Episode 24: Breaking Point

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A quick glance at the time on his D-Touch and Hunter cursed under his breath. He was going to be late. He stared back up at the crossing sign, waiting for it to change impatiently. Skollmon stood beside him, warily eyeing the people around them. Maybe Hunter didn’t notice the looks they were giving Skollmon, but Skollmon did. They were mistrustful.

The news channels and papers had been painting Digimon, still referred to only as ‘creatures’ or ‘monsters’, as dangerous. To be avoided. That they were monsters who attacked without warning and without provocation. Luckily, as yet, no one had died from the attacks that had taken place in the city. Skollmon felt like it would only be a matter of time though if things carried on the way they were.

The worst attack had been four days ago on the mall, which was completely closed off and talks of rebuilding were already going ahead. Since then, there had been two more battles. One where Bondyemon had been defeated by Poemon, and fight where Hurakamon had crossed paths with a band of Rose’s minions downtown when Frankie had been out, trying to relax. Fights were becoming more and more common now, as Rose’s minion Digimon were sent out to scout around the city. No one really knew what they were scouting for, but they weren’t careful; sometimes they didn’t even bother trying to hide.

Due to his canine appearance, Skollmon had been able to get away with wandering around freely in the past, just an orange dog off his leash. But now he could feel people staring at him more closely. Weighing up whether he was what he seemed. Hunter didn’t seem to mind it, or notice it for that matter. Skollmon did, and though he hated being transported in the D-Touch, he was starting to think it would have been an easier option.

Someone’s foot nudged against Skollmon’s paw as the crowd of people started to move. The crossing lights had changed and Hunter was pacing ahead of Skollmon with long strides, hands in his pockets moving purposefully and easily maneuvering around anyone who walked too slowly or was getting in his way. This was uncommon behavior for Hunter. Normally, he was one of those slow people that other people complained about. He rarely rushed, and was more than content to aimlessly wander, taking his time.

Today was different though. He had a purpose today – something he didn’t usually have – and that was to be somewhere, at a certain time. As far as Skollmon knew, which wasn’t much, Hunter had agreed to meet up with Piper to go to a movie that they had both expressed interest in. But, this was again something else Skollmon had only gathered, as this going to a movie together was not a date. That had been said, expressly, several times while they organized the plans two days ago, by both parties. They were going to a movie together, but just as friends.

Skollmon found the whole thing confusing and a bit silly. Hunter had been on dates with plenty of women before, in high school and in college. He had girlfriends and Skollmon remembered being shoved into Rose’s dorm or the bathroom several times when girls had come back to Hunter’s home. Hunter had never made a big deal about those relationships before. But this, this... non-date, it had Hunter pacing around his apartment unable to settle and going back and forth between clothes. Thinking back on it, Skollmon was forced to hold back a chuckle. He had never seen his partner so flustered, and all over a girl he wasn’t interested in.

“Okay, we’re here, so where is Blondie...?” Hunter spoke to himself, stopping mid-step and looking around the area. They were meeting outside of the movie complex. It was two in the afternoon and their film started in forty minutes. Piper had mentioned how she liked to get there early to watch all the commercials for new films so she could get comfortable. Skollmon also surveyed the area, looking for Caesarmon who would have been more in his eye level. He also sniffed the air, trying to pick up Piper or Caesarmon’s scent. He couldn’t see either of them, and neither, it seemed, could Hunter. “Huh... weird. Maybe she’s inside.”

Hunter entered the foyer, leaving Skollmon just outside of the entrance for a minute. Skollmon kept his eyes and ears open, just in case Piper was running late too. A few minutes later Hunter returned.

“No joy?” Skollmon asked.

“Nope.” Hunter confirmed. “Weird. That’s not like Blondie, she’s usually super early for everything.”

“Maybe she stood you up.” Skollmon suggested, grinning toothily. Hunter grimaced. “I’m sure she’ll turn up soon. Just be patient.” He said nodding sagely. Skollmon shifted, flopping onto his belly and rolling onto one side. Hunter moved too, leaned against the wall and threw his D-Touch from one hand to the other to occupy himself.

Time moved on, and Hunter checked the clock on his D-Touch constantly, while Skollmon boredly looked and watched the people passing by, some coming in to the movie complex, others leaving. He listened with vague interest to the opinions of those who walked past him, but didn’t really pay much attention, far more entertained by the obvious unease his partner was feeling. Hunter was fidgeting, shoving his hands in his pockets, tugging his ponytail, straightening his collar, re-tugging his ponytail. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other and back again. Pacing one way, standing for a minute, pacing the other way and standing again.

Eventually it seemed that his patience was wearing thin and he flipped open his D-Touch. “That’s it, I’m calling her. Something must have happened.”

Skollmon rolled on to his back, staring at Hunter with exasperation. “Drama queen.”

Hunter ignored him, touched on the photo ID for Piper and held his D-Touch to his ear. He folded one arm over his chest and waited. It took all of a few moments for the call to connect and start ringing in Hunter’s ear.

Skollmon flipped onto his belly and stood up on all fours, ears perked and his tail up, suddenly alert. Hunter glanced at him, the change in demeanor of his Digimon not making him feel any better, after all that was how he normally looked when an enemy Digimon was nearby, or he could sense something unfriendly. He really didn’t want to deal with a fight right now, not while he was trying to salvage some of his ego and dignity. He couldn’t believe he was actually calling a girl to find out where she was. Normally Hunter wouldn’t have cared. For some reason the idea of being stood up by Piper bothered him more than it should have.

The ringing tone continued and Hunter began to grow irritated, beginning to plan what he was going to say when it eventually went to voice mail.

“Hunter!” He heard his name called, Hunter glanced around. He noticed suddenly that Skollmon was no longer at his feet. Hunter lowered the phone from his ear and looked around for his Digimon in the throngs of people. That would just make this day even better, his Digimon running off and getting lost in a sea of people. “Hunter!” His name again, Hunter moved to the left. “Over here!” Skollmon’s voice was yelling, and was then joined by loud barks, just to make his location more apparent. Hunter saw him, pawing at something by a trash can. Probably just a mouse or something, but he crossed over anyway, obviously Skollmon wanted him to see something.

