He ached differently than normal, different than the aches of walking and hiking, of running and surviving. He ached from claws and flames and fists slamming into his everything. His only solace was the thickness of Blitzmon's armor, which had taken the brunt of the assault. The assault from one of their friends, possessed by the beast.
He ached and he didn't trust that control that Kouji and Takuya supposedly had now over the Beast Spirits. Surely, only one use wasn't enough time to master it. Heck, it took Takuya how long to master his Human Spirit? Had they even mastered the Human Spirits? Sometimes it felt like there were still things he didn't know about Blitzmon. There was no way that those two had control over the Beast Spirits, not when there were still mysteries with the Human Spirits.
So Junpei really didn't trust that control.
Especially Takuya's, particularly Takuya's.
Claws around his head squeezing, claws slamming his chest, a roar he's only ever heard in a monster movie
Garmmon had had a focus, at least. Garmmon hadn't seen them. Garmmon had Gigasmon to funnel his aggression at.
Gigasmon had fled the moment Vritramon had appeared.
Vritramon who had possessed Shamamon. To help? To kill?
Vritramon who had possessed their friend, their so-called leader.
Vritramon who had run wild and burned half the forest down.
Vritramon who had calmed down after the sacrifice of Tomoki.
He really didn't want his Beast Spirit if it meant almost hurting a friend.
And, even if he couldn't do anything, he was going to keep an eye on those two. Maybe he could sacrifice himself if it came to it, like Tomoki had. That way Izumi and them could get away.
He could do that.
Would he even be able to do that?
Izumi could still taste ash in her mouth. Could still smell burning wood and leaves and underbrush. Could still feel heat and flames and fear and panic.
Of course, she could. Only hours had passed, after all. Not enough time for her to process what had happened, not completely, not fully. Not enough for her understand more than instinctually why she had been keeping a wide berth from Takuya.
Fear, of course, was an answer. Fear of what he had became, fear of the monster that indiscriminately attacked friend and foe.
Garmmon hadn't done that. Garmmon had attacked, sure, but he at least had attacked Gigasmon. He hadn't attacked them.
Fear of blood red eyes and raging flames and a roar that sounded like a scream
The ash remained even after they ate, even after she had drank as much steam water as possible. The fear remained, of course, it remained, but a new worry marred that fear.
She just didn't know if the worry were for her (would she become a monster too) or if the worry was for the boy who acted more subdued with a smile that seemed normal.
Izumi wasn't good at reading people. That had always been part of her problem. Reading people was hard, especially people with different mannerisms and body language than she was used to.
She managed a smile or two for him, for their friends. She even managed her normal comeback towards a particularly stupid comment, but she could feel the tension between them. Among them?
It unhappily reminded her of social faux pas and rolling eyes. Of smiles that seemed too sweet, too nice. Of people who spoke too fast and who laughed when she didn't understand. Of going to teachers who smiled too, who insisted that everyone was nice, who didn’t do a thing. A tension that was both familiar and not, a tension built around trying to be normal and failing.
She didn't think things would go back to normal anytime soon.
She may not be able to read people, but she could act when she needed. She hated acting, hated being something she wasn’t, but in this moment, she would pretend that things were normal. At least until they were far enough away from the scent of burning.
She could still taste ash in her mouth.
Kouji wasn't surprised that Takuya couldn't control his Beast Spirit. The other boy was wild, after all, and impulsive and an idiot so it made sense to him that he wouldn't be able to control something so powerful. It made sense that he would run wild.
Had Kouji looked like that?
When he had evolved into Garmmon that first time, he could barely keep his mind intact. He had just wanted to run and chase and hunt and only Gigasmon standing there had been what reminded him that he was in the middle of a battle. Then he only remembered a blur because Garmmon had accepted this target and Garmmon had attacked.
H U N T
He only remembered becoming Kouji, himself, again. Faint and weak and aching, but triumphant, a proud fizzling feeling in his chest that he wasn't sure had originated from him.
No one had treated him any differently after that. So he hadn't gone on a rampage...right? He hadn't destroyed much...well, there had been felled trees, which he was sure was just collateral from his battle. He hadn't turned on his friends or on Gotsumon. Gotsumon would have definitely let him know if he had. That he was sure of.
Even when he evolved to fight Vritramon, to knock some sense into the dragon, he had been struggling. He had kept up a mantra ("that's Takuya that's Takuya that's Takuya") to help focus himself, to remind the Beast that they had to save him, not fight, not battle, not kill. He didn't really remember if he had spoken during that time, if he had said anything to Blitzmon to coordinate them.
