To any past readers - I've been away from the Digimon fandom and writing in general for a few years due to personal changes. But there are still stories to tell, so I'm easing back.

This story is the counterpoint to Tale of the Other Woman, from my Perhaps Universe, but it can be read as a standalone. It builds on the plot in Tale, but it also tries to portray a fleshed out Hikari, who tends to be idealized and weak in my stories. Hope you enjoy!


Gray

SL


Ships in the night

No one but Tailmon knew that Hikari cried over the engagement.

She had been working on her capstone photography project when the electronic save the date came through the mail. She clicked, expecting it to be from Ken and Miyako, and instead found herself staring at a picture of Takeru and his fiancée. She stared at it until tears had completely blurred her vision, before sinking quietly to the floor of her apartment.

They looked good together. Really good together, with their matching blonde hair, blue eyes, and beautiful smiles. Hikari had known that Takeru was dating someone, but she knew little about the woman. She knew only that she was Takeru's college classmate whom he met in French class and that the other Chosen Children liked her, because occasionally Miyako or Sora would talk about double dates or shared holiday trips. She had not paid her much thought otherwise.

The truth was, Hikari had never entertained the possibility that Takeru would marry someone else.

Tailmon, who had by now figured out what happened, gently tapped her knee. She didn't ask, are you okay? She asked instead, very quietly, "Are you going?"

Hikari wiped her eyes and reread the invitation. This time, she took note of the date. The wedding was still many months away, enough time for her to come up with a legitimate excuse not to attend. She could apply to a new program, she could find a job here instead of returning to Japan, she could –

And she dug her nails into her palms to halt this train of thought. This wasn't just anyone's wedding. This was someone she cared deeply about. There was only one acceptable choice of action. She would go, and she would go as a good friend who was genuinely happy for him.

Hikari met Haruka for the first time at a Chosen Children reunion, shortly after she returned to Japan. Even though she was curious about her, her eyes went first to Takeru, whom she had not seen in person in years. Her heart pounded at the sight of his familiar, lanky figure and the sound of his laughter. She hurriedly struck up a conversation with Sora before he could notice her. She regretted coming; she was not strong enough for this.

Though she delayed the moment for as long as possible by engaging in conversation with the other Chosen Children, she eventually found herself following Sora to the other side of the field. Haruka was as pretty and stylish in person as Hikari had imagined. She could barely listen as the older woman made the introductions, until she caught sight of the other woman's face and realized that she, too, was ill at ease. Hikari wondered how much she knew about her past with Takeru, and resolved to put her mind at ease.

She managed a sincere smile as she laid a hand on Haruka's arm. "Hi, I'm so glad to meet you at last." The words came easily, truthfully. "Congratulations to you and Takeru. I'm sure you will be very happy together."

Haruka's face relaxed and she smiled back. "I'm very glad to meet you too."

Hikari turned slowly and finally met Takeru's eyes. She had thought of him so often that it was surreal to see his face up close again. He wore a strange expression, an unconscious smile playing at the corner of his mouth mixed with something that she couldn't place. Perhaps it was regret.

"Hello, Takeru." Her voice was soft, because it was hard to find the strength to speak. "Long time no see."

"Right. Long time no see."

And then they were in each other's arms. She couldn't remember who initiated the hug, but it didn't matter, it was inappropriate either way. For those few, precious seconds, he was hers and she was his, and she heard his heartbeat pound as loudly as her own as she buried her face in the crook of his neck, pressing her cheek against the familiar, warm skin.

She stepped away all too soon, not because she wanted to, not even because Haruka was watching, but because holding on would be much more painful than letting go.

"I'm very happy for you."

"Let's catch up sometime?" he whispered, his breath too close to her ear.

She gave a slight nod, knowing that she would and must break this promise. Then she returned her attention to Haruka and made small talk, before Miyako thankfully rescued her by dragging her back to the others. She stayed away from the couple for the rest of the evening.

Taichi put an arm around her on their way home and Hikari leaned gratefully into the embrace. Her brother didn't speak, didn't offer empty words of comfort, and she was grateful for that too. In the safety of her bed, she squeezed Tailmon so tightly that the Digimon finally wiggled away, leaving her alone and sleepless.

Loneliness is a shade of blue, went one of Hikari's old favorite songs. She knew now that it was a lie. Loneliness was a dull, lifeless gray.


Hikari never admitted to anyone that she and Takeru had once been together. The other Chosen Children had teased them for so long that when the relationship finally happened, she was protective. After their first night together, she buried her face in his chest and asked him to promise not to tell anyone.

"This is too precious," she had whispered, "but the expectations are too high."

"We won't say anything until we were ready," he had agreed.

Unfortunately, they never reached "ready." In the eyes of everyone else, they might be a perfect match, but the transition from friends to lovers was a rocky road. Their identities had been wrapped up in each other for so long that it was difficult to see anything objectively, difficult not to take everything personally. Arguments that would have been easily resolved during their friendship lingered for days, slowly building resentment and distrust. Soon, stolen kisses and surprise presents were no longer effective as peace offering.