As he moved, Hunter checked the phone again to see if Piper had picked up, or the phone had gone to voice mail. It was still ringing; and suddenly, Hunter could hear Piper’s ring tone. An upbeat tune, recently released by the Camden Bonnets. Hunter knew it, because Eva, Frankie and Piper had been playing it almost non-stop the last few weeks.

Skollmon barked again.

Hunter took a deep breath, nearing his Digimon. The ringtone was getting louder and he was starting to think the worst when a black plastic bag came into view.

“Fuck.” Hunter murmured. He hung up the phone, the ringtone stopped and he kneeled down beside the bag, hesitating to touch it. He had seen stuff like this in crime dramas. Plastic bags being dumped in broad daylight, and usually the bags had dismembered bodies in them. He glanced at Skollmon who whined and nudged the bag with his nose. “Do you smell anything?”

“Just Piper.” Skollmon replied.

Hunter grimaced, took a long breath, held it, grabbed the bag in his hands and tore through the flimsy plastic. To his relief, a decapitated head didn’t fall out, but Caesarmon did, bloodied and clutching Piper’s D-Touch in his paws. “Caesarmon?!” Hunter exclaimed. He shook the smaller Digimon lightly, trying to illicit some reaction.

“Caesarmon!” Skollmon barked. He nudged the other Digimon roughly with his paws, and then with his head. Caesarmon groaned a little in response and moved his forelegs. Piper’s D-Touch tumbled out of his grip and onto the ground. Hunter quickly scooped it up and pocketed it.

“Caesarmon, can you hear me?” Hunter asked, trying to keep his voice down as he and Skollmon were beginning to attract stares and murmurs.

Caesarmon shuddered, “Piper...?”

“Piper. Where’s Piper?” Skollmon asked. “Why were you in a plastic bag? Why do you have her D-Touch?” The questions came quickly, exactly the ones Hunter was thinking, but was going to ask later, when the otter Digimon was at least coherent. Hunter lifted his head, a crowd was starting to gather. He chewed the inside of his mouth uneasily.

“We need to get to somewhere a little less public.” He muttered to Skollmon. Slipping his arms underneath the still curled up Caesarmon, he held him up to his chest and quickly turned, heading towards the cinema complex and dashing to the right, following the paving around to where there was an emergency exit for one of the screens.

After leaving Caesarmon with Skollmon for a few minutes, Hunter returned with two bottles of water, one he opened and splashed a little in Caesarmon’s face in an attempt to get him to rouse, the other he kept closed for the moment. Caesarmon’s eyes opened slowly, and he stretched his claws and legs as he recovered. His eyes opened wide, and he looked confused, staring at Hunter, then at Skollmon, then back to Hunter. He leapt up on his feet. “Piper! Where’s Piper!?” He demanded, rounding on Hunter.

“You tell us!” Hunter said, raising his hands in an attempt to placate the Digimon. “Why did we find you in a sack?”

“A... sack?” Caesarmon repeated.

“A plastic bag to be exact, but let’s not be fussy.” Skollmon corrected. Hunter sent him a scathing look and Skollmon shrank back a little. “We just found you, why are you bloodied up? And why did you have Piper’s D-Touch?”

Hunter showed it for effect and Caesarmon gasped. “Oh God. They took her.”

“Took her?” Skollmon repeated. “Piper?”

“Who took her?” Hunter kneeled. “What do you remember?”

Caesarmon scrunched his eyes up tight, and rubbed his head with one paw, scratching behind his head and ‘hmm’-ing to himself. “Piper was here early, she had to get something from the book store across the street.” Caesarmon began. “After she got it, we came over here. I was hungry, so she went to get me a snack from inside the cinema. That’s when someone grabbed me. I remember something grabbing me from behind, and my paws being held. I got bit and scratched and then something really hard hit me on the head. I think I blacked out. I heard Piper coming back, but I was so out of it I couldn’t attack or evolve to help her. There was a scuffle and I could hear her yelping but she was all muffled! Then I got grabbed again and stuffed into something, smacked on the head again and it all went black.”

“You’re saying Blondie was kidnapped?” Hunter asked, his mouth drawn back into a thin line. “And we have no idea who took her, or where she is.”

“It’s all my fault!” Caesarmon suddenly wailed, covering his face with his paws. “I’m not good enough to be her Digimon! She’d probably dead and its all my fault!” He sobbed.


Skollmon patted his back half-heartedly. “There, there.” Skollmon said, casting an uneasy look at Hunter.

“Caesarmon,” Hunter addressed the otter firmly, “when was this? What time?”

Caesarmon sniffed loudly, and rubbed the back of his paw underneath his nose. “A-about one-thirty.”

“It's only half past two now, so they have an hour’s head start.” Hunter sighed. He got to his feet, rubbing his fingers against his temple trying to get his mind to work and think straight. “Okay so someone attacks the Digimon first and then takes the Tamer. They’ve got an hour’s head start on us. I need to contact the others.” Hunter told himself, fishing his D-Touch from his pocket. “Do you remember anything? Even something tiny?” Hunter asked Caesarmon as he scrolled through the names on his phone.

“N-no.” Caesarmon murmured, “I’m sorry.”

“It's okay.” Hunter said, gritting his teeth as he held his phone to his ear waiting for Eva to pick up. She did so after a couple of rings. “Eva?”

“Hunter?” She sounded dubious.

“I need your help. Look, I think Blondie’s been taken.”

A pause. “What do you mean taken? By who?”

“I don’t know!” Hunter snapped. “Sorry – I have no idea. Skollmon and me just found Caesarmon wrapped up in a sack ready to go into the trash. He has Piper’s D-Touch. He doesn’t remember-” a beep cut through Hunter’s words. “Hang on, there’s another call.” He moved the D-Touch away to see who was trying to catch him.

Hunter frowned, he had a media message coming through from Rose. His sister who hadn’t contacted him in weeks. Leaving Eva for a few more seconds, his curiosity getting the better of him, Hunter tapped the screen to open the message. Another few seconds, the message consisted of a single photo. Piper tied up and unconscious somewhere.

