Episode 9: The Truth Will Out

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The sound of the bell was jarring, unwelcomingly breaking through the haze of blackness and confusion. He clenched his eyes closed, gritting his teeth, trying to shut out the noise from his throbbing head. He felt like he could barely move, and everything was a blur in his mind.

The bell rang again, an annoying jingle. He had never found the sound of a bell so irritating before. Why did it have to pound and echo around in his head so much?

And why was he so warm? It made no sense. He remembered a breeze, cool and fine, that kept the sweat off of him. The ground was hard beneath him, and he could feel the flagstone under his fingertips. That didn't seem right to him, hadn't he been standing on grass?

Everything was so confused and messed up in his head. He wanted to open his eyes and examine his surroundings but just breathing was a task. Each rise and fall of his chest – however shallow – was agony, almost making each inhalation a gasp.

Something was moving nearby, though he couldn't pinpoint where, all his other senses were dull for some reason. The pounding in his head caused a ringing in his ears. It took him time to know the feel of the stones beneath his fingers and smells… he could smell something. A homey smell, one that was welcoming and familiar – but there was no way he could recall exactly what the smell was right now.

"Adrian…," a girl's voice broke through the haze of confusion. A soft feminine tone that took the edge off the shrill sound of the bell. "Adrian…?"

It was like a hum from far away. Every word she spoke started a long way away until it reached his ears, breaking through the barrier of ringing and muddle.

"Can you hear me..?"

Yes.  He thought. The first coherent thought he had had for who knew how long. I can hear you. Try as he might he could not get those words out over his lips. He was beyond speech for the moment.

Something brushed against his head, cooling as it was laid across his forehead. It was soothing against the heat of wherever he was, and it pushed away the feelings of cloudiness, if only for a moment.

"Any luck?" A man's voice this time, concerned.

"Not a lot." The woman. "Just some moaning. We should call an ambulance."

"There's no blood," spoke the man. "Give it ten more minutes; he hasn't been out of it for long."

Something swished to a close, and the woman sighed softly to Adrian's left. Yes. His left. She was positioned to his left. He could distinguish the two sides from one another, a feat he had not been able to accomplish mere moments ago. The ringing was depleting in his ears as well, though his mind was still foggy. His eyes began to open slowly.

"Mhm…" He tried to speak but found his throat so dry that no words would come.

"Adrian?" The woman, alarmed and elated at the same time. "Are you okay? Can you move?"

Was he okay? Not entirely.

Could he move…? He brushed his fingers across the flagstone and felt feeling up his arm. He tightened muscles in his arms and legs slowly, and could feel that. He slowly rocked his head from one side to the other, not too far but far enough that he could feel it.

He had control of his body; he could move his limbs and feel them moving so he knew there was no damage to his spine or major body parts. Whatever had happened had not caused any permanent damage.

"Wann…," Adrian grumbled, forcing his voice from his dry throat. "Wan… ter…"

"Wanter?" repeated the woman. It clicked a moment later. "Oh! Water!" Adrian heard her rise from where she had been. The tap ran suddenly, filling a container, and then she was back. "Can you sit up?"

That was a good question.

He could certainly try.

He bent one leg, then the other. Slowly, slowly. He didn't want to rush and then have to lie down again. With his feet set on the ground he steeled himself, pushing himself to sit up, with help from his arms to take the most of his weight. The damp material that had been on his forehead plopped into his lap and he retrieved it, putting it to one side.

The room he was in was slowly coming into focus.

The glass of water was held in front of him. He took it and gulped it down without a moment's thought. When he was done, the woman took the glass and refilled it diligently. When she passed it to Adrian, he took several long swallows but did not drain the glass this time.

His senses were returning to normal and his mind was no longer quite as muddled. He knew this room; it was the back room of the bakery, The Fluffy Muffin, where he worked. This was where Eva made the buns, the bread, and cakes. Where she carefully frosted and iced premium ordered birthday cakes, where he helped her decorate the variety of cupcakes the store had become best known for. The oven was in a separate room, blocked from this one only by a swinging door. That was where the heat had been coming from.

He was on the floor in the middle of the room. His bag at his side was toppled over, and his cellphone had fallen out, along with his wallet and keys. His apron was on the ground too, he had not managed to pull it on before he had… fallen?

"What happened?" he asked, turning his gaze blindly to the side the woman was on.

Chloe. He knew her, now that everything was settling down. Eva's newest hire. She was nineteen, barely over five feet tall with dark, thick auburn hair with one side shaved and pale hazel eyes. Round face, a small nose, and a mouth that curved up at the corners to make it seem as if she was always smiling.

Now though, her mouth wasn't smiling. It was drawn in concern, her eyes wide with worry.

"I hoped you might tell me," she breathed. Relief seemed to wash over her features, and her whole body relaxed somewhat, clearly Adrian asking questions and being coherent was encouraging. "You came in to help cover cause Eva had to run out with Tom suddenly. Some kind of emergency. You got into the back and then the next thing I knew I hear things hitting the ground, come in, and you're sprawled on the floor."

At that moment Adrian noticed the various utensils littering the pale grey flagstones. Stainless steel, expensive cooking and baking utensils that had probably only just come out of the dishwasher and would now have to be cleaned again.

"I really don' remember, cher," he said slowly, groaning and scratching the back of his head. As Chloe handed him his glasses, something dawned on him. "You've been dealing with everything alone? Who’s manning the store?" It was one of Eva's rules that the shop floor had to manned at all times. She had experienced teenagers reaching behind the counter and taking cakes when she wasn't looking, when she had first taken over the Muffin.

Chloe shook her head. "It's okay. I was freaking out and the first thing I could do was call Robb. I was in a state of shock, couldn't get my words out, so Robb came in early to see what was happening. He got here about three minutes after you collapsed. You know he only lives like five minutes away."

"Oh," Adrian sighed, "good."

"That would be the first thing you worry about," Chloe said gently. They shared a light chuckle and then she released a long breath. "You think you can stand?"

"Gimme a minute, cher." Adrian smiled. "Don' think I'm quite there yet."

Chloe touched his arm. "Okay." She rose to her feet. "I'll tell Robb you're up. Take your time okay?"

"Will do." Adrian nodded slowly.

Allowing a departing smile, Chloe disappeared through the door that separated the main store from the bakery section.

Ruffling his hand through his hair, Adrian breathed out through his nose and then took a swallow of the water he held in his hand.

"Crazy dreams, no?" he spoke to himself, raising his eyebrows. The things he had seen in his head had certainly been crazy… but he couldn't decide if they had been dreams or not. Everything had felt too real and tangible to be a simple figment of his imagination.

Karumon. The world in which Adrian had found himself. The lush leaves on the high trees. Long grasses that came up to his hips and the creatures he had seen. Not just the polar bear cub, but the deep, blue chameleon Varanumon who had pretended to be his friend. The herd of Monochromon he and Karumon had sat and observed for an hour one evening.

