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Inevitable

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Ken supposed the rumors were inevitable.

In all his fifteen years, he'd never once had a girlfriend. To be fair, he'd never had a boyfriend or an any-other-kind-of-romantic-friend either. There were plenty of girls, and the occasional boy, who expressed interest over the years, especially the last couple, but he had never reciprocated.

It wasn't something he thought about. He simply wasn't interested in romance. There were far too many important things going on in his life. Meeting "that special someone" didn't really compare to saving the Digital World, fighting off his continuing nightmares, saving the Digital World again, being diagnosed with depression, struggling to keep his grades up for the first time in years, saving the Digital World again, finding time for his only friends who lived on the other side of the river, and saving the Digital World again and, you know what, a fifth time too. How was he supposed to start dating in the middle of that? How was he even supposed to be interested in dating?

So when Saito Ayane approached him at the end of the school day on Thursday, Ken's answer was more than just normal—it was the natural thing to say.

"Excuse me, Ichijouji-san," she said with a bow, her short brown hair jostling at the movement. "I was wondering if you had plans after we finish our presentation on Saturday. Would you like to accompany me to look at the other classes' displays?"

He regarded her with little interest but forced a smile out of politeness. "Thank you for the invitation, Saito-san, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline. I already have plans for the rest of the cultural festival."

And without another word, he walked to the bathrooms, which he knew he needed to use now before he was dragged off on some silly adventure.

A couple minutes later, as he was finally leaving the school with his satchel of books and homework, he got stuck behind a slow-moving group of girls. Not wanting to push through them, he pulled out his phone to check his messages—there were already four from Daisuke in the last ten minutes, wondering what was taking him so damn long. Ken rolled his eyes at his best friend's impatience.

"Don't take it too hard, Aya-chan," one of the girls said, her voice firm, supportive. "I'm pretty sure none of us would've stood a chance. Ichijouji-san is more interested in the meat than the curtains, if you know what I mean."

Okay, that caught Ken's attention. His head jolted up to stare at their backs. But he didn't know what the hell it meant.

Saito sniffled. "You really think so?"

"Positive." The tall girl who'd spoken first—Watanabe Yui, who was also in his class—slung her arm around her friend's shoulders. "And he doesn't have very good taste either. Have you seen the guy that waits for him outside every day? He's that airheaded, loudmouth striker from Odaiba's soccer team. Talk about slumming it."

Ken frowned.

He certainly didn't mind people saying things behind his back—it was a common occurrence after he gave up the power of the Dark Seed, and it was probably common while under its effects as well—but he definitely minded people insulting his best friend.

Still, he shouldn't be privy to this conversation in the first place. They had no idea he was there.

"You really think that guy is Ichijouji-san's boyfriend?" a third girl asked.

Ken nearly choked.

What?

"Of course," Watanabe said. "He waits for him every single day, unless Ichijouji-san has practice. Who else would do that but a boyfriend?"

"Oh!" The girl on the far left—Miura something—squealed and smacked the nearest girl on the shoulder. "And do you remember the last match against Odaiba? The two of them wound up in a heap in the mud in the middle of the game and just wiped mud on each other and laughed until Kaneko-sensei sat Ichijouji-san on the sidelines for the rest of the first half."

Watanabe scoffed. "Thank god it was a practice match, but Kaneko-sensei was still pissed. The Odaiba coach didn't look too happy either."

Ken winced at the memory—he'd gotten in quite a bit of trouble for that, but he'd had so much fun he hadn't cared. He still didn't.

Oh dear, Daisuke was rubbing off on him.

"I don't know," the third girl, the one Ken didn't recognize, said. "Yeah, they're together all the time, but no one has ever seen them kiss. It doesn't mean anything if they don't kiss."

Watanabe snorted. "If you were dating a girl, would you kiss her in public?"

The other girl bowed her head but didn't speak.

"Even if they don't kiss," Miura said, "they're always touching each other. I've never seen a pair of guys that hug and tickle and wrestle each other more. You know it's just an excuse to be intimate in public without being obvious."

"Exactly," Watanabe agreed.

The girls turned the corner down a different hall, but Ken paused. He didn't want to keep listening to this conversation, and if he went in the opposite direction, he could cut around them to reach the front of the school.

As soon as he started down the hallway, his phone buzzed, no longer on silent.

The text, of course, was Daisuke: Ichijouji, if you don't get your ass out here in the next two minutes, I'm going to find you and drag you out by your ear. Get a move on.

Normally, Ken would've laughed. Daisuke was always dramatic like that, especially when he got bored like he surely was while waiting outside the private high school.

But today wasn't normal anymore.

His classmates thought he and Daisuke were a couple.

When he made it to the front exit, his best friend was dangling upside down from the railing like it was monkey bars. Daisuke's eyes lit up when he pushed through the doors, and he slipped and fumbled down from the railing, barely managing to land on his feet.

Like normal, Daisuke stormed over to him and threw an arm around his shoulders. "You took forever, Ichijouji. I was starting to think I'd need to break in."

Ken rolled his eyes, but the moment the front doors pushed open again, he slipped out from under his friend's arm—just in time for the group of five girls to walk down the stairs past them. "You're being dramatic," he said, eyes downcast, a flush rising on his cheeks.

