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Upstream Theory

Posted: 2018-12-25
Word Count: 6,032 words

Relationships: Terry & Alan, Terry & Yamato Characters: Terry, Alan, Yamato, Armada, Kit

A diversion from the Shadow Alliance focused fics, this story follows Terry and introduces elements from the GBA game into this series.

Part One

Your name will change as you grow. This is what Tsubame's father tells him when they stand at the gates to his beloved hometown together. Tsubame has one foot over the threshold and his father has one hand on his shoulder. His mother is not present for goodbyes. She is attending to her ruling duties and he understands that she cannot always be there for him.

Tsubame is fourteen and has nothing but Wing Ninja, a tiny pouch of supplies, and a sword strapped to his back when he sets out into the world to find his fortune and name. It is not easy, and it is not even a month into his journey that he resorts to begging and battling for scraps in the towns along his way. And then he is on the desert road, and Tsubame starts to think he will never have a proper meal ever again.

He has just curled up on his cloak one night when he realizes he does not even know what he is looking for.

The twinkling desert stars offer little comfort, and his feathered cloak barely keeps the cold out. Even nestling himself between rocks only makes it slightly better. I could just as well turn back now, he thinks. There will be no shame in returning to Tsubakura City without having found more than many a hungry night. There will be no shame in retreating to fight another day, no shame in letting the current sweep him away.

And then Tsubame thinks, I am no coward.

He wakes up the next day covered in dust and sand, thankful for his cloak protecting his face. Then he gets up and continues walking.

Cowtoon is a brief stop. He takes care of some bullies - it is only right, the strong who prey on the weak are disgraces to the title of battler - and then, high on adrenaline, he leaps from roof to roof on his way out of town. It is a welcome exercise of skills that have seen little use on the road.

He regrets the briefness of his stop not that long after. The road between Cowtoon and Saitoon takes a day marked by hunger to traverse. Saitoon itself is clean and neat for a town sitting right by a desert, but Tsubame does not have the means to make the most of it. It is there that Tsubame, shivering on a park bench outside the B-center with his cloak taut around himself, meets Alan.

Alan introduces himself as a priest of the Bdamage Order. Tsubame has heard of them before - an organization of B-daplayers who took it upon themselves to fight the great wrongs of the world, be it with their kindness or with their blasters. Tsubame looks up at Alan, with his long blue hair and red marks on his forehead and white robes and gentle smile, and he takes his hand without even answering. The priest pulls him to his feet in a single motion, and Tsubame gives in to his tiredness from traveling.

***

Tsubame wakes in an unfamiliar place, and it takes him only a moment to remember why he is nice and warm and laying on a soft bed rather than somewhere out in the desert. His room is small and spartan, and there is a layer of dust on the handful of furniture in the little room, but after the months of traveling, he feels like this room might belong to a king.

He steps out through the open wooden door, and immediately runs into Alan carrying a delicious, freshly cooked meal just for him.

"Ah, care for breakfast in bed?"

Tsubame smiles. "That's awful kind of ya. Thank you, sir."

He'd forgotten what real food tasted like. Freshly cooked, made with the care of a proper chef. He nearly cries when meat touches his tongue. But Alan is sitting nearby munching on a strip of meat himself, so Tsubame stops himself and focuses on getting full for the first time in weeks.

"So," starts Alan once they are both done eating, "Now that you are fed and likely feeling much better, is there any chance I can get your name?"

Oh. Tsubame rubs the back of his neck, expression sheepish as he realizes that he's spent a night and morning as a guest without ever introducing himself.

"I'm..." He pauses. Tsubame is the only name he knows, and yet it simply has never felt right, the same way that being called daughter hadn't felt right. He had spent years wishing, hoping, begging, pleading, let me change my name, yet he had never prepared a name to give himself. "...Tsubame."

Alan's eyebrows rise, but he smiles warmly. "It's nice to meet you, Tsubame. Where are you from?"

"Tsubakura," he answers, and he's disappointed to realize he couldn't stop himself from giving a curt answer. Introducing himself with the name he had been given left a vile taste in his mouth. He doesn't how how he'll clean his tongue of it, save to move on from Saitoon and travel onward and think of a new name for himself between here and the next kind stranger to ask him his name.