He could recall the intense heat he had felt as Karumon had appeared from his chest, a pulsating purple figure until the light had dispersed from his little body.

Normally you forgot dreams a few moments after waking; it couldn't have been a dream if he was recalling all these details so perfectly and faultlessly.

Catching a glimpse of the inside of his wrist, Adrian placed the glass on the floor and examined the strange injury. A red welt the length of his middle finger, raised and red and fierce. He winced as he touched it, but he knew where it had come from. Varanumon. The chameleon's tongue had lashed him as he had… what? The lizard had been trying to get something from him. Something precious, valuable. Far more valuable to Adrian than to Varanumon.

A vial.

The word, and image of the item came upon him suddenly. Pink and glowing, a cylinder of thick liquid that had felt sticky on his hand and fingers as he had smeared his D-Ex with it to make Karumon evolve to Beserkermon.

"Karumon…?" Adrian murmured. "Where'd you go?" He was certainly concerned for the polar bear cub. What had happened to him? There was no way of truly knowing. Had he been left behind in the Digital World when Adrian had been blasted back to the real world? Did Karumon now cease to exist if he was in the Digital World because Adrian was no longer there, and it was clear the two were joined in some way?

Adrian chewed on his thumbnail uneasily for a moment.

He had to consider the other option.

That Karumon had come with him and was now somewhere out in the city, or even further afield. Lost, confused, and probably terrified. There was no telling what kind of trouble the bear could get into without him, in a strange new world where people would freak out the moment they saw a bear cub, let alone one that looked as unique as Karumon did. There were cars to contend with. Cars, trains, trams, even cyclists were a risk to the happy-go-lucky fellow.

There was no point sitting and thinking about it, Adrian knew he had to take action. He had worked himself into enough of a panic, he had to get out and find his furry little friend. Chloe and Robb wouldn't mind if he left, he had collapsed, he could make an excuse. They could manage without him, he would explain to Eva later.

Karumon was more important right now.

"Don' you worry, little buddy," Adrian said to himself, rising to his feet with some effort. "I'm comin' to find ya."

He rocked back suddenly, his head spinning. He had risen from the ground too fast and grabbed the table to steady himself. He rubbed his eyes behind the lenses of his glasses and breathed out, letting his balance settle until the kitchen stopped moving around him.

As everything came into focus, he heard a sound that had only been a muffled noise before. Something he had heard, but at the same time had thought was just his ears adjusting to being awake again, but now it was a little louder. A little more direct.

Curious, Adrian followed the noise, stepping quietly over the flagstone floor. He stopped every so often, judging if he was closer or further away.

At the wall of the kitchen, the wall that was also the back of the store front, were stainless steel cabinets and places for preparation. Often Eva left cupcakes and muffins to cool there after taking them from the oven. Even now there were two batches of cupcakes – raspberry and chocolate-orange flavor – that she had obviously been waiting to cool before she disappeared.

The noise, a soft snuffling one, was coming from beneath the counter. There was a gap of about a foot between the floor and the counter. Whenever anyone swept beneath it, there was always a mountain of crumbs and cake decorations that had escaped their fate. Adrian knelt, placing his hands on either side of his head to peer underneath the counter.

He saw a small shape, like a ball, but covered in lilac fur. It had a pair of long, ribbon-like ears, and a darker purple crescent on its forehead. Its bright orange eyes were entranced with its current task: eating a cupcake that must have been dropped during the decorating process, and rolled under the counter. Crumbs clung to the fur around its mouth, but aside from that it was grinning while it munched away at the food.

Adrian wasn't sure what to think. It didn't look like Karumon, but it certainly wasn't any kind of kitchen vermin like a rat or mouse. There was very little chance it could be anything but Karumon, though… perhaps travel-sized?

Deciding to risk it, Adrian hissed at the small creature, hoping that neither Chloe nor Robb would walk in and see him like this.

The fuzzy creature stopped mid-mouthful and turned towards the noise of Adrian's hiss.

"ADRIAN!" it cried, bits of cake falling from its fluffy cheeks and the inside of its mouth. "You gotta try this! It’s the most amazing thing, EVER!"

"Uh…" Adrian quirked a brow. "Karu… mon?"

"Borramon!" it corrected. He rolled across the floor towards Adrian, taking the rest of the cupcake in his mouth. Adrian backed away, allowing Borramon to slide out from beneath the counter. "I'm Karumon, but smaller."

"Why?"

"No idea!" Borramon said cheerfully. He looked at the cupcake, then at Adrian who was kneeling back. "You want any of this?"

"Nah," Adrian assured him, "it's all yours."

"Who are you talking to?" Adrian froze, hearing Chloe's voice come from behind him. He hadn't even heard the door open. Borramon shuffled forward, peering over Adrian's forearm at her. He smiled widely, opening his mouth to speak.

Adrian shoved his hands over his mouth.

"Myself!" said Adrian. He turned to Chloe quickly, snapping Borramon behind his back. "Just, gettin' some stuff in order in my head, ya' see."

"Oh… kay," Chloe tilted her head. "Why were you looking under the counter?"

"In case anything had rolled under there when I fell," explained Adrian, it was a perfectly legitimate reason, and believable. Adrian was just now trying to figure out how to get out without Chloe seeing the small, fluffy Borramon.

Chloe simply smiled. She crossed to where Adrian's bag was and began scooping things up and putting them inside. "Are you feeling a bit better?"

"Yeah. Not… one hundred percent," Adrian explained. He rose to his feet, holding Borramon in one hand behind him and dropping the other to his side. He hoped he looked casual, one arm behind his back. "You and Robb okay here? I… kinda think I'd be better off goin' home, or to da' doctor at least."

"Of course," Chloe said brightly. "I was going to suggest you go anyway, if you're not well, it makes sense. It’s not busy, Robb and I can manage." She held out Adrian's bag to him, and he took it with his free hand. Placing it on the main table, he began to root through it, pushing things to the side, trying to see if he could make room for Borramon in the space. "Will you be okay going home?" asked Chloe.

"Should be, cher," Adrian replied. He maneuvered, twisting his body so he was hiding the bag with his torso. He whipped Borramon around in front of him as he moved and shoved the furry being inside, muffling his sounds of protest with his hands. "It ain't much drivin' to my house, I'm sure I can manage."

Uncertain, especially by the odd noises coming from Adrian's bag, Chloe looked at him with an expression a mixture of uneasy and trying to be understanding. "O-okay. Drop me a text when you get home."

"Sure." Adrian slipped his one-strap bag over his right shoulder, resting on his back. He patted his pockets lightly, taking out his car keys, and took a few steps towards Chloe. "Thank ya kindly for lookin' after me." He patted her arm.

"No problem."

With another small smile, Adrian retreated through the connecting door to the store front. He bid Robb a swift farewell and was out of the Fluffy Muffin and briskly walking down the street.

Home. He needed to get home. Get to Ryan. Then everything would make sense.

