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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Adult · #1598342
A Warrior Finds Comfort From A Long Lost Friend
(Please rate it took me forever to write this story)

There comes a time in every hero's life when he wonders just what happened to him--where he went wrong, what he could have done differently, or sometimes, simply inquiring of himself how he ended up where he is now.

One such hero was wondering about just that, as he found himself kicked out of a restaurant for not preventing a fight from happening. Yeah, he had said something vaguely insulting that the other guy had blown -way- out of proportion, but that was what he deserved for calling any hero a "half-baked, flea-bitten has-been."

Especially since the Digital World didn't even -have- fleas. Go figure, right?

But now, as Weregarurumon--Gru, as he often asked others to call him simply to save time and syllables--was out of a job, seeing as he'd so recently been a bouncer and all. The rugged, ragged figure he cut was definitely one that proclaimed "don't mess with me," and it was simple bad luck that he'd run into the reformatted descendant of some Virus-type he'd fragged way back in the glory days...wasn't any species he remembered chopping up, so it must have become something else somewhere along its newer path of Digivolution.

The world was becoming a different place, too...as humans had begun to meddle with the Digital World more and more, pocket bubbles that they'd annexed entirely began drawing away from the great wilds of this data universe, leaving less room for the Digimon of the world to live in. As fortune would have it, a great deal of data in the cycle of deletion, reformatting, and rebirth was also shunted to those human-controlled realms, but since much of the data was controlled, there was still an imbalance that made things just a bit more tense and competitive in the Digital World proper.

It wasn't all bad, though...the two realms had regions of overlap, and human-designed goods went at a premium to those who could find them. Bustling centers of trade activity centered near most points of interaction between each world, to more quickly allow scavengers to offload their finds. Where once Digimon could often get by without a hint of society, settlements became far more common or even the norm around these cross-points.

It frustrated Gru that he had to deal with it, though. Once he had definition in his life, shaped by Matt, that Digivice, the Crest of Friendship...now he just had to get by, that was all that was required, and if he wanted to have fun or adventure, that would come second--if it came at all. Yeah, there were occasionally big bad virus-types to put down, and then he'd get called in to be MetalGarurumon to lay the smack on those clowns, but he really didn't enjoy that state, despite the raw power it commanded. Being trapped on four legs (even if you can fly) and made up of metal wasn't as fun as one might think--he much preferred the bipedal agility and approachable flexibility that came in his Ultimate tier form. And it wasn't totally lacking in the strength department, either.

The intersection point where he had a job--scratch that, previously had a job--was one whose other side was fairly close to a humanized settlement, meaning that it had a lot to offer. While other areas might have rarer or more unique goods, this one--System Bus Village--made up for commonplaceness by its sheer quantity of human-origin offerings. It tended to draw a wide variety of Digimon, since virtually everybody could find something to buy or barter for.

And that was why the restaurant where he worked needed a bouncer. Digimon often had strong personalities, and even inborn tendencies towards perceived mortal enemies on occasion. Cram those together in a small enough place, and it becomes a regular brawl site. The owner of the little joint had decided that a bouncer would be cheaper than continuous repairs, and that was where Gru had come in.

That is, before that FrostOgremon had dropped in. Geeze. The next one Gru ran across was probably going to be coming back to Primary Village with claw marks on its Digi-Egg shell...

The problem with this circle of thought was that it left him where he'd started: disgruntled, lacking in terms of direction, and still without a job. Rats.

His canine traits made him naturally keen on running, and he began an easy lope through System Bus Village towards its outer edges--he didn't care where, exactly; he just wanted out of this cramped mess so he could clear his head. Sure, it got him a few odd looks, but then, he tended to get those when he used rooftops instead of the town's crowded roads. He moved quick enough that most people wouldn't have time to do much even if they noticed him, so he wasn't worried about it being a problem.

Soon the shacks and huts became less contiguous, and he found himself bounding again upon the ground when they were too consistently far apart to make roof-to-roof leaps convenient, even with his momentum. Half the village was nestled in the curved edge of a dense forest, and the other half opened onto a wide running plain, with Data Mountain in the distance, lying almost orthogonal to the dividing line between forest's half and plains' half. Gru was exiting the settlement, he found, just near the border between the two biomes--a region he'd scarcely been to before.

While it didn't change the fact of his circumstances, the familiar wilds of forest and plains calmed his harried mind, let him maybe think--or at least stress a little less. Many were the encounters in the past that had taken place in areas not unlike this, and his mind wandered to what his old comrades were up to...Matt and Tai, he knew, had just started college, and Joe had evidently already graduated; Izzy, ever the boy genius, had also started college, despite being much younger. Sora and Mimi were nearly through with high school, and T.K. had just started there himself with Kari. He hadn't seen WarGreymon in ages--the guy tended to whizz around the world in his Mega form, seeing as it was both his most comely and most liberating form, lucky him--and Kabuterimon, on account of both his size and his relative grotesqueness, tended to abide hermit-like in deep woods. Birdramon, last he'd heard, was looking for a mate to settle down with in some craggy mountain aerie, and Angemon and Angewomon were probably on another plane, battling evils unseen by the common Digimon, knowing them...the lucky blighters had gotten in on that more recent action with Flamedramon and company, leaving the older original Digidestined partners' Digimon in the lurch in the meanwhile. And Zudomon was now some champion of the sea, keeping other monstrous sea-dwellers in check with that whomping hammer of his.

In short, none of them were likely anywhere nearby, let alone in a position to offer him or connect him to a new job. A frustrated growl escaped his muzzle as that path of thoughts left him no further along, and that much more nostalgic, to boot. Weren't things supposed to change for the better over time? Wasn't that the whole thing behind Digivolution?

Maybe that was his problem, he mused. Perhaps he should de-Digivolve down to Gabumon and go find something to make mad. Preferably something with freakin' lasers or whatever, just to get it over with more quickly. Sure, he'd probably be something else entirely when he popped out of a shell back in Primary Village, but he had a feeling there might be better options for him the next time around. He kept running into Digimon of types he'd never before encountered, and rumor had it that more species were spontaneously appearing over time, especially of late...

His feet had remained in motion the whole time, as they tended to when he was seriously thinking about things--people complained that he'd pace if he was indoors when it happened--and he'd wandered into the forest just a wee bit, when out of the blue there hove into sight a building--and a nice one, at that. None of this construction-of-random-parts business that characterized most intersection settlements, no--this was the real deal.

This being a forest, there were still trees, and trees had this tendency not to be transparent, no matter how much one wanted them to be, and no matter what might be on the other side of them--in this case, the building whose refined corners peeked out from around scattered trunks. Rather than waste effort on slashing the interfering timber down, Gru quickened his pace to draw nearer, his athletic form weaving between the timbers.

When he finally got into the clearing that surrounded the building, he gave the building a visual once-over: the place was built out of that stuff Izzy had once called "pre-fab," with a fa‡ade not unlike a Japanese dojo set over the entrance. In stylized, almost calligraphic Digital Characters it read "Leomon's Gym," and in Roman characters it also helpfully said "GYM" in block letters. Stuff in the Digital World often did things like that, even if there was practically no one around who could read English but not Digital Characters...

Leomons were an uncommon race in the Digital World, and the gears began to turn in Gru's head--could this perhaps be that one Leomon that had so boldly helped them fight Devimon so long ago? That noble, self-sacrificing yet masterless Beast King Digimon? He imagined that it could indeed be so, but the odds were, well...somewhat slim. It wouldn't have been the first one he'd blundered across and mistakenly assumed was the same one from his past.

Breaking the odds, however, was something the Digidestined performed on a regular basis, and Gru felt his old easy confidence light up as he strode towards the building's door. Only one way to find out, and besides--maybe they were looking for a new trainer to hire. Couldn't hurt, right?

His question was answered all too soon when the door swung open abruptly; while his reflexes kicked in and prevented him from getting a nasty knock on the noggin, his foot lingered and the door clipped him over the toe joints as the corner swung through. He gave a yelp that turned into a growl as his foot lit up in pain.

An embarrassed-looking Stingmon exited. "Oh, um, my apologies," he said, in his slightly buzzy insectoid voice.

Gru rolled his eyes with a muttering growl. "Next time, look where you're goin', okay? Yeesh..." said Gru, catching the door before it could swing back shut. His mood now abruptly darker than it had been mere moments before, he entered the building.

The "gym" appeared to be a hybrid of Eastern and Western styles--weight equipment over on one side, and a matted area for fighting on another, with hallways set in the walls further away that presumably led back to other areas. The front desk seemed to be unattended at the moment, but it looked simple--probably not much more than a place to greet entrants and keep tabs on who's coming and going. His eyes wandered over the place--it seemed to be sparsely decorated with various mementoes of a curious variety of probable origins.

His ears pricked up when he heard a noise like metal sliding on metal, and his gaze fixated on the source of the noise--from one of the hallways came something that looked a lot like a Leomon, but it was wearing some kind of jacket thing with matching pants--and it seemed to have white hair, rather than the golden mane Gru expected. His heart sank a little--had he somehow even confused the species of his old friend?

The well-built male, who'd evidently been carrying a crate full of weight stack plates, thus explaining the grating noise, glanced at Gru, his azure eyes flicking into focus from across the room. "Can I help you?" said the leonine, his voice smooth and confident as he set the crate down with ease.

Gru felt a bit unsure of himself, given the strange situation in which he now found himself. The line "oh, no, I was just looking for a long-lost and probably twice-killed ally of mine who I thought might own this place--my mistake!", while accurate, would have sounded really weird. It took him a moment to rearrange his mess of thoughts and intents to make something cogent out of them. "Uh...yeah, actually, happened to know a Leomon in the past, guy was one heck of a fighter. So when I stumbled across this place, thought I'd get a look inside and see if it would have suited him."

The leonine proprietor, who'd been wearing a calm but enigmatic smile, turned his head slightly aside, crossing his massive arms over his expansive chest, the cape-like jacket draped over his shoulders only partially concealing the sheer bulk of the beast's arms as it conformed to the prominences of the musculature beneath. "It probably wouldn't surprise you to know I was a Leomon once...that was a while back, but I since had the good fortune to Digivolve into what I am now. Suits me well, I think. That being said, I don't remember much from beyond the last time I got sent back to ol' Primary Village...wasn't there long in the first place. Seems I had my eyes on bigger and better things!" He gave a quiet chuckle.