Daisuke paused—Ken hadn't been this squeamish in years—and shoved his face close to Ken's to get a good look at him. "You're acting weird." He laid his hands on Ken's shoulders to keep him in place. "Why are you blushing?"

Ken cast a quick glance down the staircase toward the group of girls, who had stopped at the bottom and were chatting. Every once in a while, Saito and Miura would glance in his direction—his and Daisuke's direction.

And here he was with Daisuke holding him, and worst of all, he was blushing. This couldn't possibly look good.

"Not here," he murmured. "Back to my apartment first."

Daisuke nodded and slowly, hesitantly, pulled back. But instead of fully releasing his friend, he grabbed him by the hand and started down the stairs. "Let's get going then," he called, his voice loud and happy-go-lucky again.

Ken's blush deepened, especially when they passed the group of girls, who weren't bothering to hide the fact that they were watching them. But he allowed Daisuke to thread their fingers together and lead the way toward the Ichijoujis' apartment complex.

*

Ken's mom was in the kitchen when they got to the apartment, and she immediately offered them a tray of lemon cookies and cherry blossom madeleines, plus a couple bottles of Ramune soda, all of which Daisuke happily grabbed before they hid themselves away in Ken's room.

While Daisuke made himself at home on the bed, munching on cookies, Ken set about slowly putting away his school things. He hung his satchel on the back of his chair and sorted through the contents of his bag, making sure to pull out his homework and lay it on the desk.

"So," Daisuke said, pushing in the marble in his Codd-neck soda bottle, "are you going to tell me what's wrong? Or are you going to keep acting weird?"

Ken paused, then caught the second Ramune Daisuke tossed to him. He took a moment to open the drink, plunging the marble down inside the glass bottle, and sip at the lemon-lime soda. "I heard…" He hesitated, then tried again. "I'm nervous about Saturday."

Daisuke frowned. "Your school festival? Why? Don't you do them every year?"

He nodded. "I'm not worried about the festival. We're just setting up a tea room for the afternoon, and that's hardly nerve-wracking."

"Then why are you nervous?"

Ken bit his lip. Here came the hard part. "One of the girls in my class asked me to accompany her around the festival after we were done with our shift at the tea room."

He didn't dare look at Daisuke, but he could hear the tension in his voice, feel it in the way his body stiffened in his periphery. "Do you not want me to come hang out then? You'd rather go on a date?"

With a sigh, he slumped against his desk, Ramune clutched tight against his chest. "That's not it at all. I told her I already had plans."

Daisuke brightened immediately. "Oh, good then." Then, "So what's the problem?"

Ken chewed on his lip and reluctantly set his bottle on the desk behind him. "I overheard some of the girls talking. I didn't mean to listen, but then, they were talking about me and I'm afraid I listened longer than I should have."

His friend snorted. "They were talking about you in public. You're entitled to listen, Ken."

"They were talking about me and you."

Daisuke stilled. "Really?" Confusion laced his voice.

He nodded slowly, unable to meet his eyes. "They think we're…that I'm…well, that you're my boyfriend." He clamped his eyes shut, waiting for the pin to drop, praying he didn't have to say it again.

To his utter surprise, Daisuke laughed.

Ken's eyes snapped to his best friend, who had collapsed backward onto the bed and was laughing so hard his tawny cheeks turned pink.

"Is that all?" he finally asked, pushing up onto his elbows. He sported a large grin, amusement etched all over his face.

"What does that mean?" Ken hissed.

Daisuke rolled his eyes. "I don't know why you're making a big deal out of it. This can't be the first time someone spread a rumor about you, and it sure as hell isn't the first time there's been a rumor about me."

He glared. "I'm not concerned that there's a rumor about me, Motomiya. I'm concerned about the content of that rumor."

Then, Daisuke frowned. "Is it really so bad if people think we're dating?"

All Ken could do was stare at him. At his best friend. Sitting on his bed. Moping about the fact that Ken didn't want people to think they were a couple.

How could this not be a bad thing? Lies were being spread about the nature of his relationship with his best friend, and those sort of lies could ruin relationships and reputations. If Ken did want to start dating someone, how could he convince them to ignore the rumor that he already had a boyfriend? Or what if Daisuke started dating someone and they were upset about the rumors? Not everyone was as easygoing as Motomiya Daisuke.

As far as Ken was concerned, nothing about this could be construed as a good thing. It didn't even qualify as acceptable. Especially when Ken considered the things the girls had said about him and Daisuke kissing.

Red lit up his cheeks. The thought sent a chill through his body and made his heart thump hard in his chest.

When he received no response, Daisuke sighed and took a drink of his soda. "I know it's your school and your classmates, but you shouldn't let one rumor bother you so much," he said in a quiet voice. "Even if the idea of us dating is that horrible."

Before Ken could even register what he said, Daisuke slid the tray of cookies away and shouldered his backpack. "Look, if it makes things easier, I won't come on Saturday. We can hang out after your festival thing is over. If you even still want to sleep over at my place that night." He offered Ken an obviously fake smile—Daisuke always wore his emotions so close to the surface—and headed for the door. "I'll see you."