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"There has got to be a more comfortable way to get back…," Blaire groaned, rising up on one elbow. She, Katrina, and Ryan were all sprawled over the floor, their D-Exes in hand, in near enough the same places they had been when they first connected to go back and seek out Anzumon after he had been left behind.

There was still daylight shining outside, and warmth seeping in through Ryan's window. The carpet was warm on either side of Blaire and the black segments of her leggings were hot to the touch. Clearly they had been out of it for a period of time, not too long though, as nothing had changed outside.

It was strange to think how it worked, the time between their world and the Digital World. How it was so different. In the Digital World, days had passed. They had been there for a week or more at least, they had found Anzumon, gone and stayed in the Clockwork City. They had found their way to Mesilamon and Vazkamon's hive… So much time had passed, and they had done so much, and yet next to no time had gone by at home.

It amazed her, and caused intense concern at the same time that gnawed at her stomach. If time was so different, what would that mean for Reyez?

She had had the thoughts several times in the Digital World, but never said anything. She didn't want to spread her anxiety to the others, not when they were all dealing with things. A world they had never imagined existing, fighting for their lives almost daily. It was a lot to take on, but she would have to say something soon, her worry was weighing upon her like a dark cloud, and if she didn't speak up she was certain she would implode at precisely the wrong moment.

It was just a case of approaching the subject at the right time and with the right person.

"Holy shit…," Ryan grumbled, rubbing his temple, rolling the palm of his hands in his eyes as they opened. "We need to find a better way of getting back."

"My thoughts exactly," Katrina confirmed. She was staring at the ceiling, lying on her back, quite still apart from moving her fingers and hands to check her joints, to make sure that there was no damage.

"Oh good, you're up!" A small voice came from on top of Ryan's bed, prompting the three humans to sit up and find its owner.

Sitting quietly beside the stuffed gorilla were Ashramon, curled around it, and Calamon. Sitting beside Calamon was whom they could only assume was the smaller version of Anzumon. It was a small brown creature, round and a bit flat, like a partly deflated soccer ball. It had tiny, dark brown wings, and cream-colored feathers covering its face and the rest of its body. A small pointed beak protruded from amidst the feathers, and from the back of it were two longer, more decorative feathers. The eyebrows, though, were red, and were furrowed over unmistakably hawk-like yellow eyes.

"Hey buddy," Ryan smiled, easing himself onto his bed and touching the small creature. "You made it back this time."

"Yeah!"

Katrina's D-Ex chirped as the small Digimon's appearance and statistics appeared in front of her. "His name is Pinamon," she informed Ryan, sliding across the covers to pick up Ashramon. The streamlined Digimon giggled softly in Katrina's hands before floating up and curling delicately around the back of her neck, snuggling beneath her hair.

"How did you guys get the soft landing?" complained Blaire, rubbing her lower back where she had landed hard and could feel a twinge of dull pain. Calamon floated towards her, settling in her lap as Blaire took a seat on the floor.

"Easy!" Calamon told her. "We just aimed for it."

"Of course." Blaire rolled her eyes, exchanging smiles with Ryan and Katrina. She noticed then that it was only the three of them, but there had been a fourth in their party before they had been ejected from the Digital World. "Where's…," she paused, scrunching her eyes up to try and think of his name. She could recall his face easily enough, and that of his Digimon. "Your friend… uh…"

"Adrian?" Ryan prompted.

"Yeah!" She snapped her fingers. "Where is he?"

Ryan shrugged his shoulders. "Probably wherever he collapsed… assuming he collapsed like we did."

"It would make sense." Katrina sighed, rolling her shoulders to loosen them. "Should we go look for him?"

"Nah." Ryan flopped back on his bed, dislodging Pinamon from his place. In response, the little feathery ball scuttled towards Ryan and sat on his chest. "Adrian lives here, so he'll be back soon enough."

Blaire and Katrina exchanged looks, both raising one eyebrow disapprovingly as they returned their gazes to Ryan, who looked between them. He sighed loudly. "Or I could call him and make sure he's fine."

"It's the responsible thing to do." Ashramon yawned sweetly after she spoke, and nestled further into the curve of Katrina's neck.

"I know…" Ryan yawned himself and stretched his arms above his head. His t-shirt lifted a little, exposing part of his belly, which he scratched lazily while retrieving his cell phone from his pocket and quickly dialing Adrian's number.

While waiting for an answer from the fourth member of their team, Katrina and Blaire remained quiet, sitting easily with each other and their Digimon. Calamon curled up in Blaire's lap, relaxing, and Ashramon almost asleep on Katrina's shoulders. Pinamon was the only one who seemed wide awake, and nestled beside Katrina's hand as he waited for Ryan to finish his phone call.

Immediately, Katrina began to stroke the soft down of Pinamon's body, causing the small ball of fluff to release contented chirruping sounds in response.

As Ryan spoke on the phone, apparently leaving a message for Adrian as he sounded awkward and was repeating himself as he spoke, Blaire was alerted to a sound which she could hear over Ryan's own voice.

Through the closed door of his room, and down the stairs they had come out, she could have sworn she had heard a door open and slam close. In fact, she was certain of it. Now she could hear a rush of steps, a person moving up the stairs. People. At least two people judging by the sound.

Living in a house with so many other people most of her life, she had learned quickly how to tell how many people where coming up or down stairs, it helped avoid confrontations after borrowing without asking something belonging to a particular sister.

Voices now, muffled due to the closed door, but she could hear them as they got closer, and seemed to be the only person who was paying enough attention to hear them. Two voices, a man and a woman. Both talking quickly and over one another.

"Ryan," Blaire said suddenly, breaking those closest to her from their easy reverie. Ryan seemed to have missed her alert, continuing to leave an increasingly long message on Adrian's phone. "Ryan!" she tried again.

"I just want to check he’s okay!" The woman's voice was along the hall, and clear now. "Rick, it’s almost like you don't want me to see him."

"I do, I do!" Rick's voice was weak, almost pleading to the woman's. "He might not be up to visitors, that's all."

Blaire recognized his voice, she had met him earlier that day – which seemed odd to think of now – he had been with Ryan when they had initially bumped into one another.

"Why did you let him go from the infirmary?" The woman again, with a slightly accusatory tone. "You should have waited for me. I was only going to be gone a few minutes."

"He wanted to get home."

The woman scoffed. "On his own?"

Rick paused. "Yeah…" There was a scuffle. As if Rick was blocking the door some way, and the woman was trying to get past him. There was a noise, and a short yelp, then the door opened.

"Rya–" The woman in the doorway – a tiny waif of a thing with strawberry blonde hair, freckles, and dressed in a turquoise sweater with a star on the front – stopped mid-word, her eyes widening to examine the scene in front of her.

Blaire on the floor, cross legged, Katrina sitting back on Ryan's bed, and Ryan on the phone beside his desk. All their bags and belongings scattered around the room in a mess, and the Digimon in plain sight for everyone to see.