“Hunter?” He could hear Eva shouting through the receiver, trying to get his attention but all he could focus on was the photo, and the feeling of rage bubbling up in his stomach. He knew his sister could go low to score points, or to get under someone’s skin, but this... this was a new low, even for her. “HUNTER!?!”  Piper was an innocent in all of this – Rose had a problem with him. Why drag Piper into everything?

He knew why. Caesarmon was blaming himself, but really it was Hunter’s fault.

“Oh for God’s sake, HUNTER DIVINE!!”  Finally Hunter returned his ear to phone and confirmed to Eva he was still there. “Good, I thought for a second you’d got abducted too. Now go back? Do you know anything?”

“Yeah.” Hunter swallowed, “I need to meet you and the others somewhere... soon. I know who’s behind this.”

“Who?”

“Rose.”

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

“Time to wake up.” Rose sang, throwing half a bucket of ice water Piper’s sagging head. The water impacted Piper’s hair and body, and the metal pole she was tied against. Rose heard her spluttering through the water, and movement. “Enjoy your nap?”

Piper shifted against the metal she was held against, trying to fight off the dizziness that was filling her head. The back of her head hurt, so did her wrists. She couldn’t move her arms as they were bound behind her, hands together, tightly together with some kind of thin plastic cord she couldn’t quite identify. Piper was kneeling, and took a few moments to gather herself together and survey the area she was in. It looked like a storage unit, a large building, wooden in structure with concrete flooring. There were items all over the place, some were covered in large white sheets to protect from dust, others were uncovered – like an ugly crocodile head trophy that sat close to where Piper was. Beyond where Rose was standing was a small desk, with desk lamp and a chair, beside that a full length mirror which Hatimon sat next to.

“Where am I?” Piper asked thickly. She couldn’t find her voice easily. Her throat was dry and it hurt to talk.

“That would be telling.” Rose explained with a small smile which made Piper’s stomach turn.

“Where’s Caesarmon?”

“In the trash yard by now I would guess.” Rose shrugged. “Funny you’re more concerned about your Digimon than yourself. Aren’t you wondering why you’re here?”

“Some of us care more about others than ourselves.” Piper snapped, Rose threw the other half of the bucket of water over her and then threw the bucket to one side of the room while Piper recovered from the chill. “Since you mention it, enlighten me. Why am I here, Rose?”

Rose crossed her arms. “I don’t want to tell you.” She paused, “I have to admit, you’re more talkative than I would have thought. Maybe we can put that to good use.” She left Piper for a moment, hopping up some small concrete steps to the desk where she picked up something that jangled. Piper winced, the noise hurt her head. In fact, now she was more awake, she noticed just how much her head hurt, and her arms. It was difficult enough to move, but even slight motions of her right shoulder caused searing pain to dash through her arm.

Piper shifted against the binds holding her hands together, fiddling with her fingers to try and find a knot or a bow that she could pull against. Her teeth grit together, she was suddenly wishing she was more nimble and dexterous.

“I wouldn’t try to move against those.” Rose said, not looking at Piper as she sifted through some papers on the desk. Piper glared at her. “Tying your hands together are plastic zip ties, impossible to remove without the use of something sharp, and they cut into your skin the more you move.” She smiled over her shoulder, “so I would try to keep as still as possible.”

Growling, Piper slumped against the metal pole. So trying to untie herself was out, and aside from her feet she had not other limbs to move. There must have been something to use... Piper glanced around the building, staring at items close by, seeing if she could kick something over, make noise, try to draw attention to herself. All in an attempt the keep her mind off the main question: what Rose wanted with her. Certainly, Rose had proven to be a little unstable in the past, and easily angered, but Piper had never thought Rose would stoop to abduction. After all, this was what had happened. It was one of those things you read about in papers, someone getting taken off the street and getting found a pile of bones buried in a wood eighteen months later.

Piper cursed inwardly, thinking like that wasn’t going to help her, wasn’t going to help anyone. She just had to hope whatever Rose wanted her there for, it wouldn’t be the last thing Piper did.

“Now, let’s get down to business.” Rose cooed, she was walking back down the stairs. The jangling was coming from a set of dog tags dangling from her hand. Piper then realized Hunter’s were no longer around her neck.

“They don’t belong to you.” Piper snapped.

“They don’t belong to you, either.” Rose replied softly. “Which begs the question – how did you obtain them? I imagine an inferior soul like yourself stole them, am I correct?”

“No.” Piper retorted. “They’re Hunter’s. He gave them to me for safe keeping.”

Rose moved more quickly than Piper could register and the pain from her hand impacting Piper’s face was a stinging sensation that made Piper’s cheek tingle and her eyes water. “Don’t lie to me! Hunter would never let the likes of you have these! They’re mine.”

“He gave them to me to look after!” Piper spat, “and they belong to Hunter. Not to you! He told me you never received your set!” Another slap, this time Piper’s head ricochet back into the metal pole behind her and she felt blood pooling in her mouth. It was a sickening taste, and she was forced to spit on the ground. “Ask him if you don’t believe me!”

“He would say anything to protect you.” Rose sneered. “What good it does you.”

Piper quirked an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”

“Just look at you! He tries to protect you, and even in his best efforts I outsmart him and get to you from right under his nose! It’s pathetic really – investing all that time and emotion into one person who is so far beneath us... you might as well not exist.”

“Again, what are you talking about?” Piper repeated slowly. Rose slipped the dog tags over her neck, smoothing them into place.

Rose stared at Piper. She looked confused for a few seconds before she half-smiled. “You mean, you don’t know?”

“Know what?” Piper inquired, beginning to lose patience with the dark haired girl. If this was how she was going to discover why she was there, then she would rather know now.

“Oh...” Rose started to giggle, “this is rich! So utterly perfect!” She laughed harder, holding one hand to her mouth to cover the noise, and another to her stomach. Hatimon was up on her feet staring at Rose curiously, while Piper simply watched her in wonderment. She had never seen Rose laugh, and while it was an interesting sight, Piper didn’t like the sound... or reason she was laughing. “I can’t believe you don’t know! I thought you were of minor intelligence!” Rose spoke through her giggles, wiping her eyes.

“Know what?!” Piper yelled, finally fed up.

“He cares about you.” Rose explained finally. Piper spluttered on whatever words she had planned next and shook her head. “You don’t think so?”