"I can see that," said Gru, tossing his gaze about the room meaningfully. So even if this was the same one that had fought alongside the Digidestined long ago, it didn't look as though he recalled a bit of it, which was almost the same as not being the same one at all. "So...you seem to be kinda sparse on staff here," the lupine continued, hoping to at least dovetail in something useful.

"Heh, that hard to tell, eh?" said the leonine. He uncrossed his arms and made his way towards Gru as he continued speaking. "Yep, we don't have much staff here. It's kinda out of the way, at least on this side, and I guess it keeps me busy just keeping the place in working order. Could use a little help, though, and maybe it would make the place look a little more popular if I had more staff..."

"Funny, because I just happened to be looking for a place to work," said Gru, smoothly. "Got any room here for an Ultimate with some serious battle experience?"

The lion gave Gru a once-over with his eyes. "Well, y'do seem to have that been-there-done-that look about you...tell ya what. I have some space that I don't do much with around here. I'll let you work here on probation for a week while you learn how the place works, and I'll put you up, room and board, as compensation. After I figure out what you can do and how well you do it, I'll either set you up with a payroll, or let you go if it's not a good fit. What's your handle, anyway?" The lion put out a paw in handshake.

"I go by Gru," said Weregarurumon, taking the leonine's paw firmly into his own. "It's a lot shorter than the alternative."

"I bet!" said the BantyoLeomon with a hearty chuckle. "I can relate, so I go by 'Lai'. Short for 'lion,' because 'Leo' would have been way too obvious...and with that, I think it's time we showed you around the place."

Lai led Gru back through the hallway the lion had entered the main space from, and it led to a rather industrial-looking space filled with all manner of equipment, in varying states of repair. "This is the back storage room. If I don't know what to do with some doohickey, it usually ends up here. With someone new helping run the place, I can probably get to repairing some of this junk while you watch the floor and so forth..."

Then it was back to the main space and down another hall. They passed a stairwell, and Lai offered no comment upon it yet, so Gru kept silent, and they eventually arrived at a set of three doors--two on one side of the hall and one on the other.

"These," offered the leonine, "are the back entrances to the male and female locker rooms, as well as the service entrance to our training space out back. They can make getting from part to part a lot quicker, and we have signs on the other side telling 'mons not to use 'em, seeing as they're not 'Authorized Personnel,'" he said, using finger-quotes. "It usually works, but you occasionally get the illiterate ones wandering through, so keep an eye out for that."

They took the door to the outdoor space, which revealed a sandy circle-ish ring with wood poles on the border, and further reaches that delved into the forest--some with stone-paved paths, and others that were simply areas where the trees were just a little less dense. "Some of our patrons prefer to work on things like agility or hand-to-hand in a more natural environment, so we cater to them here. Down that path is a waterfall, as well, for meditation training--good for bolstering the internal energy. 'mons with a definite deficiency in terms of build often go there to work on bolstering their non-physical attacks. And off in the woods that way," he said, pointing at a winding trail that seemed almost like just another untamed part of the forest if examined only in passing, "is our hot springs. We have saunas and showers available in the locker rooms, but there's really nothing like a good soak after an intense workout."

Gru nodded, recalling the time the Digidestined posse had been at Devimon's illusory hotel. One of the few real things there were a set of hot springs pools, and they really were quite a treat, even if the rest of the hotel had vanished halfway through the night.

"The forest makes a pretty good natural deterrent to trespassers, and between my posted signs and a few security scripts I've installed in the area, we don't get many interlopers. But occasionally you'll get an intruder, often one of those big ugly bug varieties, and they have to be removed from the premises. They're not usually too keen on leaving nicely, but I bet they won't prove much of a problem for you," said Lai, raising an eyebrow with a bit of a smirk.

Gru mirrored the facial expression but said nothing; at the moment he was still trying to glean what he could from observation, and playing the strong, silent type at such occasions usually made the gathering that much more facile.

They followed a covered wooden walkway back around the side of the building and indoors, and emerged into the main space of the gym; aside them were doors marked with male and female symbols, which Gru assumed led to the locker rooms. But Lai directed his attention elsewhere with a gesture: "that hallway over there leads to the technique lab. It's kind of technical and I don't want to train you on it just yet, 'cause it'll probably take more than a week to figure it all out amidst all the other stuff you'll be doing here." A second door was nestled nearby, which Lai indicated next: "And that's the janitorial closet. I'm sure you'll figure out its purpose soon enough." He started walking again, and this time they went back to the hallway that led to the staff entrances, and up the stairs.

The stairs terminated in a small landing. There were two blank metal doors, these without handles, and each had a palm pad next to them--Gru was surprised to see this level of technology when the rest of the gym was relatively basic by comparison. "That door," said the leonine Digimon, pointing left, "leads to our living space. Left for living, if you need a mnemonic. And the right-hand door, on the other hand, leads to our intersection point."

Gru blinked in surprise. "Wait--you have an intersection point?"

Lai nodded, folding his arms with a satisfied smirk. "We certainly do. It's a little-known secret, but it's in part because our intersection point serves as a gym for human-associated Digimon in a humanized sector. A virtual copy of me back in my Champion form runs training exercises for all the little trainers who need to buff up their partners in crime. It's how I've been able to afford all this and such for so long--once upon a time, I was the one running the exercises myself."

"But why aren't there Digimon flocking here?" said Gru. He'd never run across an intersection point that didn't have at least an associated camp of traders, if not a full settlement. "It seems like something no one would miss out on!"

"Normally, you're right," said Lai, "but this intersection is a glaringly obvious one. Unlike other points, if a Digimon walked out of my gym on the humanized side, all kinds of people would see it immediately. Other intersection points are only viable because there are ways to sneak non-humanized Digimon in and out with whatever they scavenge, whereas my gym is--at least on the human side--supposed to just be for Digimon with trainers."

"Huh...so, why don't you have it set up out there so you can, I dunno, get scavengers coming through or something?"

The bulky lion shrugged, the movement overly visible due to the mass of his shoulders. "I've smuggled a 'mon or two through here a few times, but it's not worth the time and effort. That's not to say I don't sometimes sneak out myself and have myself a time out there, but it's easier when it's just me, since I know what to expect. There's something to be said for keeping it a secret, too...wouldn't want what happened to Random Access Village."

The settlement in question was one that had become so popular and profitable that security and stealth had gotten lax, and eventually the humans on the other end of its intersection discovered the point and sealed it, trapping a number of scavengers on the other side and cutting the village off from its livelihood. After a few attempts to reopen the intersection, the village had withered away to nothing, and only unwanted scraps remained where the once-bustling town had stood.

Gru shook his head in agreement. "That's for sure."

Lai looked distant for a moment, then returned to his typical demeanor and moved towards the door on the left. "Well, let's get to showing you where you'll be staying, shall we?" He palmed the pad adjacent to the door, which lit up and displayed a shower of symbols before opening the door with a whoosh.

The interior of the residence space was tastefully furnished in the Japanese style, with a step-down entry where shoes would be left...for those few Digimon who actually wore shoes. The main living area was the first room, but off from it budded a small but well-stocked kitchen, as well as a short hall to a bathroom, the master bedroom, and a small guest room. "I'll have to reformat up here a little bit," said Lai of the guest space, "as it's not really fitting for someone boarding on a semi-permanent basis. But I designed the place with possible expansion in mind, so it'll be no problem."

They soon returned to the living room. "Well," said Lai, putting his hands on his hips, "what do you think? Seem like a place where you'd like to live and work?"

Gru nodded emphatically. "Definitely...this gym of yours definitely isn't just a place to move metal."

The leonine nodded with an amicable smile. "That's kind of the idea. So, if you're still keen on working here, let me spell out your duties: you're primarily going to be keeping an eye on the main floor when I'm dealing with other stuff around the place, and when I'm on the floor, you'll roam the rest of the facility, looking for things to do to be helpful. If someone's training out back, offer to help them spar. If someone's doing lifts or bench work, offer to spot. If there's something that needs cleaning or sprucing up, bust out whatever you need from the janitor's closet and get to making things spic and span. Our gym is open from 9 in the morning to 7 in the evening most days, and you can take meal breaks whenever you need them, within reason. Occasionally I'll have specific projects or duties for you to address, but that's part of my being your employer, after all. After the week's up, we'll figure out what you do best and determine what your pay rate will be. I'll let you have a day a week off, if you want, or you can just be on the job every day and accumulate some vacation time once you're here a while. And with that...whaddaya say? Coming aboard?" He proffered his hand, this time for a deal-sealing handshake.

Only the briefest of hesitations for consideration passed through Gru's mind; it was nearly a reflex, how quickly he reached back to accept the handshake. "...yeah. I'm going to. It's a good enough offer that I can't imagine why I'd say no." A smile, albeit a conservative one, spread over his muzzle.

Lai gave an emphatic nod to match the handshake. "That's the kind of answer I'm lookin' for. I think you'll find you made the right choice."

"Question, though," said Gru, as the shake lapsed.

"What's that?"

"How many people have held this position before me?"

"Heh," said Lai, with just a hint of smugness flittering over his visage, "just one. He made a habit out of sneaking out the intersection point...and one day he never came back."

It was a simple answer, and to Gru it sounded like an honest one, but there was something eerie about Lai's expression as he said it that sent a tiny shiver along his spine.

The job proved more involved, over the week to come, than Gru's old one; while his restaurant had been a fairly busy one, mealtimes still came and went cyclically, and not every day had been one that proved to hold visitations from combative patrons. But there was something calming about chores where your work left behind proof that it had been done--shiny floors and fixtures, neat and tidy spaces, customers happy for your help. Rather than days of ongoing tension and suspicion directed towards most people who walked in the door, Gru's life, though not lacking for activity, became relaxed and laid-back.

Lai also seemed something like a dream boss. Warm and easy-going, the BantyoLeomon was never unreasonable, never grouchy (unlike Gru's previous manager), and, as he learned in a sparring session they held partway through the week, quite the fighter as well. But he didn't flaunt his skill or strength unreasonably--it was as though he simply knew that he was good, but didn't feel any need to let you know about it all the time. Most Ultimates and Megas had a tendency to at least swagger in groups of lesser-tier Digimon...so this came as something of a breath of fresh air.

