Episode 15: Every Man Has His Fault

  dark                              light

The early afternoon city air, bumper to bumper traffic, and the wave of pedestrians on the busy sidewalks were not particularly welcoming. Each of them found that they had not missed the sights and sounds of their city life as much as they had initially thought they would, and being back in the throngs of it was actually quite jarring to the senses.

After walking through the gateway that Conquest created, they had all taken a few minutes to get their bearings.

"Why... are we here?" Katrina asked, looking up at the sky as Ashramon curled up around her neck.

Adrian lifted his eyebrows. "Why are any of us here, cher?" He smirked.

"I mean outside, jerk," Katrina retorted, shoving him a little. "We were at your house when Rubimon transported us, I thought we were going to remain there?"

"Your bodies were transported too, remember?" Rubimon reminded her. "Not like before, when your physical selves remained here. It makes sense that your bodies would be in a different location."

"In correlation to where we were in the Digital World?" Blaire prompted.

"Yes and no." Rubimon shrugged. "The Digital World is much larger than you would think, and the distance we traveled there... is not as exact as it is to your world. I imagine Conquest's gateway dropped us off to the nearest location to a power source."

Ryan ruffled his hands through his hair. "This whole traveling from different worlds thing really confuses me."

"I try not to think about it," admitted Blaire with a grin. "Makes my head hurt to do so."

Adrian stretched his arms above his head. "Let's get movin' 'den. Our house ain't far."

Without argument, the group began the trip to the house the boys shared. It was only about a twenty minute walk away, by Adrian's guess. The In-Training Digimon all hid in bags, or around necks, or on shoulders, looking as inconspicuous as possible, while Rubimon walked in the middle of the four humans, their legs and bodies keeping her relatively hidden from passers-by.

The return journey to the house didn't take as long as they had thought. Despite their slow pace due to their own individual tiredness, and the fact the streets were full of people, they made good time. They were able to avoid most questions about Rubimon by explaining she was a shy child in a costume, getting ready for Halloween early. Really early.

The only ones curious about Rubimon were children anyway, and since Rubimon had had experience with their curiosity in the past, she was the most adept at handling their questions. She kept her calm like a pro when they poked her face and pulled her tail and wings, thinking them only parts of a costume and not realizing that she felt each pinch and pull.

“I dunno 'bout ya'll, but I'm so tired…,” Adrian yawned, stretching then resting his hands behind his head. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"I want a long shower, and my bed," Katrina agreed. "Or maybe a bath." She hid a small yawn behind her hand. "Yeah... a long soak and my bed."

Blaire spoke up, “So we're going to Atlas Corp tomorrow then, considering if we did it today we'd all probably fall asleep in the lobby." She grinned a little, though even she had to admit her eyes burnt slightly as she kept them open.

It was funny to think how in the Digital World none of them of had really noticed their basic bodily requirements. They had slept and eaten, but never felt the essence of sleepiness or hunger.

Suddenly, being back in their own world, it was as if their bodies were catching up with themselves and each person was overwhelmed by the senses. Their desire for sleep, and food, and simple things like a shower.

“Yeah," Ryan said cheerfully and smiled. "We can all have the evening to recuperate and then get the last two vials tomorrow. Finally.” He had a new boost to his attitude and step. More confidence since the conflict with Conquest, and his one-to-one with Katrina, which neither of them had mentioned the details of to the others.

He had said more than once during their walk to the house about how he was going to talk to Heather, how he was going to put his foot down and stand up for himself. How he wasn't going to be manipulated, or forced into a situation, or given an ultimatum. That he and Anzumon came as a package, and that was something Heather was going to have to come to terms with, if she wanted to be with him. And if not... then they would simply have to go their separate ways.

Adrian and Blaire had both been the most vocal in their support of Ryan's new and improved attitude, while Katrina had kept remained quiet, but when asked her opinion had been positive and supportive overall, if not as enthusiastic as the others.

As they reached the corner of the street the house was on, Blaire came to a stop and hoisted her pink studded backpack into her arms, close to her chest.

"Well loves, this is where I leave you!" she announced happily.

Adrian made a face. “Aww, c'mon now cher. I can give ya a ride later!" he insisted, enjoying the group banter and the bonding they were experiencing. "C'mon back to da' house for a bit!"

While not faced with Behemon, strange locations, and just not being in the Digital World, the group of them together had a nice dynamic. They had an ease of communication which wasn't forced or difficult, something they had not really experienced in the Digital World due to the constant threat of impending doom which loomed over them all the time.

“Nah, it's fine." Blaire waved a hand dismissively. "I could do with some time to myself anyway—" A form in her bag moved and she unzipped part of it. The big, bright blue eyes of Calamon peeked out curiously, causing Blaire to smile. "Well... to an extent, at least.”

"Alright then," Katrina chuckled slightly. “Text us when you make it home. Be safe.” She smiled warmly at the other woman.

Blaire raised her eyebrows in reaction to the sentiment. “Don't do that, it's creepy,” she mocked playfully, amused. "Go back to being cold and detached."

Katrina's face fell flat. She rolled her eyes with a light scoff.  “Remind me never to be nice to you. Ever.”

Blaire poked her tongue out. "Whatever." With a parting goodbye to the others, she turned and crossed the street, disappearing into the people bustling about their own daily business.

"Guess I should get home, too," Katrina admitted, touching her earring.

"C'mon back wit' us," Adrian said to her. "Eleanor might still be at our place, maybe she can check you haven't broken ya arm."

"I can move my fingers," Katrina said, doing so for effect. "It’s not broken. Probably just bruised or something." She had kept her arm hooked into the nook of her coat, finding it less painful when it was supported than when she had it hanging as it would have normally been.

"Come back with us anyway," Ryan urged her, beginning to walk, leading the way towards the house. "One of us can give you a lift home when you want to go."

Katrina stared at his back, and then gave Adrian a level stare. "This... isn't about Rick or something, is it? Some weird attempt to shove us together in his home territory?"

Adrian grinned. "Nah. Rick will be 'dere, but we promise, no shenanigans from either of us where he's concerned. Any and all interaction, awkward as they will be, will be all him."

"Oh good," Katrina sighed. She followed Ryan regardless, the temptation of a sit down in a comfortable chair more of a draw than anything else. It would be a nice break between walking to their house and then walking to her own apartment a bit later.

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

Upon entering the living room, all of Ryan's earlier confidence seemed to have left him and left a visible impact. His shoulders slumped forward and his head drooped a little. Pinamon, who had been sitting on his shoulder, scurried down his arm and onto the floor, speeding quickly to a cushion on the carpet on which to snuggle and sit.

"You didn't give me a chance to tell you..." Rick said quietly to Ryan as he stood in the same doorway.

The reason for Ryan's sudden change in demeanor was obvious once Katrina peeked between the two men: Heather sat on one of the sofas in the living room, curled up and looking much smaller than she normally did because of how she sat. Her skin looked sallow and a bit sickly, like she hadn't eaten or slept much, and the appearance and movement of Pinamon seemed to scare her to the point of nausea.

"Heather…," Ryan sighed. He pushed his hat off his head and looked at Rick, who shrugged.

Sensing the tension rising in the living room and hallway, Adrian dropped his bag and scooped up Borramon in his arms. "I'm gonna have dat shower and take a nap," he announced, trying to dissipate the atmosphere. "A long shower." He cleared his throat. "Rick, maybe you should make yourself busy? Rubimon, you can chill upstairs."