“You’re deluded.” Piper murmured. “Hunter and I are just friends.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Oh please! How naive are you? Do you really think he sided with you and your band of merry men to be ‘one of the good guys’? He did it for you. To get closer to you. It’s pathetic, if you ask me.”

“No one did.” Piper hissed.

A swift movement and Piper gasped against a tight pain. Rose leaned over her, grasping both of Piper’s shoulders, digging her fingers into her skin creating fierce reels and indentations with her nails. “I assure you, it’s true.” A pause, “and it’s just not something I can have happening. Hunter’s infatuation needs to be brought to a stop – and the best way to do that would be to get rid of you permanently.”

“So why don’t you just get rid of me?!” Piper demanded, sounding far braver than she actually felt.

Rose looked shocked for a moment. “My dear, I’m not a murderer. Besides, I wouldn’t want your worthless blood staining my hands.” Piper’s bare shoulders were released for a moment as Rose walked back to the platform the table stood on and picked something up from the ground. “No, I have a much better way to nip this in the bud.” Piper’s eyes widened, seeing a gleam coming from some kind of long knife. “Something much more entertaining.”

Piper’s feet shoved against the ground, panic rising in her throat as Rose neared her, her expression a small, pleased smile. Piper forced herself not to scream, and only shoved harder against her binds and the metal pole she was kept against. Rose loomed over her, and she moved quickly, grabbing Piper’s hair which was tied in a side ponytail and yanking Piper’s head to one side.

“Rose – don’t! Please!”

“You should have thought about this before bewitching my brother.” Rose said plainly. “He’s mine. And no one else can have him!” From the corner of her eye, Piper saw the knife Rose held come up passed her face, and brush across her skin, there was a short moment of pain, a hard pulling, the sound of tearing and then Piper’s head was released.

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

“We need to go over this again.” Tom said calmly. In fact he and Reyez seemed to be the only calm ones at the moment as Eva, Frankie and Hunter were all buckets of nerves. “You were meeting Piper at the movies and... what happened?”

“I was running late. We were waiting, I called her, Skollmon heard her ring tone and we found Caesarmon and the D-Touch in the trash.” Hunter explained for what felt like the hundredth time in the last hour. “Look, we’re wasting time!”

“We can’t do much without knowing anything about where she could be!” Caesarmon argued.

Siberimon added, “Caesarmon’s right. We could go in the wrong direction. I still say we go to the police.”

“And say what?” Skollmon retorted, “oh hi, this girl has been abducted, by the daughter of the most powerful CEO in the world. That will make us look great.”

“Always worried about how you’re perceived by the public.” Irbimon sighed, smirking.

“How is this helping!” Caesarmon yelped in the middle of the group of Digimon. “If you could all put your stupid bickering to the side for a minute, my partner is missing, in case you missed that huge fact.”

Irbimon and Skollmon murmured small apologies, staring sheepishly at the ground. Tom cleared his throat to carry on. “Caesarmon do you remember anything, now you’ve had some time for your head to clear?”

The otter shook his head. “No, nothing. I keep trying but it’s all just a blur. I just remember getting grabbed and hit... and hearing Piper.”

“So we have nothing to go on?” Frankie asked helplessly.

“It doesn’t look positive.” Reyez commented. “I mean how are we meant to find one person in a city? Where would Rose take her?”


“I’m more interested in why.” Eva added. “It just seems like such a different angle for her. It’s usually all out, full on, in your face attacks. This... this is different. This is nasty. There’s no telling what she’s doing to Piper.”

“You’re not making me feel any better here.” Caesarmon said, blanching.

Reyez spoke up, “from what I know from TV and the grapevine, abductions can be narrowed down to one of two things, a perverse thrill or a personal grudge. Now as I don’t think this is a cheap thrill for your sister, I’m going to guess this is some kind of grudge.”

“But why? Rose and Piper have never had much interaction.” Tom said to himself, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Frankie shoved Hunter, “you know your sister better than anyone. You have to have some kind of idea!”

“I don’t know Rose.” Hunter retorted. “No one does. I don’t think even Rose knows who she is anymore.” He paused. “She wasn’t always like this. She’s always been quiet and kind of freaky, but never on this level. I barely recognize her anymore.”

“Why would she send you a photo of Piper? Is she taunting us?” Eva suggested. “Let me see the photo again.” Hunter found it quickly and passed his D-Touch across to Eva. Reyez looked over the plum haired girl’s shoulder examining the photo too, looking – again – for any possible clues to Piper’s whereabouts.

“Now taunting – that sounds like something she would do.” Skollmon said loudly.

“That’s true. When we were kids, if she had something I wanted, she would always tease me with it.” Hunter nodded, “but she’s not a kid anymore and we’re talking about Blondie’s life here.”

“Now, now...” Poemon said softly, “there’s nothing in the photo that suggests she’s hurt.”

Ailurmon added, “it could be that she’s using Piper for bait, for Hunter or something.” A few eyes turned to her with curiosity, “I’m just saying something that I think Rose might do. If you want to find or catch someone, you have to think like them – isn’t that right?”

Reyez nodded a small confirmation. He now had Hunter’s D-Touch in his hands and was examining the photo, pixel by pixel almost.

Frankie drew in a long breath. “Well sitting here isn’t doing anything to help. I think we should split up and search some of Rose’s normal haunts.”

“You must know where those are.” Siberimon commented dryly.

Hunter shook his head, “Rose doesn’t have ‘haunts’. She’s not that kind of person.”

“Wow, if I didn’t dislike your sister enough already, I hate her now.” Irbimon said gruffly, folding his arms. “So what do we do?”

“Wait for more contact from Rose.” Tom suggested, pocketing his hands and trying to ignore the panicked look that flashed onto Caesarmon’s face. “She’s contacted you once, she’s bound to do it again.”

“You think she’s going to ask for a ransom or something?” Said Skollmon. “That’s wishful thinking.”

“It's the best we have right now.” Tom replied. He looked at Caesarmon apologetically, the otter Digimon’s face sank.

“So...” Ailurmon stammered, “so... that’s it? We wait here until Rose contacts us again? Anyone else who thinks this plan stinks raise your hand.” Her paw shot up, as did Irbimon’s, Siberimon’s, Hunter’s, Caesarmon’s, Skollmon’s and Frankie’s.

