Note: Before anyone asks, yes I do have permission to post this. See his author profile (12224) if you don't believe me. ~~ Eowyn.
Ten months have expired since the events chronicled in Season One...
The greatest of the celestial beings stood stoically in midair some hundred feet above the dwelling of humanity, his arms folded across his massive chest as he waited. The creature, who only once before in his eternal life known any discomfort, shifted to the side to relieve a feeling of what he could only describe as... imbalance. And as he looked down at the naked scabbard at his side, he was distinctly reminded of what was causing the sensation.
It was only a moment later when he was joined by another of his kind, who acknowledged him with a quick bow of his head. "It is done, then?" the first asked, his voice rich and authoritative.
"It is, my brother... my captain," the second returned in melodic tone, and the first noticed that the other was no longer in possession of the auroral bracer that had adorned his left forearm since their inception.
"To the human child... the female, then?"
The second gave another bow. "I have taken your disapproval into much consideration, my brother. I will concede that it is not the most logical choice. But this is a human affair, to be determined by them, and she was the most human choice."
The other had already conceded the point, and saw no need to do so again. "It is well that it was left within your hands then. Try as I may I cannot fathom the human condition. You placed it under the guise we had agreed upon, I will assume."
"As did you with the boy. It is familiar and precious to her, and will give her no pause to question what it truly is." He paused. "At the very least, there is much to be said for their propinquity."
The first did not question if 'their' referred to the blessed items or to the children. Instead he looked at his brother, and reminded him for the last time. "She is not what he is, and is now weaker than most."
That was, of course, indisputably the case. "But she is not without strength of her own..."
Two years later...
"T.K. Come here!"a frightened, female voice demanded of him, unusually stern in its owner's desperate need for haste.
The boy stirred slightly, twitching in his sleep. And after a moment he echoed the words that he knew he must; a stage performer who had spent hours of time committing his lines to memory. This was how it had happened once upon a time, now happening all over again...
His sleep-addled brain tried desperately to sort out the reality of the situation. Happened then? Or just happening now? Panic and chaos reigned all around him as he heard the clear, steady voice rise above the confusion to focus his thoughts. "I want you to take Kari and get out of here!"
He remembered looking at her blankly. She was the kindest, wisest, most grown-up person that he knew, but what she was asking would mean abandoning her to near certain capture... or perhaps even death. Alone. He had hesitated at first, giving an almost imperceptible shake of his head. "T.K. please!" she had shouted at him. "You're the only one who can protect Kari!"
That had struck at him, and deeply, because he had known it to be the truth. He turned to glance over his shoulder at Kari, and saw that the younger girl was just as frightened as he. But for her, he would have stayed. He would have stayed at Sora's side and would have fallen with her. But to do so would also mean to desert Kari, and such a thing suddenly seemed innately wrong to the young boy. While wiping away tears that had pooled in his eyes at the desperate situation he had swallowed, hesitating, before...
"Okay, Sora," he repeated the words in his sleep, his lips quivering even now. "I... I promise that I'll do whatever it takes to protect Kari."
The boy shot straight up in bed, several strands of blond hair falling in front of his blinking eyes as he came fully awake. With his heart beating rapidly he threw off his sheets and turned towards the window, seeing the full moon outside illuminating the city below. "Oh no," he whispered quietly, knowing by instinct alone what was happening. "Kari..."
T.K. rubbed the sleep from his eyes and inched quietly out of his bed, then turned and padded his way across the room as the tender, golden glow of the crest of Hope illuminated his steps. He stopped by the desk atop which his telephone sat and pulled up a chair. Then the boy sat down and lay his head across his folded arms in order to more closely watch the phone. And he waited.
"Angemon! No!" she cried, as their last hope for rescue tumbled headlong from the sky.
"Angemon! No!" T.K. echoed.
"I'm scared," she whimpered to the small boy on the rope below her.
"He'll be okay," he replied in turn, his words meant to comfort but delivered in such a voice as to only heighten her panic. "But you've got to keep climbing."
She had only seconds to act, perhaps only seconds to live. But no time at all to think. "Okay," she said automatically, reaching up for another handhold... only to find that there was nowhere further she could go. The rope had been severed cleanly by a sword thrown with uncanny accuracy by the dark clown, leaving only a few bare threads to trail off in the wind.