"That's quite the far off land." Something like curiosity works its way into Alan's serene expression. "I hope you can tell me a little about your journey. Saitoon is quite the peaceful town, so I've taken to collecting the stories of travelers."

It feels like I'm going nowhere, he wants to say, but Tsubame holds his tongue and instead pushes aside the tray and reaches for Wing Ninja sitting on his bedside. He grins and tells him, "Only if ya spar with me."

"I suppose I should have expected that from a B-daplayer." Alan laughs and stands, taking the tray to clear it. Tsubame moves to help, but his hands are swatted away playfully. "Allow me. And yes, of course I'll spar with you."

A small crowd gathers while he's stretching and warming up hours later, after he's helped Alan around the church for the morning. Saitoon is not a big town, and the B-Center sees only regulars, so the fact that a traveler is battling the town priest has not gone unnoticed. Tsubame wonders if they'll gossip about him. In Tsubakura, gossip about outsiders was plentiful and flowed as freely as wine and tea.

Tsubame takes a moment to bow to Alan before they begin. Alan is surprised, but he bows back, beaming. They take position at opposite ends of the field, and immediately Tsubame is aware of how he has not battled in too long. He is rusty. But then - shouting B-dafire! Immediately makes his blood warm, his eyes light up. Alan plays well, as expected of a member of the Bdamage Order, and Tsubame feels as if he is soaring.

He has not had a proper battle in months. It feels like a dam has burst, and he'd almost forgotten that he best feels at home in his body when his hands were on Wing Ninja with a challenge before him.

They bow again to each other afterward. Tsubame breathes in deeply. His mind feels clearer than it has been in a while. He grins widely at Alan and thanks him for the battle. Alan thanks him in turn, for the chance to spar with such a talented player.

He hasn't even begun to blush when a white-furred Cat child runs up to him, tail wiggling and eyes bright.

"That was so cool!" announces the Cat, and Terry grins, and he's about to thank them when they add, "I've never seen a girl play like that before."

Tsubame's chest immediately tightens and a lump grows in the back of his throat.

"Th-thanks," he says, "But I'm a boy."

"...oh!" To their credit, the Cat looks unfazed. "Sorry, you just looked -"

"I get that an awful lot." He tries to smile, but he's not sure if he managed it. Wing Ninja is still hot in his hands, but none of the excitement from the battle lingers. Awkwardness seeps in. He puts away Wing Ninja in its holster, ignoring the piercing heat from it.

"I believe it's time for lunch." Alan's voice cuts through the conversation, and Tsubame feels his hand clamp down on his shoulder. "I'm sure he's hungry after such an exciting battle, and there's some soup waiting back at the church. Terence can stop by the B-Center again later to answer your questions, okay?"

The Cat looks to Alan, disappointment clear in their eyes, but they nod and mumble a small "Okay" before running away as swiftly as they'd appeared. Tsubame turns to Alan.

"Terence?" he asks, one eyebrow raised.

Alan rubs the back of his neck, looking sheepish. "Sort of just slipped out. I was going to say the name you gave me, but...you looked like you don't like your own name when you were introducing yourself, so I just blurted out the first T name I could think of."

"Why, that's nowhere near close!" Tsubame can't help but chuckle, but the mirth quickly falls away and he sighs. Quietly, he asks, "Was it that obvious?"

"Admittedly, yes," says Alan, but he spots the crestfallen look on Tsubame's face and hastily adds, "But only because I have quite a few friends like you back home."

Immediately several questions come to mind, but Tsubame settles on asking if this meant Alan was not from Saitoon either.

"Oh, yes, I was only an apprentice then." A wistful look crosses over Alan's face. "I was passing through Saitoon, and much like you I did not have anywhere to stay. I happened upon an abandoned church...this might seem strange, but I felt an immediate connection to this place. I decided to stay and rebuild it and, well, I have been here ever since."

"So Saitoon was never part o' your plans?"

Alan laughs, and shakes his head. "Never. Life has been funny like that."

***

Ready... His grip tightens, and he adjusts his posture ever so slightly. Wing Ninja is familiar as always.

Set... He closes his eyes, and lets the pre-battle excitement wash over him. He can't let himself get too worked up, or he'll lose focus completely. He breathes in, thinks of nothing but the field before him, keeps his heart still and calm.