In the end, however, it was still Hikari's fault. She thought often of their last night together. They had started off arguing about her study abroad program, which led to insults on each other's dream careers. As a result, they ate the dinner they had made together in absolute silence. While she washed the dishes, he hunched over his laptop instead of keeping her company in the kitchen. He went to bed early, and when she joined him under the covers, for the first time he did not slip an arm around her to draw her close.

Hikari listened to his breathing evening out. The room was chilling, even though it was an oddly warm spring night. She felt hurt, humiliated, but most of all terrified. The decision was split second. She got out of bed and put on her clothes. Then she found and packed the overnight bag she unpacked only hours earlier.

She wasn't good at arguments or apologies, but she was rather good at running away.

When she opened the door, car key in hand, she turned back to the bed. Her heart twisted at how peaceful and innocent he looked in his sleep. If he had woken up then and asked her to stay – if he had said anything – no, if he had even opened his blue eyes, the story might have gone differently.

But Takeru did not stir once, and so Hikari stepped outside. She closed the door behind her and slid his spare key underneath. She cried the entire drive back to her campus. In the days after, there were a couple of angry exchanges, a few feeble attempts on both sides to reconcile, but by leaving without saying goodbye, she had done too much damage.

This time, Hikari, I am not going to run after you.

Even though there was near complete silence between the two of them for the past five years, she always nursed the fantasy that they could have a second chance. After she becomes stronger, after she becomes more understanding, after she learns how to properly apologize. But now she would never get the chance. Yes, she had run away, but he bolted the door shut behind her.

She would not know until years later that he had been awake that night.

After Takeru's wedding, Hikari moved Nagoya and met Nobu. The timing was perfect. She had other relationships before, but all of them were short-lived because part of her had always been waiting for Takeru, had always been unfavorably comparing the new man to him. But now that her former lover was married, she had no more excuses.

Nobu was a quiet unassuming man, a painter who taught community college art classes on the side. Hikari liked him right away, because something about him felt familiar, and that was a relief after moving to a new town, after so many things had changed. When he held her hand for the first time, she looked up at him and felt herself leaving the past behind.

Their courtship was fast. Within a year of meeting him, they were married and celebrated with a small, private ceremony. Hikari's mother had been disappointed that her daughter didn't have a more lavish affair, as the other Chosen Children had, but Hikari was content to celebrate only with the people closest to her. Besides, Nobu was an orphan; she saw no need to overwhelm him with strangers on their special day.

Nobu had never asked Hikari about Takeru, and she never offered him details beyond that they were close friends pre-college. Their interactions were rare since their marriages, limited to Chosen Children reunions and celebrations. She didn't want her husband to ever doubt that she loved him.

The truth was, Hikari thought often of Takeru, and it was a weakness that revisited at unexpected moments. She would be making dinner when she suddenly remembered his upcoming birthday, and there would be a sharp jab of pain when she realized that she would not be the one to celebrate with him. Other times, she found herself imagining a parallel universe that stretched alongside her own, when Takeru would be the face she saw across the dinner table, the body that slept beside her at night.

In the end, it did not matter whether Nobu ever learned her secret. He died in a freak car accident less than two years after their marriage, leaving Hikari widowed with a child on the way.


The birth of Kazuki changed Hikari's world. She had grown up protected, sheltered, and – if she were honest with herself – somewhat clingy. Her friends, brother, and husband were always there to take care of her, and it was easy to embrace her role as the sweet, delicate member of the team.

Her son gave her a reason to be independent, to be the caretaker and decision maker for the first time. It wasn't always easy, but she was always careful to shed tears in private, and with every passing year she felt stronger.

Hikari began painting classes on a whim, when she found her late husband's paints in the attic. Though they were dusty with disuse, the paint was still fresh. When Nobu's old colleague mentioned a few days later that he had taken over the art classes that Nobu used to teach, she decided that it was a sign.

She didn't expect to be good at painting, but years of semi-professional photography and adventures in the Digital World gave her a talent for depicting the mundane with marvel. A vase of daisies glistening in the sun, Tailmon snoozing by the window – everything came to life under her brushes, despite her amateurish technique. She started being featured in local galleries, and it had been a thrill to sell her first painting, even though it was to Ken and Miyako.

"I think you look happier these days," Sora remarked during one of her art shows.

Hikari nodded, although happy wasn't quite the right word. Focused, maybe. As if she had been living in a fog for a very long time, but there were finally moments when the world came into sharper focus.

One night, Hikari awoke with tears in her eyes. She had dreamed of a beach filled with gray sand, a lighthouse that emitted darkness, and an ocean that stretched into the colorless sky. Even after she blinked away her sleepiness, everything was so vivid that she could almost smell and taste the salty sea air in her bedroom. It also felt oddly meaningful, but when she cast her mind back, it drew a blank.

After making sure that Kazuki was still sound asleep, Hikari went to her studio. She could see exactly how she wanted it to be captured on canvas. She sat down, mixed together globs of gray, and began to paint.


tbc