“Right fine, I think some of us should go and the rest of us wait to hear from the others.” Frankie said getting to her feet. “We can cover more ground on the Digimon.”

“That’s right, and Piper could be put in more danger while we try to reassemble when Hunter gets contacted again.” Tom argued, “I think we should stay put, or at least in the same vicinity.”

“I don’t like sitting around waiting for a message we don’t know is going to come!” Frankie explained. “We don’t even know if Rose will contact us again today, and while we sit on our hands waiting, she could be slicing Piper’s face off.”

“You think I like this plan any more than you do?” Tom rebuffed, trying to keep his voice level.

“I don’t see you being especially proactive to go and find her.”

“We don’t know where to look!” Tom barked.

“Shut up, both of you!” Caesarmon yelped from the ground. “Piper is my partner. I’m scared and worried about what could be happening to her. I know deep down she is scared, and I know if this situation was reversed she would be taking the initiative and trying to find the person who was missing. So if you guys are happy to stand around arguing then you do that. I’m going to go look for her on my own.”

“Just a second!” Reyez stopped everyone with his words and threw Hunter’s D-Touch to him. “You just got a message from Rose.”

“Great.” Hunter grimaced, touching the appropriate points on the screen to open the multimedia message. This time it was a slide show of four photos, each one showing Piper from a different angle. She was soaking wet, had a cut on her left cheek which was bleeding, and there was a small puddle of blood on the concrete in front of her. Most noticeable was that the floor was littered with strands of platinum blonde hair and Piper’s normally long hair was now just about at her jaw line. Hunter frowned, the corner of his mouth drawing down.

“What? What is it?” Caesarmon demanded, shoving himself against Hunter’s legs. Hunter sighed, turned the D-Touch for Caesarmon to see and flicked through the photos for him, the other Digimon crowding around. Caesarmon stayed silent, as Poemon patted him gently, and Hunter showed the photos to the others.

“Oh god...” Eva breathed, “at least she’s alive, but what is Rose doing? Cutting her hair like that?”

Hunter flopped down onto a bench, exhaling deeply. “She’s trying to get to me.” He explained as Frankie handed the phone back to him and he started to flip through the photos again. “I like women with long hair.” He said slowly. “This is about me. She’s hurting Piper because of me.”

“Because of you, why?” Frankie pressed, sitting beside him. “What’s going on, Hunter?”

“I care about Piper.” Hunter admitted, his arms flopping into his lap in defeat. He avoided looking at Frankie, or any one for that matter by examining the photos again.

“You don’t say.” Reyez commented, folding his arms. “It really wasn’t obvious.” He added sarcastically.

Hunter ignored him, “that’s what this is all about. This is Rose trying to get my attention again.”

“You’ve had girlfriends before though.” Skollmon said, “Rose has never reacted like this to them.”

“They were... not that big of a deal.” Hunter shrugged one shoulder, “I don’t know why Piper is different – she just is. And Rose see’s that. She knows me, something I did must have given it away… and I tried to be so careful.”

“Well,” Frankie said, after some silence, “it's nice to have a revelation now and again, but now that is out of the way maybe there’s something in the messages that can give us a clue where to look?”

“I don’t see anything.” Hunter admitted, “Skollmon?” Skollmon hopped onto his hind legs, resting his forelegs on Hunter’s knee while Hunter went through the photos one-by-one. Caesarmon watched from the floor, pacing in agitation, while the others remained silent allowing the wolf Digimon to concentrate.

“That one!” Skollmon said suddenly, nudging Hunter’s fingers out of the way. “I remember that crocodile head. I used to chew it all the time as Yanmon until your mom threw it into storage.” Skollmon explained, wagging his tail happily, “I miss that thing.”

“Does that ring a bell, Hunter?” Tom asked.

“I remember it went into storage with a whole truck load of shit. We’ve got some storage units near the Atlas Corp building. They’re all still in use except...” Hunter trailed, “there’s one that’s been closed up since my dad died.”

“That sounds like a good place to start looking.” Ailurmon barked, “MOVE OUT!”

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

Piper started to move slowly, she had been quiet for some time and Rose had lost interest after taking her the photos and sending them on to Hunter – something she enjoyed telling Piper about in great detail. Piper had tried to keep her mind busy since then by counting the amount of scales she could see on the crocodile head, and then counting the amount of strands of her hair she could see on the floor. The way her short hair brushed against her skin and her jaw caused Piper to flinch every time. Piper hadn’t had short hair since she was a child, it was not a sensation she was used to.

She shifted against the binds around her wrist and against the pole, Rose had been truthful about the plastic securing her wrists, the more Piper had moved the more they had rubbed and dug into her skin. Piper could brush her fingers across her wrists and feel raw flesh and a liquid weeping from the wounds which was too light to be blood, she deduced from the feel of it that it was pus, a possible sign that the open wounds were becoming infected. Probably caused by the strands of hair she could feel drying against her hands.

Hatimon noticed Piper’s movement first and stared at her curiously. She didn’t agree with the methods Rose was using to get Hunter’s attention, but couldn’t disagree with her. It just wasn’t something she did. Even if she did mention her opinion, Rose wouldn’t have listened. She didn’t listen to anyone any more. Hatimon was worried, but with Rose isolating herself from everyone, she didn’t know which direction to turn to in order to ask for help. To Hatimon, Rose didn’t seem like Rose any more. Eventually Hatimon nudged Rose’s leg with a paw and Rose looked up from the magazine she was reading at the desk, arching an fine eyebrow as she saw what Hatimon had alerted her to.

Piper froze. The dark haired girl didn’t look impressed.

“You’re very stubborn. I would have expected you to be a sniveling wreck by now.” A pause, “I can see why Hunter likes you.” She added with distaste.


Piper ignored her like she was trying to ignore everything. Trying to ignore the acrid, iron taste of blood in her mouth. Ignore the clawing sensation in her belly that she refused to admit was fear and tried to ignore the pain rushing up her arms whenever she moved. It was becoming harder to do, her strength and willpower were beginning to fail. Rose shoved the chair out from underneath the desk, the noise made Piper’s head screech in pain, and the clipped sound of Rose’s heels hitting the concrete didn’t help either.