"I'll call you back," Ryan spoke into his phone, and switched off the message he had been leaving Adrian. "Heather!" He opened his arms and hugged her, though she did not return it, and instead strained over his shoulder to see both Blaire and Katrina more.

Blaire rose from her place, feeling a little awkward. Katrina was paying more attention to Pinamon, who had turned perfectly still, than to anything else.

"Sorry I took off," Ryan kissed the top of Heather's head. "Did Rick tell you why?" He smiled at the other man, standing in the threshold of the doorway. He apparently missed the shake of Rick's head. "Let me introduce you, this is Blaire," he indicated to her, "and you know Katrina."

"Ye-yeah…," Heather murmured shakily. In her arms she had a plastic carrier bag which had a logo of a pharmacy on it. "I uhm…" She seemed shocked into silence for the moment, completely dumbfounded and lost for words.

"What's in the bag, eh?" Ryan inquired, taking it from her. He was cheerful, and seemed to be completely unaware of Heather's shock and momentary lack of speech. Beginning to dig through the contents, Ryan examined an item at a time. "Did you clear out the pharmacy?" He laughed.

His laugh seemed to snap Heather out of her stupor.

"Ryan." Her voice was suddenly quite full of authority and it took Ryan by surprise when he heard it. He stopped rummaging, and looked at her, his cheerful demeanor all but vanished. "Would you care to explain?" Heather waved her arm, indicating across the room at Blaire and Katrina.

Ryan glanced between her and Rick. "Didn't… Rick… tell you?" He looked at Rick hopefully.

"No," Rick piped up. "I thought you should explain to Heather why you disappeared and didn't wait for her." The tiny inflection of spite in Rick's voice was hard to miss. He had clearly not liked being left to try and explain Ryan's absence so suddenly and without any real explanation. "I was sure it would make more sense coming from you."

"Why are you in your room with two other women!?" snapped Heather.

"I have an explanation!" Ryan said, moving towards her. Heather stepped out of his reach, practically recoiling from his extended and open hands. Her eyebrows furrowed and expression fierce. Ryan didn't try to move towards her again. "When I woke–"

"It had better be a really good one, Ryan," Heather practically snarled.

Ryan was taken aback; he had never seen Heather like this. Heather, who was always quiet and gentle, sweet and kind. Her temper never really showed. She always thought the best in others, and to see her enraged, her eyebrows furrowed and her cheeks red with heat, Ryan was almost speechless.

"Like I was saying, when I woke up in the infirmary, Blaire and Katrina were the other two there. We were the only three who had fainted," Ryan explained, trying to not sound patronizing. He had to make himself remember that Heather did not know the ins and outs of all that had transpired between himself, Katrina, and Blaire. That as far as both she and Rick were concerned, perhaps only mere hours had passed, whereas for himself and the two women it had been weeks.

"That's your explanation?" Heather inquired, her voice incredulous. "Why did you bring them back here?"

"To talk," Ryan told her. "That was it. Nothing else. We wanted to try and figure out why it was we were the only three who had fainted."

"And your room was the perfect place to talk?" Heather crossed her arms. "Not the living room? The communal area in your house?"

"I thought we would be less likely to be disturbed in here. If we all sat down in the living room we'd all have to leave when Rick and Adrian got home," he explained. "Really, there's nothing for you to be jealous about."

"I am not jealous."

Blaire tutted in monotone. "Sure doesn't look that way to me." Heather's eyes blazed as she turned on the turquoise-haired woman. Noticing attention on her, Blaire looked up from where she had been examining her text messages and social media updates. "What? It doesn't."

Ryan ran his fingers across his temple. Rick was leaning on the door frame, his gaze alternating between the four people in the middle of this predicament.

"You clearly wouldn't be getting this agitated if you trusted Ryan. You'd believe his explanation and carry on."

"Blaire…," Katrina sighed, casting her a sidelong glance.

"Just telling it how I see it," Blaire retorted, slipped her hair off her shoulder. "Can't be good for the relationship, you not trusting Ryan." She raised the phone upward towards the ceiling, the sound of the camera clicking moments after she posed.

"Enough," Ryan snapped at Blaire. "You’re not helping."

Heather drew in a shaky breath. Her whole fragile body was trembling from head to toe. Tears were in her eyes, threatening to overspill as she tried vainly to keep her resolve. To stop her chin from trembling and to remain steadfast in her anger.

"Please, Heather…" Ryan approached her, his tone soothing. "You have to believe me." He reached out to touch her and she stepped away from his grasp again, shaking her head.

"I'm so angry," she whispered, her eyes directed to the floor. "And I feel so humiliated."

Rick cleared his throat awkwardly, leaving the room silent for a moment. Ryan staring at Heather helplessly, Blaire going through her cell phone, and Heather with her head bowed, letting out ragged breaths.

"Heather." Katrina's voice was softer than Ryan or Blaire had heard it before. It was like a totally different person's voice. It had lost its sarcastic and harsh edge, becoming warm and smooth like honey.

Heather raised her head to her name and looked at the redhead, trembling a little from head to toe. "I thought you were my friend…," she said weakly.

"I am," Katrina assured her. She moved across the carpet with swift steps. She bent a little at the hips, attaining Heather's eye contact while gently placing her hands on Heather's upper arms, rubbing her thumbs lightly across the fabric. "Of course I'm your friend."

"Then what's going on?" Heather seemed to plead. Her strawberry blonde hair had swept forward, practically obscuring her face from view.

"There was nothing going on, I promise you," Katrina began, her tone firm but gentle. "Ryan woke up in the infirmary with Blaire and I. We were the only three people who fainted, that we know of. It struck us, and the nurses, as strange because we all fainted at near enough the same time, and woke up around the exact same time. Ryan had the idea to go to the nearest house – his – and try and figure out why."

Heather quirked her head a little, her gaze shifting from Katrina's eyes to Ryan, remaining fixed on his unwavering gaze for a few long seconds. The atmosphere was tense and so suffocating it was as if no one was daring to breathe until Heather had calmed down.

"Really?" she said slowly, looking more at Ryan than at Katrina.

Ryan nodded dumbly. "Yeah. That's the truth. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, or wait. I guess I wasn't thinking."

"There was… nothing… going on?" Heather swallowed thickly. She looked back at Katrina this time.

"Nothing," Katrina confirmed. "Look me in the eyes and tell me if you think I'm lying." She challenged, meeting Heather's bloodshot and watery eyes with her own.

A few moments later and Heather nodded rapidly. She seemed to fall against Katrina, her tears coming freely. Katrina stood awkwardly, her hands still in the positions they had been on Heather's shoulders but without the shoulders in her fingers. Looking around uncomfortably, Katrina lightly patted Heather's back and stroked her hair, silently pleading Ryan to come and relieve her of the sobbing woman.

Ryan obliged, and within seconds Heather was enveloped in his huge arms, dwarfed by his stature.

Katrina flopped back against the desk, releasing a breath and patting the silent Ashramon, who had observed everything from her shoulder.