Daisuke exited the bedroom, leaving the door open, but ever polite, he made sure to thank Ken's mom for the snack and letting him come over before heading out.

A few minutes after he left, Ken's mother poked her head into the room. A frown spread across her features at the distraught look on her son's face. "Ken, honey, are you okay? Did you and Daisuke-kun have an argument? Is that why he left early? I thought he was staying for dinner."

Ken breathed deep, but his entire body was tense. "As close to an argument as we've ever had," he admitted. "I think I hurt his feelings." Though he wasn't entirely sure how Daisuke had chosen to interpret his words like that.

His mother studied him thoughtfully. "Well, give him a little time, and then you make sure to apologize. I know how deeply you care about him." She sent him an encouraging smile. "You can't let one small argument ruin a perfectly good relationship."

He froze. "Relationship?"

Why didn't she just say friendship?

She giggled. "Don't think you can hide it from me, dear. The two of you have gotten very close. We've been expecting you to tell us for the past year, but you keep hesitating." She stepped into the room with a soft smile. "If you're scared what your father and I think, you have nothing to worry about. We said we'd love you for who you are, not anyone or anything else."

Ken had no idea what to say, so he simply nodded.

She cast one more smile in his direction before heading back out of the room, but she paused in the doorway. "Ken, you shouldn't let that boy slip through your fingers. Daisuke-kun is such a sweetheart; he'd do anything for you. You'll talk to him, won't you?"

When she returned to the kitchen, Ken gripped his desk chair with white knuckles, trying to process everything his mother had just said.

This must've been a nightmare.

Not only did the girls at school think he and Daisuke were dating, but even his own mother thought they were a couple. Possibly for the last year. Or at least expecting them to start dating for the last year. That wasn't entirely clear.

How in the world did this happen?

*

As much as Ken wanted to talk to Daisuke about their pseudo-argument, he was too busy with preparations for the cultural festival to do more than send a couple texts. He and several of the other students stayed after school to finish setting up their tea room for the following day, and then he had to get his homework out of the way since he would lose all of Saturday and, assuming he did spend the night at Daisuke's, much of Sunday.

When Saturday morning came, Ken's mother dropped him off at school, and he joined his classmates as they did the finishing touches and donned their tea room uniforms: a traditional black kimono made semi-formal with a shimmering silver haori overcoat.

Even before the festival opened to the public, it was awkward. Saito, Watanabe, and Miura were all in his class, and every time he caught a glimpse of one of them, he was instantly reminded of their conversation Thursday afternoon. Besides, Saito still looked particularly sad whenever she looked in his direction, which made him incredibly uncomfortable.

They put on their black and silver kimonos only fifteen minutes before the festival began, and Ken felt particularly ill at ease in the semi-formal wear. The only time he'd really worn a kimono or yukata was when visiting an onsen, and he rarely had the opportunity to enjoy any hot springs.

Yes, his Saturday was shaping up to be quite a mess of a day. Especially now that he had nothing to look forward to.

Despite those few texts to Daisuke, Ken hadn't requested Daisuke join him at the festival, and until he felt like he was wanted, Daisuke wouldn't show. Hell, Ken doubted he'd even spend the night at Daisuke's tonight either. That kind of requires more than a few texts exchanged after their fight. Almost fight. Well, whatever it was.

Ken spent much of the first hour serving cups of tea to the students, parents, faculty, alumni, and the general public who decided to try their little tea room. His parents stopped by for a short time, but he tried to usher them away as quickly as possible once his mother cast a disappointed look around the room and asked, "No Daisuke-kun then?"

Of course, she had to ask right in front of Watanabe Yui, who didn't bother to hide her curiosity.

"Uh, no," Ken said, eyes darting around the room as an obvious blush rose to his pale cheeks. "I don't think he's going to make it."

His mother pressed a hand to his shoulder and smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, dear. I know you were looking forward to spending the day with him."

"You must be disappointed," his dad said, face twisting in sympathy.

He nodded slowly.

"Maybe you should go over to his house after the festival," she said. "You've been so busy you haven't had the chance to talk to him. And if the talk goes well, you can stay over like you'd planned." She smiled brightly like she'd already solved the whole problem.

But she didn't know what the problem actually was, and Ken didn't have the heart to explain how wrong she was about him and Daisuke. He couldn't bear to explain why they'd argued or that she'd completely misinterpreted their relationship.

"I'm sure he'll understand once you explain things," his dad said.

And his mother forced down one of her wistful smiles and added, "He's a good boyfriend, dear, and he makes you so happy."

Not far away, Watanabe grinned victoriously. Confirmation from the horse's mother must be just as good as from the horse's mouth.

Scarlet-faced, he had to refrain from throwing his own mother out of his classroom after that.

Thankfully, his parents left not long later, and Ken realized he had less than an hour left to work the tea room. Then, he could wander around the festival to see what the other classes had put together.

But he couldn't help the pang of disappointment in his chest.