B-dafire! He shouts, eyes snapping open, firing as quickly as he can. He misses, but so does his opponent. He fires again and again and again, pressuring them until they start firing wildly to break through his offense.

It's easy enough to break through that in turn. There's a click, his opponent gasps, and it's all over.

"We'll have to work on your control," he says, striding around the B-dabattlefield to reach his opponent. "You couldn't resist just firing away again, could you?"

Kit hangs their head, looking down at the still-warm blaster in their hands. "I forgot to do what you taught me again."

"It's okay," he assures them, placing a hand on their shoulder. "You just need to practice a lot. I'm always practicing certain techniques, but I can pull them off quicker just because I've been doing them longer."

"Oh...that makes sense," says the child, looking up at him with a smile. "I"m so glad I've got you to train me, Terry!"

"I'm glad too, Kit." Terry beams at the Cat, simply pleased to hear his own, brand-new name being used so casually.

Alan's hastily chosen Terence had caught on with Saitoon's townsfolk faster than either of them expected, and a week had not even passed before Terence turned into Terry. It’s just the right name for him, he decided one night over dinner with Alan, who had made it clear it wasn't too late to change. He hadn't initially picked it himself, but it fits over him in a comfortable manner, and it is his choice to make it his own.

"All done for the day?" It's Alan, offering a small wave as he strides over from the B-Center gate.

Terry waves back, not hesitating to offer his friend a fond smile. "I'll jus' be helping with cleanup real quick."

Cleanup is simply tidying the battlefield of B-daballs and dust, for whoever would be using it next. Terry savors the simple work. Somehow, he just knows he won't always have this.

***

"You're not happy here."

Terry immediately looks up from his food when Alan breaks the silence of their lunch. He blinks at the priest, needing a moment to process what had just been said.

"Wh-what?" He protests once he works it out. "'Course I am! Saitoon's a wonderful place, and you're so nice to me and, and..."

"Terry..." Alan speaks quietly, none of his usual lightheartedness on his face. "Tell me, honestly, can you see yourself staying here?"

“Why, of course, I can! I'll stay in Saitoon. Just like you -”

"You're meant for more than this little town." Alan speaks evenly, leaning away from the table and folding his hands in his lap. "Surely - surely you know that."

Terry falls silent. Teaching children in Saitoon to B-dabattle indeed does not resemble any sort of future he ever imagined for himself. He set out to find his fortune and his name. He's found one, but nothing like the other just yet. He looks up into Alan’s fair face, at the gravity of his furrowed brow and the thin line of his lips.

“What’s brought this on?” he asks quietly instead of the myriad of other things he wants to say.

Alan, to Terry’s surprise, winces and finally looks away.

“It's…not something I like to share much or make a fuss of - but…” Alan breathes in deep as he can, "On rare occasions, I receive...visions. Messages, if you will, from the Bdamage."

Terry doesn't hide his confusion. He takes a moment to set aside his utensils so he can lean back and try to fully comprehend what Alan has just told him. Visions. Messages. From the Bdamage.

It's not unheard of, not to him at least. Others, maybe, wouldn't understand, but Terry thinks back to the summer he spent climbing the mountains outside Tsubakura City, to the waterfalls and the cool river water rushing him along, to the secrets he had uncovered in his exploration, to the booming voice and gentle blue eyes he never got to hear or see again. The concept of someone communing with the Bdamage is not new to him, no.

But to think he would befriend someone the Bdamage had so gifted in his travels. Terry bows his head to Alan. "Is that why you're part o' the Order?"

He's certain that's not what Alan expected to hear, since the man is quiet for a long moment. When he speaks, Terry can hear the slightest of quivering in his voice.

"One reason for it, yes...Terry, you don't seem too surprised by this."

"You don't strike me as the lying type." Here, Terry meets his gaze and offers him a grin. "We have stories of people who can do that back home, so the only thing I'm surprised about is getting to meet someone who can. Alan, I'm more curious what the Bdamage had to say about me."

And Alan smiles at that. "Well, I certainly can't think of anything better than your destiny to discuss at the lunch table."

***

Alan sees him off where Saitoon's main road turns into sand with a hug and an encouraging grin. Kit stands beside the priest, waving eagerly to him, their white fur near blinding in the glare of the sun high above them. Terry has with him Wing Ninja, his sword, and a small pack of food to last him the short trip to his destination.