Calamon sat in Blaire's hands as quietly as Ashramon, and Pinamon still sat on Ryan's bed. Blaire was struck somewhat speechless by the transformation they had seen in Katrina in those few seconds. Not the woman she had become used to, but someone who showed a slightly more vulnerable side. She was intrigued by this other version of Katrina.

"Glad that's all hunky dory!" Rick announced, stepping over the threshold. "I do love happy endings."

"Shut up." Ryan shoved Rick with one hand, causing the other man to stumble a little and laugh.

Brushing his hand back over his dark messy locks, Rick sauntered towards Ryan's bed and flopped back on the covers casually, his hand barely missing Pinamon. "As Ryan's already taken, looks like I'm left with two gorgeous girls." He grinned.

"Maybe in another life time." Blaire smirked.

Katrina said nothing, simply shook her head, fiddling with her earring.

"I'm so sorry," Heather sniffled as Ryan released her. "To all of you. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. I know Ryan wouldn't cheat on me… I guess I saw two and two and came up with ten." She laughed weakly.

"No harm done," Ryan advised, kissing the top of her head. "I'm just glad you understand."

"Of course." Heather nodded. Ryan placed a light kiss on her mouth. "I should get going… I'm meant to be having dinner with a friend…"

"Okay." Ryan nodded. "I'll show you to the door."

"What a gentleman," teased Blaire.

Ryan rolled his eyes in her direction.

Heather managed to laugh a little as his reaction, and quickly rubbed her eyes and cheeks with her sleeve. When she had, she turned and looked at Katrina and Blaire again, a little embarrassed. "I really am sorry." She looked at Blaire. "Not a great first impression of me."

"It's fine!" Blaire told her. "Forget it."

"And Rick, I'm really sorry for getting you caught up in the middle." She looked at him.

"Favorite place to be, Heather," Rick said cheerfully. "You know me." He rocked back a little on the covers, dislodging them further. Pinamon rolled down the duvet, pulled by gravity and the pressure caused by Rick's weight.

Smacking against Rick's hips, Pinamon released a small squeak of noise, grabbing Rick's attention. Curious, Rick picked up the fluffy creature and turned him over in his hands.

"This new?" Rick asked, moving towards Ryan. "What is it?"

"Oh!" Ryan gritted his teeth. "Just a toy. Nothing."

"Not nothing." Rick grinned. "Look, its feet move on its own!"

"Batteries," Ryan tried to cover. "Seriously man, it’s just a cheap toy."

"May I see?" Heather held her hand out and Rick passed Pinamon to her casually. Ryan's teeth tightened, and he could see both Katrina and Blaire with slightly widened eyes. Calamon was also staring, and Ashramon too, through half open, drowsy eyelids. Heather ran her fingers across the soft feathers of the little creature that had been remarkably still and quiet throughout being manhandled by Rick. "It’s adorable!"

"I know." Ryan grinned, trying to be casual and keep up his cover. "There was some lady selling on the street a few days ago. I think she makes them herself. Maybe she'll be back and I can buy you one."

"Can't I have this one?" Heather asked, continuing to stroke the feathers.

"Uh…," Ryan faltered, "well… I kind of… like that one. Y'know, for me."

"Oh," said Heather. "Okay."

When it looked as though they had avoided detection and Ryan was wheeling Heather around to the door and trying to retrieve Pinamon, the little bird let out a long, contented whistle from his hidden beak. Ruffling his feathers, he shuffled around in Heather's hand, hopped up her arm and nestled on her shoulder, snuggling against her cheek.

"Oh look. He likes you," Ryan said weakly.

Heather shrieked, yanking Pinamon from her shoulder and tossing him across the room.

"Pinamon!" Ryan was quick to check on his partner, who had luckily landed on the soft bed.

"Pinamon!?" repeated Heather. "What is Pinamon?!"

"This is Pinamon." Ryan held him up to her. "He's uh… he's a… a Digimon."

"A…" Heather's mouth dropped open. "A… a what?"

"Digi… mon."

"It's okay Heather," Katrina stepped in, "we all have them."

It seemed then that Heather really saw them for the first time, Ashramon around Katrina's shoulders, and Calamon with his bright blue eyes blinking in Blaire's hands. She clasped her hand over her mouth, stifling a scream.

"Heather, it’s okay!!" Ryan placed Pinamon on his bed. Heather was dashing down the hall and towards the stairs.

"HOW COULD YOU?!" she screamed. "You know what happened!!"

"Heather, I didn't have a choice!" Ryan called back desperately. "They're harmless. Pinamon has protected me!"

"STOP IT. STOP IT!" shouted Heather. "I don't want to hear it!"

"Please, listen to me!"

"NO!" There was a scuffle, Blaire, Katrina, and Rick with the Digimon, all listened from Ryan's room. "LET ME GO!"

"LISTEN TO ME!" bellowed Ryan.

"LET GO OF ME!" Heather's voice was reaching levels of loudness it was like the whole house shook when she cried out. Apparently Ryan had released her, because the next sound was that of the front door opening, slamming, and then opening again.

After a moment of silence, Blaire turned to Katrina and Rick, and with a faux British accent spoke, “She's certainly spirited ole' lass, don'cha think?”

-----------------------------

When Ryan returned, about five minutes later, with mussed hair and a slightly red cheek, Rick had moved himself, Blaire, and Katrina down to the living room where they were all sitting, making vague and somewhat awkward conversation. Blaire sat on an armchair and Katrina on the sofa, Rick beside her. Ashramon swam around the room, investigating everything, while Calamon did the same. Pinamon was scuttling across the back of the sofa quickly on his small clawed feet, as if pacing, pausing only to leap at Ryan when he re-entered the living room.

"Hey…," he said slowly, letting Pinamon climb his arm and sit on his shoulder.

"Where's Heather?" asked Rick.

"I lost her," Ryan explained. He flopped back into a chair. "She kept screaming and shouting at me. Crying… I let her lose me." He sighed. "I'll go to her apartment later and try to explain."

"Oh… I wouldn't," Blaire commented sagely.

"No?"

"God no." Blaire shook her head. "She was screaming like a banshee. Leave it a few days at least. Otherwise when you speak to her it’s just going to be more shouting."

Ryan shook his head. "You don't know Heather," he said. "She’ll be fine." He seemed to say it more to himself than to anyone else.

Katrina sighed softly. "Why… why did she react like that?"

"Yeah," Calamon added. "We’re not that scary, are we?"

"Mhm-hm." Ashramon came to float in front of Ryan's face. "Rick isn't afraid of us."

"Juries out on that at the moment," Rick prompted, smiling at the frilled Digimon. "I'm just trying to… get my head around things right now."

"They told you?" Ryan asked him.

"We explained that these were Digimon," Katrina said. "But that's about it. It's a bit too in-depth to go into any real detail right now."

"Fair enough," Ryan shrugged. "The truth is," he sat up in his seat, templing his fingers, "I did know… something about Digimon when we got to the Digital World. Heather, she told me. Shortly after we started dating."

