivolve her. Tankmon was, however, unfortunately slow and needed to be buffed up by both Speed and Hyper Wing and was still getting hammered by attacks.

‘Try WarGreymon’s shield!’ Yuuri yelled. While technically a Mega, it was a support card as opposed to an attack and Terriermon had used it in the Digimon Tamers universe to no detriment.

‘I don’t have it,’ Otabek replied.

Yuuri tossed his over, and to his credit Otabek scanned it without missing another beat. ‘WarGreymon’s shield activate!’

It took a few hits, but in the face of Majiramo’s claws it eventually crumbled as well.

By then, though, Yuuri had a working strategy… assuming pokemon rules applied, of course. Ice-type attacks would be most effective, and Leomon had an ice-type mode he could utilise. As Viktor had mentioned off hand one time, cards to change resistance and modes existed in the mega, but they were notoriously difficult to come across. But Leomon did have another mode and Viktor was the Digimon King and thus had more cards than the rest of them (and a good many of them he never used) and had practically shoved it into Yuuri’s hands the next time they met. ‘I don’t use it anyway,’ he pointed out, when Yuuri tried to give it back.

Yuuri was slowly getting used to the fact that Viktor Nikiforov had very different priorities than his fans. He’d seen the posts of social media, the amount people would pay for cards Viktor had long since taken out of his deck and here Viktor was giving one of the rarest in the meta away for free. But as Viktor said, he never used it, and it was beyond useful to Yuuri… and likewise he had cards that he never used that were useful to the others. They’d done a massive trade that afternoon, at Yuutopia. But, of course, they’d still failed to beat Viktor.

Yuuri was a little grateful to that. Because he didn’t want to defeat Viktor just because his deck had received an upgrade. And he was even more grateful now, because IceLeomon’s Frozen Fury and Blizzard Breath would be far more effective. And Leomon had trained in the wilderness of the digital world: from mountains to frozen tundra and so had earned this mode change. All that was left to do, now, was make it official.

He swiped the glittering card through his digivice. ‘Mode-change, activate!’

‘Leomon mode-change to IceLeomon!’

And Leomon glowed with icy power as his mane lost his yellow hue and turned white, and his pants their black dye as well.

‘Frozen Fury!’ he screamed, and threw a punch at the dragon.

It roared and Slayerdramon slashed towards Leomon with his claws.

‘Evasion, activate!’

And luckily IceLeomon was nimble even on land, and evasion helped dodge a little more. But ice attacks, though annoying the dragon, were still too low in level to actually do much damage. How many rounds of attacks would it take from them to defeat Slayerdramon? Far too many. Could they slow him down, at least?

Yuri was picking out all the ice-attackers from his deck, apparently, to help that strategy along. And they made a fairly good team. It was just a shame they had to drag this out for so long, because otherwise Otabek could have covered the defence, leaving the pair of them on the offensive. Not that it would have made much of a difference, Yuuri reflected. If they thought they had any chance of defeating Slayerdramon, they’d be fighting with that in mind, instead of playing it safe while Yuuri’s home and family were just down the street from that monster.

He gritted his teeth. It wasn’t Leomon’s fault. It wasn’t his fault either, but they were just so woefully inadequate right then. There was no guarantee even Viktor would be able to help. After all, Monodramon could reach his Ultimate form of Cyberdramon but Slayerdramon was still a Mega. Very rarely would an Ultimate be enough and, on top of that, Cyberdramon was a dragon as well. He was resistant, but his attacks were also only half-effective. Could Cyberdramon use a mega ice-type move, like MetalGarurumon’s Ice Wolf Claw? That was the big question, in the end.

And whether they’d last long enough.

Leomon’s energy was flagging now, even after an Endurance support card.

‘Pull back,’ said Yuri in his ear. ‘I won’t let anything happen to your family or home. They didn’t have to be that kind, but they were. They treated me like family. And I’m going to pay them back.’

‘Okay,’ said Yuuri, and he pulled back with Leomon, scanning his Heal as often as the digivice allowed.

Meicrackmon leapt into the fray, with IceDevimon’s Frozen Claw to assist.

Frozen Claw… Something was wrong with this picture. Meicoomon’s line was a new addition to the Digimon franchise, but there was something about it… Meicoomon digivolved into Meicrackmon, then Raguelmon, then Ordinemon – No. Yuuri shook his head. ‘Raguelmon was in Digimon Links as Meicoomon’s Mega form, which means Meicrackmon is an Ultimate.’ How had he made that mistake? And why had no-one corrected him?

Mabye it just hadn’t come up. Or maybe Yuri thought that even if Meicoomon could digivolve to Ultimate, it still couldn’t handle a Mega by itself. But that changed the playing field. Just a little bit, it changed it. ‘Yuri, use a more powerful ice card!’

‘I don’t have any!’ Yuri yelled back. ‘You know I don’t have that much in the way of elements.’

That was true. Yuri’s deck was mostly light and dark attackers, mostly felines like Salamon and all the cats it could evolve into. Magnadramon had a fire attack but that wouldn’t help them; dragons were resistant to fire. SIlphymon was a wind attacker. Again, dragons were resistant. But an Ultimate level digimon with an ice-type move… There had to be something. Yuuri’s heart hammered. His mind raced.