“I think,” Piper’s throat was hoarse with lack of moisture, so it was difficult to speak – she attempted to anyway. “I think I’m beginning to understand you.”

“Doubtful.” Rose mused, she stepped across to the full length mirror beside the desk and set about examining her reflection. Twirling her hair around one finger.

“I am though.” Piper persisted. “You’re scared.”

Rose scoffed. “You are obviously delirious.”

“You’re scared of being forgotten…or being abandoned. Of never being good enough. That’s what this whole ice queen act is about, isn’t it? Being cool and collected, emotionally unavailable. You give the picture of not caring but really it frightens you, being left behind. That’s what all these dramatics are for.” Piper breathed slowly, trying to quell her nerves and pace herself. She wanted to talk slowly, any faster and she would show Rose how scared she was.

Rose looked at Piper from the corner of her eyes, pausing her examination, “you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I do though.” Piper argued, “I see it all the time in dogs who have been mistreated. They-“

“How dare you compare me to a disgusting stray!” Rose said icily, an edge of warning in her voice. “Stop talking, or I will force you to stop.”

“I’m not frightened of you.” Piper lied. “If you wanted to kill me you would have done it already.”

“I will spill your blood, but when I do I want my Hunter to be able to watch.” Rose sighed softly, “it’ll be so much more rewarding that way.”

“You won’t,” Piper said bravely, she shifted her legs beneath her which were becoming numb. “You won’t risk losing him.” Rose turned to her, her face a picture of controlled rage waiting to burst out. “Proclaim you hate him, but it’s a lie and you know it. Hunter is the only person who will love you unconditionally. Who won’t use you. That’s what this is about.”

“Shut up.” Rose ordered.

“You think that you’re losing him-“

“Shut up!”

“To me.”

“SHUT UP!” Rose screamed. In a flash the mirror beside her was in pieces as she grabbed it and shoved it to the ground in front of her. She grabbed up a piece of broken glass and crossed to Piper with quick steps, holding the sharp piece to Piper’s face, looming directly in front of the blonde girl, so close Piper could feel Rose’s breath on her face. Rose grasped Piper’s chin tightly in her fingers while pressing her make shift blade against Piper’s cheek. Pushing just a little harder, the edge sliced easily into Piper’s skin, creating a cut a couple of inches long. Rose relished the small hiss of pain Piper made and smirked. “Not so bold now, are you?”

Piper breathed deeply through her nose, leveling Rose with a glare. She felt tired, and scared, and like this was a hopeless situation but she knew, somehow, that no matter now angry Rose got, she wouldn’t have the strength to take a life. She just had to keep pushing. “You are nothing but a frightened and lonely little girl, Rose.” Piper said steadily, “and I feel sorry for you.”

Rose’s eyes blazed. The shard of glass pressed up against Piper’s windpipe and the blonde swallowed against it.

“ENOUGH, ROSE!” Hatimon barked. Rose whipped around to face her partner at the same time as the main door to the storage unit crashed down underneath the paws of Terasumon. Rose dropped the glass, watching as Hatimon leapt down from her plinth, Remamon appearing in a flash of black light. Remamon howled as she evolved again, Tsukuyomon charged across the small space, gnashing her jaws together as Terasumon fought her off.

Rose casually made her way back towards the desk.

“Piper!” Caesarmon yelled, racing through the battling Digimon and coming to Piper’s side. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Piper!” Frankie and Eva were both standing in front of her a few seconds later, Eva grabbed up the shard of glass Rose had been holding. “Hold still, I’m going to try and get this stuff off your wrists.”

“Okay.”

“Hungering Cold!”

“Night Strike!”

“Wind Wrecker!”

“Winter’s Blade!” Tsukuyomon brought down her katana, sending her attack against those coming towards her. Skadimon rebounded from the impact, crashing into Valramon, while Hurakamon’s tornado stopped mid-spin.

“Great Cannon!” Bambusmon shouted, sending the powerful beam directly into the side of Tsukuyomon’s head. The great wolf snarled, whipping around.

“Endless Hailstorm!” She howled, summoning a giant cloud.

“Can you stand?” Frankie asked, now Piper’s wrists were free.

Piper nodded. “Yeah.” She got to her feet, regaining feeling slowly in her legs.

“Great.” Caesarmon nodded, “let's go.”

“No.” Piper said firmly.

“Piper-“

“I said no.” Piper argued. Ignoring the protests of her Digimon, Frankie and Eva, Piper ran up the small steps to the platform where Rose was watching the battle. “Give me the dog tags!” Piper demanded, smacking her fist into the side of Rose’s head.

“Frozen Grip!” Skadimon bellowed, forcing the attack into the side of Tsukuyomon, trying to ignore the constant pelt of hail stones.

“Blazing Mirage!” Terasumon joined him, the three replicas surrounding Tsukuyomon as the other Digimon joined in.

“Grand Cannon!”

“Wind Wrecker!”

“Night Strike!”

The attacks impacted together, each one hitting in a different place. In her jaws Tsukuyomon’s blade shattered as she felt the impacts of the attacks on her body, sending her tumbling backwards, knocking through a wall.

“GET OFF ME!” Rose screamed, scratching her nails into Piper’s arms while the other girl pinned her, yanking back on Rose’s hair.

“Give me the tags!”

“NO! Tsukuyomon!” Another scream, as Piper pulled back on Rose’s hair again.

“I’m asking you nicely.”

“Get off!” Rose released Piper’s arms long enough to scratch her fingers across Piper’s eyes, causing the other girl’s grip to loosen for a minute. Rose shoved her, getting to her feet hurriedly.

“Get back here!” Piper yelled, chasing and tackling Rose around the waist, shoving her into the wall.

“Rose!” Tsukuyomon yelped, hearing the cries of help from her partner. Getting to her feet, she snarled at the advancing champion Digimon. “Let me go. I won’t fight you.”


“You lost the choice to fight us when you kidnapped one of us.” Hurakamon snarled. “Gale Meditation!”

“No! ROSE!” Tsukuyomon tensed, ready to jump.