Kari looked down in horror. "You've reached the end of your rope!" the insane creature taunted back, his maniacal, sinister laughter echoing far down into the valley below.
"Let go of him!" Kari cried as the clown grabbed little T.K.'s leg, threatening to throw him down to his death.
"Let go, Kari!" He'll get you too!" the young boy shouted up at her as she grabbed his hand.
Had the situation not been so desperate, she would have said that it had sounded like the most gallant thing she had ever heard. He was far closer to death than she. "No! I won't let you go T.K."
The clown, dangling like an acrobat by one hand, peered quizzically at the pair. The exchange clearly was not what he expected. But in the end it was of little interest to him as he hacked again at the rope, severing it in one stroke. "Sounds like you two are falling for each other!" he snickered, tauntingly.
And then falling they were. Plummeting down, down, to the rocks below and certain death. She lost her grip on T.K.'s warm fingers, and fell further. Looking up, she tried to reach him for him again, but the young boy had vanished and was nowhere in sight! T.K. … her only hope… gone.
"But this isn't how it's supposed to happen!"
The girl's own shouted protest woke her and she sat up in her bed, panting heavily and drenched in sweat. Her wide eyes darted around her room, calming only after she had verified that it was just the same as when she had fallen asleep. That had all happened almost three years ago, but try as she might she could not shake the memories…and they were always the same memories.
She slid noiselessly down from her bed to avoid waking the others in the house. She had perfected such nighttime stealth when she had shared a room with Tai, though the pair had not done so for almost that same three years. But despite his absence she stole quietly across the room, her steps guided only by the nervous and flickering glow of the crest of Light.
The original crests were long since destroyed and accepted as useless. Symbols, only, of what strength the children had within themselves. It had therefore come as a great surprise to the girl when, one night when she despaired of falling asleep for fear of the dreams, she had found the crest of Light resting under a gentle nimbus atop her pillow. She could not explain its presence there, at that time, but nevertheless a great feeling of peace and familiarity had welcomed her as she had touched it. The dreams were less haunting that night, and for many nights thereafter. It had taken some time and a bit of amateur sleuthing before she discovered that T.K. alone had received his crest back as well, and under similar circumstances.
She had reached the table with the telephone. She picked it up, and then sat it back down with a thought. She knew that she would call him. She must. She knew now, at least in her heart, that there was to be no other healing for her. As if to stress the thought, her body shook with a sudden spasm and she was forced to muffle a cough. Her family could not be allowed to hear her. Her very life depended on it.
She picked up the receiver and then paused again. Where would he be? she wondered. With his mother or his father? After a momentary pause as if to gather its strength, the failing emblem on her chest gave a renewed effort and sent out a call to its faithful companion, and she smiled as Hope's distant reply came to back to her. He was with his dad, and Matt.
"Kari?" the boy whispered in a conspiratorial voice as he picked up the phone, though she had not even heard it ring on her end.
"T.K." she exhaled thankfully in response. Even his voice took the piercing edge from the pain, though to purge it entirely would require much more. "It's happening again."
"I know. I felt it. Same plan as always?"
He was so perfect. They both were well aware of everything that this would cost him; the pain, the fatigue, the risk... yet he hadn't hesitated for a moment. As before, he would buy her life with some of his own.
"Same as always," she whispered in response, fighting down a horrid sense of guilt.
He gently placed the receiver back on the hook and rose from his seat, easing open the door to his room and moving out to the living quarters of their apartment. He glanced around furtively to make sure that his father and Matt hadn't heard him. Being awake at this time of night might be possible to explain -- he had done it sometimes during the summer months when school was out -- but to explain why Kari sneaking over at two o'clock in the morning? That would be another issue altogether.
The night was hot, and he went to the bathroom and nervously ran some water over his neck and shoulders, watching in the mirror as it beaded and ran down his arms. He had grown a lot in the past two years, and was now as tall as Matt had been during the time of their adventures despite being a year younger than his brother had been at the time. The strong light of Hope's emblem was now gold against his chest, marking him with honor for once again taking up Kari's cause.
Something had been wrong with the girl since they had returned to the real world, almost from the start. Two days after returning home from the adventure (which most of the world now passed off as "overstated" or "mass hysteria"), she had taken very ill. Her parents and brother Tai had been devastated, keeping her inside for the entire time and even at one point rushing her to a hospital. None of the doctors could find anything wrong, and after several days of observation during which she only had gotten worse, had sent her home with instructions to call the moment that something new occurred.