Leomon straightened up. Of course.

He wasn’t helping anyone by panicking. He knew the digimon. He knew the cards. He just needed to relax and think about it. Ice-type attacks. Digimon who lived in the glacier. The obvious place to think of a particular element would be Digimon Frontier, though, with the ten Legendary Warriors. The fusion spirit for ice was Daipenmon.

He didn’t carry Daipenmon around, but… ‘Can you guys hold for a minute?’

Otabek nodded, and Yuuri dashed through the onsen and to his room. That was probably the only good part about being close to him.

He found the card, and Blizzarmon just in case, and shot right back out and past a Mari yelling after him. ‘Later!’ he yelled.

Please don’t follow me, he thought immediately after.

Luckily, Mari didn’t. And Yuuri made it back just as Meicrackmon was starting to take heavy hits from the dragon. ‘Here!’ he tossed the cards to Yuri.

‘Icypoles?’ Yuri deadpanned.

‘I didn’t design the cards!’ Yuuri yelled back.

‘Daipenmon’s Strawberry Death, activate!’

Slayerdramon grunted and stumbled back, but a swipe of its tail sent Meicrackmon crashing into the ground. Tankmon dove forward to take its place while Leomon dragged the protesting cat away. ‘You’re our best chance at victory,’ he scolded. ‘So get healed and think about how to use that attack more effectively the next time.’

‘Excuse me for having claws instead of swords,’ the feline hissed, but wisely sat quietly and let Yuri scan Heal for her.

Meanwhile, Yuuri thought. What else did they know about Slayerdramon? It showed up in Digimon Links as an event digimon at some point, and in Hacker’s Memory, and that was about it. It could digivolve to Examon when DNA-digivolved with Breakdramon but they were trying to defeat Slaydramon, not make it stronger. It didn’t have much in the way of defence but that didn’t help when it was two Champions and an Ultimate against it… unless they could poison it somehow? None of their digimon used poison moves, but maybe…

‘We poison it.’ Otabek had been thinking along the same lines and come to the conclusion a little faster. ‘This battle is beyond us, otherwise.’

And he went ahead and did just that. And hopefully between that and the ice attacks of an Ultimate and a beefed-up form change, they would hold off Slayerdramon.

Yuuri offered Blizzarmon’s card to Otabek, just in case. Otabek took it gratefully.

Still, Viktor and Cyberdramon couldn’t arrive fast enough.

.

They were running out of options. Recharging their digimon could only accomplish so much, after all, and Slayerdramon was slowly creeping closer.

‘Stay away from there, you bastard!’ But Yuri’s voice was slurring with tiredness, and only by some miracle had no-one come out of the Katsuki’s residence to see what was going on. Yuuri’s heart was pounding again. He couldn’t let anything happen to his family, not after already losing Vicchan and not after all the good Digimon had brought with them. He just couldn’t. And Yuri was shaking, gritting his teeth in determination and shouting at Meicrackmon to hang in there just a little longer but it still wasn’t enough.

And Tankmon, poor Tankmon, had taken all those hits to protect the two of them. They’d stopped rotating. They couldn’t keep it up any longer. It was some mishmash of three against one until someone got knocked out and they were almost there.

They needed more power. They needed a miracle. They needed to be stronger but the only way to do handle a mega was to digivolve to at least Ultimate. They needed more Ultimate level digimon.

‘You’re thinking too much,’ said Leomon’s voice, soft with fatigue. ‘There comes a time where thinking won’t help anymore.’

‘Then what?’ Yuuri snapped. ‘I can’t help you anymore than I already have, and you’re still no match for that Slayerdramon.’

‘All you can do now…’ Leomon closed his eyes and breathed heavily. ‘Is believe in me. Believe I have the power inside of me, inside of you, to protect you and the things you care about. I am using your power, yes, but your heart… You have a courageous heart, but steadfast…’

Doubt made his heart flicker like a candle in the wind. It was far from steadfast. But what Leomon was asking was faith without reason to back it up, was faith that only came from desperation. Was that how the Chosen felt: that prepice before they tipped into either a miracle or despair? Was that the only option left? Gain a greater power or lose it all?

It wasn’t that easy to do, though. It wasn’t that easy to calm his pounding heart. ‘Yuuri! Focus! Believe!’

He believed, he did, but they were too close, too much…

Blue light exploded from somewhere, and he blinked hazily. That wasn’t Leomon, was it? That wasn’t blue dragon fire engulfing Yuutopia, was it?

The blue light swallowed him whole.

.

He slept. He dreamt of blue fire engulfing everything and when he woke, it was to a pitcher of ice water emptied over his head and a flannel mopping up the excess.

‘Mari, be gentler with your brother,’ Hiroko scolded, mopping up the rest of the water and smoothing Yuuri’s wet bangs back. ‘There you are, sweetie. How are you feeling?’

‘Confused,’ Yuuri mumbled. ‘Dizzy.’

‘No wonder.’ She petted him again. ‘You had a panic attack. Your friends brought you back. They’re in the onsen, now. They looked a little worse for wear themselves. Did something happen?’