Yes, everything regarding Daisuke had been awkward for the last two days, but they'd been looking forward to their school festivals this year. Both boys had been so excited when they learned their cultural festivals weren't on the same weekend, unlike during all three years of middle school, and they made a plan to enjoy every last minute:

This weekend, Daisuke would come check out the tea room—and probably tease Ken about how cute he looked in his kimono. Once Ken's duties were out of the way, Daisuke wanted to look at all the fancy displays and watch the concerts and taste all the food, per usual, and after a long, busy afternoon, he would drag Ken back to Odaiba to spend the night.

Next weekend, Ken planned to join him and the others in Odaiba for their school's cultural festival—Daisuke, Takeru, and Hikari's class was putting together a ramen shop, and Daisuke had promised to make Ken's particularly special—and have a sleepover at Daisuke's apartment again.

Ken preferred spending the night there. The Motomiya family was loud and messy and often over-the-top and ridiculous, but those were some of his favorite Daisuke traits. He was a constant source of joy and energy, and Ken loved to simply bask in everything Daisuke.

But he supposed none of that was going to happen now.

Although Ken had texted him a couple times over the last few days, Daisuke's responses had been wanting. There were two one-word texts and nothing to indicate he was ready to talk, let alone that he was interested in having a sleepover tonight.

Honestly, misguided though she was, his mother had decent advice.

Yes, after the festival, he would take the train to Odaiba so he and Daisuke could talk. He still wasn't sure why Daisuke had gotten his feelings hurt, but something told him he owed his friend an apology.

"Ichijouji-san!"

Ken's eyes darted toward Watanabe, immediately concerned.

She grinned at him, her eyes full of amusement. "Your boyfriend's here."

His face turned bright red, but he turned toward the classroom doorway to find Daisuke standing there, hesitation on his tawny face. He looked nicer than normal in the ocean-blue sweater Ken had given him last Christmas, paired with khaki shorts that looked freshly laundered and shiny black and electric-blue high-tops. For Daisuke, this was as fancy as it got.

Something in Ken's chest ached.

Daisuke had dressed up for today. For him.

When he met him at the door, Ken was smiling as broadly as he ever had. "I didn't think you'd come."

Daisuke flashed him a sheepish grin and scratched the nape of his neck. "Well, you did promise me a cup of tea," he murmured. His eyes darted around the room nervously, but he smiled when he met Ken's eyes again. "I like your kimono." Then, he cleared his throat and looked away again, pink tinging his cheeks.

With a soft smile, Ken grabbed Daisuke's hand and led him to an empty table by the windows. "Sit here, and I'll bring you something."

Miura was working the brewing station in the back with Kubo Fuyuki and Onishi Masao, and she cast curious eyes in his direction when he put in the order and didn't immediately leave. Instead, he hovered there, hesitant to go back out to the tea room, then decided to grab a slice of orange chiffon cake as well.

Once the tea was ready, Ken returned to Daisuke, who was fidgeting in his seat, right foot bouncing up and down anxiously, fingers flitting through something on his phone. He looked up and slid his phone away when Ken placed the cake and cup of roasted green tea in front of him.

"Houjicha," Ken murmured when Daisuke sniffed the sweet, caramel-scented tea.

"And cake?"

"You said you wanted to try all the food, didn't you?"

Daisuke took a bite, sighing happily at the sweet, airy cake, then gestured to the chair across from him. "Do you have a minute to sit?"

Ken glanced behind him, but the tea room had slowed down considerably from a mere hour ago, and he slid into the empty chair. "Just a minute."

"Have you had this?" Daisuke took another bite, nearly twice the size of the first, and grinned as he chewed. "It's really good," he said through the food.

He couldn't help but laugh at his friend's typical antics—if Daisuke wanted to say something, he didn't wait for the opportune time, even if that meant talking with food in his mouth. "Ah, no, I haven't. We were busier earlier. You got here at the perfect time."

Nodding absentmindedly, Daisuke sliced off a piece and held it out over the table.

Ken's breath caught in his throat and a flush spread across his cheeks, but he clutched the edge of the table and leaned forward to take the proffered cake into his mouth. He leaned back, chewing slowly, trying to stop the unwarranted pounding in his chest, and finally swallowed. "You're right," he said. "It's quite good."

Daisuke nodded, his face red, then immediately returned to his food, his eyes skimming between the food and his best friend.

Okay, Ken considered, so there may have been some merit to the girls' conversation the other day. Not that he and Daisuke were anything more than friends, but he could certainly see why Watanabe Yui thought Daisuke was his boyfriend. Really, now that he thought about it, the conclusion was obvious, inevitable even.

He licked his lips as he assessed his best friend in silence, then finally pushed away from the table. "I need to get back," he said, nodding toward the rest of the room. "Don't go anywhere."

It wasn't a question, but Daisuke nodded in acquiescence, a soft smile on his face.

As he went to grab a pitcher of water for another table, Ken's chest ached still, but he pushed those thoughts aside to focus on the task at hand. He only had twenty more minutes before he and Daisuke could explore the festival, and his excitement was palpable.

"You and your boyfriend made up?" Watanabe asked when he returned the water pitcher.

Ken opened his mouth to protest as the heat rose up his cheeks, but he cast one look in Daisuke's direction and he couldn't deny it. "We made up," he confirmed, though he adamantly refused to use the word boyfriend. That certainly wasn't true.