F I R E
He did remember claws and brute strength and flames. He remembered felling more trees. He remembered roaring, howling, back at an unearthly scream. He remembered Tomoki being lifted into the air and holding back, holding back, holding back because he didn't know what Vritramon would do.
Fear ripping up his throat, fear stuttering his mantra, distress at the sight of small Tomoki clutched in shining claws
PROTECT PROTECT PROTECTPROTECTPROTECTPROTECTPROTECT
Then...well, at least Takuya managed some control on his second attempt. He had saved Tomoki, sure. He had gotten Gigasmon’s spirit, but there was still something…off.
Maybe Kouji could have given better advice then, maybe he should do it now, but it had worked out. (He hated that blasé reaction, but what could he do? Things had worked out.) Besides, he wasn't exactly a people person and, well, Takuya looked fine and Tomoki seemed fine, so...
He would wait to give that advice. Maybe if Takuya asked.
He had other things to worry about.
Takuya was not fine.
Which was why he pulled Bokomon aside as they rested and asked, begged, them for a favor.
"Could you...Could you check on Tomoki?" he asked softly.
Bokomon looked surprised before what Takuya could only call a motherly look descended on their face.
Tomoki was fine.
Sure, it was a scary experience. Sure, it was horrifying watching his friend, his brother, possessed by a monster. Sure, he wished he had been able to help then, more than what he had. Freezing the burning forest would have stopped the fire, right? But he had his Spirit again! So next time, he would be able to help!
He didn't understand why Bokomon asked to talk with him alone. The others looked confused when he glanced at them, but he had gone when Takuya had shrugged. He was sure it was just Bokomon wanting questions about his Spirit or something anyway.
He was not expecting Bokomon to turn to him and, looking too much like a parent, ask him if he was all right.
Had they done that with everyone else?
Had they done that with Kouji?
With Izumi, with Junpei, with Takuya?
Tomoki was fine.
"I'm okay," he answered.
Bokomon hummed and nodded.
"I just wanted to check. You did have quite the day," they said. "First Vritramon and then Gigasmon—."
"Yeah, but everything worked out!" he argued. "And-And we have Gigasmon's spirit now!"
"Of course! You've all done fabulously, but it's okay if you are rattled by what happened—."
"W-Well, because...because...well, Takuya-han was quite ferocious dur—.”
"Vritramon was fero-ferocious," Tomoki interjected. He was trembling. "Vritramon is the one who a-attacked! He was-Takuya-oniichan was possessed!"
He was sure he used that word correctly. He had heard Junpei mutter it when neither Takuya nor Kouji were in earshot. He had seen the older boy’s face when he had said it.
Possessed was bad.
Bokomon's face became soft.
"Tomoki-han, possessed or not, Takuya-han was still in there...” they murmured. “Just like how you're in Chackmon...you are Chackmon, Takuya-han is Vritramon."
Tomoki didn't know the words to express himself. He didn't know how to explain that Vritramon couldn't have been Takuya because there is no way that Takuya would go on a rampage like Vritramon had.
Takuya wouldn't hurt them like Vritramon had.
"Ah! Well! You are still learning!" Bokomon hurried to say. "And the Beast Spirits are strong! I just meant to say that the Beast Spirits are just as a part of you as the Human Spirits are! Of course, well, as a beast, there are some differences so...of course, I wouldn't know about that, honestly, but... I'm sorry, Tomoki-han. I'm not doing you any favors, am I?"
Tomoki sniffled and rubbed his eyes. He didn't want to think of Takuya as a monster. He didn't want to think of a blazing roar, of being lifted into the air, of feeling his bones and muscles creak from a fist clenching around him.
That wasn't Takuya. That couldn't be Takuya.
That was Vritramon. That was a monster. That was a monster who was controlling his friend. A monster who wasn't, couldn't be his friend.
"Takuya-oniichan wouldn't hurt anyone!" Tomoki sobbed. "It was—It was Vritramon!"
A small hand patted his elbow as he rubbed at the tears.
"I'm sorry, Tomoki-han," Bokomon murmured. "It's okay. You saved him. You're very brave. You're okay now."
He didn't feel okay. Not anymore. Not now that he was remembering hot metal and rough skin and being high, high in the air.
Vritramon had attacked them.
Gigasmon had attacked them.
(And that was normal, honestly.)
Being lifted into the air, either by flaming claws or a giant, by both flaming claws and a giant
He trembled and cried.
He wasn't sure why anymore.
