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Don't Let Me Fall

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Kouichi couldn't quite help his thoughts as his feet unexpectedly left the ground and up and down suddenly became mere suggestions, the world all at once a dizzying rush of color and wind and sound.

What now? Haven't I had enough trouble lately?

When the world stopped spinning, he found himself dangling several feet off the ground, while Crusadermon gloated over her sudden advantage. Takuya shouted his name and Kouji looked like he wanted nothing more than to punch the Royal Knight holding his twin hostage right in the face.

Kouichi glared at Crusadermon and immediately set to wriggling, trying to get out of her grip. If he could just get loose, Kouji could use that moment of surprise to take her down. He ignored the slight increase in the pressure of the bonds. It was only meant as a warning for him to behave, which was stupid to expect. He wasn't a helpless child even if he didn't have his spirit at the moment! He had to do something to get free and just hanging there while Crusadermon taunted his brother and his friends was not an option. He had to get away from her.

He very firmly did not think about the fact he was being held over twice his own height in the air.

"Let him go, you witch!"

Kouichi winced as Crusadermon reacted violently to his twin's insult. How could something flexible enough to twist around him also be hard enough to knock MagnaGarurumon back several steps? His breath left his body in a rush as the bonds around him suddenly locked down in a powerful grip, leaving him unable to even wriggle. He tried to breathe through the added discomfort. He'd probably have bruises when this was over, but he could still breathe. She wasn't trying to kill him. And then, impossibly, his bonds tightened even further.

Kouichi could feel his ribs compacting under the pressure, his arms adding uncomfortably to the press as they were squashed even more tightly to his torso. Breath was getting harder to come by. The pressure kept increasing. If she kept this up –

The sound he released wasn't quite a scream. He didn't have the breath for that. But it was close.

He could hear the others yelling behind him. Knowing they were there and worried for him – he who had nearly destroyed them all! – gave him enough strength to swallow back any more cries, though thankfully the pressure was easing now. Maybe Crusadermon had realized having a hostage was useless if she crushed his lungs.

"Your slings and arrows fall short, for I am beauty personified compared to you homely humans!"

Kouichi rolled his eyes and didn't care if Crusadermon saw it. Confidence was one thing. Overwhelming pride was another.

No one seemed inclined to do anything more at this moment, so Kouichi glanced around, trying to see if there was something he could do to help dissolve the situation. He already knew trying to wriggle out of the bonds was useless: they were too tight and it would only draw attention to him that he didn't need.

He couldn't see any way out of this. At least, he didn't see anything he could do.

It was at this moment that several Mamemon dropped on top of Crusadermon and Kouichi both. Several things happened simultaneously.

Kouichi started to struggle again, trying to maneuver himself in such a way that he could kick Crusadermon, though he didn't succeed.

The Mamemon set up a clamor and clambered all over Crusadermon's armor and helmet, distracting her further.

Kouji moved in a blur of blue and silver motion.

And at the end of it all, Kouichi found himself being set gently down on the ground by MagnaGarurumon, Junpei and Tomoki rushing over to help disentangle his bonds. Kouichi smiled breathlessly up at his twin. Kouji's concern was an almost palpable tension in the air between them.

"Thanks, Kouji," he managed to get out without sounding too winded. Kouji needed to be able to focus on the fight. Somehow, Kouichi just knew Kouji was smiling with relief, even though his current form made it next to impossible to read his expressions. And it didn't matter in the next moment, as Kouji was drawn back into the fight by Crusadermon.

Kouichi took a couple of experimental deep breathes, for the moment solely focused on his breathing. Nothing felt broken, at least, and he was getting his breath back bit by slow bit. He smiled at Tomoki's worried expression and managed to sit upright enough that the younger boy could tug the last few twists of the yellow bonds away from the older boy's body. As Kouichi shrugged off the last of his bonds, Junpei directed Tomoki back to helping load the last of the Mamemon onto the Trailmon. When the younger boy had gone, Junpei turned back to Kouichi, placing a hand on his shoulder. For the moment, the renewed fight behind them was forgotten.

"You okay, buddy?" Junpei asked quietly. "She didn't break anything, did she?"

Kouichi blinked and then shook his head. "I'm a bit sore, but I don't think anything broke. We don't have time for this, though, Junpei, we-"

Junpei's expression was serious and grave. Kouichi shut up. "We have time for it if you cracked or broke a rib because of what Crusadermon did. Kouichi, I wouldn't know what to do if you'd broken your arm, let alone something as important as a rib. There's no easy way to set that. Heck, I don't even know if that's possible!"

Kouichi hid another wince. He'd been pretty sure setting his ribs was going to be the least of their problems for a little while. "Look, nothing feels broken, and I'd think that'd be obvious enough a pain I couldn't call it anything else. I feel like someone sat on my chest for an hour or so, but otherwise I'm fine."

"If you're sure…" Junpei still didn't look convinced, but the sudden commotion behind them distracted him.

Kouichi's eyes widened in terror as he saw, over the kneeling Junpei's shoulder, Dynasmon and Crusadermon throw their respective opponents to the base of the beanstalk in a heap. "Kouji!" he hissed, half his recovered breath having escaped him in terror and thus robbing him of the ability to shout. Junpei spun on the spot, nearly falling over in his own panic for his friends.

"Royal Knights, stop!" Elder Mamemon called at the same moment. "The key you seek is at the top of the beanstalk. It is a golden pod. And when you take it from there, the lock will be undone."

As Dynasmon took off, Kouichi gritted his teeth and managed to drag himself to a kneeling position before Junpei turned back around and caught him at it.

"Kouichi! You shouldn't move until we're sure you didn't break anything!"

"Junpei, we really don't have time!" the younger boy argued with him. "We can't stop Dynasmon from getting that pod. He's going to take the fractal code. You know what happens when they scan the code for an area! I can't keep lying on the ground!"

Junpei's lips thinned into a severe line before he nodded. "Right. But I'm helping you up. Kouji'd kill me if I let you hurt yourself more than Crusadermon did."

Kouichi just nodded as Junpei helped him to his feet and stubbornly drew one of the elder twin's arms around his shoulders to support him as they stood. Truthfully, he was still a bit breathless from having his ribcage crushed. He wasn't sure he could stand without help right now.

"Come on," he said after a moment, unable to watch the beanstalk dissolve any further. "Let's help the others get everyone onto Worm and away from here."

Junpei nodded grimly.

They moved as quickly as Kouichi could force himself to go.


A short time later, as Worm sped away from the rapidly dissolving landscape, Kouichi stared through a window at the destruction and solemnly vowed to do everything he could to stop this madness.

I didn't do anything to destroy the Digital World, but I never helped save it either.

It was a cold comfort. He'd never stolen the fractal code of any area as the rest of Cherubimon's warriors had done, nor as the Royal Knights now did for Lucemon, but he had never cared about the destruction either. It had seemed so petty before, when he had been Duskmon. The others had done well enough on their own, his contribution hadn't been needed.

At least, until one by one the others fell to his brother and the others. But now he was one of the six who had the power to stop this madness, wielding the true power of darkness and he couldn't stand back anymore.

Looking over the various dispirited Mamemon sharing the compartment with him, Kouichi nodded with grim determination.

No more.

Whatever it took, he would see an end to this destruction.