‘…no.’ Because he couldn’t tell his mother. And if they were here, and the onsen was here, then somehow they’d managed to defeat that Slayerdramon.

No thanks to him, it appeared. He stared at his lap with still blurry eyes.

‘You sure it’s nothing?’ Mari asked, raising an eyebrow. ‘You look down in the dumps, little bro.’

‘Why don’t you relax in the onsen too?’ Hiroko offered.

He went and did just that. And just like his mother had said, Otabek and Yuri were there as well.

‘You’re finally up,’ Yuri grumbled. ‘What the hell was that earlier?’

‘Yuri,’ Otabek chided, before turning to Yuuri. ‘You missed the end.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Yuuri replied. The digimon were nowhere in sight. ‘Where are –‘

‘In your room,’ Yuri replied. ‘Leomon sends his apologies, by the way.’

‘He wasn’t wrong, though.’

‘About what?’

Yuuri explained.

Otabek hummed. ‘Correct in principle, but every person and every partnership is different. Leomon is naturally powerful, and with your collection of cards, he’s become quite versatile as well. That functioned as a sort of cushion for you, and you don’t do well under pressure when that’s no longer enough. Both you and Leomon are aware of that.’

‘Still awfully dangerous to choke like that,’ Yuri muttered. ‘What would you have done if Otabek hadn’t been there?’

‘Otabek?’ Yuuri repeated. ‘Then that blue fire –‘

‘Blue light,’ Yuri corrected.

‘Matrix digivolution,’ Otabek confirmed. ‘It would have been a huge failure on my part to let Slayerdramon loose on your home after imposing so often. But, also, this isn’t my home. As cold as it is to say, I had an easier time keeping a level head for that reason. It wasn’t my family and friends. I could be comforted with the knowledge that they were safe, regardless of what was happening in front of me. I call that war mentality.’

‘I suppose,’ said Yuuri. ‘Still, you kept a cool head and you saved us all and my family and home as well. Thank you.’ He bowed his head. Otabek nodded back.

And everyone was telling him to keep his own head cool and he hadn’t managed it when he’d really needed to. Yuri was right. If Otabek hadn’t been there, they’d have been destroyed: his parents, his sister, Minako who was like a second mother to him, all the patrons he’d grown up with and the place they’d always lived and fostered…

‘Hey, nothing got destroyed. Stop crying.’ Yuri gave him a few awkward (and frankly too strong) pats.

Yuuri gave him a watery smile in return.

‘It was an unfair test in the first place,’ Yuri muttered, ‘if you want to call it that. Of course someone’s going to choke if you put all their precious people at the edge of a cliff and threaten to shove them off if you don’t produce a miracle. Digimon don’t have families, remember. Not in the human sense, anyway. Maybe that was what Leomon was apologising for.’

But he’d only know that by talking with Leomon.

 

Chapter Text

‘Woah,’ Takeshi whistled as his parents surveyed the damage to the street the next afternoon. ‘What the hell happened here?’

‘Don’t know,’ Yuuri muttered – which was a bold-faced lie, but Takeshi didn’t need to know that. And hopefully he hadn’t picked it up.

Takeshi raised an eyebrow, which Yuuri had trouble reading. ‘And that panic attack you had yesterday? That had nothing to do with this?’

‘How did you know about that?’ Yuuri deflected – but really, it was a small town. Everyone knew about what happened there – which was why it was a miracle in itself that nobody who shouldn’t have hadn’t discovered the digimon yet.

Though at least they were far away from any governments or crazy scientists trying to influence things. They had that going for them, at least.

‘You don’t think a few people saw alcohol-induced hallucinations of monsters battling it out in the street?’ Takeshi pressed.

That… sounded a little too specific.

‘Including a few people who are too young to drink alcohol.’

Yuuri sighed. ‘Right. About that…’ How was he going to get out of this mess? ‘This is going to sound really hard to believe, but digimonarereal.’

‘Run that by me again?’ Takeshi said, bemused.

Yuuri took a deep breath. ‘Digimon are real,’ he repeated.

‘You’re yanking my leg.’ Takeshi stared at the younger boy.

‘I’m not.’ Yuuri closed his eyes. ‘Come on.’ And they left the adults talking about damages, potential causes (none of which mentioned digimon, since it was more of a thing for their generation than their parents’) and went to Yuuri’s room. Mari was by herself, looking after the few patrons who’d stayed behind, and Yuuri and Takeshi silently bypassed them on their way.

‘Now,’ Yuuri said, before opening the door. ‘Promise you won’t freak out?’

‘Why would I freak out?’ Takeshi laughed nervously. ‘Is there a digimon in there?’

‘Yes,’ said Yuuri, seriously.

Well… Takeshi took a deep breath. ‘Fine with me, then. You’re not crazy enough to let an evil digimon or anything into your room.’

Yuuri shrugged at that and slowly pushed open his door. ‘Leomon?’ he called. ‘I’ve brought a friend to meet you.’

Leomon was sitting on Yuuri’s desk chair, enjoying katsudon. ‘Takeshi Nishigori, I presume?’ said Leomon. ‘A pleasure to meet you. I am Leomon.’