And if that weren't enough, Lai proved an excellent host--his cooking, though not exactly haute cuisine, was extremely tasty and satisfying despite being relatively simple in content. The traditional-style futon Gru was given to sleep upon was basic, but entirely comfortable, and the coolness of evening could seep in through the rice-paper screen wall of Lai's room, which faced the outdoor training area, and provided just the right temperature for sleep in the residence suite, when night fell.

The peace and contentment that came with pleasant company and the satisfaction of a job well done made Gru's week flow by swiftly. In what felt like no time at all, they were finished closing on the seventh day Gru had worked there--yet, mysteriously, Gru felt better-rested than he did when he first arrived at the gym that rapid week ago.

They ate a quick dinner of reheated leftovers--which tasted just as good the second time around, to Gru's surprise and delight--and then adjourned to the hot springs, at Lai's suggestion. Gru found it a bit odd to see his boss in anything other than the traditional over-jacket and breezy trousers, but the two of them sported traditional-style loincloths out of courtesy--Lai kept a supply on hand for patrons, and their laundering was another duty around the gym, albeit an infrequent one.

"So..." said Lai, after they'd settled into the soothing waters, "your week's up. How do you feel about being here?"

Gru leaned his head back against the rim of the springs' pool, gazing off into space as he considered how to answer. "...truth be told...I'm more content here than I've been in a long time." He'd thought that a life filled with conflict kept one sharp, kept one on their toes, but he didn't feel like he was missing anything here in a place dedicated to keeping people fit and prepared for action--yet he felt, by the same token, so peaceful, and the only fight he'd had all week was the sparring with Lai: a friendly match, where winning and losing risked nothing except victor's satisfaction.

Lai nodded with an understanding smile. "People sometimes ask me why I run a gym out here, more or less in the middle of nowhere, with so few people coming through...I'm fortunate to have come into the relative fortune I have for running the gym on the humanized side, because it means I don't have to depend on a patron flow on our side. I can just...run this place for me, I suppose, and anyone else who comes along is icing on my cake."

Gru had begun to feel a mysterious sort of kinship with the leonine over the course of the week, and only then did he realize that he could place it: that sort of detached, come-what-may attitude was reminiscent of Matt, after the teenager had learned how to be happy and take things less seriously. Part of that was the direct result of T.K. becoming more self-sufficient, true, but another was how Matt eventually learned that he had the inner strength to overcome virtually anything that came his way, despite the world's uncertainties. Now he was leading a simple life, going for a degree in business so that he could manage his own budding musical career when the time came to ascend to fame and accomplishment.

Lai was doing much of the same thing--living life on his own terms, after spending time taking opportunities that came to him even though it took work and creativity to make them happen. It was the kind of simple peace through quiet and continual labor that Gru had never known, in part due to his personality and in part because his nose couldn't smell opportunity quite as well as it could other things. Now, Lai had given him the chance and choice to take part in this simplicity, this stepping aside from the many discordances of life in the ever-changing Digital World--how could he possibly say no?

"...so, I take it your answer is yes?" asked Lai smoothly, drawing Gru out of his lesser reverie of realization.

"Oh, yeah...for sure," said Gru, feeling a little embarrassed that he'd left the conversation hanging like that. He had a feeling that this was going to be one of the better phases of his life, and if it turned sour unexpectedly, he could just leave. It wouldn't be the first time things had changed and left him out in the cold.

After all, wolves are built for the cold.

Lai surprised him the next morning at breakfast with a satchel done up like a giant bento box knapsack--wrapped in cloth and knotted on the top. "Since you've decided to stay, I made you a little present," he said.

Gru was genuinely surprised by the gesture. "But--I'm just an employee, right? I've only been here a week--I don't deserve anything special..."

Lai flicked his brows upward meaningfully as he tripped his gaze to the wrapped gift. "Go ahead and open it. You'll see."

So the lupine did, and lo and behold, inside was a fine-quality leather jacket in a biker-like style, with a stylized lion en flamboyant on the front, and on the back the same kanji as Lai's own jacket, with Digital World script characters reading "Leomon's Gym" on either side.

"Yeah, it's a gift," intoned Lai, "but it's also some advertising for us. I'm giving you the day off today as well, and a little hiring bonus, and I'd like you to go into town today while you wear that. A strapping guy like yourself will probably get at least a few new customers in here. My apologies if that makes it seem sort of like it's not really a gift..."

"Well, it looks like quite a nice jacket," said Gru, not wanting to seem ungrateful--though it certainly was odd in that it was something like a wearable billboard. He tried it on and found the fit quite accommodating.

"I've been sewing the patches onto that over some of the times I've had you covering the floor," said Lai as Gru maneuvered the sleeves into position. "And I loosened the neckline a bit to let those flares of yours have some room."

So, thought Gru to himself, the man can sew, too? "That was considerate of you," said Gru simply. And it was true: the pointed extensions of fur on the back of Garurumons of various evolutionary tiers didn't suit extra clothing very well, which was part of why the bandolier-and-sleeved-pauldron look was so common. "I'm gonna go see how this looks on me," said Gru, standing up.

"There's a bigger mirror in my bedroom," the leonine volunteered. "I know the one in the bathroom is kinda small..."

To Gru's great surprise, the cut and style of the jacket not only fit, but accentuated the rough-and-ready look he summarily exuded. Even as he turned in the mirror, he saw that it was as though it had been tailored for his unique proportions.

Lai appeared in the doorway beside him, leaning against the door frame with a pleased expression. "I was thinking of adding a line of rings down the sleeve like mine, but I didn't have time for it...and I wasn't sure if you wanted it."

"No, no--it's excellent!" said Gru, genuine gratitude in his voice. "I'll be glad to wear this thing around town. I'm just...really flattered that you'd make something like this for me, when I've only worked for you a week."

The lion's expression became turbid. "Hmm...a warrior like myself is good at noting others of his kind. It is clear you've survived a lot and come out the other end a decent individual. That much is worth something. I was taught long ago--by who, I can't really remember--that goodwill is never to be underestimated in keeping friends and allies alike."

Gru peered at him, a brow raised. "That's very...philosophical of you."

The leonine shrugged, his easy smile returning. "It's about as philosophical as most people will ever hear me get...I'm more of a type for deeds and not words, but there are some things deeds paint with too broad a stroke to get a particular idea across. You probably know how that is."

Matt had long been of that sort--reserved of word, preferring action to be the litmus test for one's real intentions, and a little faltering when it came to saying things beyond mere fact-passing. "You bet I do," said Gru.

Lai eased himself away from the door frame, folding his arms in front of him. "Well, let's get you some spending money and send you to market. You've earned it, what with the free time I've had this week for the first time in ages."

And so it was that Gru again found himself between the border of town and his place of employment--but the placement of the two was quite mirrored from the previous time around.

As were the circumstances, come to think of it. He was employed, and happily, no less, with scarcely a worry in the world and a hopeful outlook for what felt like the first time in ages. It was almost like being with Matt and the gang again, but with fewer jarring transitions between power tiers and fewer bang-up battles to deal with. He decided he could probably live without those, all things considered...

Coming into town made him see anew what it would be like for visitors arriving in System Bus Village...he'd been here so long himself that this face of town almost felt brand new. He wasn't here, hoping to find a job to let him enjoy some of the comforts of life, he wasn't here out of boredom or out of hoping for a little glimpse of the world he'd been forced to leave behind after the demise of the Dark Masters. No, he was here to relax and enjoy a little time off, and he was going to do it, by jove.

But still, it felt strange to be on that side of the equation of privilege. That simple classy jacket and the sound of coined bits jangling in his pocket suddenly turned him from nobody to somebody, in the eyes of vendors all along the streets. (Okay, maybe he added a little swagger, too, but hey, he was wearing a custom leather biker jacket! He was entitled to it, right?)

The novelty of it wore off fairly quickly, in part because his personality wasn't really given to being ostentatious--it was something that only tended to surface more often in his Ultimate form, comparatively. Anyone who knew him as Gabumon would swear he was an entirely different creature...

His feet carried him as though on autopilot to the place he'd once worked. He scoped it out from outside, noted their new bouncer--some kind of hunched-over simian thing that he didn't recognize--then moved on, realizing that the proprietor would probably think Gru was back to cause trouble, if he went inside.

He eventually picked up lunch, in the form of some kind of chicken-like meat--the stuff was grown like a sort of vegetable rather than farmed for slaughter or caught, weirdly enough, but hey, this was the Digital World--and carried it with him as he wandered the streets, looking for somewhere to find something worth buying and bringing back to his new home. His feet cued his mind, this time, rather than the other way around, and he metaphorically lost himself in the town as he lost himself more literally in his own thoughts.

The lupine usually instinctively knew something good when he examined it closely, and he felt pretty sure that this new living and working arrangement was more than merely good. It was one of the things that dominated his thoughts these days, this mixture of disbelief and gratitude and contentment.

And he had one of the best bosses ever, to boot. Lai was certainly the kind of person you'd want running your gym, and on top of that he was multi-talented--the feline could cook, sew, repair things, and at the end of the day still kick some serious tail. And he had the kind of body that makes people want to go to the gym in pursuit of in the first place. Oh, and one couldn't forget his penchant for making people feel welcome, with that warm smile and smooth, resonant voice, and--

And suddenly he realized, like a bolt from the blue, that he was starting to feel attracted to Lai.

The idea left him momentarily thunderstruck, so much so that he actually halted in place for a moment or two. Some impulse of semi-conscious societal awareness kicked in at that moment, causing him to strike an affect as though he might have forgotten something, in case anyone might have noticed his sudden halt.

He questioned that thought repeatedly, but each time it came back the same: yes, he could feel the attraction there. And why not? Digimon went through such a string of reincarnations, often with persistent memory of their last lives, that it was common for them to change gender multiple times, thus creating a tendency towards bisexualism as a given Digimon stayed in existence longer. There was no objection there, and Lai had so many wonderful traits that would make for an excellent mate even in someone less pleasing to the eyes.

There was a bit of bad form regarding falling for one's employer, which made Gru grateful that he hadn't gone head-over-heels just yet: that could have been disastrous. But he decided to see, upon his return, just where this possibility took him. Could it be that he'd been looking for a job, and found that and love to boot? Could this whole too-good-to-be-true experience have just gotten even richer?

