"Because I asked him to."
Rumiko and Yoshi sat there, stunned into silence by Rika's answer to their first question. The pair of young mothers finally turned towards each other, a confused expression etched on each of their faces.
Rumiko found her voice first and turned towards her daughter. "Rika, honey…I know from experience at your age it's hard to not get sex and love confused... ".
"But mom," began the teen, trying to keep the exasperation out of her voice, "I didn't love him at the time, so that's why I had to sleep with him!"
Whatever Yoshi was going to ask died unspoken in her throat as the Rika's explanation froze her words in place. Even Rumiko could only sit there, dumbfounded by the incredible wrongness of her daughter's statement.
The Tamer rose, pacing around the floor as she tried to not lose her self-control. *It's so simple! Why can't they see it!* she growled to herself, unable to look her mother and Yoshi in the eyes. *I know why I slept with Takato; why isn't that good enough?!*
Seiko watched as her granddaughter paced, wanting to help but knew that unless Rumiko and Yoshi accepted Rika's reasons of their own accord nothing she could say would convince them.
Pausing her in fifth circle around the chair, the teen glanced over at her grandmother.
The elder of the group gave a warm, reassuring smile as she stood up and walked over. Kneeling down she hugged the girl and looked into her eyes. "I know you're trying Rika, but this is an overwhelming revelation for them as much as it is for you. Perhaps you should tell them what you and Takato told me in the restaurant; then maybe it'll make more sense?"
Rika looked away for a moment; she really didn't want to rehash all that happened during those few days stranded in the cave. Telling her grandmother everything was necessary; being caught in a lie would shatter any chance of having the woman's support. But there were things-decisions she had made-that she couldn't tell her mom.
She just couldn't.
Another gentle hug brought her attention back to reality as she faced her grandmother once more. "Rika.." Seiko softly whispered "tell them what you need to tell them; everything else is unimportant." Seiko knew there were moments that Rika had never told her mother -or anyone else for that matter-outside her in that restaurant such a short time ago.
Those moments would never be spoken of again.
Rika nodded, knowing her grandmother was right. She *knew* what she wanted to say; it was so clear when she thought it! But when she tried to *explain* it, the words came out all wrong. With a sigh she sat back down and faced the pair across from her.
Rumiko and Yoshi looked at each other, both realizing some profound wisdom was just passed from one generation to the next, but wasn't quite sure what it might have been. Any further ponderings were quickly waylaid by Rika's focused gaze.
"I guess everything…well-you see" she started, and then faltered as she tried to focus. "There was this cave…"
And so Rika sat there, telling how she and Takato became trapped in that cave, buried alive and separated from their Digimon. The simmering emotions that had been plaguing the pair during the earthquake crisis on Earth exploded to the surface at that point, the love Takato expressed for her belittled and ignored.
Yoshi narrowed her eyes as the thought of her son's admission of first love-so callously dismissed- angered her. With fists clenched, she just glared at the teen, not trusting her words to say anything at the moment.
Feeling the icy gaze of the woman, Rika closed her eyes and forced herself to continue.
She told about her epiphany by the underground lake; Jeri had seen what was building long before anyone else and gave up her hearts' claim on Takato so she could have a chance at happiness. Realization gave way to apology, but this time it was Rika's spirit that was nearly crushed by the angry and hurt boy.
Seiko watched as the pair struggled to listen as Rika and Takato's emotions were laid bare before them; they had been present for the debriefing after the teens had been rescued from their ill-fated trip to the Digital World. But now, this was nothing less than Rika's soul-her struggle to understand love itself-out in the open for all to see.
"He sat there mom…" softly murmured the girl, fists clenched in worry as she looked at the woman who had given her life "I hurt him so much! I just…I could see it in his eyes you know; all he wanted to do was protect me-keep me safe!"
Her voice rose, anger tinting her tone. "Can you imagine that mom? Someone as strong, as reliable, as good as Takato in love with someone like me? Someone who had hurt him on purpose so many times because hurting him was safer than trusting him! That he had that much love for me-so much I could see it right there in front of me…and I couldn't FEEL it!"
It was then her voice broke, tears falling as her young body shook at the memory of that moment. "He was willing to give me everything, and I was dead inside!"