Rubimon looked at him and at the other humans bewildered, but she sensed there was no reason to stay in the vicinity of Ryan and followed Adrian up stairs.

"Uh?" Rick looked back at his housemate. "Yeah. Yeah, I was..." He glanced at Katrina. "Eric left his number for you. Said you should give him a call when you got back. Give me a sec, it's in the kitchen."

"Oh?" She tilted her head. "Okay. I guess I’ll head to my place in that case." She smiled at Adrian who was standing on the stairs. "Guess we'll chill out together some other time."

"Guess so, cher." Adrian smiled weakly.

Rick returned, holding a post-it with a number scrawled across it in black pen. "Here." He handed it to Katrina and she folded it neatly. "I'll give you a ride."

Katrina blinked. "N-no, that's okay. It's really not a long walk."

"It's fine." Rick smiled at her. "I insist."

"I can walk," Katrina said again, a little more fervently. Rick already had his keys in his hand and was getting shoes from the bottom of the stairs. She saw Adrian nodding his head and stared at him questioningly.

Adrian glanced between Ryan, Rick, and Heather. Ryan and Heather still hadn't really said anything, and Katrina could only take from Adrian's subtle gesturing that Rick wanted to get out of the house to give them the space they needed to talk and get things out in the open. It was more for him that he was offering her a lift, than for herself.

With a small sigh, Katrina rubbed her forehead. "If I'm not putting you out," she said, slowly to Rick as if tied his shoes.

"Not at all." He grinned. "We can, y'know, get to know each other."

"Oh, great," Katrina said weakly. "What fun," she added under her breath. Ashramon giggled softly on her shoulder, earning a small glare from her partner.

On the stairs, Adrian offered a thumbs up and an enthusiastic grin. He then disappeared up a second flight of stairs and towards what Katrina could only assume was the bathroom.

As Rick finished tying his other shoe, Katrina nudged Ryan with her elbow. He stood from where he had been leaning on the door frame and looked at her with a small, weak smile.

"I'll see you tomorrow," she said firmly, tentatively giving his hand a squeeze as the most friendly and supportive thing she could think of doing. Ashramon floated up to Ryan's height and carefully encircled the back of his neck, tightening a little as if offering her own hug of support, and then returned to Katrina's shoulders.

"See ya," Ryan said slowly. His eyes went back to the sitting form of Heather in the living room. She hadn't moved, except for her head, her eyes now cast downward towards the floor whereas before she had been looking at Ryan.

Moments like this, Katrina hated that she wasn't particularly friendly. Not someone for hugs or words of comfort. Brashness and honesty were her strongest attributes, which worked well when she needed to get through to someone. But right now, Ryan needed some kind of support that she couldn't offer in word or deed. She bit her bottom lip and squeezed his hand again.

"Just…." She breathed out hard. "Be honest," she said, finally.

"Ready?" Rick asked, coming to her side.

She nodded. "Sure."

She offered one more small, what she hoped was supportive, smile to Ryan and followed Rick out of the front door.

Ruffling his hands through his hair, Ryan crossed the threshold slowly and took a seat on the couch, leaving a person-sized gap between himself and Heather, not wanting to crowd her or make her feel intimidated. From his cushion on the ground, Pinamon watched with his intelligent yellow eyes half open and alert.

Ryan asked, "When did you get here?" with his fingers templed between his legs as the two of them had been sitting silently for a few minutes. Upstairs they could hear the noise of the shower.

"A few hours ago," Heather replied, not looking at him. "Rick tried to explain where you were, I decided to wait."

"Oh." He nodded, turning his hands and his thoughts over. All the things he had meant to say, all that bravado and confidence he had gained during the fight with Conquest and the time after was gone. He recalled the fight of course, recalled what Katrina had said to him, that he needed to make a choice and do what was best for him. But it wasn't as simple as all that, not when Heather was this close and looked so tiny and weak.

He hated that he was the cause for her unhappiness, the cause for the bags under her eyes.

"I'll fix you something to eat," Heather said, rising from the couch and crossing towards the kitchen door. Ryan followed her hurriedly.

"No, you don't have to do that, Heather," he insisted, but she was already rummaging through the fridge for bread and sandwich fillings. Adrian – and Rick to some extent – always kept it well stocked with food and drink, there was never a time where they ran out of food, or something couldn't be created from the food they did have, thanks to Adrian's creativity in the kitchen.

"I want to," Heather remarked, taking the bread board from where it sat beside the microwave and laying it down on the countertop.

It occurred to Ryan that if they broke up that would be one thing he would miss. Heather knew her way around his house as well as he did. She knew where everything belonged, from Adrian's chef knives, to new toothbrushes and shower gel. She always contributed. When she had stayed with him for a period of days she had offered to cook dinner and tidied up. She had give Ryan money towards rent and bills to cover what extra electricity she might have used.

As he stood in the doorway he watched as Heather decanted bread and fished pieces of lettuce from a bag she found.

He would miss this, if they ended. His friends joked that he took care of her, because she was delicate and gentle, and that was true. But in turn, she took care of him. He couldn't count the number of times she had made him a sandwich or something to eat without being asked, but simply because she knew he was or was going to be hungry. It was one of her ways of showing how she cared about him.

All of Ryan's instincts told him to hold her around the waist and never let go, that losing Heather just wasn't an option, no matter what he had said before, that she was someone too good to let go, someone that ultimately, he didn't think he could stand losing.

He didn't. He kept his desires to embrace her to himself. He didn't want to alarm her or make things more complicated and confusing, and he knew that doing anything intimate, even something as mundane as a hug would do that.

"What does Pinamon eat?" Heather inquired, her voice quiet as she set out pieces of lettuce across the bread.

Ryan stared at her for a moment. "Pinamon?"

She nodded. "Mh-hm."

"Uh," Ryan swallowed a little, "anything. Really."

"Alright." She nodded again. "So, if I made a small version of this sandwich, he would eat that?"

"Definitely," Ryan told her, feeling the corners of his mouth tug into a tiny smile. She was trying. Scared as she might be of Digimon, maybe she had recognized that Pinamon wasn't a threat, he was tiny and gentle and more than that, he was Ryan's friend and that meant he was Heather's too.

Maybe they would be able to come out of this on the other side. Maybe he wouldn't have to make the difficult choice.

"Tell me," Heather spoke again after a few moments. Ryan was intent on letting her lead, allowing her a voice to speak and be heard.

"Anything."

"About the Digital World." She looked at him. "Your adventures... what it's like there."

Ryan arched an eyebrow. "You're interested?"

"Does that surprise you?"

"Yes..." His mouth quirked a little. "Heather, are we going to talk about... us?"

Softly, Heather replied, "Eventually." She handed Ryan a plate, on it the sandwich she had been making —  a simple BLT. She took another smaller version of the same sandwich into the living room and put the plate in front of Pinamon, or at least as close as she could get.

As Ryan and Heather sat down, Pinamon scurried forward to investigate the food before him, pecking at the bread with his beak before beginning to tear off small bits to eat quickly.

"Can't I ask you about what you're doing as far as Digimon go?" inquired Heather as she sat politely, her legs together and hands in her lap. "I'm interested."

"I thought you—"

"Ryan," she sighed a little, "tell me about it. I want to know. Honestly."