‘From the digimon franchise,’ said Takeshi, a little faintly. ‘Right. Real digimon. I gotcha.’

Yuuri turned to him. ‘You’re taking this well?’

Takeshi shrugged. ‘I was kind of halfway there already,’ he said. ‘I mean, I know I asked if you were pulling my leg, but you just don’t do that sort of thing, you know? But wow. Real digimon. And I take it wasn’t just a practice match that caused all that damage?’ He was eyeing Leomon’s sword now.

‘A Slayerdramon,’ Leomon replied. ‘Along with myself, a Meicrackmon and Knightmon.’

‘Knightmon,’ Yuuri repeated. They still hadn’t really talked about how that battle had ended, so he hadn’t known about Knightmon explicitly. So that was what Otabek’s Tankmon digivolved to. A knight. Appropriate considering what they’d done, who and what they’d saved. And appropriate too for slaying a dragon. Fairy tales were full of knights slaying dragons.

‘Two Ultimates and a Champion against a Mega?’ Takeshi whistled.

‘Wait, didn’t Viktor and Cyberdramon ever show up?’ Yuuri wondered. They hadn’t been at the onsen afterwards, but he’d assumed they’d come and gone.

But Leomon was shaking his head. ‘Your strategy was sound. You simply didn’t have the means to pull it off.’

‘Daipenmon’s Strawberry Death?’ he asked.

‘And Recharge. A page out of your book, so to speak.’

It was nice to know he had contributed to that battle after all, but the way it had ended still left a bitter taste in his mouth. It was part of him hating to lose, he knew, but it was also that feeling of hopelessness that he hated even more.

Takeshi let a slow grin spread on his face, much to Yuuri’s surprise. ‘You’re just the same as ever. You really hate to lose, don’t you?’

‘I know that,’ Yuuri sighed. ‘But when it comes to choking under pressure… there’s not a whole lot I can do about that.’

‘Well, you’ll get over it eventually,’ Takeshi shrugged. ‘Remember when you wouldn’t dance or skate in front of anyone? Yuuko’s parents would have to let you sneak into the rink, then sneak in after you. And eventually you picked up on it but you were okay with a couple of people watching you, by then. Though you’d still choke during public skate time. And you eventually got used to that, but choked in competition. And decided you didn’t want to force that one because you might start hating skating if you lost too often before you got your nerves under control.’

‘I was fine with that, though,’ said Yuuri, taking a seat on his bed. Takeshi followed. Leomon watched the pair of them silently. ‘This has much higher stakes. As in if we don’t defeat the digimon attacking us, they’ll cause a lot of damage: the school, nearby buildings and homes –‘

‘The onsen,’ Takeshi finished. ‘Of course. It’s your home, and your family and the people you’ve grown up with since childhood where here. But what can you really do about it?’

‘I don’t know,’ Yuuri admitted. ‘Leomon?’

‘I don’t know either,’ he admitted. ‘I made things worse when I tried. I’m sorry.’

‘Some people respond to that,’ Takeshi shrugged. ‘Yuuri here just isn’t one of them.’ He plopped back onto Yuuri’s mattress. ‘Let’s see, here. You occasionally blow everyone out of the water when there’s pressure on you to perform, but you’ll inevitably choke afterwards so that’s not really a foolproof strategy. Or you just get used to it, and it sounds like with random digimon popping up to attack you, there’s not much choice.’

‘That’s not a lot of help.’ Yuuri frowned.

‘You know yourself better than us,’ Takeshi shrugged. ‘Granted, we’ve known you a long time, but still. There are things we can see that you can’t, but likewise there are things about yourself no-one else knows about.’

‘Things about me,’ Yuuri said thoughtfully.

Leomon chose that moment to stand up. ‘Perhaps it’s time for some enlightenment, then.’

.

Yuuri learnt quickly enough what Leomon had meant. But that was after he’d taken Takeshi out of Yuuri’s room, and told Yuuri to pack a backpack with his deck, a water bottle, and a penknife.

‘We’re going camping,’ he announced. ‘And don’t worry. I had your friend explain to your parents, since I’m unable to do it myself at this point in time.’

‘Camping,’ Yuuri repeated, hurrying to keep up with Leomon’s longer than usual strides. ‘With a pocket knife and empty water bottle?’

‘There’s plenty to be found in nature,’ Leomon replied. ‘In that aspect, your world is quite similar to the Digital World.’

‘I certainly hope so,’ Yuuri muttered, not at all pleased with the sudden change in events, ‘because I don’t remember anything about bugs in the Digital World. And wasn’t there that whole thing about not having to eat in the Tamers version.’

‘Not in the world where I met Taichi and the others,’ Leomon replied. ‘And between him and Taiki, I spent a bit of time in the human world.’

Was this some sort of trust building exercise, then? he wondered. And what about school?

Though it was Sunday. Hopefully they’d be back by tomorrow.

They continued to walk.

.

It was a trust building exercise, of sorts. It was also an endurance building exercise, because Yuuri had lived in the comfort of Yuutopia Katsuki for his entire life, and wasn’t accustomed to building traps and catching animals to eat fresh. He knew how to cook, but that was cooking in a fully stocked kitchen.