Your destiny will not wait for you, go and seek the Bdamaster out.

The Bdamage did not quite speak directly to Alan, as the priest had explained to him that day. No, there were never absolutes, but a sense of what was in store. And always, Alan had said, a mission to complete. Someone to meet. A destiny. Everyone had one, and Terry's was not in Saitoon, and that the message had come so urgently only meant it would be time soon.

For some reason, as he waves back, Terry thinks of the roaring waterfall hidden away in Tsubakura's mountains.

Part Two

The first time Terry spars with Yamato, he loses.

It stings, of course it does. He has his pride as a B-daplayer and to be beaten so easily by a near-complete newbie - certainly a new form of humiliation for him. It stings, and Yamato's mocking laughter doesn't help. It stings, but he grits his teeth and reloads Wing Ninja and resets its target.

"One more time," he demands, and when Yamato agrees, boasts, and starts to reload, Terry swears he spots, out the corner of his eye, Master Armada's expression quirking into the slightest of smiles.

***

"Master Armada."

He catches the Cat on his way into the kitchen that night. The moon is high and Yamato is long asleep. Terry's exhaustion creeps up his arms and neck to his eyes, but he refuses to give in when there is something he must do.

"Oh - Terry! You startled me -" Guilt laces everything about Armada. His head is turned to Terry but his gaze is firmly elsewhere and his fur is on end. Occasionally, Terry catches a glimpse of his tail as it wiggles into view from behind his large stature.

"Can we talk?" asks Terry, looking up directly at his face. He's careful to show little in his expression. He does not want Master Armada thinking he's come to quit. When Armada's gaze flicks toward the kitchen door, he adds, "I can fix ye a midnight snack too if ye want."

"Well, I won't say no to that." Armada immediately relaxes and steps past him to the kitchen.

Terry follows, making his way to the fridge he'd just stocked that morning as Armada settles at the breakfast table. There's hotdogs in there somewhere, the kind that Armada loves, and then the weird smelling fish that Yamato had insisted on buying. He hasn't had the heart to toss that one out to the rest of the cats.

"Your footsteps..." says Armada when he's taken out a pan.

"What was that, Master Armada?" Terry glances over while it heats.

"I must admit, it's something I've been curious about since the day you began your training." Armada has settled into his seat, leaning back until the wooden chair creaks under his weight. He's staring directly at Terry. "Like Yamato, your steps can be silent as a cat's...but unlike him, yours are always that way. B-daplayer is not the first thing you've trained as, isn't it?"

That...was not what he wanted to talk about. Terry turns away and slips the hotdogs onto the pan, listening for their sizzle. "I was trained as a warrior of Tsubakura first, but that doesn't make me any less a B-daplayer."

"No, I wasn't implying that." Armada chuckles. "No, you're a talented B-daplayer, no matter what else you are."

Terry feels his face turn red. He takes a moment to grab a spatula and turn the hotdogs, watching them darken and brown in the hot oil. It takes him a moment to say, "Thank you."

"Don't let it get to your head, now."

"I'm not Yamato," he answers automatically. That earns him a sharp laugh. He turns off the heat and steps across the kitchen to the plates, watching Armada carefully.

"No, you're not." Armada shakes his head and stands. The Cat stretches, then comes over to stop him from getting a plate with a paw on his shoulder. "What did you want to talk about, Terry?"

I'm a boy, but -

No matter what else you are, Armada had just said.

He holds his tongue for a moment, thinking it over. That was one thing answered before he'd even asked. He sighs, and his mind goes back to rushing water as it so often does these days.

"I was wondering," he starts, when Armada suddenly moves away from him. He watches, fascinated, as one large paw snatches a hotdog right off the pan. The hotdog in question quickly disappears.

"Hm? Do go on," says Armada around a mouthful, already reaching for a second bite.

Somewhat scrunching his face out of disgust, Terry continues as asked. "Well, ye see, it's about why I wanted you to train me."

"You wanted to 'get good' and be the very best?" There disappeared a second piece.

"No - well, yes, but - there's something else," he admits, gaze dropping to the floor "I think the Bdamage wanted me to come here. I think my destiny - there's someone here I needed to meet. It..." He hesitates, because he hates to admit it, but he is friends before rivals with the boy anyway. "I think it's Yamato."

"Ah."