As she looked at him, he saw no sign of malice or contempt – not that he was even sure Heather was capable of either of those feelings – just open honesty and a tiny glimmer of a smile. This was her testing the waters, seeing if she could handle the gory details of just what he was dealing with, what his life was like now, and for however much longer it would remain so.

It was a chance, and he took it.

"Well," he cleared his throat, "where do you want me to start?"

"How about the day of the festival? Just, tell me everything you can."

He ran his hand over his stubble, scratching a little at it as he thought back. The festival seemed like so long ago, when in fact it had only been a few days. With the way the time moved in the Digital World, everything was completely strange for him, how he would go weeks in the Digital World and yet on returning it had been only a few minutes or hours. He was glad that as yet, aside from the pajama incident, he had not been caught out.

He exhaled as he began. "You saw what happened, when I blacked out. But... to me it wasn't like I blacked out. It was like I'd just had a micro-sleep. Y'know, when you fall asleep for a few seconds? And suddenly I was lost, in the woods, on my own. Everything of the University was completely gone."

Heather leaned her chin in her hand as she listened.

"I met Blaire," Ryan continued, "and then Katrina. And these woods, they were like nothing I've ever seen. I mean, the woods in Canada are huge, eh? But this was gigantic, and it was like it was tropical. Humid and sticky, but it’s not like I ever felt sweaty or tired. I barely even felt the heat. It's one of the weird things about the Digital World. Normal things like being hungry or tired don't affect your body. You'll get hungry and eat, you'll get tired and sleep, but I don't ever feel tired when I'm there. Or hungry. It's... really strange."

Heather smiled a little. "Sounds odd."

"But then when you get back home, everything catches up with you. Like, we were just talking on the way back, how we were all really sleepy." He laughed a little. "But I'm getting off topic."

"It’s alright," said Heather. "I like listening to you babble and get excited. It's like when you talk to me about hockey. I still don't get it, but listening to you get so enthusiastic about it... it's sweet. You turn into a big kid when you're excited."

Ryan chuckled, and ran his hand through his hair. "Well, heh, okay. Where was I?"

"Big forest, meeting Katrina and Blaire."

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

Rick ran his hands over the steering wheel, leaning back in the driver's seat of his car as they sat in traffic. An accident on the roads had caused a blockade, and naturally everyone driving past was going extra slow to see what had happened and try to catch a glimpse of something.

In the passenger seat, Katrina tapped away at her phone, fingers speedily typing and deleting. Occasionally she would make a little grunt of irritation or sigh but that was the extent of their conversation thus far.

Getting to know one another was going worse than Rick could have expected.

Even with practically no words exchanged the atmosphere inside the car felt tense and stifling, so Rick opened a window a little. He reached for the car radio, turning it up to a reasonable volume so they could still talk if they got over this first hurdle of someone saying something first.

Rick satisfied himself with watching the traffic and occasionally watching Katrina and Ashramon. How the little Digimon curled around Katrina's neck and made comments in a soft voice he could barely hear. Sometimes Katrina would nod or smile in reaction.

She had a nice smile. Her whole face lit up.

He had to wonder exactly what the Digimon said or did to make Katrina shine like that. Was there some special password, or a certain subject he should approach her with to get the same reaction?

After a few minutes and not moving more than a couple of feet, he cleared his throat. "Sorry about the traffic."

"It's not your fault," said Katrina with disinterest.

"I know," Rick shrugged, "but you said it would have been quicker to walk home and right now you're probably right." He laughed. The unfortunate part was that they were on a strip of road that was cars only, and the traffic coming the opposite direction was a steady stream, which meant that Katrina couldn't just get out and walk the rest of the way.

"Hmm," sighed Katrina. She leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes.

"Bet you're tired."

"Yup."

"Walkin' around the Digital World all day... sleeping on the ground." Rick nodded to himself and started to tap along to the radio with his hands on the steering wheel. "Bet getting home and going to bed would be awesome."

"So awesome." Katrina ran her fingers across her forehead. Quietly, Ashramon giggled and Rick caught her looking at him. He smiled a little and the aquatic Digimon grinned back.

"Ashramon is cute," he stated, easing the car forward as the traffic moved a few feet.

Katrina cracked an eye open. "Yeah," she rubbed a finger on the Digimon's head, petting her gently, "she really is."

Sensing a break in her voice, a warmth that had not been there before, Rick continued along the path of Digimon. It seemed a safe route and had been the only time so far that Katrina had spoken more than a couple of words to him.

He said, "I'd really like to see her other forms. Ryan and Adrian told me how Pinamon and Borramon have other ones." He stretched his arms a little and leaned forward on the steering wheel. "Ugh, this traffic..."

"Here." Suddenly a holographic image of Ashramon was in front of him, illuminated from what he recognized as a D-Ex, though Katrina's was turquoise where Ryan's and Adrian's had been yellow and purple. "So that's Ashramon," explained Katrina. She tapped a button and another image appeared of a Digimon with the same color scheme as Ashramon. "And in the Digital World she looks like this, Grindymon."

"Cute." Rick grinned, meaning both the image of Grindymon and the enthusiasm Katrina was suddenly demonstrating. "She's kind of got that hook-light that Angler fish have, right?"

"Uh-huh!"

"Show the next one!" Ashramon told her, hovering by the D-Ex. The next image appeared of a mermaid with wild hair and red fins scattered across her tail and arms. "That's when I become Melusimon!"

"Wow!" Rick enthused, with the kind of voice he would have used when responding to a child telling him a story. "She's very fierce looking."

"You have no idea," Katrina said, pursing her lips. "And the last one is this one, Selkiemon." An image that couldn't have been more different from Melusimon or Grindymon appeared. A creature on two legs wearing a massive pelt. "She's a bit... wild."

"So, all the Digimon have different personalities? Despite evolving from the same root Digimon?" he inquired.

Katrina sat back in her seat and Ashramon lay across the dashboard, peering out of the window at the car in front. "I guess so," she replied, "I don't really understand how it works. It's... actually pretty frustrating."

"Why?"

"I like knowing the ins-and-outs of everything," she explained. "It’s a habit of mine. If I don't understand something I make it my mission to learn about it and understand it more thoroughly. At school I got made fun of a lot for it."

Rick shrugged. "Something we have in common. I used to get made fun of a lot at school, but I turned it to my advantage. I turned my quirks and insecurities into something good, making me the class clown. Still got picked on, and never really got many dates, but it made school more bearable."

"Ah," Katrina turned her head, "well, that is where the similarity ends. I'm not a people pleaser."

"That's not a bad thing," Rick said. He could see the safety cones on the road, and police now patrolling the accident, which meant hopefully they would soon be moving more than half a foot every five minutes. "I hated being picked on and made fun of... it's something that has been a defining trait since I was a kid. I think, to not change yourself to fit in, to not give in to peer pressure, that requires a lot of strength." He nodded. He smiled and looked at Katrina, surprised to find her staring at him with an eyebrow arched. "What?"

Katrina squinted her eyes a little. "I'm just trying to figure you out," she explained. "Adrian and Ryan told me you have a crush on me— " she saw a pink tinge explode onto Rick's cheeks "— and I keep expecting you to come out with some kind of pick up line. But you haven't."

"Is that a bad thing?" asked Rick, swallowing his embarrassment and focusing on the road ahead. He was going to kill his housemates. They weren't supposed to tell her he liked her, just find out if there was any competition.