Before another second passed strong arms wrapped around the distraught teen, rocking gently as Rumiko whispered soft reassurances into her daughter's ear. Stroking Rika's hair, she comforted her child as best she could. From her own experiences with young love she knew the hurt Rika felt now was just as strong and terrible as it had been in that distant cave. After a few minutes Rika gently pulled away, her tear-stained cheeks sporting an embarrassed blush. "Sorry," she whispered, not used be so emotional in front of others.
A soft smile danced over her mother's face. "It's okay Rika, I think we all can understand" Rumiko replied, handing her daughter a tissue to blow her nose. Giving the girl a few more moments to compose herself, mother looked at child and asked the question that was undoubtedly on both her and Yoshi's mind. "Is that when you asked Takato to make love to you?"
The blush on Rika's cheeks deepened as she nodded, finally risking a glance at Takato's mom expecting to find the same icy glare as before. But instead, a look of compassion and understanding graced the elder woman's expression. "I really don't know where that came from! It just seemed so unfair that he as willing to give me so much and I didn't have anything to give him in return. Well, other than…" it was then she looked away feeling the heat on her face seemingly burn into permanent existence there. "I knew that I could trust Takato with my body; that he wouldn't-you know-take more than I was willing to give. And…I guess…if I could trust him with my body, I figured I might could learn to trust him with my heart..."
Rumiko and Yoshi looked at each other, not sure what-if anything-to say at this revelation when Rika's voice broke into the quiet of the room. "Mrs. Matsuki?"
"Yes, Rika?" she replied, a soft, neutral tone tinting her voice.
"I want you to know that Takato was a perfect gentleman; everything he did was for my benefit. He tried so hard to be perfect…to have our first time be…well, like it should be. The entire time it felt like…" she paused, trying to find the words…"you know how they say when girl has her first time she isn't innocent anymore? It was like he wasn't taking my innocence but he was giving me his!" she exclaimed, the tone of her voice making it clear that his mom had to know that one thing if nothing else. "Please don't be mad at him; I'm the one you should be angry at. If you need to blame anyone it's me, not him or the baby."
Taken aback by Rika's honestly, Yoshi sat still for a moment before finally standing up and walked over to the teen. Rumiko gently stepped back, torn between protecting her daughter from a justifiably upset Yoshi and letting the woman have her say. The woman knelt down and met the teen's gaze.
"Rika, I don't hate you or the baby and I certainly don't hate Takato. To be honest, him…'giving you his innocence' is something that he would do in a heartbeat if it would prove his love for you. I couldn't understand why you two chose to be intimate" she paused for a moment, the word leaving a bad taste in her mouth " but now I think I understand why you both did what you did. In a weird way, you were protecting yourself the only way you felt you could, and I can't fault you for that. I just wish you two had waited until you got back before you took that step."
The Tamer nodded, her gaze even and unwavering. "I thought about that afterwards," she whispered, tinting a deeper shade of red. "But when I was lying there I realized that we couldn't have waited. Once we got back everything…being Tamers, our schoolwork…all of that would have got in the way and we… I would have lost the love of someone very special to me. I couldn't face that…not again."
It was then Rumiko blinked, kneeling down in front of her daughter. "Again?"
Nodding, the teen looked at her mom with an old hurt in her eyes. "I didn't want to push Takato away…like I did dad."
Rumiko sighed softly as waves of distant sadness bubbled to the surface once more, the memory of that dark time in her life roaring back to the forefront of her mind. With a strong grasp she took her daughter's hands in her own. "Rika, you know you had nothing to do with your father leaving! He…he was good man who lost his way. When he found himself, he realized that he couldn't be who we needed him to be. That doesn't mean he didn't love you, or left because of you!"
Tears shimmered in all three of the Nonaka women as Rika nodded. "I know that….up here," she said, tapping the side of her head "but it still hurts. I couldn't lose Takato too; if I pushed him away, what kind of person would that have made me?" she whispered back in a small voice.
Rumiko truly didn't know how to answer that, so she simply pulled her daughter into a tight hug and held her in silence. Seiko knew that if would be a long time-if ever-before Rika's heart believed she wasn't at fault and no amount of proof to the contrary would help.
It was then the door opened, startling the four women as Takato and Takehiro returned to the living room, the elder's hand on his son's shoulder. It was clear that whatever had been discussed on the porch had left the pair a great deal more comfortable than when they left.
Yoshi was more than curious as to how that conversation unfolded.