Ah? Was that all Armada had to say? Terry frowns and looks back up at him. Every piece he made is gone now, and Armada looks most satisfied with himself as he licks his paw.

Before he can question him, Armada adds, "I've spoken with Alan too, before."

"You know him - ?"

"He doesn't always have a destiny for everyone." Armada's expression darkens and he starts toward the kitchen door, mumbling to himself as he walks. "He's not always so nice, but - well, the Bdamage works strangely..."

Terry doesn't think he was meant to hear that, but he scurries after Armada, watching as that tail curls tightly.

"He told me once - " and this was louder, more clearly. " - to expect new pupils. Children with great destinies, he said. Not everyone is so lucky, and I dreaded it, but then you and Yamato - "

Master Armada has gone mad, Terry thinks as he follows the rambling Cat through the winding corridors of his home, their only guide the faint moonlight filtering through the windows. Eventually, Armada stops at a door Terry does not recognize.

One large paw pushes the door ajar, and a smattering of moonlight crosses Terry's field of vision. It takes his eyes a moment to adjust, and he realizes this is the backdoor Armada has never let them open. From its position in the house, it could only open into a cliffside. Yamato had eventually lost interest, but now excitement rushes through Terry as he considers how likely it is that Armada is about to show him a secret few others - maybe even no one - are privy too.

They emerge into a garden, surrounded by tall rocky cliffs on all sides, covered with overgrown vines and leaves painted silver In the night. The moon sits directly overhead of them, surrounded by a mere sliver of the night sky. At the center of the garden stands two statues, their backs pressed against each other's, their bases surrounded by a wide moat of water breezing over cobblestone. Terry gawks at the status themselves: one of a slender Cat, dressed finely in a cloak and carrying a cane, and the other of a man with wild hair and garbed in armor. His heart races at the sight of the latter..

"There's this legend," starts Armada as he meanders closer to the statues. "The greatest B-daplayer in the B-daworld lived hundreds of years ago, and then there was a war...but that part's not important to the life lesson I'm dropping on you right now."

Terry is barely listening now. He strides up to the second statue, looking up at the finely sculpted features barely visible under foliage.

"The greatest B-daplayer in the B-daworld had a follower who was the greatest swordsman of his time. Together, they were nigh unstoppable," Armada continues, the deep rumble of his voice following Terry as he circles the statues. "But they went on their own ways for reasons we don't know. The greatest B-daplayer disappeared from history, never to be seen again, but he left behind valuable knowledge and techniques on the art of B-dabattling."

"And the swordsman?" Terry doesn't dare look away from the statue. He does not want to forget it.

"He stepped out from the B-daplayer's shadow to became a hero of his own name."

A chill tears down Terry's back, and he shudders where he stands. The motion forces his gaze away, and finally he looks back to Armada to find the Cat had returned to the door. Biting his lip and this time not daring to look back, Terry runs to him.

"But, Master Armada, why tell me this? What does this have to do with...with me?"

Armada looks down at him, the deepening shadows on him making him look...older. Terry furrows his brow, waiting patiently for an answer. A sigh escapes the Cat, and he feels a paw around his shoulder as he's herded back inside.

"Be like that swordsman, Terry," Armada's tone is kind, soft, and the paw on Terry's shoulder is firm and comforting. "Whatever Alan told you, whether you decided it on your own or not, don't let Yamato's destiny dictate yours."

"Don't let..." It stings as much as losing. It stings to be told he's doing this wrong. The first hint of his fortune, and he's messed it up entirely. Armada is right, of course, as he often is. Whatever Yamato's destiny is, he has nothing to do with it. Nothing, whatsoever...but that doesn't sound right at all! Whether it's the Bdamage's plan or not, he is Yamato's friend. If Yamato asks him to join him on an adventure, he isn't going to say no.

He laughs, and beams up at Armada. "You're righ', but shouldn't I be the greatest B-daplayer?"

Armada's posture sags noticeably, and his tail, which had been still, suddenly twitches. A tension in the air, one Terry hadn't noticed, fades. He's been so caught up in his thoughts that he hasn't been alert enough.

"You're the one with the sword."

"Doesn't matter!" He laughs, and Armada follows.