‘I don’t mean to sound like a spoiled brat, but why are we doing this?’ Yuuri asked, once he’d finally gotten the fire going under Leomon’s instruction. That had been another painful exercise, and now his palms were blistering.

‘Television suggests that camping together is a useful exercise in strengthening bonds,’ Leomon explained.

Yuuri huffed a laugh. ‘Television,’ he repeated. ‘I’m guessing that’s what you do when everyone’s asleep?’ That was actually rather hilarious, and rather touching as well. ‘But Leomon, there’s no guarantee this will do anything except teach me skills I may never need to know.’

‘It can’t hurt,’ Leomon shrugged. ‘And you never know when you will need these skills, anyway.’ He was eyeing the trees above them as he spoke. ‘Fancy some agility training after this?’

Yuuri followed his eyes. ‘Oh no,’ he protested. ‘We humans are a lot frailer than we look.’

‘You jog and ice skate and dance,’ Leomon shrugged. ‘You’re plenty strong and agile.’

Luckily for Yuuri, he was wrong and Leomon was right.

.

Yuuri’s muscles and bones were aching by the time they finally settled down to sleep. And Leomon made a surprisingly warm blanket.

He shouldn’t have been too surprised, he supposed. Leomon did have quite a bit of fur. And it, for a moment, almost felt like Vicchan was back.

Maybe that was part of it. He was hung up on Vicchan, still, and Leomon was Leomon.

It made him think about Viktor and Makkachin. ‘Hey, Leomon,’ he asked. ‘What do you think about that poodle-wear programme?’

‘Clever, but unnecessarily straining considering it’s a poodle and not another breed of dog,’ Leomon replied. ‘It’s not my place to comment, of course, but I am rather glad you didn’t nickname me.’

‘I didn’t even think about it,’ Yuuri said, mind wandering. ‘Just how different things are, now.’

‘Change is a part of growing up,’ Leomon replied. ‘Sometimes those changes are painful. Something they’re good. Sometimes they don’t make sense at the beginning. Sometimes you feel like you’d rather sacrifice every future good thing to have something in the past back, but ultimately all things happen for a reason.’

‘Is this really the right circumstances to give this speech in?’ Yuuri wondered. ‘It would have been more appropriate for Juri Katou, wouldn’t it?’ Also, he’d been wondering… ‘This is selfish of me, but I wanted to ask something.’

‘What is it?’ Leomon asked.

‘Why couldn’t you digivolve in that battle against Beelzemon?’ Yuuri asked. ‘They always say a digimon will digivolve when a partner’s in danger, but you died before you digivolved. Why?’

‘Digivolution is still one of the great mysteries of the digital world,’ sighed Leomon. ‘I wish I knew. I think, in part, it was because I had made my peace with dying for that cause. Poor Impmon who’d simply lost his way searching for power. To fight him meant to fight everything and everyone in my path, and that was the life I’d tried to leave behind instead.’

‘It’s different, fighting a friend as opposed to fighting a stranger or an enemy,’ Yuuri surmised. ‘And it’s different, protecting the world as opposed to protecting the things that are most important to you.’

‘It was unlucky,’ said Leomon. ‘And though it’s always worked that way, that the power of digivolution comes from the strength and conviction of heart of both human and digimon, there are circumstances where for one or the other, it is simply not possible. And sometimes, they are things we can’t prepare for and can’t fix. You can’t practice responding while your family is in danger. That’s unbelievably cruel.’

‘And you can’t go against everything you’ve ever fought for to destroy a friend, even if that means your own destruction.’ He understood that a little better, now. And if nothing else came from this little camping trip than that, then that was enough.

He just had to pray and hope that his family would never be put in danger like that again. Though knowing the track record of Chosen Children, it was highly unlikely they’d get that lucky.

.

They weren’t that lucky. Yuuri felt like he’d just drifted off to sleep before he was rudely awoken by something screeching. Leomon leapt to his feet and the loss of his fur had Yuuri shivering. That and the lack of glasses had him blinking senselessly, at first.

Then his brain kicked into gear and he got his glasses on. And saw Leomon fighting against a golden rooster.

Another flash from Tamer universe, apparently. That looked like, if he wasn’t mistaken, Sinduramon of the twelve devas.

And Leomon was a Champion level digimon. And there was, of course, no-one else for miles around. On top of that, there was no reception so he couldn’t contact them. They were only lucky Sinduramon came with an in-built light source so they didn’t have to worry about fighting blind.

Still, they were one human and one Champion level digimon against an Ultimate. Luckily, he was a wind element and so weak to the fire element. But why couldn’t they ever get a digimon that was weak to nature attacks, he wondered, as he squinted at his cards.

Or maybe he was overthinking things again. Sinduramon was a wind attribute monster, which meant Fist of the Beast King should work just fine if it hit. The sword might not work so well with that armour, but it would be a useful parry with the talons. Yuuri didn’t need to exhaust Leomon with fire attacks. The key was to get a good few hits into an opening. And the problem the Tamers had run into with their version of Sinduramon didn’t apply here because there was no power station nearby.

The only problem left was the sheer difference in power. But still, power wasn’t just physical strength. He knew that too.