Dizzy with the possibilities, he had to do a double-take when he saw it--that item of irresistible allure, that grail of desire, there in the crowded street. Yes, there it was...an electric guitar. Just like the one Matt used to use, no less. He saw it and knew it was a match made in heaven (he'd later wonder how much of this might have been transference from thinking about Lai, moments before!).

He slipped into a cranny between houses to count his coined bits and compare it to the price on the little sign in front of it. Fortune was smiling upon him: he had just enough left after that lunch meat to cover it. He realized that there was no amp, but chances were good that Lai could jury-rig something...and while he was still learning how to play the thing, it would probably be good to not be blasting discord at high-decibel rates.

The shopkeep was an honest-looking ClearAgumon (though it was hard not to look honest when one was both translucent and made of toy blocks!), and Gru decided not to try to haggle a lower price, just in case someone might note his interest and outbid him. After some coin-counting to make sure it was all there, Gru became the proud new owner of one axe of sonic glory.

Or, at least, a -potential- axe of sonic glory. There was still that whole learning-to-play business to settle.

He'd dashed home with enthusiastic velocity, the guitar in tow, eager to get back and enjoy the rest of his day off with the new toy. It wasn't that he minded work, of course, but it was hard to get some solid practice in without some relatively uninterrupted time for it.

He felt a little surprised to see a sign on the front of the gym that said "Closed for the day"--hadn't Lai stayed home to run the place? Thankfully, Lai had previously shown him the hidden palm-panel in the door frame, and he was able to let himself in without incident.

He called the leonine's name upon entering, but heard no response. It wouldn't have been surprising if the brazen fighter had gone out back to beat up the training posts, or perhaps even farther at range to smite something else. Lai was a gentle soul, but even Gru had times where he wanted nothing more to do than go delete something most mightily.

He wandered upstairs, palming himself into their shared living space, and upon finding it also vacant, he slipped into Lai's bedroom and quietly slid one of the rice-paper screens open, just to see if Lai was out back, hopefully without letting the leonine know Gru had been in his bedroom.

But the training lot was also empty. Quiet, too--the faint sound of digital forest background chirps was all that met his ears beside the usual sound of the waterfall some distance into the forest. He'd always considered this odd: never once had he seen a bird in the Digital World that was purely a songbird and not a Digimon of some kind, yet there was always that chirping to be had--and just like birds in the real world, the chirping would stop if a predator was at hand, or escalate when something made a sizable stir in the woods. He wondered, idly, if perhaps the trees themselves were doing the chirping...

He slid the screen shut again, making sure to leave no trace that he'd been in Lai's room. It wasn't that the lion was at all protective or secretive, but Gru knew it was at the least impolite to be nosing around in that basically private space. With any luck, the lion wouldn't be able to differentiate his remnant odor traces from being in the bedroom from the residual lupine aroma in the rest of the living space.

With Lai out and about, Gru decided to just stay in the upper story of the gym: it wasn't like there was anything better to do or anywhere better to be, when playing the guitar. Outdoors the faint plinks and plunks of an unamplified guitar might easily get lost in forest noise, and weight benches weren't the most comfortable thing for extended seated practice.

Several hours came and went without incident. Gru helped himself to a snack from the refrigerator, taking a break for a bit--he had pretty resilient hands, from all the fistfighting he'd done, but getting them to do something dexterous like this wasn't the easiest thing in the world, and the muscle movements involved in producing the necessary finesse tended to be quite different from those holding knuckles solidly in place when they impacted someone else's jaw.

He heard a muffled whoosh from outside the living space just as he was about to sit down and continue--it took him a moment to even imagine what could produce a sound--and then he remembered the intersection point. He knew the door was locked on this side, but was it locked from the inside, too? Could something have infiltrated the point and made its way inside? He felt adrenaline light up his nerves, and energy collected in his fingers reflexively, ready to strike one of his signature haymakers if the need arose.

He stood by the door, took a quiet breath, then struck the opener panel and struck a pose of readiness.

To his surprise, there was Lai, a rather oddly-shaped satchel slung over his shoulders. "Gru! You're back already! Glad to see it--I could use a hand with some of the stuff in there." He gave a meaningful flick of his head towards the door to the lab.

"Oh, Lai! Oi, I--I heard the whoosh and I thought someone might have come through. I didn't know you were on the other side..."

Lai chuckled. "Normally that would be a pretty valid concern, but I've put a pretty stringent security program on the thing...anything tries to get through without my say-so, that place goes on lock-down. Of course, there are a fair number of precautions I've set up on the other side, as well..."

"Yeah, that makes sense," said Gru, nodding in understanding as he went through the opened door and into the intersection room. There was a fair deal of complicated tech stuff about the place, but that was what Gru had expected, after all--while intersection points generally showed up initially as a funky-looking rift in time and space, it usually wasn't long before equipment was brought in to control its properties and keep it stably open. A couple other satchels, similar to the one Lai was carrying, stood at a somewhat disorderly contrast to the neat, scientific appearance of the rest of the room; he picked one up and lugged it back to the living space, as Lai was doing.

"What's in all these?" he asked, taking Lai's lead and setting them down in the living room for the moment.

"Quite an abundance of stuff," said Lai, opening the first and beginning to remove and sort its contents. "Some of it bought, some scavenged. I find it's a lot quicker getting food products straight from the humanized world than trying to locate and haggle with a lot of the vendors hereabouts."

Gru gave a sort of grunt of acknowledgement as he went to bring back the other satchels. He wondered how in the world Lai had brought all these through the intersection in the first place--it wasn't that Lai was weak in any sense of the word, but this amount of stuff just plain wouldn't work if you tried to carry it all at once.

He returned to see Lai withdrawing a small, sphere-like object that appeared to be bound in strings of glowing code. This was a hallmark of humanized involvement--they had ways to compress stuff into self-extracting objects that made it possible to fit something big into a very small space for transit. There were a few things like that in the native Digital World, but humans seemed to be able to apply it to just about anything, with the proper equipment. "What's that you're holding?" he asked of the leonine.

Lai lightly tossed it up in the air, catching it again neatly. "This, my curious little co-worker, is going to be your sleep surface for the foreseeable future. Expanding that guest room won't take but two shakes, but it's not quite as easy to whip up furniture that lasts."

"You didn't have to do that," protested Gru, mostly out of politeness. "I was fine on the futon..."

Lai shook his head. "My respect for you as both an employee and a friend demand that I treat you better than just someone visiting. You need more space to call your own, and you shouldn't have to sleep on the floor. Now, if you're really vehement, I'll let you continue using the futon, 'cause I know some people just find them more comfortable, but really, I think you're more than worth the outlay."

The WereGarurumon felt a flutter in his chest. Knowing that he had a bit of a crush on Lai was one thing, but this sounded like it just might be starting to become mutual. "Well, I--I think, that'll work fine," he said, a bit shaken by the moment, "I mean, using a regular bed and all..." It occurred to him that this would effectively double the possibilities of the two of them sharing a bed, at least on occasion, and the thought of cuddling up to the leonine by night was tickling at the edges of his imagination...

Lai set the script-wrapped sphere aside and continued unpacking with an amicable grin. "Let's get the rest of this stuff settled, and then we can get your room fixed up."

The leonine proved to be quite accurate in his earlier statement; after all the supplies he'd brought in were dealt with, all it took were a few tweaks in Lai's control panel for the home to expand the guest room to well over double its original size, and the walls and floor became something more homey and less formal-looking in the process. Then, a simple twist of the sphere and a gentle lob of it into the empty space, and following a brilliant flash and streams of bits flowing from it for a few moments, there was a perfectly respectable bed nestled against the wall. It was done in a somewhat rustic style, which Gru found charming in a simple way--something that would befit the wild, somewhat woodsy spirit of a wolf-like creature.

And as Gru stretched out on it that night, having said a "good night" to Lai that was genuinely a little more heartfelt, he gazed up at the ceiling, but what he was seeing was a future of possibilities with the lion that was now his near-constant companion. None of them were especially serious, but he definitely was feeling more romantic than he'd perhaps ever found himself.

Another week came and went, just as peacefully as the first. Lai had begun to teach him about the techniques lab, which was a bit challenging in that it entailed more complicated computing than most Digimon ever had to work with, but it was surprisingly advanced, all the same. He wondered how in the world the lion had been able to procure such intricate technology, but the leonine's mystery was part of his allure--and Gru felt almost like asking would ruin that, so he didn't bother.

He also took every opportunity to work on practicing his new guitar--a pastime which Lai often watched with quiet bemusement. At this point, all the wolf really could do were simple plinks and plunks, with an occasional attempt at an off-kilter chord, but he at least knew enough music from being with the Digidestined kids that he had some things to work towards.

But this weekend held another surprise, and it came in the form of a strange tug upon his heartstrings that, for a change, wasn't at all related to his new employer. For a while he wasn't sure what to make of it, and then, in a shift that strongly startled him, a tiny image popped up in front of him, a bit off to the side.

"WereGarurumon? Can you hear me?" came a voice from the general location of the screen.

"...Matt? Is that you?" said Gru, picking himself back up from the floor next to the stool he -had-been sitting on just before the image appeared. The voice was certainly right...

"WereGarurumon! Hey, it's me--Matt!" The image, which Gru could now see more clearly, what with being at eye level to it again, clarified into the face of none other than the lupine's Digidestined partner of yore.

That strange tug pulled on him again, and he placed it this time: it was the resonance of the Crest of Friendship, which, despite having been displaced from the two of them long ago, was still an emotional frequency to which the two remained rather attuned. Matt's eagerness to see him was directly affecting him, as fluctuations in the boy's affect always had. "Ah, Matt...it's been quite a while! To what do I owe the unexpected occasion?"

"They're working on a new way to gate into the wild parts of the Digital World," said Matt, "and they invited me to come check it out, since I have experience on the matter with you and the gang."

"They?" said Gru. The Digidestined had always been relatively isolated in their workings, so the mention of other people who presumably weren't Izzy or Joe (seeing as the two were pretty good with computers) was unusual. "Who's 'they'?"

"Oh, it's this data research firm," said the teenaged musician. "Run by a guy called 'Sampson'--don't think you know him. It's looking like parts of the Digital World are going to be pretty much permanently connected to the human world, but he's looking into the parts that exist independent of our involvement..."

Gru nodded slowly. "Hmm, I see..."