Katrina's mouth drew to one side. "No," she shrugged a shoulder, "I guess not."

Rick was confused. For a moment there the atmosphere had been light and easy, they had been talking and laughing a little bit together, admittedly with the help of Ashramon. But now he felt the blanket of unease settling on them both and couldn't figure out why. He tried to go over the conversation, thinking perhaps he had said something wrong or that he might have said something that she could have taken the wrong way, but he couldn't think of anything.

Determined to keep the conversation flowing, he cleared his throat. "The weather is nuts, huh? Don't you just wish it would rain?"

Katrina looked at him lazily, clearly unimpressed by his attempt at small talk. "What do you do?"

"Huh?"

"Do you work? Are you at University?"

"Oh," Rick laughed weakly, "bit of both. I'm studying business and economics at Uni, and on the days I don't have classes or lectures I work at the Harper, Jameson, and Yeap Accounting Firm. To get some on the job experience."

"You must be really smart."

Rick shrugged. "Not really."

"Don't do that."

"Do what?"

"Try and be modest or humble about your intelligence," Katrina said. "You’re smart. That's a good thing. I bet you have a high IQ."

"Uh..." Rick rubbed the back of his neck. "My parents never got it tested. Though when I was a kid they would buy me all the 'smart' toys."

Katrina's earring jangled as she tugged on it gently.

"What about you?" Rick asked her, easing the car through the small space between the other side of the road and the accident. "What do you do?"

"I work in IT," she explained. "It’s boring and really, really not very challenging."

"You're not at University?"

"I graduated two years ago," she replied nonchalantly. "I was jumped ahead in school. I graduated high school when I was sixteen."

"Wow."

She shook her head. "And now I work in a thankless job with three men who make conversation with a drying wall seem interesting, and my boss is a chauvinistic leech. The only reason he's never hit on me is because the one time he touched me without my permission I reported him to our HR department."

Rick made a face. "Sounds like a guy who comes to my office. He's like our on-call computer guy, for when things go wrong. He always, without fail, leers at the receptionist, Moira, who's my age. We've asked for someone else to come instead because he makes her and the rest of the women in the firm uncomfortable."

"Wait," Katrina leaned forward, "you said you work for Harper, Jameson, and Yeap?"

Rick nodded.

"The guy who goes out to your company, that's my boss. Dean Wilks. He does on-call repairs as an extra money maker while he's meant to be at work. Like his six-digit salary isn't enough." Katrina rolled her eyes.

"He's your boss?!"

"Yeah."

"Gross."

"I know!" She laughed. "He's such a... ugh, I wish he would just crawl back into the primeval sludge he crawled out of." Katrina looked at Rick, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. "I've seen women wait for another elevator if he's in there. Even if there are other people in there, they will wait or just take the stairs. Oh! And the way he licks his teeth and smacks his lips when he's talking!" She shuddered. "It makes my skin crawl."

"Not to mention he's mostly useless," Rick added, grinning. He found it odd that they were basically bonding of their mutual dislike for their mutual co-worker, but Katrina was animated and energetic as she spoke about it, and it was a safe topic. "The last time he came to the firm he spent two hours trying to fix this one computer that refused to boot. He fixed that, but in doing so basically lost everything on the computer. The operating system had to be reinstalled – it was a disaster."

Katrina sneered. "I should be doing his job," she muttered. She noticed that Rick was turning the car into her street and started to gather up her things. She turned to Rick, "If something goes wrong at your office with the computers or something, call me. I'll get it fixed and won't screw it up like Wilks."

"I'll need your number to do that," Rick replied, smirking a little to himself as he eased the car into a space a few meters from Katrina's front door.

Katrina arched a brow. "I have a work number."

"Would you like to come in?" Ashramon asked, piping up suddenly from the dashboard where she had been lying in the sun.

"What?" Both of Katrina's eyebrows rose up in surprise as she stared at her Digimon, while Rick glanced between the two.

"Uh—"

"Heather and Ryan might not be done talking yet," Ashramon explained, smiling sweetly.

Rick ruffled his hair. "Huh... you have a point. I hadn't thought about what I would do once I dropped you off. I don't particularly want to have to go back to the house and walk past the living room while they're…," he trailed and leaned his hands on the steering wheel.

Ashramon looked at Katrina, her head tilted to one side, and smiled before curling around her partner's neck. Glaring down at the innocent-looking Digimon, Katrina tried to appear nonchalant. "You can come in."

"No, if it’s an inconvenience."

"It's not," Katrina sighed, opening the car door and climbing out... "Just... come in."

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

Full of food and comfortable on a fluffy cushion, Pinamon had fallen asleep easily while Heather and Ryan talked.

Or rather, mostly Ryan talked and Heather listened, asking questions and illustrating her curiosity about the Digital World and Digimon in general.

Ryan could tell she was trying, really trying, and now with Pinamon asleep she seemed more relaxed, and even laughed a little with him. The earlier unease had dissipated. Not gone completely, any time he unwittingly touched her hand it would return and it would take a little bit longer for them to relax back into conversation.

She had surprised him, really. Her interest in the Digital World, Digimon, and what he had been doing was genuine. Her questions were honest and she kept asking him to elaborate on things that she didn't understand. He had avoided speaking too long or too in depth about Baphomon, how he had enticed Katrina, and about Conquest. There was no point bringing up his own weakness and doubts, though he did talk about the Garden of the Dead, and the history of the Digital World, at least what he remembered.

Heather had seemed most interested in the Gods, and how they appeared in the Circle. Ryan explained that they had been the ones who had defeated Mukademon in the Digital World once before, and then for good, in the city four years ago.

Ryan sat with his arms outstretched on the back of the couch, leaning comfortably in the cushions. Heather sat with her legs curled up under her, an elbow on the sofa back and her heard perched on her hand, her lips curved into a gentle smile.

It was so comfortable. They sat like this a lot when they would talk, or watch a movie and end up talking over it or making silly commentary along with the handful of films they had seen dozens of times together. The sandwiches Heather had made were gone, empty plates pushed aside, and Ryan realized he didn't want to lose this.

Through everything he had talked about, Heather had been understanding and intrigued. If she was fearful of Digimon, then he hoped that the stories he had told — about the nice Digimon he and the others had met — would warm her up to them. That not all of them were a threat, and his own Digimon least of all was a threat to her or to him.

"So, then Selkiemon, which is a second evolution of Grindymon, comes in all fists wailing and kicking. She's wicked fast, and Conquest doesn't know what way to look," Ryan continued, speaking animatedly, recalling the images of the fight with Conquest. "And she's all flirty with Kotenmon, callin' him sugar and kissing his cheek." He laughed. "I think Grindymon has a crush."

Heather chuckled softly, and then pushed her hand through her hair.

"So what are you going to do?" she asked, and tilted her head back until it rested against the cushions of the sofa.

"Do?" repeated Ryan.

"About Pinamon. All of you, what are you all going to do about your Digimon?"

Ryan frowned, his forehead creasing. "I... don't follow." He sat up, no longer feeling relaxed as Heather had derailed the conversation, and he could feel it drifting into serious territory.

"Do you plan on keeping Pinamon? After you've freed the others from those cages you talked about." She paused, watching Ryan's face for reaction. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees and bowed his head a little. "It's just," Heather shifted towards him, "there are another three of you with Digimon. Plus this Eric and Eleanor with their own, and the other eight people trapped. More than enough people to handle things without you."