She frowned at him, her brown eyes studying him carefully. "How long have you been together? Why don't you ever talk about him?"

He cast an uncomfortable glance in her direction, but this time, it wasn't the dating part that threw him off. It was her second question.

When in the world did he talk to his classmates about much of anything? Even after the Dark Seed lost its hold, he'd never had much luck making friends in Tamachi. He'd never really fit in. The only human he was truly comfortable around was Daisuke. Even with the other Chosen, he still struggled to be open and honest.

"He's been my best friend for four years," he said in a quiet voice.

She regarded him skeptically. "When did it go from friends to something more?"

He laughed—that was an easy question to answer. "I have no idea."

But Watanabe pursed her lips as she studied Daisuke alone at his table, downing the last of his houjicha. "How in the world did you become friends with him? You both play soccer, but isn't he a little…I dunno, stupid?"

Ken stiffened.

How could he possibly explain the way they met and their transition to friendship? How could he explain his months as the Digimon Kaiser, fighting off the other Chosen Children, Daisuke in the lead, those ridiculous goggles atop his head? How could he explain the hand of friendship Daisuke had extended the moment Ken the Kaiser had been defeated and the goggle boy's insistence that he join the team despite the others' protests? How could he explain their Jogress evolution, their hearts beating in tune? How could he explain how he, Daisuke, and the other Chosen had saved the world time and time again? How could he explain the sleepovers, the nightmares, the struggles, the laughter, the tears?

Their friendship had nothing to do with soccer but everything to do with camaraderie. He and Daisuke had an understanding that went deep into their souls. They had shared so much, right down to their heartbeats, and nothing got more intimate than that. Really, Ken couldn't imagine his future without Daisuke. Even if they became separated by distance in the years to come, they would never be truly separate.

But more importantly, his entire body bristled at the word stupid.

He'd spent the last four years trying to convince that ridiculous goggle boy that he wasn't stupid, but the idea was pervasive, so ingrained in his head that it was nearly as difficult to remove from his inner dialogue as the nightmares, the depression, and the dark thoughts were to remove from Ken's.

Hell, the very first time he'd met the Motomiyas, Daisuke's father specifically asked him if he could help his "stupid son." At the time, he'd been so shocked and overwhelmed that he couldn't form a response, and of course, Daisuke had whisked him off to his bedroom so quickly. Even then, Daisuke had insisted it wasn't a big deal, but Ken had seen the hurt in his eyes—but far more troubling was the acceptance.

That was exactly why he couldn't stomach when others used the word to describe his best friend, whether to his face or behind his back.

Ken turned on her, fighting down a growl. "Motomiya may not have a high IQ or grades good enough to land a position at a school like this one, but he is the most warm-hearted, brave, passionate, optimistic person I've ever met, and"—his voice turned dangerously low—"you would do well to remember that."

Watanabe shrunk away, eyes wide, and he turned on his heel.

"Huh?" Daisuke looked up, shocked, when Ken grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him from his seat. "What's going on?"

Ken didn't say a word.

*

Daisuke rubbed his wrist, casting confused glances at Ken, waiting for an explanation of their early and sudden departure from his class's tea room. But Ken was still fuming, even when they stopped by another classroom and grabbed a couple helpings of matcha ice cream, and he made no signs of intending to explain.

"Okay," Daisuke said, crossing his arms as they moved to a more open area outside, "are you ever going to tell me what the hell happened up there? You should be glad I already finished my cake because I would've fought you off to eat that."

Ken snorted, and his shoulders instantly lost some of their tension.

"Was that girl taunting you about us again? What, did she say she thinks we're screwing too?" At Ken's scarlet face, he faltered. "Seriously, just tell me what she said."

He heaved a sigh, then led Daisuke to a nearby bench so they could sit without distraction or interruption. "Nothing like that," he said as his friend dropped onto the bench beside him. "She asked about you, about us. I'd been expecting that—she's the one who first said…you know. But the rumor doesn't bother me quite as much as it did at first."

Daisuke frowned, brow furrowing. "Then what did she say?"

He bit his lip before saying, "She insulted you. I couldn't allow that."

They sat in silence for a long moment as Ken focused, forcing his body to relax, and as Daisuke processed this new information. To his credit, Daisuke digested his words far faster than he'd anticipated—almost as fast as he'd digested that slice of cake.

Daisuke cleared his throat. "Are you sure we aren't dating?" His words were teasing, but he kept his eyes downcast.

Ken shot him an irritated look.

"Jeez, Ichijouji, I was joking." He couldn't possibly have seen the sharp glance, but Daisuke could read him better than anyone else, except perhaps Wormmon. "At some point, you'll have to develop a sense of humor."

He nearly gasped. "My sense of humor is perfectly well developed, thank you. I just don't find your jokes funny, Motomiya."

Daisuke scoffed. "I still don't see what the big deal is. People are always going to talk."

Here, Ken sighed.

He'd spent much of the last two days trying to figure out a way to explain his frustration to his best friend in a way that wouldn't upset him, but no matter what he said, Daisuke always got his feelings hurt in these ridiculous fantasy scenarios.

"I know they will," he said, keeping his voice soft this time. "But do they have to talk about something that's so definitively a lie?"