"They wanted me as part of a test project involving searching for stuff in the Digital World," continued Matt, "and it looks like they have it working, seeing as I'm talking to you now. But now that we've got a lock on your position, they're going to send me through--apparently they have a fully-working Gate for human use!" Much of the human involvement in the Digital World these days was in the form of virtual reality--a far cry from the direct, bodily transport back and forth that the original Digidestined team usually encountered.

"That's great!" said Gru, a smile spreading toothily over his muzzle. "Let me go outside, just so you don't end up in a wall or something..."

Matt gave him a funny look, but merely nodded. A distant voice could be heard through the image: "Target identity locked. Energizing Digital Gate! Begin merge!"

Gru hightailed it outside--it sounded like there wouldn't be much time before Matt beamed down. He was barely through the front door when a swirling of data in the sky glowed into existence, growing in complexity and size for a few seconds, until a bolt of light gleamed down from the assemblage, and when the flare of photons and data ebbed away, there was Matt, his trademark pleased half-smile vibrant on his face.

"Hey, buddy," he said, casually sliding one hand into his pants pocket.

Gru was not keen on being so gruff about it--especially with all the blips on his emotional landscape lately. Matt found himself accordingly the victim of one oversized wolf-hug in short order. "I missed you so much, Matt!" said the lupine, his head next to his partner's for the first time in ages.

He could feel the human's chin and nose nestling in the ruffs on his shoulder. "And I missed you, too, WereGarurumon..."

It was difficult not to stay in that hug for quite a while, but Gru decided that he didn't want to make Matt too uncomfortable, so he let go after a bit. "Does this mean you can come visit me whenever you want now?" he asked, drawing back with one hefty paw upon each of Matt's more slight shoulders.

Matt's smile faltered, and his expression became crestfallen. "I...I don't know. It depends on how often they let me use the Gate." His expression brightened in a somewhat forced fashion. "But I do know we have most of the afternoon, at least!"

So this was it, thought Gru, a reunion only to be followed by another indefinite absence. Some things never changed...but he had to make the best of it while he could. "Okay, I understand. Let's make the most of the time we have!" he said, doing his best to sound enthusiastic.

"So..." said Matt, as the lupine drew back his paws slowly, "what's this place?" he asked, peeking around the wolf's shoulder.

"Ah," said Gru, turning his head a bit to mirror the direction of the teenager's gaze, "that's the place I work now. It's a training gym, and the owner is a Bant--a step up from a regular Leomon," he corrected himself, unsure of whether Matt had heard of the technical name of his boss. Lai was the only BantyoLeomon that Gru had ever seen, come to think of it, and unlike Matt, he'd been in the Digital World this whole time...

"Cool!" said Matt. "I didn't know you had a job...can I see what the place is like inside?" His hand again sought out that pocket of his like a homing missile.

"Absolutely," said Gru. "I live here now, too, so I have double the reason to show it to you..." he began, leading Matt towards the front door.

Their tour of the place didn't take long, and Lai had again mysteriously disappeared--Gru had a feeling his forays onto the humanized side of the intersection were something of a weekly affair. But, no matter, they had the afternoon all to themselves.

Matt was quick to espy Gru's guitar, and instantly they had something to talk about, and to do. In no time at all, Matt was giving Gru lessons on how to play the ampless axe, much to the lupine's delight--this would make so much more progress, and more quickly, than his usual undirected attempts at practice!

They were working through some chord drills when Matt offhandedly asked him, "So...made any cool new friends around here?"

"Well, not really..." said Gru, his concentration a bit jarred by the question, causing him to biff one of the notes in the process. "You know how wolves are...we usually tend to keep to ourselves if others of our kind aren't around, and I've yet to meet another WereGarurumon that I got along well with..." They were another fairly uncommon species, and the different-colored Gururumon tended to be of a rather unpleasant temperament, even if they were a pinch more ubiquitous.

"Really? What about this boss of yours?" said Matt, clearly not about to be thrown off the trail so easily. "You must find him alright, if you're living here and working for him."

Gru blushed a bit, but seeing as he was a furred individual, Matt would likely never know. "He's...he's a real good guy. Strong, honorable, laid-back...it's pretty peaceful living here, and I get fed and have a comfortable place to sleep at night. I used to work at this restaurant a while back as a bouncer, and let me tell you, it wasn't half as good as this..."

"I bet," said Matt, in that tone people use to semi-politely dismiss an answer that was intended to misdirect. "And you mean to tell me that all this time you haven't even had one love interest?"

The flush in Gru's cheeks was strong enough this time that he could feel his skin growing warmer with it. "I...well, I..." he sighed. "I kind of...have a crush...on my boss..." he mumbled, looking and feeling somewhat ashamed at having to confess it to Matt. But he knew he couldn't lie to most people, let alone Matt--it would be almost like lying to himself, and denying that he cared about Lai would be something he knew he'd regret.

"Really?" said Matt, looking and feeling quite genuinely surprised, despite having hoped to just give off an air of polite surprise at hearing something else. "Now that's--that's something I hadn't expected to hear."

There was a moment of awkward silence. Gru slowly lifted his gaze from its previous fixation upon his own lap, until he could look somewhat balefully up at Matt. "I--I hope that's okay with you, I mean--I can try--"

"It's perfectly fine with me," cut in Matt, trying to sound gentle despite the lingering surprise of the revelation. "From the sound of it, you're quite fond of him--and everyone needs someone to love in life. Why should I object?"

"Well, I know that humans usually only go for people of the opposite gender," he said slowly, "and I'm not sure if it's a good thing to have a crush on my boss..."

"And that," said Matt, leaning in to this time be the one with a hand on his partner's shoulder, "is something you'll have to figure out for yourself. If he's as laid-back as you say, I bet he won't mind. I'm more of a fan of the ladies, myself," he continued, holding his other hand demurely aside himself, "but if I weren't, I think I'd be pretty flattered to know someone as loyal and kind as you thought I was worth loving. Besides, Izzy already filled me in on how most Digimon are bisexual, 'cause of that whole Digi-Egg reincarnation stuff. Let me tell you, it's funny watching him blush when you make jokes about sexuality, the little nerd..." He chuckled, remembering how the fuzzy-headed genius had practically frozen up in a manner worthy of Joe.

Genuine relief bathed Gru like a cool downpour on a summer's day. "...thank you, Matt. I'm glad you don't mind."

Matt shook his head with a smile. "Don't mention it. I'm here for you, partner." He paused briefly, and a look of camaraderie forged from their time working together and the understanding that had grown from it passed between them. Gru felt again at peace, and for a change, he didn't even have anything to say to Matt's simple words.

"And on that note," continued the teenager with a mischievous smirk, "start those chords again--we need to turn you into a musician if you're going to serenade that boss of yours."

Guitar practice made the afternoon come swiftly, and lunch and a quick jaunt into the woods to get some fresh air didn't hold off its coming any better. All too soon, the little image box appeared again, calling Matt away. Their farewells were hasty and, at least certainly to Gru, uncomfortable--but they were what had to be done. At least he knew now that Matt hadn't forgotten him, that Matt still cared, that Matt accepted Gru's attraction and even encouraged it. It was a poignant meeting, and it left Gru with the realization that good things in life were so rarely enduring...in so doing, his resolve to not let Lai slip out of his fingers began to temper, and he applied himself to his guitar work with fervor, not wanting to forget what Matt had taught him.

A week became two weeks, then three, and with each passing day that strange magnetism, that kinship of honor and that attraction of affection, seemed to grow in the wolf's heart. When Lai was out of his sight, many of his thoughts started wandering back to the lion's visage, his graceful yet decisive quality of motion, his winning demeanor...he began to realize just why humans made such a big deal of this "romance" stuff--it changed a man, in so many ways!

There was a simple song that Matt had played many times during those years when the two of them were fairly close, while the teenager was still a budding guitarist, and it was one he'd told Gru (back when he was just a Gabumon) that he wanted to sing to a girl he loved some day, and that he was practicing to make sure he'd get it right if and when that day came. Gru's singing voice wasn't the best, but he could at least hold a tune, and he worked every day to make sure he had the chords of the song right--because he wanted to do just what Matt had said, and play that song for Lai.

It took him two weeks, actually, to learn to play those chords--the third week was spent obsessing over the details, making sure he coaxed every bit out of the metal strings of the guitar, or at least as much as he possibly could, with what little he really knew about playing. It also took several of those days to work up the nerve to ask Lai if he could play the song for him, but in the end, he finally did...

It was a Friday night, and the moon was a bright crescent in the sky--stunningly luminous for such a low fractional phase. They'd just finished dinner, and were in the front room with the rice-paper windows slid open, letting the cool night air flow into the living space.

"Lai," said Gru, drying off his hands on a towel, having just finished washing the dishes with hands shaking from nervousness and anticipation, "I was wondering if--if I could play a song for you," he said, desperately trying to keep his voice casual. "--on my guitar. I've been practicing, y'see..."

The lion nodded smoothly. "Sure, I'd love to. Would you mind if you played it in my room? I'd like to get some moonlight in on this, seeing as it's so bright out there tonight and so beautiful--best to get that with those sliding walls open, eh?"

Gods, yes, thought Gru to himself. "Sure, I'd like that too," said Gru, his heartbeat kicking up a few notches. Did Lai have something similar in mind already? Could that wonderful lion have been so clever as to figure out Gru's intent already?

The lupine fetched his guitar as Lai went to open the screens. He took a second in his room to catch his breath and try to calm his racing heart and jittered nerves, but it didn't do much--there was too much potentially riding on this song, too much that he knew he wanted. So he joined Lai, hoping for the best.

And there was Lai, leaning against one of the support beams, half-bathed in moonlight, one of his trademark blades of grass idly angled between his lips, looking so casual, yet so handsome in his peace with himself and all that was around him. Gru's heart did another little cavort in his chest. And to think a month ago he probably wouldn't have given this male more than a second glance! How had Lai come to mean so much to him, let alone so fast?

The leonine looked up at Gru with an expression of calm but pleasant anticipation. "Sit anywhere you like, or stand, if you prefer. I'm all ears."

So the wolf nestled in the corner of the opened panels, facing opposite Gru in that framed rectangle, and after running a few strums to make sure the guitar was still in tune, he began the song. His fingertips still thrummed with nervous energy, but those opening notes gave way to movements honed by his fervent practice, and it felt almost like he didn't even have to pay attention to them. This was it.