When their laughter dwindles, Terry doesn't resist when Armada pulls him into a hug. Practically sinking into soft white fur, surrounded by warmth and his teacher's unwavering support, Terry imagines the rapids of his mind turning still and even into a lake, and he decides he's in the right place to find his fortune this time.

***

There's a flurry of movement as soon as Terry enters the room he shares, and very quickly he finds himself in another hug. Powerful arms around him - and orange. A lot of orange. When he pulls away, Yamato is beaming brightly at him, already dressed in his green pajamas.

"Geez, Terry, I thought you finally chickened out on me!" exclaims Yamato, then he pauses, looking Terry up and down. "Wait, why do you smell like hotdogs? C'mon man, where are you hiding them?"

"Naw, laddie." Terry grins. "You're not getting rid of me that easily. I've still got to become the greatest B-daplayer in the B-daworld."

"Whaaaaaaat!"

"Time for bed." He pushes past Yamato and makes a beeline for his half of the room. "C'mon laddie, we've got training tomorrow."

"But -"

"No buts, go to bed."

He can feel Yamato's gaze on him as he clambers back into his bed, can feel the curiosity. It's a strange and long moment before Yamato speaks again. "When did you get this bossy?"

Then, to his surprise, he feels his bed sink in the direction behind him, then comes the warmth of a certain someone laying down beside him. Then he feels the extra weight of a certain cat jumping onto that someone.

"Night, Terry!"

"What are you doing -"

His answer is a ridiculously loud snore, and, unfortunately, knowing Yamato, it has to be genuine. Terry sighs. He doesn't mind this at all. Annoying as Yamato can be, the lad has never really let him down where it matters, in the short time he's known him. What a strange friendship, he ponders as his eyes grow heavy.

Shifting closer so his back is to Yamato's, he drifts off with the pleasant dream of returning to Tsubakura with every accolade a B-daplayer can earn.

***

"Master Armada, there's a quick stop I wanna make before we get too far."

Armada pauses, looking down at Terry. The bright morning sun turns his fur a creamy yellow. He leans on his staff, tail curling as he considers the request.

"Saitoon, I suppose?"

"Aye, I want to say bye to Alan." Terry looks forward to where Yamato is walking several long paces before them, with Tommy settled on his head. Yamato's singing reaches them even with the distance. He wonders, for a moment, how nice it must be to be so simple-minded.

"C'mon, guys!" shouts Yamato suddenly, "The Winners' Tournament isn't waiting forever!"

"Chill out, Yamato!" he hollers back. This earns him, he notes, a small chuckle from Armada.

"I don't see why not." Armada finally answers, and starts to walk again. "Saitoon is close enough that it won't make too much of a difference."

It isn't a long trip indeed. Saitoon greets them, rising out of the dry landscape with its gleaming white buildings. The sight of the church in particular sets off an unusual fondness in Terry, and he's smiling ear-to-ear by the time they reach the main road.

"I wonder if she's still here..." mumbles Yamato as they step past the threshold, just loud enough for Terry to hear. A glance at the lad reveals a rare frown set across his face. Then he shakes his head, and his expression is bright and eager once more. "C'mon Terry! Let's go see your friend!"

Yamato was resistant to the detour at first, but then he'd learned Terry only wanted to see someone and he'd been excited the entire way instead. Yamato isn't ever too complicated about things, but Terry wonders if he has a reason other than the Winners' Tournament to not want to come to Saitoon.

"Yamato - " he starts, but then a bundle of white fur rushes up to them.

It's Kit. Terry hears Armada gasp, but the little Cat ignores his companions, instead grabbing Terry's hands and cheering loudly.

"Terry! It's great to see you again!" they shout, "Are you here to teach me more about B-daman?"

He laughs and shakes his head sheepishly. "Sorry Kit, I'm just here with my teacher to visit Alan, then we've got to hit the road again."

"Your teacher?" Here, Kit's gaze travels up to Armada, who, to Terry's confusion, has turned away and is refusing to look back to them. "This big stinky Cat?"

Terry's jaw drops. Only Yamato has ever spoken to Armada that way before. He's about to chastise Kit when the lad in question butts in.

"Man, Terry! You never told me you knew any Cat folks!"

"Really?" grumbles Armada.

"Cool Cat folks," amends Yamato with a big wide grin. "Is this the friend you were talking about? She - "

"They," corrects Terry and Kit simultaneously.

"They don't look like a priest!"