It had continued like that for several weeks, during which time the other five older children had been allowed only short visits. But she continued to fail even in the presence of her friends, except when he had finally been allowed to come.
The adults had thought that he was too young to see her as she was, and too immature to accept what now seemed inevitable. Yet it was only a few, astounding moments after he arrived that she was again on her feet and announcing that the pain had gone. The others had looked skeptical at this, but then she was up and about and seemingly the same girl that she had always been, and just in time. Only a week later school had started back up, and she and T.K. had thankfully been assigned to the same class.
But as more time progressed, she had found that the longer she was away from the boy, the deeper her relapse into illness became. Soon the sapping of her energy was so acute that if she went more than a couple of days away from him, she became so weak that she again feared for her life. She had explained this to him, and though not entirely understanding, he rarely strayed from her side.
T.K. smiled as he remembered the merciless teasing that came from the other boys in his class at having found a "girlfriend", taunts that still continued to this day and that she must have endured as well. He didn't object. He found that his adventure in the other world had changed him, perhaps matured him a bit, so that the childish taunts of his classmates sounded just that: childish.
And bit by bit, now not only did he not mind the taunts, he found that he actually enjoyed thinking of Kari as a girlfriend. He knew that at least half the time that they spent in close proximity to one another was out of necessity, yet he knew that he would have tried to find a way to make it happen even without a purpose. He felt close to her. Love? He wasn't sure. Outside of familial love, he wasn't even exactly certain what the word meant. But there was certainly something that he felt for her that he didn't feel for any of his other friends.
The crest warmed gently against his bare skin, prodding him out of his recollections and to the front door to welcome the girl. He returned to it a unspoken acknowledgement and thanks, not wanting to miss one second than was necessary away from her side. Not with such stakes involved.
The boy's eyes widened in dismay at how terribly pale she was as he eased open the door. Even when she'd been on her supposed deathbed, she hadn't looked so weak. Now, the light in her eyes was almost completely extinguished and her muscles were quivering with faint, apparently uncontrollable spasms. She took a single, exhausted step inside the doorway and fell into T.K's arms, her breath escaping from her lungs as she did so.
In his alarm at seeing her this way he almost shouted for help, before remembering that he mustn't. To do so would be disastrous, and would almost certainly result in the girl being removed from his evidently therapeutic presence. He leaned her back in one arm and smoothed long tendrils of hair out of her eyes, watching as some of the pink color came back into her face as his fingertips brushed against it. "Oh no... Kari. How come you didn't call before it got this bad?"
Her eyes fluttered open again at his touch. "T.K.?" she whispered.
"I'm here," he answered gently, pressing a palm against her cheek. The girl exhaled a small sigh of evident relief as her face slowly lost its deathlike hue to the boy's restorative touch, and she struggled to sit up.
"T.K., I... I can't keep doing this to you. I thought that if I could only withstand it this one time, that maybe it wouldn't come back again. I don't want you to have to go through this for me anymore."
The boy hesitated, then silenced her with a finger to his lips. With a nod of his head he motioned her towards his room, easing the front door closed behind them as they left. And after checking to make certain that her back was still to him, he slowly massaged the tingling sensation from his hand where he'd touched her face.
She was already sitting on the side of his bed as he entered the room, and the Crest of Hope gave a brief glimmer at her that might have passed for a wink of recognition if it had come from a human. Kari's hand was on her chest, and she was taking obvious steps to consciously control her breathing.
The boy dropped the hand that he'd been rubbing as her lashes slowly pulled back to reveal her tear-filled eyes to him. With a reassuring smile in response he bent over and pulled the spare pillow from beneath the bed and held it to his stomach. If his touch and his comfort was what she needed to be well, that was what she would have. And he would give it gladly, forgoing all trouble and only wishing that he could do more.
He eased down at her side and placed a gentle, tentative hand on the curve of her neck. And at his touch her pain continued its retreat with a suddenness that even belied its initial onslaught. "Kari, don't... please don't give up. We'll beat this, whatever it is. If this is what it takes to keep you well and from getting hurt anymore then you know that I'll always be here to do it."