"Heather," sighed Ryan, "it’s not like Pinamon is a pet I can take to the dog shelter. He's a responsibility, not unlike a dog, and more than that, he's a part of me." He laughed a little weakly. "He was pulled out of my chest for God's sake." He kept his voice even, steady, attempting to hide his exasperation and the twinge of disappointment. He had hoped, through their talking, that Heather's mind may have been swayed.

"I get that," Heather replied and sat beside him so their thighs touched. "But are you doing this and keeping him because you want to?" she questioned, looking at him seriously. Carefully she raised a hand, touching his face. "You don't have to do this, if you don't want to."

She was right, Ryan knew. He could have easily thrown his D-Ex away and ignored Pinamon, and gone on his daily life. In fact, in the beginning that was all he wanted to do. When Anzumon didn't like him and when everything was confusing and he and the others were lost and always fighting, he had wanted to do nothing but throw it all in and let someone else deal with the problem.

But that felt like a lifetime ago.

Now, Anzumon wasn't just a companion, but his best friend. A true, genuine part of him that he couldn't see himself without. Their group was changing, friendships were emerging, and their ability to work together only got better and improved over time. Yes, things weren't perfect, they argued and Blaire and Katrina still butted heads over things, but it was how they were and it worked for them.

Then he realized for the first time that he did want to do what he was doing. It had initially felt like an obligation to him, something he didn't want and just wanted to get done. Yet, somewhere along the way, his mentality towards it all had changed, and he wanted to be with Anzumon. He looked forward to trips to the Digital World, what new adventures they would have and what new Digimon and dangers they would come across. He knew it was dangerous, there was a distinct possibility he could die and that was a very real risk and fear, but it didn't matter. It didn't matter because for the first time Ryan felt like he had a purpose, something more than just carrying out the day-to-day mundane, that he was a part of something bigger.

"I do want to," he said finally, turning his head to look at Heather. "I want to have Pinamon, and be a part of the team. I... enjoy it."

"Why?" Heather asked, her tone calm, no hint of anger or sadness.

"It's nice to feel like I have a purpose. A reason to be doing something... that I'm making a difference." Ryan smirked to himself. "I mean, without me, Eva, and the others who are trapped, they'll remain trapped. I'm helping in saving their lives."

"But it isn't your job. You're not getting paid. You're not even getting any thanks for it," Heather argued. "They didn't, when they saved everything four years ago, they weren't given a parade or keys to the City."

"It's not about that, Heather," explained Ryan. "I don't want accolades or attention. It feels good to be doing something... for the sake of being good. I got chosen for this for a reason, and whatever that reason is, I intend to see it through to the end."

"What about me?" Heather breathed through her nose hard. He couldn't look at her, he could hear the tears in her voice, how it shook and strained as she tried to stop it. He clenched his hands together, squeezing his fingers so it hurt as he closed his eyes tight. “Don't forget what I've been through, Ryan. What happened to me four years ago. Doesn't that mean anything?”

"You know I care about you…," Ryan began. "You know I love you... but this is something I didn't choose. It chose me. I don't know the reasons why, but... it matters. Pinamon, Adrian, everyone, it all matters and this isn't something I can just walk away from. Something I can just ignore."

A strained sob escaped Heather's mouth and he had to look, watching as she covered her mouth with her hands. Her eyes were watering with tears and he could see her shaking. All he wanted to do was reach across and hug her, touch her, stroke her hair, envelop her in his arms and make things better, put things back to the way they were. But it wasn't that simple, it wasn't to be.

Heather shook her head in a protesting manner, as if she was saying no to herself over and over again.

Ryan reached out, cupping one hand to her face which she held on to. She pressed her face into his hand and automatically he eased one of her trickling tears away. Blush had risen on her cheeks, and she tried to suppress her crying by biting her lower lip.

"If it was something different, with no Digimon involved, can you honestly tell me you would be proud to be my girlfriend if I shirked my responsibilities?" he asked her. His voice had grown low and strained, full of emotion, and he could feel his chest constricting as if he struggled for air. It was like a vice around his lungs, and a fist around his heart.

"No," Heather managed. "Bu-but... what about us? Don't I matter?"

"Of course you do." Ryan turned to her fully, both hands holding her face. "Heather, you matter to me more than anything." He kissed her forehead and released a shaky breath.

"I-...” She tried to gather her words. “Three years? I can't— ...why?"

He shook his head. "Because, this is something I've been chosen for and it's bigger than just you and me. I can't put my needs above everyone else. I can't pretend that I'm more important and can ignore something like this."

Heather sobbed, burying her face in her hands. "But, I love you. The past three years? Doesn't any of that count for anything? I don't think that— Put yourself in my shoes... What I have been through, you can't blame me for my feelings on this. I love you more than anything and after three years I don't want to see us ending over... this. Like the choice is out of our hands."

He pressed his lips to her temple. "I love you." He felt the burning behind his nose and clenched his eyes shut, drawing in a long breath to try and settle himself and remaining strong. "But I can't do this now. With Pinamon and you..." He released an uncertain sigh. "I have to do what is best for more than just me. There are more people involved in this. I have to do what's best for everyone. And... with Pinamon around, you will never be happy or comfortable with me. You'll be watching him like a ticking time bomb."

"Ryan..."

Slowly, Ryan lifted Heather's head to look at her, her bloodshot eyes, the reddened wet tracks of her tears and where she wiped them away. How her eyelashes clung together, and more tears welled up in her eyes.

"You deserve to be happy. With someone who makes you happy."

"You make me happy," protested Heather weakly. "You make me happy…," she said again, more to herself.

Ryan shook his head. "Not right now I don't. And I can't promise in the future that it'll get any better.”

He kissed the crown of her head as she bent forward and cried. Lightly, he wrapped his arms around her, rocking her slowly back and forth while she wept. He buried his head in the fabric of her jumper, to savor her scent but more to hide his own tears that had come.

He couldn't breathe.

He couldn't see or think.

It was over, no matter what either one of them said next, it was done. And it was like a pain he had never felt. The vice around his lungs only tightened, the threat of no air was panic inducing but he forced every breath. His hands felt clammy and cold, down to his fingers and toes he felt chilled to the bone and how his stomach twisted and turned, like it was trying claw its way out. His rib cage felt constricted and his brain numb.

He couldn't watch her leave. As Heather gathered up her bag in silence but for the few sobs and sniffles that escaped her mouth, Ryan stared at the floor between his feet.

It was only when he heard the sound of the door clicking closed behind her that it really dawned on him.

He pushed his face into his hands and released an anguished yell.

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

Rick hovered awkwardly in the living room of Katrina's apartment, not wanting to sit down or move in case he messed something up or disturbed something. Everything looked like it had its own place, not at all like his house where it was a mess half the time due to Ryan and Adrian's habits of flinging things anywhere and leaving them where they lay.

He also felt uneasy because aside from having meaningless one-night-stands and friends with benefits, he hadn't been in a girl’s house in a casual sense.

"Stop looking so nervous," Ashramon told him, hovering up to his height while Katrina was in the kitchen.

"Why did you invite me in?" he asked the little Digimon uncomfortably.

Ashramon looked at him, her expression bored. "You like Katrina, don't you?"

"Kinda. I'm also slightly terrified of her."

Giggling, Ashramon swam in a circle. "Why? She's lovely."