"Most rumors are lies," Daisuke reminded him.

Ken fidgeted, tugging at the hem of his haori, which he, for some reason, still wore over the black kimono. "But I wish it weren't a lie about this. I mean, I haven't even had my first kiss, but they think we're…that we're kissing all the time in private, maybe more."

They sat in silence for a minute while he tried to decide if he should've said something differently, if there were something he could add to make it better.

Nothing came to mind.

Eventually, Daisuke sighed. "People will always talk," he said again. "If you want them to talk about something true, you have to give them something to talk about."

Ken spent a long minute trying to figure out what exactly that meant, but for someone who wore his heart on his sleeves every second of the day, Daisuke was particularly difficult to decipher right now.

"Look, do you still want to spend the night or not?" Daisuke asked after a quiet moment. "I know this whole rumor thing really bugs you, but does that mean…?"

Ken shook his head. "Of course I want to sleep over," he insisted. "Daisuke, the last thing I want is for some stupid rumor to ruin our friendship."

He seemed to relax after that. "Good."

"I have to go back to the classroom to change first." He sighed, irritated with himself that he'd rushed out of there without a second thought. He supposed he owed Sensei an apology as well. "And we'll need to go by my apartment to grab my things—and Minomon."

Daisuke nodded.

Chibimon would be endlessly disappointed if Ken spent the night without bringing Minomon. Sometimes, Ken wondered if the Digimon were closer friends than he and Daisuke, but then again, they lived much simpler lives. They didn't have to worry about the guilt or the shame or the tension, and they definitely didn't have to worry about the rumors.

*

"Mama, I'm home," Ken called the moment he slipped off his shoes and slid into his house slippers.

Behind him, Daisuke donned the pair of house slippers that had at some point become his instead of just one of the guest pairs, and Ken allowed a small smile at how Daisuke had managed to fit himself so completely in Ken's life.

His mother came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands, but her anxious concern shifted to joy at the sight of his friend behind him. "Oh, wonderful," she said, her eyes tearing up. "How was the rest of the festival, dear?"

"It had its ups and downs," Ken said. "I'm going to go pack, alright?"

She beamed at him. "Let me box up some cookies for you boys to take with you." She returned to the kitchen as Ken headed for his room, but Daisuke hesitated in the living room.

In his room, Ken quickly shoved things into his bag, then rushed to the bathroom to grab the necessary toiletries, and when he had everything ready in record time, Minomon sitting atop his shoulder, he realized Daisuke wasn't waiting for him in the living room like he'd thought.

Ken paused, just out of sight, to listen to his mother chatter to his enthusiastic best friend as she packed up a box of cookies for their sleepover.

"Ken wouldn't tell me what exactly happened," she said, her voice sad, "but I'm glad you two made up. He cares about you so much, Daisuke-kun. We were really happy when we realized you felt the same way. The two of you are a darling couple."

"Oh," Daisuke said, surprised. "You too…?"

Right. Ken winced. He hadn't mentioned that his parents were also under the impression they were a couple.

His mother giggled. "We've known for a while. Not that Ken would ever say anything. You two aren't very good at keeping it a secret, though."

Daisuke hesitated. "So…we have your blessing?"

"Oh, Daisuke-kun." She laughed—outright laughed. "Of course you do. That was never a question. I know how much you care about Ken and he about you. You take care of him when I can't."

"I'd never let anyone or anything hurt him."

Something in Ken's chest ached at the seriousness in his best friend's unwavering voice, at the magnitude of his words, and his breath trembled.

"Ken-chan?" the little Digimon whispered in his ear. "Are you okay? You look pale." He nuzzled against Ken's cheek, then added, "Well, paler than normal."

He cleared his throat, trying to steady his breathing and slow the pounding in his chest. "Yes, Minomon. I'll be okay. It's just…something's bothering me, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is."

The Digimon nodded sagely before his face lit up with excitement. "Can we go see Chibimon now?"

Ken laughed. "Yes, we just have to grab Daisuke."

"And your mom's cookies!"

"Yes, and Mama's cookies." He cast a fond smile at his partner before forcing his legs to move toward the kitchen.

*

True to form, the moment they were in Daisuke's room, Minomon dove for the bed, where Chibimon had been napping. The two little Digimon bounced up and down on the mattress, shouting nonsense and giggling, before Ken could even put down his bag.

Daisuke rolled his eyes at the enthusiastic Digimon before turning a grin toward Ken. "Okay, which game do you want to play?" Before he got an answer, he was already pulling out his PS2 and grabbing a couple multiplayer games.

Normally, Daisuke played his video games in the living room, especially since it irritated Jun, who still lived at home. But not while Ken was there. Almost everything they did was done in the sanctity of Daisuke's bedroom, the door firmly shut and sometimes locked to keep the rest of the Motomiya family from prying—Daisuke certainly learned his lack of personal space from somewhere.

Thankfully, no one else seemed to be home right now, which was how Daisuke and Ken preferred it. Being truly alone with Daisuke put Ken at ease, and Daisuke reveled in Ken's relaxed state, all happy smiles and giggles and light-hearted teasing.

"Surprise me," Ken said in a quiet voice. "I'll grab drinks."