His tender words did nothing to assuage the horrid feeling of guilt gnawing at her stomach, and came close to making it worse. There was never a word of complaint from him, no matter how much this transfusion of his life caused him to suffer. The first times it had been necessary only for him to be in the same room with her to restore her, the next few, a nominal holding of hands had sufficed. But now, without complete physical contact, it was simply not enough. "T.K.?" she asked through hot tears that contrasted strongly with the great relief that his touch brought.
"Kari, please don't cry. I made a promise a long time ago that I'd protect you and I will. It... it isn't as bad for me as it is for you."
The girl had a sudden vision of how he always looked after one of these nights. Waking up in the morning exhausted and unmistakably drained of all his boyish energy. And though he continually and repeatedly denied it, she could see that it hurt him as well. He could never lie to her. But now the brave steadfastness in the tenor of his young voice made a new wave of admiration wash over her as he pulled her back into his arms and down onto the bed. The girl sighed, then surrendered to necessity as she reached around and pulled him closer until they were like two curved spoons set alongside one another.
"I don't deserve you, T.K.. I really don't."
He didn't even pause. "You're right, you know. You deserve a lot better than me," he answered, forcing a chuckle even as he felt the first onset of pain as it was siphoned from her body and into his own. He bit down hard on his tongue and closed his eyes to forestall the shame of his crying until she was asleep, then waited until it passed and continued. "Now try to sleep, Kari. You'll be better in the morning, you'll see. You've just got to be... better." And then the boy slowed and regulated his breathing, trying to calm his mind and place it far away from his body.
Kari nestled back in the protective arms surrounding her and choked back a thankful sigh as she was at last able to breathe without the stabbing ache in her chest, and she spent the next several moments just enjoying the sensation of being awake without being in pain.
And when she finally fell asleep as well he was there for her in her dreams, reaching for her. The golden daylight of the crest of Hope engulfed him as he closed his eyes. Below her she heard the boy's partner groan and rise to his feet. "T.K." the holy creature gasped. Then, "Angemon, Digivolve to…"
"T.K.?"an explosive voice from the foot of his bed demanded. The young boy bolted upright, bleary eyes staring out from behind a messy shock of blond hair and directly into the face of his older brother, Matt. He winced at the crushing pain in his chest, but said nothing in response. This was the moment that he had foreseen with dread ever since this had begun. They'd been caught.
"Kari?"Now Matt's eyes almost leapt out of his head, and the older boy genuinely looked as though he was really going to pass out. Or maybe he looked as though he was going to kill them. T.K. couldn't really tell for sure.
Matt's eyes shifted from one child to the other and back again for several minutes afterwards, his brain trying to make the connection between what he was seeing and what it meant. And when he didn't care for the endpoint that his brain kept coming up with, he instead demanded of the pair, "What the hell are you two doing?"
"Matt, we're right here. You don't have to yell," his little brother admonished, concerned for Kari but still terrified of what was about to happen.
"I d… don't have to yell?"the other demanded in a stammering voice, just as loudly as before. In all honesty he hadn't even thought about yelling... it was just the only way that it could come out.
"Matt. This is all my--" started Kari, but T.K. cut her off at once. He'd long ago come to the conclusion that when they were caught, he needed to take the blame for it. "She needed me, Matt."
The older boy stammered wordlessly for a few moments before he could finally speak coherently again. Fortunately, this time it was to be at a more reasonable volume. At least, T.K. hoped that was what the soft sigh from his brother signified. After another moment, he affixed the pair with a look that meant nothing good. "Dad's gone to work. Maybe you should come out to the living room and we can talk. And T.K.?"
"Put a shirt on."
Over the next hour, the two younger children tried explaining to T.K.'s brother exactly what was happening, and what had been happening since they'd returned. Matt's eyes rolled in disbelief several times during the explanation, but to his credit never once did he interrupt. It took some time in the telling, but after that time the two brought their story to an end and awaited the verdict.
Matt didn't speak for a moment, and then sighed again. "If it was anyone but you two -- anyone -- I'd have said that no one could possibly have come up with a worse lie, especially if they'd had that long to work on it." The boy paused and chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. "But I'm not at all sure that either of you has ever told a lie before, so I'll take what you say for what it is… for now." He picked up a phone that sat beside him and pressed a number on the speed dial. After a moment he started talking. "Izzy? Yeah, it's me. I need a favor and it's kind of urgent. Call the others and get them over here as soon as you can. Yeah. No. No, my dad's. Listen, I'll explain when you get here, okay, but either way this turns out we've got a big problem on our hands."