"I'm not doubting that. I just don't think she's interested in me."

"Pft," Ashramon blew, and poked her tongue out. "You won't know unless you try." The Digimon quickly sped through the air to Katrina as she returned from the kitchen with a large plastic bowl of water. Placing it on the floor, Ashramon slipped into it splashed a little.

"You can sit down, y'know," Katrina said, looking at Rick as he stood stationary.

He wasn't giving the best impression, his legs were all solid and his hands were cold with nervous sweat, drawn into fists at his side.

"I don't want to mess anything up."

Letting out a short laugh, Katrina smiled. "It's okay. I think I can straighten a few cushions." She started to unbutton her green jacket and Rick sat, trying to look any direction other than at her as she removed the outer clothing.

Katrina dropped her jacket onto the arm of the sofa, and having removed her boots earlier, climbed onto the cushions with Rick.

"So." She sat back on the cushions and let out a sigh.

"Is that," Rick leaned forward and peered at the consoles all neatly arranged on a television stand, "is that the new X-Box?"

"Yeah." Katrina grinned. "I went to the midnight launch for it."

"They're going for over a thousand bucks on eBay!" Rick announced. "They’re like gold dust."

Katrina smirked. "I know. I was so anxious walking home after I bought it. Kept thinking I was going to get mugged."

"Is it any good?"

"Graphically it's beautiful, but the problem with new consoles is the release games. So few decent ones, just your basic sports and first-person shooters." Rolling her shoulders back into a shrug, she pulled her hair out of the bun it had been in and ruffled her fingers through it. "Luckily it’s backwards compatible."

"Would you let me have a go?" asked Rick eagerly, aware he was practically salivating at the thought. "I've been watching the updates for it online, I would love to get one but I barely have enough time for gaming as it is."

"Sure." Katrina handed him a controller as she rose up off the sofa and turned the machine on and then the television. "Games are all installed so just pick one." She lounged back on the cushions, watching as Rick leaned forward excitedly, watching the loading screen as the console booted up.

He flicked through the option screens, viewing the store where games could be bought, forums, and Katrina's friends list and avatar briefly. The game he chose was a first-person shooter, and he wiped his hands on his jeans to rid them of sweat as it loaded.

"I haven't played a first-person shooter for a long time," Rick told her. He looked over his shoulder and was surprised to see her watching him. He had assumed she would immediately take out her phone and distract herself. "I probably suck, so don't laugh."

Katrina smiled. "Wouldn't dream of it."

As he had expected, he had sucked, and he had sucked big time dying within thirty seconds of the first mission and having to reload.

However, within fifteen minutes his knowledge and skill had returned to him and he wasn't sucking quite as much. He was able to get through the first two missions without much trouble, stocking up on guns and ammo, ambushing his enemies and laying traps after watching guards patrol on screen.

Katrina had watched in relative quiet, commenting once or twice when there was a guard coming or where a sniper was attacking from. She had gone from sitting back on the sofa behind Rick to sitting beside him, their bodies touching, leaning forward and physically pointing out enemies and items he had missed.

"You are such a back seat gamer!" Rick laughed, shoving her with his elbow.

Katrina shoved him back. "If you didn't suck so hard I wouldn't have to game from the back seat."

He rolled his eyes and directed the character on the screen to follow the group of non-player characters. Suddenly, Katrina wrapped her hands around his on the controller, redirecting the character through the thumb pad to a large crate that subtly shone on the screen. "Loot," she pointed out and released him, her hands returning to her lap.

"I knew it was there," complained Rick, hoping that his hands hadn't been as sweaty as they felt when she touched him.

He found it strange, how one minute Katrina could seem cool and aloof, and then a moment later she was laughing and the two of them were behaving as if they had known each other for some time. He imagined that being in the Digital World, especially with people like Ryan and Blaire, Katrina would have had to make conversation and warm up to people.

Something he was grateful for. He doubted the two of them would be sitting and playing a game so casually had she not been forced into that position by outside circumstances.

He had actually forgotten how fun it was to play a video game and just relax for a change. Usually he was so pent up and focused on studying and working that gaming was something he had put aside. Gaming made him feel guilty that he wasn't at work or wasn't studying. Though right now, with Katrina shouting at him where to shoot, he was having more fun than he'd had in a while.

"You have a go." Rick handed Katrina the controller as the corpse of his character died dramatically on screen.

Shaking her head, Katrina put the controller on the coffee table. "No way. I suck at shooters worse than you do." She leaned back on the couch, curling her legs up beneath her and turning to face Rick, waiting for him to do the same.

He hesitated for a moment, but then mimicked her, relaxing against the back of the sofa and crossing his legs. He leaned his head on a fist, perching it on the back of the sofa and smiled weakly. "Now what?"

Katrina inquired. "How do you know Adrian and Ryan?"

"Why?"

She shrugged. "You're very different from the two of them. Not... in a bad way. Just... different. Like seeing the three of you together, you would stick out."

"Oh, I get it." Rick's lips twisted into a wry smile. "I'd stick out because I'm lean and not covered in rippling muscles. Not to mention they're both pretty easy on the eyes."

"Do I detect a hint of bitterness there?" prompted Katrina, raising her eyebrows. "And I never said it was anything about looks or muscles."

Rick sighed a little. "Sorry. Heh, Ryan and Adrian get... a lot of attention, as you can imagine, and whenever the three of us are out, I'm the one girls approach to find out if either of them are single. No attention on me." He laughed quietly and rubbed his face. "It can get to a guy."

"You’re given a golden opportunity there. When a girl asks you about Adrian or Ryan you should tell a joke, make them laugh." Katrina shrugged. "Girls like guys who can make them laugh. At least I do. A good sense of humor is important."

Rick snorted, "It’s not a big deal." He cleared his throat, wanting to move on from what was a sensitive subject, his self-imposed sense of inferiority when it came to his housemates, it was never something he discussed with other people, and considering this was the first time he and Katrina had spent any time alone, he didn't want to ruin any potential friendliness by laying on her his burdens.

"I met Adrian and Ryan at a party one of my old classmates arranged. I got drunk. I got so drunk that I don't actually remember what happened and have had tales told to me by other people. Anyway, I did some pretty stupid shit while I was wasted, and it resulted in Adrian and Ryan tracking me down and they basically compelled me into a friendship."

"The three of you seem quite close."

"Yeah," Rick ruffled his hair, "I guess. We have the odd falling outs though, nothing major."

"Guess you could have wound up with worse housemates," contemplated Katrina.

"I don't know. Ryan is a pain when it comes to cleaning up, and Adrian cooks but never does the dishes." Rick laughed. "Honestly, they sometimes drive me a bit mad with their mess so I end up cleaning up after them."

"Put your foot down then," Katrina told him. "You’re not their maid or their housekeeper. They should tidy up after themselves. Be assertive."

Laughing again, Rick scratched his chin. "Yeah. I'll add that to the ever growing list of personality traits I need to learn."

Katrina shook her head, "I don't mean you have to change who you are, you just have to learn to put your foot down when people are taking advantage of you." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Honestly I think you're fine the way you are... at least from what I know of you right now."

"And there is so much more of me to get to know!" laughed Rick. "We should make this a thing."

Katrina's brows furrowed. "I don't follow."