Had he been overusing his cards, all this time? Had he not been trusting enough in Leomon’s innate abilities?

He kept the cards he might need in his hand, but for the time being he watched. And Leomon did well on his own, considering the mismatch. He took hits but he also gave them. The hits he gave were naturally weaker, but after a barrage of them Sinduramon was feeling it. And Leomon was trudging along.

When his knees buckled, Yuuri activated Endurance.

When data bled out of a scratch, Yuuri activated Heal.

When Sinduramon stumbled, Yuuri activated Mega Flame, and the rooster was pushed back even further.

But then Sinduramon blasted them with his Positron Pulse and Yuuri trembled in the aftershock with his singed body. Leomon was likewise singed, but crawled to his feet and used another Fist of the Beast King to push Sinduramon back.

But it wasn’t enough. It still wasn’t enough. Even a barrage of Mega Flames wouldn’t be enough with Sinduramon’s endurance and his cards were face down.

Yuuri reached for a card anyway. He couldn’t see them. He couldn’t tell. But as much as he knew Leomon would risk life and limb to protect him, he couldn’t lie helplessly either. It just wasn’t in him. Letting him fight his way and aiding was one thing. Leaving him to fend for himself was another.

‘Activate,’ he said hoarsely, swiping the card. Hopefully it was something that would help.

Chapter Text

He scanned his card, hoping it was something that would help.

And it was, so to speak. More specifically, it was a blue card.

‘Matrix digivolution,’ came the voice from the digivice, as blue light swallowed his vision once more. But this time it was a familiar blue light, and there was no dragon to suggest dragon fire instead.

Somewhere in that blue glow, Leomon roared. And then… he didn’t sound quite like Leomon anymore. His voice was deeper, and just… different.

Well, Yuuri thought. Of course his voice would sound different. He’d digivolved. But into what?

He blinked, and gradually the blue light faded. Sinduramon squawked, suddenly outmatched. And pummelling it, pushing it back step by step, was…

‘GrapLeomon,’ said Yuuri. Not the SaberLeomon he had become in the Digimon Adventure series, but GrapLeomon, who would later go on to become either a BanchoLeomon or Leapardmon. GrapLeomon who would walk on two legs than his predecessor… and did that make it easier to adjust in the heat of battle, he wondered? He couldn’t actually recall the changes in growth having any effect on digimon coordination. Sometimes it affected their mind, though.

The thought struck him suddenly. GrapLeomon had said nothing at all. He was only punching, and Sinduramon was only flailing in a useless attempt to get free from that barrage.

But he was overthinking again, wasn’t he? All he needed to do was ask. ‘GrapLeomon?’

‘Yes,’ GrapLeomon replied.

Yuuri smiled. That was all there was to it, then.

.

They walked home later the following evening, after sleeping in well past noon. Yuuri had missed a day of school but he felt as though he deserved it, after all the recent chaos. Things would be a little easier now, now that Leomon had evolved into Ultimate again… but one day they’d face a Mega digimon that an Ultimate or few couldn’t defeat, and they’d need to attain another blue card. And then there was Phichit whose Cameramon still hadn’t evolved, and JJ who was seeking an Ultimate as well, and Seung-Gil who sought strength…

And a unifying enemy explaining it all. They had no clues, at the moment. It was simply wild digimon after wild digimon appearing, of random levels and types and strengths and in random places. And they became friends with each other, dined at Yuutopia Katsuki (and occasionally, at one of the other’s houses) and grew more adept at the cards that had become their weapons together. But there were some things, as Takeshi had said, that they could only work out for themselves. And some things, like Leomon said, that couldn’t be worked out after all.

But it had worked out this time. This time, it hadn’t ended in tragedy and hopefully it never will. But still… ‘Does your digital world have gods?’ Yuuri asked suddenly.

‘We have the four Digimon Soverigns,’ Leomon said, ‘with varying degrees of power and status depending on the incarnation of the digital world. And then there is Yggdrasil.’

‘Yggdrasil,’ Yuuri repeated. ‘That computer program. Like Homeostasis.’

‘Yes,’ said Leomon. ‘Yggdrasil and Homeostasis. And Libra. Powers all beyond our understanding.’

‘Yeah, the franchise hasn’t explained it too well either,’ Yuuri mumbled. ‘But anyway, do you fancy a side-trip?’

‘I suppose I could entertain you.’ Leomon smiled. ‘You entertained my trip, after all, even after we were delayed a day.’

‘Well, I’d rather sleep in than go to school and be a zombie,’ Yuuri shrugged. ‘Though don’t tell my teachers I said that. I mean, I like school alright, but sleep first.’

‘I won’t,’ Leomon promised. ‘I am getting rather used to katsudon.’

Yuuri laughed at that. ‘Then what was the specialty at the Katou’s restaurant?’

‘Sake,’ Leomon replied. ‘Surely it came up at some point.’

‘We need to marathon the Digimon series at some point,’ Yuuri replied. Had it ever come up? Maybe with that whole mess with Orochimon, but he couldn’t quite recall. ‘Sake, huh. Minako and my father would have a field day there.’