"Oh?" Blaire leaned forward, intrigued. "What's her story?"

"I wasn't here when the attacks happened four years ago. I moved to the city a year after, I think. I saw the news coverage, sure, even the videos online that tried to disprove the terrorist attack story, but I never really believed it. I mean… monsters, right? Sounds like something from a B-movie, eh? And then we got to the Digital World and saw them but I never put the two together… I mean, Anzumon, Grindymon, and Muertomon aren't like the monsters I saw on the Internet. Not even their evolved forms are that frightening."

He ran his fingers across his temple as he continued. "Heather has lived here her whole life, she was in the city when it was all going down, like a lot of people. I figured… four years, she would have gotten over it by now. That if she saw Pinamon, even Anzumon, she wouldn't see them as threatening… I didn't want her to meet you," he nudged Pinamon on his shoulder, "in quite such a sudden fashion… wanted to ease her into it…"

"You're not making much sense," Katrina prompted. "What did you think she would have got over?"

"She told me," Ryan started, staring at his hands in his lap, "there was an attack on the mall, or something. Heather was there when it happened. She got caught under the debris. When they found her, two days later, she was barely breathing. She'd had a really had head wound, lost a lot of blood, and was in a coma for two months, maybe more."

"That was Satyressmon," Blaire explained. "I remember when that happened. The hospitals were rammed for days. A lot of people got badly injured."

"Including Heather," Sighed Ryan. "It scarred her. Really scarred her. It took her about six months to recover properly, she had post-traumatic stress, had to go to therapy, and couldn't sleep without medication for a long time. She had a lot of memory problems, like she couldn't remember simple things like colors, or words… and what made it worse was as she was recovering at home, the most horrible attack happened. When the whole city was covered in that ice… glass stuff, Heather was home alone. Her parents couldn't get back into the city for days and Heather was just… stranded in her house, practically on the front line of all the fighting."

"She never told me," Katrina murmured.

"She doesn't like to talk about it."

Rick raised his eyebrows. "I can see why… makes some sense now too. How she jumps at little things like doors slamming, or when something makes a noise she's not expecting."

"Yeah… I… when it became clear that the Digimon were going to be permanent additions I started freaking… about how I was going to get this by Heather, how she would react. I hoped, because Anzumon and the others were small and pretty cute, she'd be less freaked but, yeah, that backfired." Ryan flopped his arm over his eyes. "I don't know what to do."

Blaire spoke up. "Well for one thing, do not go and talk to her right away. You both need time to cool off and sort your heads out."

"But the longer I wait, the longer she'll have to be angry and fester,." Ryan replied, a little weakly. "Wouldn't it make sense to talk now? Strike while the iron is hot, eh?"

"I say go with your friend on this one," Rick advised. "She seems to know what she's talking about, and seriously man, I have never seen Heather so mad or upset."

"I hate the idea of her being upset with me. Or crying. I should be there to comfort her."

"You'll do more damage than good, hun," Blaire said in a sing-song voice. "But you'll do what you feel is best, so…" She left the rest unsaid.

Despite Blaire's best warnings, Ryan left at the same time she and Katrina did. Armed with Pinamon, his D-Ex, and a head full of explanations and words he intended to say. Blaire and Katrina had decided to leave together, to walk to their own homes, which were on the same side of town, despite Rick offering them both a lift. The weather had turned from blazing hot sunshine to comfortably warm with a light wind, and they had both agreed the walk might help them clear their heads.

Ashramon was curved around the back of Katrina's neck, tucked beneath her hair, watching the world go by as the two women walked. Blaire carried Calamon in her hands when there were other people on the street, and he floated on his own at her shoulder when there was no one.

For a little while they walked in silence. The quiet spaces filled with the noise of traffic on the roads, and the snippets of conversations they heard of other people that they passed. They were both digesting the day so far, what had only been hours in reality, and the time that had passed in the Digital World. There was so much for them to take in and understand, even now, despite being in the Digital World for some time, they both struggled to understand everything about it.

"I wonder how it works," Blaire said aloud, triggering the redhead into conversation. The silence at first had been quite comfortable but as it had dragged on, that comfort had slowly become increasingly tense.

"How what works?" inquired Katrina.

"The time." She ran her fingers back through her hair, letting it fall over one shoulder. "I mean, like… here it’s still the same day. Right?"

"Right."

"But in the Digital World… we were there first for like four or five days, and then again for almost a week, a week and a half."

"It’s hard to keep track without a calendar," Katrina murmured. "But about that I would guess, yeah."

"So why is the time difference so extreme? The first time it was about half an hour in the real world at most, and the second, what, an hour? Forty-five minutes?" Blaire frowned. "It doesn't make sense. Why is it so big?"

"Your brother never mentioned anything about time differences?" Ashramon inquired, peering out from beneath Katrina's hair.

"Not that I recall." Blaire shrugged.

"Time obviously flows differently there and here," Katrina reasoned. "I'm not particularly familiar with time and space shifts, its more sci-fi fantasy I think, but that's all it could reasonably be." She tilted her head, giving Blaire her full attention. "Why does it have you so focused?"

"I'm just concerned," explained Blaire. "A day or two in the real world for all we know could be one hundred years in the Digital World…," she trailed, leaving the rest unsaid. To Katrina it was clear what her worries were, that the extreme difference could mean when they found Blaire's brother, he might not be alive.

"I'm sure your brother will be fine," Katrina said, patting Blaire's shoulder uneasily. "Hopefully wherever he is being held is exempt from the time difference." She smiled a little, and Blaire laughed a little. "What?"

"You are so bad at being touchy-feely," Blaire pointed out. "But thanks for trying."

Katrina shrugged, slightly dislodging Ashramon. "I'm not good with people, remember?"

"That's a lie," snorted Blaire. "You were a totally different person with Heather earlier."

"Hnngh…" Katrina ran her hands across her face. "Heather is… kind of different. For me."

Calamon dashed into Blaire's hands, two men were approaching down the street unexpectedly. "How so?" Blaire asked.

"I guess she's sort of my friend?" Katrina shrugged again. "I don't know, it’s weird. We live near enough, on the same street, and would always catch the same bus when I was working in the office all the time. At first I would just see her on the bus, and then one day when it was really heavily raining she had saved a seat for me."

"Saved you a seat?" Blaire repeated. "And you had… never spoken to her."

"Not once," Katrina affirmed. "I sat and she just started talking to me. Like she knew me. Like we were best friends. She's harmless, sweet, and insanely naive, wants to see the best in people all the time. I can't say I don't like her, I do. It was just weird. Eventually we would sit next to each other all the time. If I got on the bus first I would let her have the window seat because people tend to not walk into me or knock into me – clearly something about the air I give off – whereas if Heather sits on the outside she gets walked into, knocked into, gives up her seat for people who don't deserve it, and is always the first to apologize."

"Aww, she seems pretty… weak," sniffed Blaire, letting Calamon rise up into the air again.