Then the time came for the lyrics to join the melody, and when he opened his mouth, there was the first note, ready and waiting, right on key. He let the tune flow from within himself, and the words shaped with the genuine feelings behind each syllable. It was a strange experience, almost like listening to someone else sing it even though he meant every word, and he felt so much more moved by it than he ever had when either he or Matt had practiced it.

It was a rush, devoid of thought, perhaps because of adrenaline, perhaps for some other reason, but it felt like both an endless expanse and a mere flicker of a moment--and then the last notes on the guitar died away, the quiet vibrations of the metal strings waning into the moonlit night air.

He closed his eyes briefly as they did, bracing himself for the rejection he dreaded might come next, but somehow feeling at peace with it, having placed those thoughts on the table, having said those words with every bit of emotional weight that he'd been carrying around secretly for these weeks. It was like shedding a burden that he didn't know he had, and it brought him comfort to finally be free in that revelation of truth.

But the sound of Lai's voice as it came to his ears was gentle--not harsh, mocking, or rebuking: "That was beautiful, Gru...thank you."

The lupine looked up, renewed hope surging through his heart. "Really? You liked it?"

"Yes, really. It was clear that you put your all into that song, even with only what time you've had with that guitar."

"I'm...very happy that you liked it," he said, a smile of mixed nervousness and subtle relief widening his muzzle.

"But tell me," said Lai, his head turning to cast his gaze out over the training courtyard, "was that song...for me?"

Gru froze. That strange feeling of reckoning seized him yet again. What was going to happen? He couldn't lie. "...yes, Lai. That song was...for you..."

"I thought so," said Lai, nodding slowly, though his gaze still did not meet Gru's. "You had the look in your eye of one who has seen a dream and, despite looking then at something else, still sees only that distant hope."

Gru couldn't find anything to say. Still there was no sign whether Lai accepted or rejected Gru's heartfelt declaration. Yet he felt laid utterly bare before the lion, completely vulnerable. Where was the elation he'd expected?

"...I suspected that you might feel this way about me, in the way you've looked at me for the past week or two. I confess I wasn't sure what to make of it," the leonine continued, drawing up one knee, "but I didn't want to make assumptions, because those tend to lead to painful misunderstandings. Yet," he said, pausing for a moment before returning his gaze to the eyes of the wolf opposite him, "you have many qualities that I'd seek in a mate, no matter what species or gender that mate might be. I honestly don't know what to make of your hope for a romance, but...I think I'm willing to give it a chance," he said, giving a smile with an almost shy flavor of reservation about it.

The relief Gru had experienced upon Matt's approval was nothing compared to the elation he felt upon hearing this from Lai. "...thank you, Lai," he said, his tone somewhat hoarse. He set his guitar aside himself somewhat clumsily, approaching the lion on hands and knees for a hug. "Thank you..."

The lion embraced him with all the warmth and strength that had attracted the lupine to him in the first place, and patted his back reassuringly through it. "No, thank you," he replied gently. "Thank you for reminding me what real bravery looks like. I see so little of it these days..."

Again Gru found himself wanting never to let go, but he had to, and so he settled for nestling in next to Lai, using the same vertical beam for support, with his head slightly around the corner of it from Lai, though their shoulders met with overlap. "...so...where do we go from here?" said Gru softly, hesitantly. He had no memory of romance, he didn't know what to do, and this was something far beyond the simple force of procreative urges...

Lai gave this a moment's thought, as he'd not expected the question. "...I suppose I'd like you to spend the night in my bed. It's such a beautiful night, and...well, if this is ever going to lead to anything, I want to know that you'll be a good thing to keep close while I'm dreaming."

Could this night get any better? Gru thought to himself. "I'd be honored," said Gru. "It'll be nice to not be sleeping alone, for once..."

They lingered there, astride the moonlight, for a little while, neither of them sure how to add something to the moment without also taking something away. But after a while, Lai stirred, and Gru followed. They disrobed, for it was often the custom of clothes-wearing Digimon to remove such garb if they had somewhere decent to rest, and for once, Gru fell asleep with someone aside him, someone who smelled richly of sunlight and open fields, of waving grass and of forest. Though he was unaccustomed to having an arm along him as he sought the comfort of sleep, it somehow felt even more natural than being alone, and he slipped into peaceful slumber before he was even aware it was so close to him.

Morning heralded Lai's awakening gently, and--much as had happened the two times he'd awakened during the night--he groggily had to figure out who the figure was in the bed next to him. It wasn't hard to connect the dots, but it wasn't like he was operating at full throttle, having been unconscious moments before.

He craned his head up for a few moments, but with Gru's back to him, all the lion could see was a mass of white-and-purple-striped fur, interspersed with the angled flares that caused the lupine to cut such a striking figure in the first place. It shifted back and forth slowly with the wolf's breathing, but beyond that, it remained motionless.

So Lai got up, quietly, carefully, not wanting to disturb the new companion in his bed. He walked to the opened shutters, where the grey light of early morning was spilling into the room--apparently it was going to be one of those days with morning haze that burned off by noon--and leaned, standing, against the support beam he'd sat against the night before.

Lai knew so little of his past--while he knew he liked people, both human and Digimon alike, the rest was such an empty expanse, for the most part...some part of him knew this was unusual, as though those vacated memories of an unknown past really were in there somewhere and just needed digging out. But try as he might, so little had come to him over the year or two he'd been around in this incarnation.

But when Gru had confessed amorous feelings last night, and Lai had tried to make sense of them, there was a flicker, memories of a time when a warmth in his chest chased away shadows and loss, and last night's events had elicited similar sensations in his body in synchrony with the shards of that vaguely-seen memory. What was it that could have caused that to happen? Did Gru have some unusual property or power that allowed him to restore memories?

He sighed. Chances were unlikely that such a beast, a warrior like himself, would be somehow able to mystically recover such things long lost. Warriors were meant to fight, to destroy, to break and rend. The thought of them being able to restore, to heal, to reassemble...well, that was more of a pipe dream. About the only things warriors would build were ways to fight better...

Then again, Gru wasn't entirely like most warriors, either...the wolf had showed up sort of grizzled and cantankerous-looking, but had turned out to be a rather pleasant and helpful presence almost immediately upon starting work. It was rare, Lai had found, to run across someone of that level of strength who didn't want to rub that fact in your face somehow.

No, Gru was a different sort entirely, mused the lion. He had those curious distant moments, and he had thoughts to share about his past, even if he didn't exactly volunteer them willy-nilly. Lai pondered, briefly, what it must be like to have such memories of a past full of interesting things to have taken part in...

And then there were the other good things about Gru: his good work ethic, his respectful but warm and grateful demeanor, his ability to grant Lai plentiful free time...and now, for the first time he could recall, Lai had someone to want to be with him--someone who totally went out on a limb to confess his feelings.

Plus, the song was an awesome gesture. Having seen the wolf practicing on that guitar so much, Lai knew the act was immensely sweet.

He turned his head towards the still-sleeping wolf, his gaze settling on the lupine visage relaxed in the peaceful grasp of rest. He knew a handsome face when he saw one, but such things weren't unheard-of in the Digital World, and he'd never really been all that attracted to anyone who rolled in the door to his gym...perhaps that was merely because none of them had confessed attraction themselves, he pondered. But now, knowing that there could be a relationship here, knowing that someone really did care for him...well, he'd never expected romance, but he was going to be open to it, by gum.

He stirred from his position against the beam and moved like a whisper to scoop up his pants from the floor. Waking the wolf up with the scent of cooking breakfast wouldn't be quite as sweet as confessing love with a song, but it might be the next best thing.

And so it was that their gentle romance began. Lai believed himself new to it, or at least with such memories as he could recall, and Gru was careful to not go overboard--he didn't want to scare off the new object of his affections, let alone jeopardize the wonderful living and working situation in which he was now settled.

At first it was mostly just shared smiles and glances during the day and an increased closeness over meals at night, a greater degree of openness in topics to talk about...on occasion they would again share Lai's bed, and snuggle close, much to the especial delight of Gru...but in time they began to embrace each other more, staying close often even during the day, and on occasion eating dinner in each other's arms or laps, playing around in the hot tub after a good day's work, or taking refreshing hikes in the forest together for no particular reason.

Where before Lai had never expected love to find him, he began to become accustomed to this sensation of being loved, this feeling of knowing that someone wanted to share his life with him...and it touched his life in many subtle ways, casting light into musty corners of his day-to-day existence and refreshing his zeal for living. Flickers of lost memories also glimmered into his mind at times unexpected, yet this was nearly always when Gru was with him, and most often when the two were doing something together...

The two both preferred deeds over words, and so it wasn't surprising that they generally said relatively little about how much they both enjoyed the new depth to their relationship--instead, with actions they showed each other that they were happy to be in the other's company.

But one day, it just sort of...happened. Lai was doing the dishes, and Gru was leaning against the counter, watching Lai, with the lion's jacket sleeves tied back and his arms laced with soup suds. "...Lai?" he said, after a simple lull in the conversation.

"Yes?" said the leonine, flicking his eyes but not his head aside in acknowledgement.

"I...love you," said Gru, feeling immediately abashed for having said those words out loud, as though it might somehow cause him to wake up from the best dream ever.

Lai slowly turned his head towards Gru, the water running aimlessly in the sink all the while. His expression was initially blank--he certainly hadn't expected to hear it. But the words came from somewhere deep within him as he responded, slowly, "I love you too, Gru." His expression softened into a grateful smile as the syllables tipped out of his lips.

Gru echoed that simple smile as he moved slowly forward, an arm sliding around the back of Lai's shoulders. He pulled gently, drawing Lai's muzzle to his own for their first real kiss.

Lai had initially reached for the faucet as the surprise from what had just transpired waned, but the arrival of Gru's kiss stopped him along the way. He didn't know what to do, didn't know what to make of this--but instinct loosened his jaws, and he found his muzzle softly embracing that of the lupine, and with it, a world of sensory satisfaction he'd never known. The polished ivories of a predator, wreathed in warm gums and lips, ensconcing a deft, mobile tongue, and all bathed in the unique flavor of the canine's maw--a taste he'd never known, but savored at once. Though he felt tentative and uncertain, he flowed with the lupine as best he could, and the ride left him at once delighted and relaxed.