Actually, on second, it was probably a good thing that was another world and thus not reachable here. Toshiya Katsuki went off the rails when he was drunk and Yuuri could only hope he’d inherited his sister’s persistent stoicness instead when the time for his first drink came around. Even his mother’s teariness would be preferred.

But there were a few years before he had to think about that, thankfully.

‘Anyway, I was thinking of visiting the temple on the way back,’ he said.

‘The temple?’ Leomon replied. ‘Alright.’

.

Yuuri realised he hadn’t thought through his plan very well, because the temple had a lot of stairs and he was still aching from last night.

Leomon took pity on him and carried him, much to his embarrassment. ‘I have carried lots of human children like this,’ the lion digimon said. ‘Do not worry.’

‘I’m not worried,’ Yuuri protested. ‘I’m embarrassed because this was my idea in the first place.’

But they got to the top of the temple like that and nobody was around. Leomon said Yuuri down, and the human wandered over to the bells. ‘We ring the bell, then put our hands together and pray: for safety, for good fortune, to pass exams… It’s quite popular in exam season.’

‘I see,’ Leomon replied, and mimicked Yuuri when he rang the bell. That one was for Leomon, and Yuuri, and their friends and family and the world they lived in.

‘We also pray for the souls of the dead, and those far away from us,’ said Yuuri.

They rang the bells again, this time for Vicchan and all the humans and digimon Leomon had once known, across other worlds.

Yuuri let go of the rope. Leomon rung the bell again.

‘That was so you can pass your upcoming exams,’ said Leomon.

Yuuri laughed. ‘I don’t have exams for a while, but thank you.’

.

Takeshi was waiting when they finally got back. ‘Took you long enough,’ he scowled. ‘I had to make up excuses to your teachers and I don’t think it went too well.’

‘What did you say?’ asked Yuuri warily. Takeshi was a good friend, but sometimes caused more trouble than Yuuri could get out of without Yuuko’s help. ‘And were my friends asking about me?’

‘Sure were,’ Takeshi replied. ‘And seeing as I don’t know which know about the whole real live digimon thing and which don’t, I gave them all the same excuse. You’d been feeling a little udner the weather, hallucinated Vicchan’s ghost, and got yourself good and lost in the woods… or so all the adults thought. I just hope nobody actually calls our families to ask.’

‘If I show up tomorrow, hopefully not,’ Yuuri sighed. Yeah, that was a messy excuse. ‘You seriously couldn’t come up with anything better?’

‘I figured it was a good idea to at least mention the woods,’ Takeshi shrugged.

‘And the teachers didn’t think to send a search party?’

‘Oh, they did.’

Oh boy. At least he and Leomon weren’t in the woods anymore, because that would be tricky to explain away. ‘I better show off the fact that I’m okay and not hallucinating poodles anymore.’

Not to mention, the poodle he had actually hallucinated was a couple of weeks ago and not Vicchan, but that was a moot point by now.

‘I can pretend to be an adult and call?’ Takeshi offered.

‘Or I can,’ said Leomon gruffly. ‘I think I will be more convincing.’

Leomon was convincing, and Yuuri was glad he’d made the right choice on that topic, even if Takeshi had been the one painfully covering for them.

.

His parents and sister just asked how his camping trip went, but there were lots of questions at school the next day. First was Phichit who stopped him along the way, and Yuuri had to reach across and cover his mouth considering what he was blabbing about with Leo sitting right there.

‘It’s okay,’ Guang-Hong pipqued up. ‘You missed Leo’s christening.’

‘Oh.’ Yuuri let go of Phichit. ‘Sorry for leaving you out of it for so long.’

‘No biggie,’ Leo grinned. ‘Though I was feeling rather left out at the time. Good to know what it was, though. And that I didn’t lose my mind when Musimon popped up out of nowhere.’

‘It’s the cutest!’ Phichit trilled, and showed off all the photos he and Cameramon had gotten. ‘I mean, I’m kind of surprised Leo’s Musimon and my Cameramon knew each other once upon a time, but hey, it’s a small world.’

‘It is a small world, sometimes,’ Yuuri smiled. And Musimon suited Leo well… though the name was an interesting coincidence. Still, he was glad Leo hadn’t gotten Leomon, because he was too used to the lion’s company and didn’t think he could part with him anytime soon.

Hopefully he won’t have to either.

‘Anyway, welcome to the club,’ Yuuri said, as Phichit continued raving about Musimon in the background. ‘Have you gotten into any trouble yet?’

‘No?’ Leo looked concerned. ‘Should I be concerned?’

‘Probably,’ Yuuri admitted. ‘But keep a cool head, keep up with the card game, or have infernal luck like Phichit and you’ll be fine.’

Granted, he was making a promise he wasn’t sure he could deliver on… but that was a part of having faith, as well. He wasn’t about to scare Leo off. It wouldn’t be fair to him, or Musimon. And they’d all be there as well. Yuuri and Leomon, Yuri Plisetsky and Meicoomon, Phichit and Cameramon, Guang-Hong and Renamon, Seung-Gil Lee and Gabumon, Viktor and his Monodramon, Jean-Jacques Leroy and Shoutmon, Kenjirou Minami and Agumon (and his three friends at the elementary school with digimon partners of their own), Otabek Altin and Solarmon, Christophe Giacometti and Salamon… and now Leo and his Musimon as well. That was fourteen humans and fourteen digimon that they knew about, and who knew how many others there were, too far away to go to the same school or people who’d just slipped through Phichit’s camera lens. Hopefully, for whatever was coming towards them, that would be enough. Hopefully… and, of course, they’d continue working together and getting stronger.