In the Motomiyas' kitchen, Ken perused the drink options in the fridge: a few sodas, some mineral water, a row of aloe vera bottles, and several cans of green tea and coffee. He opted for the aloe drink and, despite the fact that Daisuke would complain the whole time he drank his, grabbed a second one as well. Daisuke could at least have one healthy drink before grabbing a soda—it's not like he needed the sugar anyway.

"God, do you ever stop eating?"

Ken pulled back from the fridge with wide eyes, allowing the door to slide shut.

A few feet away, Daisuke's sister's irritation lessened. "Oh, it's just you, Ken-chan."

He frowned. He was fifteen now—did she really need to call him something so infantilizing?

But then, Jun actually smiled at him. "Thank god you're here," she said as she pushed past him to grab a box of Pocky from the cabinet. "Daisuke's been completely miserable for the past two days, moping in his room and, of course, insisting he wasn't upset. He's a little shit when you two have a disagreement." She rolled her eyes. "I'm glad you made up."

Ken leaned against the fridge, allowing the guilt to wash over him. He didn't realize Daisuke had been that upset—and he still didn't fully understand why. He tucked one of the bottles under his arm and twisted open the lid of the other to take a drink.

Jun studied him curiously, two sticks of strawberry Pocky stuck in the side of her mouth. "Those are both for you, right?"

He glanced down at the second aloe drink. "No, this one's for Daisuke."

She snorted. "He's not going to drink it. He only ever complains about the pulp."

Ken merely raised an eyebrow. "Oh, yes, he definitely complains," he said with a shrug, "but he won't say no to me."

Laughter bubbled out of Jun's mouth. "No, I guess he wouldn't," she finally said—and then, she grew oddly serious. "Ken-chan, when are you going to put that poor boy out of his misery and take your relationship to the next level?"

His throat went dry. "What do you mean?"

She scowled. "What the hell do you think I mean?" She heaved a sigh at his blank face, then shoved the box back in the cabinet and grabbed her keys from the counter. "Anyway, I'm heading out. You guys'll have the apartment to yourselves for the next five hours or so." She paused in the middle of putting her outdoor shoes on. "So if there's anything you two want to do that requires privacy, this is the time to do it."

A deep red flush rose to Ken's cheeks, and he looked down at the kitchen floor to avoid her malicious eyes until the apartment door closed—and she locked it from the outside.

He and Daisuke were alone.

Aside from Minomon and Chibimon, of course. But the Digimon barely counted when it came to this sort of thing. They certainly didn't diffuse the tension.

Ken took a minute to collect himself, willing the blush to fade, though he doubted he was fully successful by the time he walked back down the hallway to Daisuke's bedroom.

"What took you so long?"

His response was to toss the unopened bottle of aloe drink to his friend, sitting on the floor, before joining him.

Daisuke scrunched up his nose at the bottle but twisted it open and took a big gulp anyway. He didn't even complain.

When are you going to put that poor boy out of his misery?

Did she mean that Daisuke actually had feelings for him? Is that why he was so upset by Ken's reaction to the rumor? Was that why he would do things for Ken that he'd never even consider doing for someone else? Sure, it was a bottle of aloe vera drink, but Daisuke rarely made compromises when it came to food.

"What are we playing?" Ken asked in a small voice, sitting cross-legged, his knee brushing Daisuke's thigh.

"Racing or platform game?"

Ken considered it a moment. "Platform."

Daisuke sent him a grin. "Called it. You're shit at racing games, Ichijouji."

It was a blatant lie. Ken wasn't any worse at racing games than any other kind of game, but he definitely preferred more intricate puzzle and strategy games. He never got to play those with Daisuke, though, who held a definite preference for shoot 'em up, beat 'em up, and first-person shooter.

Daisuke inserted the cartridge and loaded the Sonic Mega Collection.

The sequel game loaded, but Ken, who had been given the role of Sonic to Daisuke's Tails, sped through the level, trying not to think about Jun's words in the kitchen not too long ago. But when he finished their first level in record time, he didn't have anything else to do while Daisuke had to rush before the sixty seconds were up.

So if there's anything you two want to do that requires privacy, this is the time to do it. He imagined her winking along with the suggestive words.

Ken cast a glance at his best friend, eyes narrowed at the screen in concentration, bottom lip caught between his teeth, and for just a moment, he allowed himself to consider the possibility. His chest ached when he thought about kissing those lips, about Daisuke kissing him, about those teeth nibbling on his lip instead.

The unnatural pounding in his chest was back, and his entire body flushed.

Daisuke growled at the screen, then nearly chucked the controller at the TV. He must've missed the deadline, which meant they would restart the level.

But Ken was still too busy staring at Daisuke, chest tightening at the animalistic sound.

"Gimme a sec," Daisuke snapped, and he grabbed up his bottle and gulped down more of the aloe drink.

His eyes darted toward the screen, but Ken was busy sorting out the thoughts in his head, and he needed a moment before he could devote his attention to the game.

Instead, he set his controller back on the floor and turned his full attention to his best friend. "Can I ask you something?"

Daisuke turned, eyes wide at the serious tone, and nodded. "Anything."