Self-consciousness grasped Gru shortly thereafter and goaded him to draw away carefully. "I'm sorry," he breathed quietly, "I hope you didn't mind that..." His face clouded a bit with concern.

"No, no," said Lai, his arm finally reaching the faucet and drawing it shut, "it was...it was really good. I never knew something as simple as a kiss could be so nice."

"Oh, good," said Gru, feeling relieved. "I dunno, I just...let my feelings get away with me, and I'm glad you didn't mind."

"Nah, it's alright," said Lai with a content grin. "I know you're kind of a sap like that, what with that song you learned for me a while back. But y'know," he said, his smile becoming more mischievous, "I'm not really sure I got the idea yet. I might have to have another one..."

Gru's expression lit up with surprised delight. "Well then, tiger, I'll just have to give you another one, won't I?" he said, drawing back in for another good kiss.

Something happened in that evening that definitely changed the flavor of their relationship. That level of physical intimacy further broadened their closeness, and in the days to come they became nearly inseparable. One time they'd gone to the storage room in the back to fetch some supplies, and after Lai unexpectedly stole a hearty kiss from Gru, they were nearly espied by a patron who walked in, looking for assistance. They laughed about it that evening in the hot springs as Gru rested astride Lai's lap.

The weekend immediately following, Lai asked Gru to stick around for a bit, then went into the intersection, and came back shortly thereafter with a pouch full of coined bits. "I went to collect our earnings," he said, "but today I'll be foraging with you in System Bus Village instead of alone and around humans."

It was their first shared shopping trip, as Lai usually sent Gru alone to System Bus if something needed buying that could be gotten from other Digimon, while Lai himself always went through the intersection alone if he needed to pick up something from the humanized side of things.

It had been a beautiful day, and Lai had insisted on taking Gru back to the restaurant where Gru had once worked--on account of wanting to see what it had been like for Gru, he insisted. Surprisingly, the owner didn't even recognize Gru, though this was probably in part due to the neat new wardrobe Lai had either tailored or procured for Gru in his ever-mysterious-yet-masterful ways. A WereGarurumon in anything other than ragged jeans and a pauldron-bandolier was even more of a rarity than the species in general, after all--let alone one that was outfitted in something quite complimentary to the lupine's unique look.

Then, as they browsed the marketplace lanes, sharing stories of conquest and companions, something very strange happened. Gru had been telling Lai about that time the Digidestined had gone to Devimon's illusory hotel, and as he did, Lai happened to notice an IceDevimon wandering down the street as well...he suddenly developed a searing headache, accompanied by that strange feeling in his chest that often came alongside recovered memories. He could see, almost at the edges of his vision, the world giving way to a rocky hillside where a hotel had once pretended to stand, and ebony cogwheels grinding apart the ground--

"--Lai! Lai, are you alright?" Gru's paw upon his shoulder jostled his senses more marginally towards digital reality, and he noticed that the ground was a lot closer than before--as he collected himself, despite the sharp sensation in his skull, he realized he'd apparently slouched against the nearest ramshackle building.

"Yeah...I'm just--I suddenly have this weird headache, ugh..." His own hand went to his forehead, clutching it in that strange motion instinctive to so many headache sufferers, despite knowing full well it would do virtually nothing.

Gru was gazing into his face, and concern was etched upon the lupine's visage. "Let's get you home, then, tiger. D'you need to lean on me or anything?"

Lai was used to pain of varying persuasions, and he gradually straightened up, his eyebrows still somewhat furrowed due to the distinctly unpleasant feelings in his head. "I can make it alright," he said, shaking his head slowly. "I've been through worse...but getting away from the crowd definitely sounds...really good right about now."

And so they departed, much of their coin satchel left unspent for the time being. But it couldn't be helped: Lai wasn't one given to headaches, and the two of them knew it. The two of them retired to Lai's bedroom, where Lai shrugged off his jacket and laid down on his bed. Gru joined him, still looking a bit concerned for his love.

The vague bits of memory had scattered, and Lai had spent the trip back from System Bus vainly attempting to recover them. Now that things were quiet and he was off his feet, he wondered if it might be easier to get them on hand again... "Gru?" he asked to the patiently-attending lupine.

"Yeah?" said Gru gently, a calm smile painting the wolf's visage with contentment at hearing his name spoken by the one he cared about so much.

"D'you think you could tell me that story about the...hotel and the Devimon thing again? My headache might get a little worse, but...I think I need to hear it..."

A chill ran down Gru's spine at this--could it be...? "Yes, I will. Just...tell me if it gets too bad, and I'll stop."

And so he told the tale again, from start to finish--every last bit. And with each word the haze of absent memory seemed to lift just a bit more, and though the pain in Lai's head was immense, the retelling filled in recollections of the tale in perfect detail--the murky rocks that had appeared as the malevolent illusion was lifted, the Ogremon sent to attack the Digidestined and their Digimon as Devimon sent them careening through the air in four-poster beds...

Then Gru told him of the Leomon that had been there, and how he was under the control of a Black Gear, and by it under Devimon's thrall. And in that moment--he wasn't sure what happened, really, but "hallucination" was the best word he could find for it later--he was there, Tai's throat in his hands, and then that searing beam of light coursing through his chest, obliterating the Gear and freeing him from the impossibility of free movement, his body again becoming his to command amidst that memory...

Then it was like a slideshow on triple-fast-forward--flickers of visions, sounds, smells, coursing through his mind, all things he'd known before, returning to him in a maelstrom of recovered data. It paralyzed him much like the Black Gear in his memory had paralyzed that Leomon from so long ago.

Gru could only watch as the lion lay transfixed, eyes wide-open and irises twitching erratically from side to side, with tears gently flowing from the corners of each eye. He knew something was happening, most likely something important--but there was nothing he knew to do about it, and the lion had all but warned him that something like this would happen. He merely waited, hoping the new love of his life would survive this alien, worrisome state.

For Lai, the hurricane of days past soon snapped to a halt as though someone had flicked a switch, and just like that, he was there in his bed again, Lai's white-and-purple visage in the periphery of his visual field. Slowly he turned his head, his mind reeling with all he'd learned he'd been and done, and he stared at the wolf for a few seconds before stating slowly: "Gru, I...I was that Leomon, that night at the hotel--I just now came to know--"

The wolf's mouth opened slightly in shock. This brave warrior had saved their lives on many occasions--no wonder Gru felt like he'd known the lion forever! It had been years since they'd parted ways, yet despite all odds and in spite of all cynical expectations, here he was again. Gru could feel his own eyes misting up as he slowly slid over and towards his boss-turned-lover, his arms reaching forth to embrace him, in a meeting of two souls fully realizing the depth of their reunion for the first time, despite the all but inexplicable attraction that had preceded this moment.

Lai couldn't find good words, but his mouth volunteered what it could all the same: "I couldn't know why you could bring bits and pieces back like you did--but when I saw you I just...I knew you had to work here, and I couldn't tell even myself why, why I'd hire someone who just walked in the door--"

"Shhh," said Gru quietly. "Now I understand, too...now I know how you can be someone who I love and admire, how you're someone I'm grateful to, without having other reasons that I was aware of...thank you for those times you protected us, even when we had nothing to give you in return..." The lupine leaned his head in to gently brush noses with the BantyoLeomon before him.

Lai returned the gesture, then segued into a deep kiss. Force of habit from his newly-recovered memories gave unexpected orchestration to his limbs, and his leg nearest Gru slid astride that of the WereGarurumon as his hands gracefully cascaded down his love's torso. They clasped the wolf's hips and persuasively contracted, drawing them smoothly atop him where before they were merely aside his own. He didn't think, but merely moved, that first kiss leading into more, a strange and unfamiliar hunger lending insistence to his mouth.

Lai's deeper passion stirred similar feelings in Gru--transcending the tacit boundaries of the tender romance they'd known before--yet remaining subliminal in some way, not letting him reach awareness of them in any articulate fashion even as they affected his actions in a subtly profound way. His kisses started to involve more tongue than usual, his breathing deepened and hastened, and his hands felt the freedom to begin feeling up that strong torso below him in a newer, more boundless way.

It wasn't unheard of for Gru's loins to warm with his blood in some of their embraces or kisses in the past, but this new experience, guided by indistinct memories and heated with their new exploration of passion, caused his pride to spring to hardness in perhaps record time. He could feel his heartbeat in the firmed organ as it was pressed between him and his love, and soon he could feel Gru's staff rise as well, pinned between them and caged in well-worn denim. His own trousers, which were of a more loose and billowy material, rendered little hindrance to the leonine's sensations, and were much less of a restraint to the swelling appendage.

Indulging in gentle romantic tenderness had long since become one of Gru's favorite things to do with Lai, and though he felt a touch hungrier than usual, so to speak, he was in no hurry to bring the encounter to any sort of close--but it came as a surprise when he suddenly felt the velveteen digits of his love sliding below his waistband, and not drawing back as though it had been an accident. He gave a weak-sounding moan into their kiss as they grazed his shaft, the sensitive flesh lit up by the plush pelt's many fibers. It was something the noble lion had never done to him before, but that lightest introduction was more than sufficient to convince him to crave even more. The lean muscles of the lupine's torso undulated at a largo tempo in some kind of primal reaction, grinding musculature and denim alike against the body of his love.

With a self-control that Lai would later marvel at having possessed at the time, he slowly slaked his strong palms back up the wolf's torso, fingertips forging paths amid prominences carved by years of predatorial athleticism. They tarried at Gru's obliques, where they slid back and forth methodically, riding the border between mountainous pectoral meat and the cobbled thoroughfare of the wolf's abdominals. As the outsides of his thumbs chanced to glance upon a hardened nipple, he felt Gru give another moan into their marathon kiss, and a faintly tremulous shiver glisten through the lust-inspiring form clasped firmly between his hands.

Months of admiration--and more recently, romantic desire--for the lion were coming to a head in Gru's heated awareness, and if it didn't lead to some kind of release soon, well--he wasn't sure what would happen, exactly, but it might involve the world's worst case of blue-balls. His muzzle slowly tipped down out of their kiss, his tongue hanging past the tip as he took a few, faintly sonorous breaths. Words unprompted by any collected thought then spilled out: "Lai, please...mate with me--I don't care how, but, after all this time, I need it--"

His words stopped themselves amidst a low, quiet growl from Lai. "I can't guarantee I'll be gentle," said the lion, "and I don't want to hurt you...Do you need it enough to risk that?"