"You came to see Alan?" Kit tugs on Terry's hand, peering up at him with wide eyes.

"Aye," answers Terry. He glances up at the sky, noting the sun directly up overhead. It's a sunny day not unlike when he set off from Saitoon. "It's about lunch...he should be at the church or the B-Center."

Kit's expression falls, and worry sets into Terry with a harsh grip.

"Alan left too..." Kit can barely get the words out. "A week after you. He said - " Here, they sniffed. " - there was someone who needed his help more than the town. I think he left with this new B-daplayer. My mom said Alan is too nice if he's helping someone find their family - "

"Did this B-daplayer have gold hair and a green hat?" Yamato butts in again, and Terry looks at him in surprise. What a strangely specific question!

"...yes." Kit is paying attention to Yamato now. "You know him?"

Terry can see, and feel, the sheer excitement emanating off his friend. He's never seen Yamato this cheerful before, it's a completely new level, as far as he's concerned.

"I'm - !" Yamato sucks in a breath. "I'm glad. He's a great B-daplayer and he's been looking for his little brother who went missing."

A missing brother...Terry takes a moment to try and imagine the feeling. The closest he can muster is imagining something happening to Joe, something that turns that rough and loud personality into a silence that refuses to answer.

He feels terrible at the idea. He can't imagine what it'd be like to live it everyday.

"Alan's a great guy," he says, "Your friend's in good hands, Yamato."

***

The road to the Winners' Tournament is long and dusty, but at the pace they've set, Armada estimates they'll be there with another day of traveling. Yamato's singing has gotten sparse, and he's slowed down enough to walk at Terry's side rather than ahead.

"That B-daplayer Alan's helping out..."

Yamato's voice cuts through silence, and Terry realizes he's actually been quiet for a fairly long while now. Long for him, at least. Terry thinks back to the conversation they'd had with Kit in Saitoon, and supposes Yamato has just been worried about his other friend. "What about him?"

"He's actually a girl," starts Yamato, "and her name's Karen -"

Terry stops in his tracks, and feels his cheeks warm and anger flush through him, his hands clenching into fists as he seriously considers punching Yamato. "Y-you can't just reveal that! Or talk that way, for that matter!"

"What?" Yamato stops too, then jolts as realization widens his eyes. "Wait, no, it's not like that! She's really a girl! She's dressed like a boy to avoid trouble! We had a really long talk about it! I didn't know if Kit knew so I wasn't going to say it in front of them!"

A paw touches Terry's shoulder, and he looks up to find Armada offering comfort again. "Easy now, Terry. Breathe."

He does so, inhaling the arid air and shuddering when it fills his lungs. He exhales, and shuts his eyes, willing the growing rush in his mind to calm once again. Yamato knows better, he reminds himself, it wasn't like that.

"Terry, I'm sorry." Yamato's voice cuts through. It feels much like a curtain of water being parted.

He toys with the hem of his tunic, gaze low. The weight of Armada's paw lifts and he can feel their mentor hanging back. This is between him and Yamato. He sighs. "I know you didn't mean it that way, laddie."

Despite his words, Yamato still looks as if he's been kicked, evidently upset with himself. Terry inhales deeply again, then exhales. He knows just the thing to make this better.

"Race ya."

"Huh?" Yamato blinks, expression draining into one of confusion.

Terry forces himself to grin, still smarting with the lingering pang of anger. He points at a distant rock formation down the path. "Race ya to it."

At once, Yamato changes again. Relief slides across his face before eagerness takes over. "You're on!"

Yamato is fast, but so is he. They run down the dusty path, letting Armada catch up to them at a more leisurely pace. A slight breeze picks up somewhere as they run, and Terry feels the wind in his hair and sliding under his cloak. Tommy leaps down from Yamato's head and joins the race, and Terry grins when he notes that Yamato is more interested in beating his cat than in beating him.

He beats Yamato by leaping into air and letting the breeze buoy him to the rock, landing beside it with a smirk. Yamato catches up and yells about being beaten, then demands another race to the next one.

The chase peels back a weight that had been on his shoulders, and Terry feels less like he's swimming against a current and more like he's making his own right now. It's no name (he has one) or fortune (soon), but he will dig all his own riverbeds if he has to, no matter how many it takes to reach both.

This is it how it should be, he muses.