"You'd think that, but she's not as feeble as she comes across. Not by a long shot," continued Katrina, turning a corner with Blaire and then waiting at a crossing. "She lives alone, is pretty self-reliant, and has a good head on her shoulders. I think she's come to rely on Ryan and others a little too much. To be fair, she probably thinks we're better friends than we actually are," she concluded finally.

"No kidding, when she hugged you… your face was…exquisite," laughed Blaire, commenting as if she was replaying the moment in her head. "I've never seen a look of fear quite like it."

"Not good with people," Katrina reminded her, with a wry smile.

The two women fell into step and silence once more, taking a shorter route through a narrow alleyway. Suddenly Calamon began to laugh, his whole body shaking.

"What's so funny?" Blaire asked, wanting to share in her partner's private joke.

"Oh!" Calamon grinned broadly. "I was just thinking about your brother, and the time difference. At least when we do find them, they'll be bones like me!"

"Uhm…" Blaire arched an eyebrow, and Katrina shook her head. Ashramon was the one who said what they were both thinking.

"That's not very funny, Calamon," she scolded him, coming out from Katrina's hair and confronting the skeletal head. "In fact it’s downright horrible."

“Oh.”

-----------------------------

Standing outside Heather's front door, Ryan was as nervous as he had ever been. With Pinamon securely on his shoulder he had steeled himself and gone over what he wanted to say as he had made the trip to her apartment, taking a long route so she had more time to cool down and to think. She lived on the ground floor of her building, which was a converted Edwardian-style house. He had always liked her apartment, it was cozy and homely, with little touches of Heather's personality and style everywhere.

Now the thought of going inside turned his insides to ice and stone, made him feel as though his legs were suddenly lead, and his stomach had disappeared to somewhere around his knees. They had never fought, not like this. They had had the odd disagreement, and only once really fallen out, only to make up a day later. Right now Ryan was beginning to wish he had not taken Heather's good and pliable nature for granted.

"Okay, now don't say anything," he reminded Pinamon, tapping his little beak.

"I won't," agreed Pinamon, settling down on Ryan's shoulder and practically becoming a fluffy stone with how still he was.

Ryan took a deep breath through his nose to steady himself. They would come through this, they just needed to talk. Pulling the chain for her apartment's doorbell, he waited a few seconds until he heard a click on the large main door which led to an entry way.

Heather's apartment was off the left, the first door. There were two other apartments in the building, one down a small flight of stairs, and another up. He waited at Heather's door until the petite woman opened it.

Immediately Ryan's resolve dropped. Somehow she seemed smaller, swamped in a hoodie jacket that was far too big for her. Her hair was tied back into a messy ponytail, and her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Her cheeks stained with tear tracks she had hastily tried to rub away, only further reddening her skin.

He just wanted to take her in his arms, wrap her up for all she was worth, and make it all go away. It was the feeling he always had when it came to Heather, to make all the badness in the world go away, to envelop and protect her from it, because to him she was everything light, and good, and unsullied.

He had ruined that now, he could see. By no fault of his own, and not by Pinamon's fault, that purity that was Heather all over had been tainted, never to be completely perfect again.

"Whatever you have to say, say it and go. I don't want to speak to you." The coldness in Heather's voice cut deeply. Ryan had never heard such a tone from her, and to find it directed at him was the worst part of it.

When he didn't say anything straight away, Heather sighed, left the threshold, and retreated into her apartment. He heard her flop onto her cream sofa and tentatively followed her inside.

The television was on, but muted, just different images were flickering up on the screen. He felt a pang of guilt to see the photos of himself and Heather looking so happy and contented in the various frames around the living room and hallway.

When Ryan sat down on the sofa beside Heather, she rose from the cushions and crossed to a wooden chair at her computer desk, settling herself in that, putting several feet of empty space between herself, Ryan, and Pinamon.

For a few minutes they sat like that, the three of them. In silence, with nothing but the sound of the occasional car or bus driving past to fill the silence.

"Whatever you have to say, say it," Heather prompted harshly.

"Don't… you have anything to say?" Ryan inquired, not chancing a look at her.

"I said everything I wanted to," she told him. He glanced at her, she had one leg bent, supported on the seat of the chair, her knee tucked beneath her chin as she stared blankly at the changing images.

"Come on, Heather…" Ryan moved across the room to her, kneeling in front of the chair to better look at her. She avoided making eye contact for longer than a second. "I didn't ask for this."

"But you've taken it on," Heather said spitefully. "I see you even brought that… thing into my home."

True to his word, Pinamon remained silent, though Ryan felt him tense on his shoulder. "Pinamon…" he sighed, "Pinamon isn't like those monsters that hurt you. Pinamon would never hurt anyone except to protect me."

"I'm sure," Heather said breezily. "And I'm sure he would never destroy anything of value, anything that was needed by the general public. I sure he would never knowingly harm others. And if he did harm another human being, he would be incredibly apologetic for it." The harshness and anger that struck her words was difficult to stomach. It was as if the Heather Ryan knew and had been in a relationship with over the past two and a half years and been swallowed by another person entirely. A whole other side to Heather that Ryan had never been privy to.

"Pinamon is a good guy," Ryan said, helplessly. All the things he had planned to say had disappeared from his head. He was clutching at straws and struggling to win Heather over. In fact, he was probably making matters worse. He should have listened to Blaire, left it a few days.

"You have no idea, do you?" Heather said bitingly. "Those creatures four years ago, some of those were the 'good guys' and they destroyed half the city in trying to 'defend' it. At the moment, your monster might be small, and sweet, and fluffy, but it won't last. It will turn around, grow bigger, and hurt someone. You, or someone you care about. You'll see."

"Heather…"

"They are monsters, Ryan!" she snapped. "Why can't you see that? They have no mind of their own. They are hell-bent on destruction. On killing and seeing things destroyed!"

"It’s not like that," argued Ryan weakly. "It isn't. Some of them may be, but not Pinamon. Not Ashramon or Calamon too. They're our friends."

"You're blind then," Heather snorted. "Blind and clearly stupid."

For some reason, Ryan took more offence to that than anything else so far. "I'm not stupid," he told her, his voice firm, "and I know what happened to you was traumatic, I know it was hard and that you still get nightmares, but you can't tarnish all Digimon with the same brush. They're not all like the ones who hurt you."

"I can't believe you're defending that thing," hissed Heather, rising from her chair and crossing away from Ryan. He remained kneeling, facing the empty chair. "We've been together nearly three years, and you're taking the side of a thing you've had for what, a few hours?!"

"Longer than that," Ryan murmured.

"What?!"

"Longer than that," he repeated, standing. He turned and faced her. "When I fainted the first time, I wound up in an alternate world called the Digital World. Pinamon was pulled out of my chest by a strange, hot light. He was another form then, called Anzumon. He saved me, and protected me more than once. When I got home after waking up in the infirmary, it happened again, and me, Blaire, and Katrina were all in the Digital World."