Rick sucked in a breath. "You and me. Gaming. Or, I don't know, would you, maybe—" His words cut off as his phone rang loudly in his pocket and vibrated against his thigh. He sighed and hung his head as he answered it, missing completely the blush of pink across Katrina's cheeks. "Hold that thought."

"Ya' still out, mon amie?" Adrian spoke on the other end of the phone.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Need ya to go to da' liquor store. Pick up somethin' strong. Like... really strong. Ryan needs it."

Rick rubbed his neck. "Oh. Guess the inevitable happened."

"Yeah." Adrian sighed. "I'm lookin' after him best I can, but what we have here ain't strong enough."

"You really think getting him wasted will help?" Rick asked, making a face. "Don't you think he should just... I don't know, go to bed?"

On the other end of the phone, Adrian sighed again. "I'm just doin' what he's asked. I don't want to leave him. He's sadder than a pig wit' no appetite. He's pitiful."

"Alright." Rick said, somewhat reluctantly. "I'll pick something up on the way home."

He hung up and slipped his phone into his pocket. Katrina was up in the kitchen with Ashramon preparing some kind of snack, and he followed her. "I uh..." He jerked his thumb. "That was Adrian."

"Ryan and Heather?" Katrina looked at him.

"Yeah. Ryan's a mess."

Katrina nodded. "Okay." Putting the utensils down, she walked with Rick to her front door. "Thanks for driving me back. It was nice to hang out with you."

"You too." Rick grinned. "Maybe we could do it again... sometime?"

"Yeah." Katrina held the door. "Oh, give me your phone. I'll put my number in there in case you have problems with your computers at work."

Rick did as she asked and handed her his cell phone after unlocking the screen.

"Your work number, right?" He asked, grinning wryly.

Katrina handed it back to him. "Personal, actually." She offered a small smile. Rick’s stomach plummeted to somewhere around his knees.

As she closed the door behind Rick, having said goodbye about five times, she leaned against the wood and covered her face, feeling the heat radiating into her hands.

She breathed out and scraped her fingers through her hair. "Oh boy..."

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

The sound of a bottle hitting the floor startled the small furry Digimon awake. Borramon yawned, closing his eyes once again and snuggling against the resting body of his partner.

Dan Croll's song 'From Nowhere', the Baardsen remix, echoed throughout the settled townhouse. It blared from the mp3 player dock station located by the flat screen TV in the boys’ living room, which had found itself covered in bottles of liquor and beer.

Adrian shifted on the couch, one leg hanging off with his left arm placed over his eyes and his right hand resting on his chest. He had not fully taken off his clothes, obviously not prepared to crash. Opposite of him, on the floor, was Rick, who looked more prepared as he was wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and boxers. Rick was laid more wildly than Adrian, with Pinamon's fluffy feathers snoring loudly not too far from him.

Upstairs the sound of mumbling was heard over the music coming from the bathroom.

Ryan sat in the empty bathtub, sideways, with his legs hanging over the edge. He was mostly clothed, in a tight white tank top with a pair of comfortable shorts and sneakers.

Earlier, after the conversation with Heather, he had taken a run to clear his head. When he came back his roommates had a better idea and the trio spent the night getting drunk and having a good time. It was an easy escape for a while, but Ryan's mind came back to the woman he loved the most.

Drunk off his rocker, Ryan fumbled with his phone, attempting to send a long-winded text. Fortunately, he couldn't get it to send.

“You know what, I'll tell you myself,” he slurred, attempting to lift himself from the tub only to drunkenly fall back in it. He closed his eyes and counted to three.

“One... two…” A long pause. “Seven..."

He tried to lift himself again, accomplishing his goal.

Ryan stumbled out of the bathroom, using the banister to make his way down the stairs. He leaned his shoulder against the wall, using it to balance himself as he swayed and swerved.

After a couple of minutes of fiddling with locks and keys, he made his way out of the townhouse and onto the mildly busy sidewalk. He kept a clear focal point to keep himself balanced, not trying to make himself sick or to freak anyone out.

Ryan was proud of himself, he had a moderately clear head for someone as drunk as he was, or so he thought. He stumbled once or twice, but nothing that garnished any unwanted attention.

He checked his phone, no missed calls or texts.

Ryan was pretty sure he knew how to get to Heather's in this state, she didn't live too far but he regretted not taking a cab. He patted down his pockets, grimacing as he realized he left his wallet at home. He continued to walk. The night air was refreshing and crisp, sobering even.

Ryan tried his best not to bump into anyone, in fact a lot of people appeared to veer around him, but his efforts were in vain when his large, lumbering frame made contact with someone significantly smaller.

“HEY! Watch it—" the smaller person snapped and Ryan was shoved. "Ryan?"

Ryan jerked his head to look at the person he had bumped into before he began his onslaught of apologies, his face an expression of — he hoped — immense regret. The human-shaped fuzzy image stood before him with her hands on her hips.

“I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, please don't be—” he slurred before he was interrupted.

“Ryan, are you drunk?” Blaire pulled herself in closer to get a better look at him.

“Blaire? N-No. Wh~y would I be drunk? Me? No!” Ryan stumbled. “I am not drunk at all! And why are you out here anyway?” He waved his hands around, gesturing wildly to the street.

He could barely recognize the other woman with her aqua hair wrapped and put away.

“You wouldn't happen to be drunk because you broke up with Heather and you drink beer like you breathe air, sooo...”

“Who told you!?”

Blaire's voice softened a little. “Adrian.”

Ryan curled his hands into fists, his nails biting into the skin of his palm. “That little Cajun chicken nugget, I'm going to—” Ryan lost his balance as he tried to punch the air. Blaire quickly grabbed him to keep him upright.

“Yeah, you're too drunk to be out. I'm surprised the police haven't stopped you yet,” Blaire said, sighing loudly as she eased Ryan into a steady position.

Ryan yanked himself away from her roughly. “I am not dru~nk--... I mean, maybe a little.” He started counting on his hand. "I only had like... four," he raised his fingers, "no, more like six shots of sambuca."

Blaire touched her fingers to her temple. "You smell like a brewery, Ryan."

“Okay, okay. Ma~ybe I had had more than a little bit, but just don't tell my mom," he pleaded. "We’re not supposed to go into dad's liquor cabinet." He tapped the tip of her nose with his finger. "But I know where the key is," he sang, giggling.

Blaire stifled her own laughter, drunk Ryan was fun, but he was also a danger to himself and other people, never mind what he could do if he somehow found his way to his intended destination – and it didn't take a genius to know that was Heather's.

"Come on." Blaire hooked her arm through Ryan's to lead him. "Let's get you some coffee to sober you up."

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

The Waffle House was the closest location within easy walking distance, as Ryan was in no state to walk more than ten feet at a time without swerving wildly and swaying in one direction or another. Considering it was one in the morning it was moderately busy, with patrons coming back from concerts or late night showing at the movies, or just people stopping off on their drive home or their breaks from work. It was a good place for Ryan to sober up, though he complained about the bright lights at first, covering his eyes. Consequently, Blaire found them a booth against the window at the far end of the diner. It overlooked the downtown area and was quiet enough for them to talk.

Ryan took a sip of the hot coffee Blaire had ordered for him, black and full of sugar. He shook his head.

“I just feel empty now... like I made the wrong choice and now it's too late to fix it.” He was no longer slurring but still feeling the effects. "She's never gonna forgive me."

Blaire sat opposite him, enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate filled with marshmallows, a double helping of whipped cream on top. “Break ups always feel like that, but they happen for a reason.” She shrugged.