Part from fear (because how could you not be afraid? Standing before a dragon spewing flames and roaring, standing before your friend possessed by his own Spirit, standing before the person who was the bravest you knew and lifting your chin and saying no, I am not afraid but it's okay to be sometimes you just have to fight through it)
Part from frustration (kidnapped because a dwarf was a sore loser, being used as bait to bring out a monster again, a bargaining chip to get their Spirits, being unable to do anything)
Part from something else (the euphoria at a tired, trembling smile, a breathless, weak thank you, a mixture of fear and power from a dragon cradling him and protecting him when only hours before it had been running amok)
Tomoki rubbed furiously at his eyes.
“I…I was afraid,” he began, “but…but—! I couldn’t just…Takuya-oniichan helped me so many times! Even if…Even if Vritramon was possessing him, even if he… I had to help! But it…it was so sca-a-ary!”
Bokomon wrapped their arms around his waist, or as much of his waist as they could reach.
“It’s okay, Tomoki-han. You were amazing. Takuya-han appreciates it, I’m sure.”
He wasn’t so sure he was fine anymore.
Takuya wasn't fine, but he was pretending to be. He was pretending that he couldn't feel the tension, feel the wariness of his teammates. He was pretending he hadn't just attacked them, hadn't just rampaged and roared, hadn't been trapped in his own mind because Vritramon was a wildfire, was rage and battle and war, was protecting its territory.
Whatever that territory was, Takuya didn't know.
He knew that Izumi was staying at a distance, even though she smiled and talked as normally as possible.
He knew that Junpei was giving him looks again, looks like he had when they first came here, when Takuya could evolve and no one else could.
Kouji was Kouji. Takuya wanted to ask about the Beast, wanted to know if he too had struggled, but, well, Takuya also didn't want to know. He hated to admit it, but Kouji seemed such a natural at it that asking would ruin the illusion. So he didn't.
Maybe he should.
Tomoki was acting normal too. He smiled and laughed and walked next to him and Takuya could feel the bile rise in his throat at that bright smile.
As thankful as he was, he had hurt him. He could still feel the squishiness of his friend in his palm, could still feel trembling from fear, from complaining bones and muscles. He could still feel the need to attack any and everything, to protect something from everyone. (Himself? The Spirit? Their territory?)
Listening in on Bokomon talking to Tomoki didn't help that guilt.
That was a good word for what happened. Trapped inside armor and flames and smoke and ash. Trapped inside and unsure of whose eyes he was looking through anymore. Takuya? Vritramon? Both? Neither?
Agnimon hadn't been that way. Agnimon was warm and inviting. He was power and strength and fire, but not overwhelming. Like flames in a fireplace or in a campfire. Guiding, but not controlling. Like someone whispering to him in his ear when he was in that form.
Vritramon was all consuming. A forest fire that rips through everything and anything. The smoke that chokes you, suffocates you, clogs your throat and lungs. It took over whether he wanted to or not (or not, definitely or not). Saving Shamamon had been the only thought running through his mind and then...
A muddy muddled mess.
Friend? Foe? Anger? Fear? Joy?
Screaming, roaring, lashing out
Flames flames flames flames flames
Protect protect protect
F I G H T
Screaming in his mind, echoing around him with a roar
Don't hurt them
Bartering with himself because that was what sane people do. They bartered with their demons who had possessed them. They bartered as they felt the joy of battle, the desire for more destruction, the pure euphoria at the land bathed in flames.
And then, Tomoki
P R O T E C T
C l a r i t y
The second time had been better, but only because this had been on Takuya's terms. Or, well, as much on his terms as he could manage because bartering in his mind and trying to focus on all that was around him was hard.
Vritramon seemed to comply, though, because it had been easier. He could protect Tomoki, could save him, rather than hurt. He had even been able to change into Agnimon, too. Vritramon had let him do that.
For a few blissful moments, Takuya pretended he was in control. That was easy to do in Agnimon’s skin.
But defeating Gigasmon? That flaming maelstrom? That had all been Vritramon. Taking Gigasmon's Spirit had been Vritramon.
Saving Tomoki's Spirit had been Takuya. Trying to save Izumi's had been Takuya.
Vritramon slamming his fist into the ground? The temptation to shoot flames down the tunnel Grottomon had fled? Either. Both. Definitely both.
Saying he had control then was a lie. There was no control there. There was bargaining and bartering and deal making. There was fighting in his own mind, fighting for his own mind.
Takuya wasn't fine. He wasn't sure when he was going to be fine again.
And he hated that.