Yuuri and Leomon now had an Ultimate form, but that didn’t mean they’d reached the end of the road to self-improvement. There was always more to go and that was one good thing that came out of Yuuri’s anxiety, that he was always doubting his own strength and thus always working to improve it… Well, so long as crushing despair didn’t cripple him, but the last time it had tried, Leomon had showed up. And they were doing pretty well for themselves, despite the few hiccups they’d faced on the road so far.

‘More katsudon at Yuutopia?’ Phichit asked hopefully.

‘You come to my place just for the katsudon,’ Yuuri teased.

Leo perked up though. ‘Katsudon?’

‘There’s always leftovers at my parents’ onsen,’ Yuuri explained. ‘We’ve been getting together more often. I mean, there’s no sign of the big bag evil yet, but the digimon said they came earlier than they normally would because they’re on edge and don’t want any more sacrifices to be made.’

‘Hey, I’m all for being prepared to avoid sacrifices,’ said Leo. ‘But if they don’t know who we’re facing, there’ll be only so much we can do to prepare…’ He looked at his own cards. ‘I’m going to do some reconfiguration, with a Musimon on my side.’

‘Don’t worry,’ said Guang-Hong. ‘Between the lot of us, there are loads of cards to go around. We’ll work out the perfect balance for your Musimon support deck. And we’ll catch you up on all the battles you’ve missed so far, too. And Yuuri ,what you missed yesterday of course.’

‘What did I miss yesterday?’ Yuuri asked with some alarm. Though hopefully the others had been together and faring better than Yuuri and Leomon alone in the middle of the night in the woods.

‘Well,’ Guang-Hong grinned.

‘Guang-Hong,’ Phichit interrupted with a whine. ‘I want to be the one to tell.’

Guang-Hong waved his hand.

Phichit grinned. ‘Well, the thing is…’

‘Out with it already,’ Leo exclaimed. ‘The bell’s about to go!’

‘Oh.’ Phichit deflated a bit. He’d been about to drag it out, apparently. But he perked up again quickly. ‘Cameramon evolved into Scopemon!’

There was a quick chorus of congratulations… and then the bell rang, as Leo said it would. They raced off to their respective classes: Leo and Phichit in one direction, Guang-Hong in another, and Yuuri in another again. He ran into friends in the hallway, at lunch – and the tale of the two new digivolutions spread amongst them. By the time they got to Yuutopia that afternoon, Yuri was threatening anyone who mentioned the word digivolution again with the plunger. ‘You guys can clean the men’s onsen with it,’ he said, grimacing.

‘I wouldn’t do it,’ Yuuri agreed. ‘Cleaning the onsen’s essentially the only downside of living at one.’

‘You’re one to talk, Katsudon! This used to be your chore!’

‘You – or Meicoomon, technically – broke the onsen windows,’ Yuuri shrugged.

‘Ah,’ said Leo. ‘So that was what had happened. Things suddenly make so much more sense now that I know digimon are involved.’

And things would have certainly been a lot quieter without the digimon involved, Yuuri reflected. The cloud of Vicchan’s death… he wondered if it would have faded away, by now, or not. Would he have been wallowing in depression like Viktor had after Makkachin’s passing, waiting for some sort of shock or sign to get him moving again? Or perhaps he had done that, and it just hadn’t had the time to register before Leomon showed up.

Leomon said they may wind up losing things along the way, that they’d already lost some things along the way… but to wish those things had never happened…

Maybe, in the depths of despair, but if losing Vicchan had opened the doors to meeting Leomon, then he couldn’t say he’d rather never have met Leomon and kept Vicchan instead.

‘I do miss you, Vicchan,’ he said afterwards, at the little alter he and his parents had made for the toy poodle. ‘I’m not glad you died. Not at all. But what’s happened after you died… I can’t just wish to erase that all. I guess that’s part of moving on and growing and living… But I won’t forget you, and that spot in my heart belongs to you and only you.’

And that was how it should be. Vicchan was Vicchan and Leomon was Leomon, and the past was the past and the future was the future. Just like digimon were digimon and humans were humans: there were things missing from one that the other filled in, like two halves of a whole or two sides of a cards. And like a blue card, one wouldn’t know the end result until it was tried and tested, and one wouldn’t know what the future held until they faced it, by which point it was too late to do anything about the past except learn from it.

But of course, humans weren’t as cold and calculating as all that. Emotions ran rampant. Tragedy undid them. Love put them back together.

He hoped and prayed there would be no tragedy in the future… but aside from that, he could only get stronger, with his partner, with his friends, and fight and work for that happy ending together. And he’d try to keep a cool head, and not overthink things, and be at least a little secure in the knowledge that if he slipped up with either of those, there were others by his side to keep him upright.

And that, all of that, would hopefully be enough to save the world, once the force threatening it finally showed itself.