Takato walked over, quickly taking Rika's hands into his own, ignoring the looks of the adults present. "Are you okay?" he asked, noticing the tear-stained cheeks on his girlfriend.
"I'm fine goggle head," she replied, leaning over and kissing him on the forehead. "Just…kind of intense, you know?"
The boy nodded, having had a few such moments while talking to his dad.
A soft clearing of the throat turned all present towards Seiko. "Takato, Rika, would you mind if we adults talked for a few minutes? I'm sure everyone has questions and you two could probably use a few minutes alone as well."
The two teens looked at each other, worried about what might be said. But despite their feelings, Seiko's tone made it clear it wasn't a request but more of a strong suggestion. It was then Takato's stomach cast his vote on the matter, the intensity of the night pretty much wiping out what little food he had been able to keep down from the dinner earlier.
In short, it sounded like a bear snoring.
"Takato..." growled Rika, embarrassed by the sound. "Please tell me when they get older they don't do stupid stuff like that?" she asked no one in particular. It was embarrassing enough the boy was a bouncing ball of cheerful optimism most of the time; she didn't want to add strange bodily noises on top of that.
A hint of a smile crossed the lips of the three elder women, eyes dancing with laughter at the moment. It was Rumiko who answered first for them all "Sorry Rika, but it's something you're going to have to learn to live with."
"Great. Just…great.." she groused, grabbing Takato by the hand and dragging him into the kitchen both to avoid further embarrassment and wanting a few moments alone away from the adults.
"Whoa! !Rika…!" exclaimed the boy as he was dragged around the corner and out of sight.
A light chuckle filled the air as the group found their way back to the couch and chairs, sitting down looking both relieved and hesitant at the same time.
Seiko smiled and leaned forward. "I think we could all use a drink."
"Oh, God yes," whispered Yoshi, drawing amused looks from Rumiko and Takehiro. With a laugh Seiko took everyone's requests and got up, fixing the drinks in a few minutes with the grace and skill of a world-class bartender. After passing out the beverages, the quartet began to compare notes.
Takehiro took a sip of his drink and looked at his wife. "Takato explained to me what happened and I believe him. Trapped in a cave, emotions running high; I'd have to say I'd be more surprised now if something hadn't happened." Pausing, he swirled the glass of Scotch, watching the light glint off the liquid. "No surprise that he tried to take full blame for the whole situation, but I reminded him that it takes two to make a baby and I doubt he did that by himself." Pausing to take another sip he looked over at Seiko and Rumiko. "I'm guessing Rika tried the same thing?"
Rumiko nodded, a motion shared by Rika's grandmother and his wife. "She was more concerned about us being upset at Takato and the baby than anything else. I didn't want to believe her at first, but after hearing all that…" Yoshi sighed, her voice trailing off for a moment. "It's just…if they had simply waited until they could have talked to us, or at least had protection…"
"Yoshi, believe me when I say that I agree with you a hundred percent. In case it's not obvious, I started my family a little ahead of time so I know the value of waiting..." began Rumiko as she sipped her Vodka Martini. "But I can also see Rika's point of view; she had one chance to trust Takato with her heart and she took it. She truly feels she would have lost him had they waited. Honestly, I think that would have devastated them both for a very long time."
It was hard to disagree with the statement, no matter how much Takehiro and Yoshi wanted to. Their son was a passionate young man who lived each day with all his heart and soul. For him to have the chance to win Rika's love, then lose her…it would have destroyed his bright spirit and Rika could have become colder and more distant than ever before without Takato's love as her anchor and safeguard against the darker side of her emotions.
An unspoken agreement seemed to connect those present, the four silently accepting what had been put forth to them as the truth. Each knew they could not change the past, and the present situation had been revealed. Now they just had to worry about the future.
"This is probably a touchy subject for you ladies" began Takehiro, sipping his drink before continuing "but I feel that it needs to be brought up..."
Seiko nodded, knowing what the man was going to ask. She didn't like to even consider the option, but someone had to pose the question and she admired the man for having the courage to step forward.
"I'm keeping the baby Mr. Matsuki. And-with all due respect- if anyone even suggests that option I'll personally cram my foot up their ass and kick it all the way to the Digital World and back."
The four tuned to see Rika, plate of leftovers in one hand, glaring at the group for a moment before spinning on her heal as she turned to go back into the kitchen. Confident her opinion on not keeping the baby made crystal clear, the Tamer vanished back into the other room. Takato flashed a look of apology towards the adults and followed her out of sight.