“Foliage Domination!” Bambusmon cried, the vines wrapping around Tsukuyomon’s back legs and neck. Bambusmon braced herself.

“Volcanic Pillar!”

“Night Strike!”

“Hungering Cold!”

The attacks impacted together, Tsukuyomon held in place by Bambusmon’s vines, disappearing in a pillar of fire created by Terasumon’s attack as the others collided against her body. There was a terrible howl as the pillar disappeared, leaving a shaking Hatimon in the place of Tsukuyomon.

“The tags.” Piper demanded, pushing her forearm against Rose’s wind pipe. “Now.”

“Bitch.”

“Don’t test me, Rose.”

“Piper!” Caesarmon snapped, staring with worry at his partner who was acting in a way he hadn’t seen her act before. It was scary to think she was capable of hurting someone like this, not that Rose didn’t deserve it but Caesarmon was used to seeing Piper so passive.

“They’re not yours!” Rose snapped hoarsely. Piper’s pressure increased.

“Piper, stop it.” Hunter’s voice seemed to break through the haze Piper felt and she regained a sense of clarity, dropping her arm from Rose’s neck, staring at her breathing hard. While Piper backed up, Hunter advanced, glanced at his sister and then at the tags sitting on her collar bone. He snatched them up and yanked them from around her neck. “Enough. Let’s go.”

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

Hunter made the choice to leave Piper alone for a day or so, as both Eva and Frankie had been shuffling around her like mother hens since she had been found and he was sure they were probably the best people to take care of her at the time. He had heard from Frankie in the evening that they had cleaned all of Piper’s cuts and bruises and that she was doing okay, that he should go and check on her for them the next day, which was what he had planned to do anyway.

Frankie had also informed him that Piper would be home alone as her parents were away again, and her brother was staying at his apartment. So, when Hunter rang the doorbell he wasn’t that surprised to hear several locks being undone before the door opened fully – and even then it opened slowly. Piper looked like she’d been in pajamas all day, dressed in loose cotton pants, a tank top with a hoodie over the top. Her new short hair, which had been uneven and messy the day before looked more level now, and neater, obviously either Eva or Frankie had trimmed it a little for her. The cuts she had obtained on her face thanks to Rose were obscured from view by clean white dressing. Hunter wasn’t sure about any others.

“Hey.” Piper murmured, stepping to one side and letting Hunter in. “I guess you’re here on ‘check up on Piper’ duty.” She said, closing the door once Hunter was inside. Hunter glanced at her, she looked tired, like she hadn’t slept in days.

“I’m not on duty,” Hunter explained, “I wanted to come over and make sure you were okay. I would have come yesterday but I figured you’d be pretty tired. And Frankie and Eva seemed to have everything under control.”

Piper nodded slowly. “Mhmm.” An awkward pause. Hunter glanced at Skollmon who was looking around the hallway like he expected to find something – Caesarmon most likely. “Would you like some tea?” Hunter wasn’t surprised at Piper’s question, he had learned tea was Piper’s remedy for everything.

“Sure.” He followed her from the hallway into the kitchen and sat down on one of the large chairs that sat around a table in the middle of the room.

Things felt awkward and... strange. Piper was quieter than usual and didn’t seem to have much life in her. She barely looked at him while she pottered around the kitchen filling the kettle, turning it on and setting out mugs. She didn’t talk inanely like Hunter was used to, as a way to fill the silence. Piper leaned against the counter with her hip, waiting for the kettle to boil. Hunter noticed her rubbing her wrists through the cuffs of her hoodie.

 “Fuck, Blondie!” Hunter snapped getting to his feet. Piper was pouring the freshly boiled water over the counter and her free hand, missing the mugs by inches. “Piper!” He said again louder, catching her attention as he snatched the kettle out of her hand and put it on the counter. “What’s wrong with you?” He directed her to the sink, running the cold tap and shoving her burnt hand under the water. He grabbed a dish cloth – which he hoped was clean – from the back of a chair and wrapped Piper’s burnt hand in it after removing it from the running water. “Where are you, la-la land?”

“Sorry.” Piper said softly. She sounded like she was struggling to talk. “I’m really stupid.”

Hunter turned the tap off, turning towards the blonde who was shaking the edges of her hoodie. They were now soaked through, also causing the bandages around Piper’s wrist wound of soak through. Hunter grimaced,  “we need to change the dressing.”

“Oh... I have a first aid chest in here.”

“No,” Hunter snapped. “You, sit. Just point to where the box is.” He ordered. Piper did as told and plunked down in a chair. She indicated to a low cupboard which, aside from the green first aid box, was empty. Sitting in a chair directly opposite Piper, Hunter started rifling through the box, removing gauze, antiseptic and anything else he thought would be needed. He instructed Piper to lie her arm out and roll up her sleeve. Cutting through the wet bandages was easy, removing them was harder. The wound was weeping from the cuts and sores made by the zip ties Rose had used to bind Piper’s hands together. The cut went surprisingly deep, and though the now wet bandages had obviously only been applied that morning, they were already stained yellow and took some coaxing to take off Piper’s skin where they had stuck.

Doing this only caused fresh bleeding.

Hunter worked diligently and silently, trying to ignore Piper’s small hisses of pain when the antiseptic was applied. And also trying to pretend he didn’t notice her hands trembling like the rest of her did. Once the bandage had been replaced, Hunter tossed the old stuff in the trash and eased Piper onto her feet.

“All done.” He tried his best to be positive, but it was difficult with Piper being so downcast.

“Thank you,” Piper murmured, “I don’t expect you to take care of me. It’s probably the last thing you want.”

Hunter groaned, “Blondie...” he had his arms wrapped around the smaller girl before he had registered that he was hugging her. She returned the embrace tightly, and Hunter could practically feel her fingers digging into his back, like she was frightened. She was crying into his shirt, the sound muffled and all Hunter could do was soothe her, and rub his hands down her back. The most comforting gesture he could muster. Skollmon and Caesarmon observed from the doorway.

Eventually, Hunter managed to maneuver Piper to the living room where he sat down on the floor leaning against the sofa, and allowed Piper to curl up against him, sitting between his legs. It took a few minutes for her to stop crying and calm down. Her eyes were bloodshot when she was done, and while she did notice their sitting position, she didn’t make any effort to move.