For a moment they stared at one another, Ryan with his square shoulders and set jaw, Pinamon still silent and tense. Heather's eyes were wide, her mouth drawn into a tight line.

Eventually she spoke. "You've gone mad," she murmured, supporting herself on the bookshelf by the wall. "You've actually lost it. That thing has done something to you."

"No, Pinamon hasn't," Ryan retorted. This wasn't how things were supposed to go. They were supposed to work this out. Heather was supposed to see Pinamon as non-threatening. They were supposed to apologize to each other and make up. This was the opposite of making up, getting defensive with one another, turning things back on each other to attack. "Pinamon hasn't done anything to me except save me. Here," he held out his black and yellow D-Ex to Heather, "this is the proof."

"Proof of what?" demanded Heather, eyeing the device skeptically. "That you have something that looks like it came off one of the toy stalls at the carnival? Ryan, what you're saying is insane."

"Where do you think the monsters came from four years ago?!"

"I don't know," Heather snapped again, "but talking about an alternate dimension… it's ludicrous."

"No! Heather, it's the truth!"

"I don't want to hear it," Heather said harshly.

"You have to–"

"I said I don't want to hear it!" she repeated, louder and more angrily. "And I don't have to do anything! No. For once, Ryan, it's you who has to do something!"

"Tell me," Ryan insisted. "Tell me and I'll do it."

"You have to choose. Me or the monster. Because I won't be staying if you keep it."

After Heather's ultimatum, the conversation was over quickly. Ryan had tried to get her to listen to reason, to help Heather understand there was no way for him to choose between the woman he loved and his Digimon partner. She was unfeeling, and unwilling to listen. She ushered him out of the apartment with very few words and refused to open the door again, even when he continued to ring the doorbell and shout for a further twenty minutes.

Eventually, Pinamon convinced Ryan to go home.

When he walked in to his own home, disheveled and half the man he had been when he left, Ryan kicked off his shoes and slowly made the walk into the living room, expecting to see only Rick. He was surprised to see Adrian lying stretched out on the love seat, a purple ball of fur with long ears and a crescent on its forehead sitting in his lap as he was playing with his tablet’s screen.

"Bonjour," Adrian greeted him, looking away for a moment. "You look terrible, no?"

"Thanks." Ryan half smiled. He was pleased to see Adrian, glad he was not injured and had returned at the same time he and the girls had, but struggled to make it known given his current state and mood. "Where are Blaire and Kat?"

"They left when you did," Rick reminded him. "Remember?"

"Oh… yeah." Ryan sat back on the sofa and buried his head in his hands. Pinamon scuttled off his shoulder and onto his lap, peering up at his face from his vantage point, releasing soft, sad chirping sounds.

It was clear to both Rick and Adrian that Ryan was in no fit state to speak, so they continued the conversation they had been having before his arrival.

"So, let me get this straight," Rick cleared his throat and straightened. "That is a Digimon." He pointed at Borramon, who was in the process of eating a bag of chips.

"Correct." Adrian nodded.

"And it came out of your chest." Rick pointed at Adrian's body.

"Sorta." Adrian pursed his lips. "There was a bright light when I arrived in da' Digital World after fainting at work, no? The light went into my chest, it was all kinds of hot and painful, like bein' burned for a long period of time in boilin' water with no respite. When it stopped, it had formed into a purple ball which floated in front of me and beat like a heart, no? Then, da' ball transformed into a shape of a bear, shook off the light, and voilà, Karumon."

"But that's not Karumon?"

"No." Adrian patted Borramon. "This here is Karumon in a smaller, weaker form, I believe. Borramon. Karumon travel sized, no?"

"I see…" Rick rubbed his chin. "And it’s just you four who have them, no one else."

"That I know of," Adrian confirmed cheerfully.

"There are eight others," Ryan sighed. "The eight being held in the Circle."

"The what?" Rick inquired, new information confusing him.

"The Circle is like some special place in the Digital World. It's some place the old Gods would meet. There were eight people from the events four years ago who had Digimon then. One of which is Blaire's brother. We got told by Dalimon they were in the Digital World, sleeping. Trapped in the Circle," Ryan explained wearily.

"This here I was not told," Adrian said, looking over the rim of his glasses.

"Of course not." Ryan breathed through his nose. "Varanumon was using you, why would he fill you in on any other information, eh?"

"Fair point," shrugged Adrian. Borramon finished the bag of chips and let it fall to the floor as he belched. Adrian moved the ball of fur onto a spare cushion of the ground. He rose from his own chair and crossed to the open plan kitchen.

"Speaking of Blaire…," Rick said slowly, his tone drawing out a little.

"Oh, here we go," Adrian laughed.

Rick ignored him. "She's not exactly bad on the eyes, is she?"

"I hadn't noticed," said Ryan. "I didn't think she was your type. You didn't seem too impressed when she walked into you at the carnival."

"She's not," Rick shrugged. "But a man can appreciate how attractive she is. Now Katrina… she's more my type. Not to mention she's gorgeous, I mean, those big eyes and that hair? Wow." Ryan let out a short bark of laughter, and even Adrian chuckled a little from the kitchen as he went through a few of the drawers looking for something. "What's so funny?"
"She may be more your type," Ryan said slowly, "but Katrina is as cool and impersonal as they come. She'd be a hard nut to crack, even for you."

"Women can't resist a funny guy," Rick retorted, smirking.

"Yeah," Ryan smirked back, "and you're not funny."

"Asshole." Rick shoved him. Ryan groaned a little, flopping his head onto the back of the sofa. Pinamon had settled on his leg quietly, and ruffled his feathers in response to Rick's shoving of Ryan.

"Quit it," he ordered, with a sharp peck on Rick's hand.

Quickly, Ryan retracted his limbs and frowned at the small bundle of feathers.

"So Rick told me about Heather," Adrian announced, passing a beer to Ryan and another to Rick. He settled back in the arm chair and took a swallow from his own bottle. "I take it your conversation didn't go well, no?"

"Understatement of the century," Ryan sighed, clearing the condensation from the outside of his bottle. "She gave me an ultimatum. Her, or Pinamon."

"Ouch…" Rick winced. "That's pretty unfair. And so unlike Heather."

"Can't blame her though," replied Ryan. "I don't know what I would do in her position but… it's a fair thing."

"Ultimatums are never fair, mon ami," Adrian said wisely, something in his voice gave the impression he had been faced with several before. "She should try and understand where you comin' from. I understand her trauma, and every dog has a few fleas, but Pinamon won't responsible for it, yeah?"

"Yeah." Ryan took a long swallow from his bottle and mopped his mouth. "I really don't want to think about it right now," he admitted. "Anything else we can focus on?"

Rick raised his eyebrows, grabbed the remote of the coffee table, and switched on the television. As he flicked through channels, he and Adrian exchanged opinions on what to watch, and what Rick stopped on, they made quips back and forth until Rick settled on something they could all enjoy. Though Ryan's mind filtered it all out, the insanity of the day playing at the forefront of it, he was unable to focus on anything else.


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