''Yes," he said, the first word catching on spit in the back of his maw and coming out half-mangled. "Yes," he repeated, "I need it right now, from you...please...you know by now I can handle pain..." His body felt like one massive erogenous zone; each place it contacted the lion seemed almost to glow with an ember-lit nimbus of pleasure...their closeness felt like a kiln in which wholly new and breathtakingly beautiful sensations would be forged from their contact. A little discomfort would be a price worth paying if it meant going further still.

Already Lai's hands went to work, disrobing the wolf of his trademark bandolier with a masterful ease that was at once rapidly effective, yet performed with a paradoxically unhurried pace of movement. The leather jacket Lai had given his employee-turned-lover some time ago was the next target in the lion's systematic campaign of disrobing, but the arms required some assistance by Gru--while it would have been copiously sexy to rip the garment off of the lupine (and Lai was certainly strong enough for the task), the overwear held too much sentimental value for such an unbecoming end. So as the lupine leaned back a bit to finagle his way out of the sleeves, Lai went for the belt buckle and denim fly made more accessible by the movement, knowing his true target lay within.

Gru's heart pounded a fervent tempo in his chest, the anticipation galvanizing his body into action with alacrity. He felt his pants come loose around his waist as his lion's hands undid their fastenings, and as soon as he was rid of his jacket, he leaned forward again, walking his hands upward to let Lai ease his pants and boxers toward his ankles. A quiet, closed-eyed sigh escaped his muzzle as the garments caught upon, then released his throbbing pride on their way off. He was then just about to kick them off entirely when Lai surprised him with some kind of vault off of the bed's cushioned surface, catching the wolf and flipping the two of them over. The lion's warm visage now gleamed a playful tone through Lai's contented smile, but the feline said nothing--he merely nuzzled, then kissed the slightly breathtaken wolf's nose, then addressed the matter of his own trousers; Gru was quick to recover and provide his own assistance. The pinkish maleness within, crowned with a translucent pearl of pre, was not long in greeting him, and beholding its mighty solidity only heightened his eagerness to be mated by his love.

Lai had been on hands and knees, his own legs outside Gru's, but now he brought one knee, then the other, inside, tacitly asking the wolf to spread them. The white canine was all too eager to oblige, and he even drew up his feet, bending his legs at the knees to make spreading them that much more comfortable. The lion leaned down and in, the tip of his shaft nestling gently against the wolf's sac, sending a thrill through Gru's loins.

"Just relax," said the leonine, his voice tender, though tinged with hunger. "You're right about the pain--I know you can handle it; you're a warrior, through and through...and I don't think I could have fallen in love with anything less." He moved in for a heavy kiss, knowing that his kind words would combine with it to distract the wolf as he drew his back up and hips forward, driving his pride straight into the tight star that awaited it amidst Gru's velvety rump fur.

Gru reflexively drew in breath as he felt that blood-hardened spire penetrating his tight entrance, as he wasn't the slightest bit accustomed to it being forced open, let alone by something so solid and sizable. Doing so had the unanticipated side effect of drawing Lai's tongue into his mouth by sheer suction force, as well as intensifying their liplock. Lai, misinterpreting this as something of a come-on, added an extra kick of momentum to his movement, driving nearly the entirety of his shaft into the lupine in one fell swoop.

Gru's ring lit up immediately with a sensation of burning discomfort, causing him to yelp quietly in response. Lai twitched his own head back, surprised by the noisy interruption to their kiss. "Did I...go too fast?", he asked, concern shadowing his face.

"No," said Gru, his voice just above a whisper. "No, just--let me get used to how big you are--I think I can handle it--if you give me some time..." The pain was tensing his lower abdomen, making smooth breathing difficult until he could accommodate to it.

Lai nodded his understanding, but the heavenly tightness and delicate softness of Gru's insides surrounding his sensitive lance made restraint a difficult thing indeed; primal instinct hammered at the edges of his consciousness, berating him for not rutting the wolf immediately as though it was the last mating season in sight for a dying pack. He couldn't hold it off completely, in fact; even as he waited for Gru to acclimate, his hips heaved inward at a glacial pace, forcing the few inches that remained outside to slither through that clamping, tightly-stretched ring.

The radiating soreness showed no quarter, but Gru let out a tense sigh of relief as he felt Lai's groin connect with his own rump: at least the healthily-endowed leonine didn't have more length to drive him further open with. He knew instinctively that no actual damage had taken place, and his illustrious career as a champion of the Digidestined had certainly inflicted worse things upon him before--but the sensitivity of the area, made even more potent with the eroticism of the moment, made the discomfort surprisingly hard to ignore. He took several slow breaths, redirecting his attention as much as he could toward the more savory sensations trickling into his awareness--the softness of Lai's bed below him, the velvety pelt lining his own wherever their bodies touched, the smell and sight of the gorgeous lion above him, the erotic feeling of muscle on muscle where their torsos met in a strange sliding dance to the rhythm of their respiration...sending his focus in so many directions at once drew it away from the soreness at his entrance, allowing it to gradually relax, which lessened the propensity for that discomfort in turn. The focus on the pleasure of the moment, however, increased his hunger for their intimacy, making him hasty to let it continue--so it wasn't all that long before he nodded his assent, adding a breathless "Okay, I think I'm ready, Lai," as he brought up his hands to brace himself against the lion's broad, mighty shoulders. He couldn't be entirely sure of what to expect from Lai, but he felt reasonably certain that such a fine warrior as this one would have an abundance of power to mix with his boundless passion.

And an abundance he proved to have indeed! Once he saw the tacit go-ahead from Gru, he took a few slowish strokes with his hips, concerned that returning to forced motion might rekindle the fiery sensations in Gru's ring, but as he watched the lupine warrior and saw only slight and sparse winces amidst that lingering, lusty hunger, he knew caution could be thrown to the winds. His thrusts escalated rapidly into a fierce allegro, their force shaking the bed to its heavy feet and setting the sliding screens rattling in their frames, despite being clear across the room.

Gru's face lost all hints of suffering quite rapidly; the sensation of discomfort was swept away by the delectable delight Lai rained upon him with each thrust, the pain vanishing from sight like a twig in a deluge. So intense was the upswing from burning soreness to surging delight that his voice rose with it, giving an inarticulate noise to express his joy that ascended gradually in pitch to the rhythm of their bodies coming together, 'til the surprised inspiration of air that fed it gave way to a gasp for more. All his wondering imaginings of what this experience would be like were already far transcended, and they'd only just begun...knowing that this would be something he could share with Lai again and again, perhaps for the rest of their lives, left his mind reeling with rapture.

Their growls and grunts of intermingled effort and delight reverberated through the room air, its temperature rising with the heat of their exposed muscular bodies, permeated with the scents of exertion and desire of two mighty primal warriors. Their jaws lay open, when not hungrily sharing jostled kisses or savoring the taste of the other's flesh with deft tongues and gentle jaws. A limpid well of pre rested upon the lupine's lower abdomen, nestled between muscle rounds and fed from above by the canine fighter's hard-standing pride--at least, when it was not pressed toward Gru's stomach by the lion so close above it, leaving its pearlescent fluids drizzled in Lai's tawny fur.

For Lai, it was a celebration of restored past, that lent even greater significance to the bond he shared with the figure from his unrecalled history he'd come to love and care for; for Gru it was a triumphant realization of the smoldering passion he'd long longed to share with the feline master warrior. For both it was a sublime delicacy--a surge of physical passion and pleasure that gave form to their shared sentiments of mind and spirit. Neither could compare it fairly to anything they'd ever known, despite their eventful and robust pasts.

But the overwhelming magnitude of it all was a double-edged sword; since neither had experienced such a thing, let alone recently, both were all the more sensitive, and less-prepared in mind and body to endure such a flood of passion for long without release. The hungrily enraptured tones in their voices, the angles and tensions in their intertwined bodies, the pressures building in their loins--all escalated at a prodigious rate, heralding oncoming climax long before either wanted it to come to an end.

All the same, caution and restraint had long since been abandoned--there would be no backing down for either of the two beast warriors. They faced the imminent tide hand-in-hand, ready to be swept away by the might of it.

Lai's growls took on a telltale timbre as the first few flares of orgasm kindled in his loins. The mere sound of it touched something deep in Gru's mind, sending him head over heels past any remaining separation from his own climax. They came in perfect synchrony, a cavalcade of howls, growls, and yowls trumpeting their shared release in the heated air, their bodies pressed together in the fiery tenseness of that searing moment. The closeness made the two feel as one, sharing a moment of ineffable bliss, a brilliant flare of ecstasy to be remembered and relished for all remaining memory. The warmth of Lai's seed filled the deep inner passages of Gru's body, a tracer remnant of their coming together, and the wolf's own essence created a liquid conduit for their shared body heat, matting down the fur held tightly together between them.

They came down slowly in each other's arms, racked body and mind by the intensity of the moment, breathing heavily, trying to regain some semblance of control over bodies that had seemed driven by primal instincts beyond any conscious thought. The all-consuming sensations of physical passion gave way to more sentimental and emotional contentment, a warmth and peace that enveloped them like a mantle of softly-glowing sunlight.

"Lai..." breathed the lupine, once his respiration granted him leave to do so, "...thank you, so much," he said simply, leaning up the minute distance between his muzzle and the lion's to bridge it with a soft kiss.

The lion slowly returned it, giving a small nod to follow it. "I loved it, too," he said. "I never knew what we were missing, all this time..." His arms, softened by afterglow, protested his continued suspension just upon Gru's body, and he slowly slid aside, keeping Gru with him in an embrace but rotating the two of them to a perpendicular position.

"Thank you," said Gru, slowly, his arms drawing a little tighter around the body of the lion he'd grown to love. "I never thought I'd be...quite this happy ever again..."

The lion spaced his own hands over Gru's back, slowly rubbing between the wolf's shoulders with the one and in the lumbar region with the other. "And I'd never known I could be this happy...but now I have an old friend back, and a new love in my arms. What more could I ask for...?"

The wolf leaned his head back slowly, gazing into Lai's eyes. A mischievous twinkle slowly set into them, and he responded playfully: "You -could- ask me to top next time..."

© Copyright 2009 Sean Manherz (helgrind at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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