Ken wetted his lips and averted his gaze. "It's just, I've been thinking. The…the rumor thing kind of put this in my head, and now I can't stop thinking about it."

"What?"

"Before…when I said I wish they weren't spreading rumors that were a lie, you told me if I wanted them to spread rumors about the truth, I had to give them something to talk about." He glanced up—Daisuke was staring at him—but he couldn't hold his gaze. "Do you want to—that is, would you mind…" He took a deep breath. "Would you be willing to try kissing?"

Daisuke's mouth dropped open, and he released a strange, meaningless, guttural sound.

"It's just, I mean, I'd prefer to be guilty of what the rumors are saying instead of it being a lie, and the best way to achieve that would be to actually kiss someone."

"Oh." His friend took a shaky breath, closed his eyes, and shook his head. "When I said that, I didn't mean… Certainly not that you should find someone random to kiss. And really, I'm not… Look, Ken, I just don't think that's a good idea."

Ken frowned. "Okay."

This time, when his chest ached, it felt particularly painful.

"There are plenty of people you could ask," Daisuke said, voice strained, every word sounding forced. "No need to make things awkward on a whim."

He clamped his eyes shut. "But I wanted it to be you."

"What?"

"I trust you," Ken tried to explain. "And I know I wouldn't have to worry about anything because you always make sure I'm comfortable and okay. You wouldn't push me or pressure me, and you'd never let it ruin our friendship because we mean too much to each other." He took a shaky breath. "But mostly, I really want to know what it's like to kiss you."

Rough lips pressed against his, Daisuke's warm fingers grazed his cheeks, and Ken found himself leaning to the soft touch.

Daisuke pulled away a moment later, a deep red on his cheeks when Ken's eyes finally fluttered open. He was embarrassed, but Ken—well, Ken was dazed to say the least.

He sighed.

That was…

"Wow."

His chest pounded, ready to burst with the energy building up inside him, and he knew he needed to feel Daisuke's mouth again. Preferably with more pressure, lasting longer, and maybe even with some tongue. Tongue was apparently very nice when done well.

Daisuke's eyes sought his out, and this time, Ken was the one to close the gap.

Surprised, Daisuke toppled over, bringing Ken down with him, but Ken was determined and didn't allow the movement to separate them. He leaned over his best friend, a hand to his heart, lips sealed together, and when Ken slid his tongue in, finally properly tasting him, Daisuke released a strangled moan before meeting him breath for breath, tongue for tongue.

He could feel that unnatural thumping throughout his entire body now, but it took him a moment to realize what he was feeling was Daisuke's rapidly beating heart against his hand.

That feeling. The pounding. The aching.

It was his heart, reaching out for Daisuke's.

Just like when they Jogress evolved. When their Digimon became one.

Ken pressed closer, eager to explore the other boy's mouth, to taste every inch of him, to thread his fingers through Daisuke's messy hair. And thankfully, Daisuke responded in kind, not hesitating to return the favor but also allowing Ken to control the kiss.

His fingers clenched around Daisuke's sweater, and tears pricked his eyes.

Their hearts were in sync.

His heart wanted to become one with Daisuke's.

When at last they broke apart, Daisuke started at the tears on his friend's cheeks. "Hey, what's wrong?"

Ken shook his head. "Nothing. This is perfect."

But Daisuke didn't look convinced. "We don't have to…"

He pressed a quick kiss to his lips. "But I want to." Then, a little grin spread across his flushed face. "Besides, that was nice, but I'm pretty sure it gets better. We should practice."

Daisuke's face turned scarlet, but he didn't protest when Ken scooted closer and pressed his mouth to his in a deep kiss.

*

When school ended Monday afternoon, Ken couldn't get out of the classroom soon enough.

He'd spent the rest of the weekend at the Motomiyas' apartment—his mother hadn't complained when he got home at dinnertime Sunday instead of that morning—and he and Daisuke had made good use of their time together. He was grateful, both for the locked bedroom door and for the fact that Daisuke's parents, when they were even there, gave them plenty of space.

They spent their time playing video games, talking, and most of all, curled up together on Daisuke's bed, exploring each other's mouths and sliding their hands over each other's clothed bodies.

Ken had almost lost it when he felt Daisuke's hard-on against his thigh for the first time, and after one caress over his pajama bottoms, Daisuke had trembled and whimpered and cussed. Then insisted he wasn't allowed to touch him there.

Not yet anyway.

Ken nearly pushed over Kubo and Onishi on his way out of the school, barely pausing to apologize.

And then, he was outside the front doors, and there was Daisuke, sitting atop the railing, already wearing dark cargo shorts instead of his Odaiba uniform pants, the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up to the elbow, the blue tie slung around his neck. He hopped down from the railing and offered him a shy grin. "Hey."

Ken greeted him with a happy kiss, wrapping his arms around his neck and pressing him against the railing.

He didn't care as the rest of his classmates exited the building behind him. He didn't care if they could see the whole thing. He didn't care what they thought or said, as long as he had this moment with his best friend—and apparently now boyfriend.

Let them talk.

The rumors were inevitable anyway.

And this—Ken and Daisuke, Daisuke and Ken—they were inevitable too.