The implications of the stance wasn’t lost on Hunter.

“How come you’re here, huh?” Hunter asked, leaning forward towards her. When she didn’t answer, he nudged her forehead with his own, “Piper.”

Piper looked at him, puzzled. “What?”

“Here.” Hunter quirked an eyebrow. “Alone?”

“B...because...” Piper trailed.

“It's not good.” Hunter told her, he had lost the normal smug and patronizing tone to his voice she was accustomed to, instead it was gentler. “Piper, you went through something that was... well pretty shit to be honest.  You’re not fit to be home alone right now.”

“I like when you call me Piper. Usually it’s ‘Blondie’... hearing you say my name is nice.” She said suddenly, an attempt to divert the conversation. “Besides, I’m fine.”

Hunter smirked, “don’t change the subject. You shouldn’t be on your own right now. People who are fine don’t burst randomly into tears.”

“I can’t ask the others to stay.” Piper explained, she was rubbing her freshly dressed wound, “I don’t want to be an inconvenience.”

Hunter smirked. “You’re not an inconvenience. If you were do you think I’d be here?” Piper stared at him for a while in silence, her mouth moved several times, but no sound came out, a sure sign she had no argument for his comment. She rubbed the dressing again and Hunter held her wrist gently. “Did I do it wrong?”

“No. It just hurts, that’s all.”

“Oh. Maybe I should kiss it better?” Hunter suggested. Piper snorted derivatively, rolling her eyes. A moment later and his lips were gazing the exposed skin below the bandage. Piper made a choked noise and pulled her hand back.

“I didn’t say thank you, did I?” Piper said after a long silence. “For coming to look for me? For... well saving me. Again. I guess. First the museum, then at the mall, and now this.”

“It is becoming a frequent habit in our relationship, isn’t it?” Hunter laughed to himself.

“We have a relationship?” asked Piper. She was giving him a sideways look, she almost looked coy. Now it was Hunter’s turn to choke on something imaginary. He managed, he thought, to avoid embarrassment by clearing his throat. He leaned his head back on the sofa cushion, stared at the ceiling and breathed out slowly, well aware of the blonde’s eyes on him, waiting for an answer.

Expecting one.

In truth, Hunter felt light headed, confused – like if he tried to stand up now he would just pass out. He had come to check on Piper, make sure she was okay. And now... now he felt out of his depth. Very out of his depth. He moved his head back up straight, she was still looking at him. He looked away, staring at the two Digimon. Caesarmon was curled up on a rug, breathing quietly, either asleep or pretending, and Skollmon now lay on his side beside the otter Digimon, his paws twitching like he was dreaming. Hunter chewed the inside of his cheek to distract himself from Piper’s gaze. He swore that girl could stare straight into his soul. “What’s wrong?” Her voice surprised him.

“Nothing!” Hunter answered too quickly, “why should anything be wrong?”

“You’re chewing your cheek. I noticed that you do it when you’re worried.” Piper pointed out, half-smiling. Hunter stopped promptly and smiled awkwardly. “Rose said something funny to me yesterday, y’know. She said you care about me.”

Hunter grinned. “Of course I do. You’re my favorite Blondie.” He ruffled her hair for effect, trying to ignore the gnawing sensation in his gut. He sighed and cleared his throat again, “I should tell you, I’m really no good at this.”

“No good at what?”

“Feelings. Relationships. I usually wind up screwing them up somehow.” Hunter breathed out, slipping his hands up and running them through his hair. “I honestly find you infuriating. Before you I really didn’t care what anyone thought of me, but for some reason your opinions matters to me. Really matters to me. It’s annoying.”

Piper scowled. “Well I’m sorry I’m such a terrible strain on your life.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Hunter replied, his head lolling back against the sofa again.

Silence.

Hunter half expected Piper to ask him to leave. Eventually she spoke again. “Caring what someone thinks...it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

“Yes, it is!” Hunter argued, his head snapping up. He half expected Piper to look angry with him, instead she had an unreadable expression. It only served to make Hunter’s stomach lurch. “I’m a Divine. I’ve never cared what anyone’s thought of me. Or really cared about anyone.”

“You’re changing.” Piper explained, with a small shrug, “that’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Isn’t it?” Hunter scoffed, “it means I have a lot more to lose.”

Piper nodded. “That’s true.” Hunter froze, feeling her fingers slip up against his face, brushing against his ear as they moved back through his hair, brushing it off his face. “On the flip side, it means you have more to gain.” She was half smiling at him, her head tilted to one side. Hunter decided then he liked Piper’s short hair, how it dangled to one side and framed her face. He decided she kind of looked like a pixie, and the shortness brought more attention to her eyes.

Hunter deliberated for a minute, the blonde had a point. He had a lot more to gain – after all – even just being with her and the others for a short time he had gained a new group of companions, some of whom he hoped to consider friends. He’d gained a whole new outlook on things, and an ability to be himself, get away from his mother, out of the Atlas Corp shadow.

“What about you?” Hunter asked.

Piper’s hands retracted a little from their places. “What about me?”

“If I do this... where does that leave us?”

“Depends,” Piper said, smiling a little, “what do you intend to do?”

Hunter mumbled something inaudible. He shifted, his movements easy and fluid. Piper retreated from him, Hunter twined his fingers back into her short hair and gently moved her head towards him. Hunter’s lips were against Piper’s. Her eyes were closed and she was kissing him back without bidding, her hands shifting onto his shoulders. Hunter’s hands were cradling Piper’s face as he was the first to break the kiss, sooner than he would have liked. But he needed to make sure, confirm for himself, this was okay. This was reciprocated, it wasn’t just him. Piper blinked at him, relaxing her hands against his shoulders.


“This seems like a good idea.” Hunter commented, sweeping his hands back into Piper’s hair, pushing it off her face. He felt, for the first time he could remember, like he needed reassurance. “Is it? A good idea?”

“Of course.” Piper confirmed. Hunter breathed out, relishing the sense of relief he felt. He nudged Piper’s forehead with his own, grazing his mouth across the bridge of her nose. “This makes perfect sense.”

Hunter chuckled. “Who cares?”


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