“I'm not a fan of that theory.”

“You may not be a fan, but it's the truth," explained Blaire. "Besides, I don't agree with the ultimatum she gave you. It was selfish.”

“Maybe, but you don't understand... what she's been through, she has every right to feel that way.”

“Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're in the right,” Blaire advised him sagely, and sipped from her mug. “We've been tasked with a mission, Ryan." She lowered her voice. "We are literally saving the world from something. Digimon don't just sprout up, especially out of your chest, just to say hello. An entire operational system doesn't kidnap eight adults and their Digimon just for the fun of it. Something big is coming and we know it. Millions of lives could be at stake.”

Ryan placed his head in his arms. “I know,” he groaned. "I just hate this feeling. I feel like I've destroyed her, or something. It's eating away at me."

"Heather is our age and you are not the love of her life," Blaire told him a little harshly. "She will find someone else, and the feeling is eating away at you because you broke up less than ten hours ago. Everything is going to feel fresh and raw, and it won't get better overnight."

As Ryan said nothing, just looked at his mug of coffee dejected, Blaire let out a short breath and tried to speak a little less aggressively.

“If you had taken her side in this, it would've been irresponsible... Ryan, if you can't solve it, it isn't a problem – it's reality. And sometimes reality is the hardest thing to understand, and is the thing that takes the longest to realize. Once it hits you in the face you'll never forget it. It will always be there in your memories, and sometimes that is the best way to look at it.”

Blaire sighed, shifting in the leather seated booth as she looked around. Ryan continued to stare at the mug and flick the ceramic with his finger nail. This wasn't the time to preach at the poor guy, but to comfort him.

“I was in love with a guy, once, and I really loved him. I gave everything to him, I devoted myself to him.” Blaire's fingers tapped lightly on her mug. Ryan tilted his head a little, with his face still buried in his arms it was the only sign he gave that he was actually listening. “What is it about that first person who grasps your heart and convinces the rest of you that you love them? Why does it continue to have that grasp on you no matter what tools you use to pry them away?

“...Time passes, tears flow, memories scorch your favorite songs, movies, and television shows. Late nights invoke fantasies, new loves bite the bullet of the previous shot, lingering chills from previous sexual encounters haunt the special parts of your anatomy. Texts are erased but remembered word for word, social networks go under lock and key to prevent future stings, and it’s all part of an intricate and painful process of moving on.”

Blaire placed her chin in her hand, looking out the window. “No matter what is done, they still remain... a phantom of them, I guess, swept away into the deepest corners of your heart and mind. Taunting and tempting you to try again to house the phantom with the love that once was… but you can’t, and you won’t. Memories of the past sting and pain remains burned into your memory, reminding you of the reasons you left, of the reasons you moved on with a promise to not turn back... yet you’re still tempted, still curious to see if things change.

“But Ryan, you know things don’t change, and there’s no point in risking your current happiness to go delving into the past in hopes of a change that won't ever happen. You won't see it now, but be happy, don’t turn back... there’s a reason that things didn't work out and remember that reason... always remember that reason.”

Blaire turned her attention back to Ryan, who had barely responded. For a moment she thought he had fallen asleep but his subtle movements proved to her otherwise.

“...Why are you talking so much...?” Ryan asked, his hands buried in his arms on the table.

“Because I'm high as a kite.” Blaire sipped her hot chocolate.

There was a moment of silence between the two with the waitress coming to make sure they were fine and their mugs and orders filled.

“Really it’s just part of the experience of life. Losing love is just part of that. It’s been a part of life for thousands of years. It’s what songs and plays and stories have been written about forever. Plus if you’ve never lost love you might take it for granted.”

“Keep it mind though, right now she's hurting too. Remember how just yesterday, in a real world sense, you argued and she kicked you out of her apartment and today she showed up waiting for you? She had time to clear her head, and she has to do that again, except it's going to take a little bit longer. If she loves you, she'll understand and she'll come back around.” Blaire reached across the table, placing her hand on his and giving it a small squeeze.

Ryan lifted his head, his eyes glossy from the tears and the alcohol traveling through his system. He stared at Blaire for a moment, then his gaze fell to her chest.

Slightly above her cleavage, a pink heart symbol glowed faintly through her skin. It wasn't bright but he was certain it was there, though he squinted and looked closer to ensure he wasn't hallucinating.

“Woah." Blaire released his hand and the glowing stopped instantly. "No, chill out. I'm no rebound.”

“No, I swear that wasn't it." Ryan waved his hands frantically in front of him, keeping his eyes glued to Blaire's. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to—” Ryan sat up, drinking the rest of his coffee down quickly.

Blaire chuckled slightly, shaking her head. “It's okay, I know you're not that type of guy... but I don't know, guys grieve differently than girls or so society makes out. I think everyone grieves differently regardless.”

The waitress walked over, sliding the bill onto the table and pouring some more coffee into Ryan's mug. Ryan smiled at the woman as she returned it before walking away.  

“Come on, let's get you back home to bed. It's almost three in the morning.” Blaire tapped the table playfully, sliding out of the booth standing up. "You're going to have one hell of a hangover."

Ryan followed her lead, though holding onto the table for leverage.

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

It didn't take long to catch a cab, less than two minutes to wave one down. Blaire and Ryan sat moderately close to one another, more so that Blaire could keep him steady so he wouldn't get motion sickness from the ride.

“Thanks... for the talk, by the way,” Ryan said softly, looking out the window.

“Don't mention it,” Blaire said.

“I mean, really, thank you. Adrian's solution was to drink, Rick is awkward and would probably try and laugh it off, and Katrina is so detached sometimes…," rambled Ryan, watching the street lights in the window. "I wouldn't know who to talk to. Well... my sister, but she's been busy.”

“No, really, I'm serious. Don't mention it," reiterated Blaire, her tone flat. "The last thing I need is for anyone to wonder why we were both out at three in the morning in a Waffle House the day you split up with your long-term girlfriend.” She didn't look at him, and he didn't respond, but they both knew and understood what she meant.

The traffic was surprising and the ride took longer than expected. Through the journey, Blaire realized just how far Ryan had walked. The car jerked slightly to take a turn. Blaire suddenly felt weight on her shoulder, causing her to jerk her head around, afraid that Ryan had lost his balance and was ready to vomit over her shoes and the back of the cab.

Luckily he had just lost his balance due to the sharp turn. She pursed her lips, looking down at her shoulder as Ryan had laid his head down.

She sighed, running her left fingers through Ryan's hair as he snored lightly. "Dumbass."

Blaire shifted her weight so that Ryan could properly rest against her, wrapping her left arm around his neck so that she was able to continue playing with his hair. She placed her other arm on the window, her fist against her cheek, staring at the city lights that flashed by.

 

Next Episode Preview: The last two vials are crucial for the rescue of the original tamers! It's time to go and collect them, but something is going down at Atlas Corp! See you next time on Digimon Sleepers!


<< Previous Episode | Next Episode >>

 








Digimon: Sleepers, original characters involved, and graphics are 2013-2018 Rebekah L, Keisha P, & Zuza J, unless stated otherwise. Do not alter or redistribute any of the site content without granted permission. Digimon and characters not made for the Sleepers universe are Toei Animation, Bandai, and Akiyoshi Hongo.

| DeviantART | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Tumblr


DMCA.com Protection Status