Flushing red, the man leaned back. "Never mind then."
"Well, that was…enlightening…" commented Yoshi as she took a gulp of her Bloody Mary. "Considering that's out of the way, we need to find out how healthy the baby is. I'll call my gynecologist tomorrow and see if she can recommend someone. My pre-natal doctor retired a few years ago."
"Rika already has a doctor."
Blinking, the three turned to look at the elder of the group, heads cocked in surprise.
"I haven't met her, but she seems to have really made an impression on Rika."
"How did Rika find her?" asked Rumiko warily.
"Actually, she's a friend of Renamon's."
At that, the two younger ladies shot up straight. "What!?" harshly whispered the pair as both sets of eyes narrowed. "I'm not letting my grandchild be brought into this world by a Digimon doctor!" they growled in unison, not even realizing it was being done until they finished.
Seiko couldn't help but laugh softly. "Calm down you two; Dr. Mizuno's a human. From what I understand, the baby is showing up very healthy other than being a little small for being almost 5 months along."
Takehiro spoke up. "Is that something we should be worried about? I mean, she's not really showing."
Rumiko leaned back and sighed. "Right now, I'd say no. Most of the women in our family have the same issue; we tend to put on most of our weight and start to show in the last trimester. It's odd, but as far back as we know it's been that way."
Seiko nodded in agreement, pouring her third shot of Tequila and downing it without the slightest flinch.
"I still want to meet her."
Takehiro nodded to his wife. "Maybe we all could go down to meet her; one of us might have questions the others might not think of."
The woman blinked then leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. "Good idea" she whispered, drawing a pleasantly surprised look from the man.
Seiko and Rumiko suppressed a pair of grins and said nothing.
The conversation continued on for nearly another hour with all matter of topics being discussed. One thing not covered was financial responsibility for the baby; each pair of parents knew that would be a point of contention-even if none of them wanted it to be-and such a discussion was better left to a moment when they all weren't so exhausted from the day's events.
It was then Takehiro noticed the clock and looked towards the kitchen. "Where are the kids?"
The other three parents blinked, following his line of sight from the clock to the kitchen and realized it had been a while since Rika's little 'announcement' . Hints of worry crossed their faces as a group they stood and walked over to the kitchen.
It was all they could do to not 'awwww' out loud.
The blinking light on the microwave flashed 'END', casting the pair of teens in a soft, ambient green light. Apparently waiting for their food to heat, the two had leaned up each other in a corner, using the walls as support. Rika's back rested against Takato's chest, his hands protectively on her belly as even in sleep he was ready to defend the girl he cared for and the child they had created together.
The look of complete love on his face and total trust on hers waylaid any lingering doubts the adults had of how each teen felt about the other. Rumiko reluctantly moved to rouse the pair, knowing that stiff necks would be the least of their concerns upon their awakening. A gentle tap gave her pause as she turned to see Takehiro make little 'come here' motions with his index finger.
Curious, they followed the man back to the living room.
"If we wake them up like that, they'll die of embarrassment and I don't think we need any more drama tonight," he explained, having been caught in a similar situation more years ago than he cared to remember and hated to see his son and girlfriend put through the same moment.
Nodding in agreement, the group turned towards Seiko as she grinned. "I know," she said, motioning them to sit back down. After doing so, she quietly picked up her nearly empty drink glass and removed the coaster from underneath it.
Catching on, the others did the same and -after draining their respective glasses- 'thunked' them down onto the glass- topped coffee table, sending a shrill echo out into the quiet house.
Startled awake by the noise, Takato and Rika flushed red as they saw their intimate embrace and quickly glanced around to make sure they hadn't been caught by either of their families. Satisfied they wouldn't have to explain a very hard-to-explain moment, the teens quickly re-heated their food and joined their parents hoping no one would comment on how long they were gone.
Sharing knowing smiles at the blush on the pair's face, Seiko and the others said nothing and welcomed the two back to the group. In-between bites there was light banter and the mood relaxed significantly as Takato, perhaps even more than Rika, felt the weight of the last few months lift off his shoulders.
He sat there looking at the girl he loved and realized that maybe…just maybe…things were going to be okay now. He knew that he and his parents would have to have a private conversation about his decisions, but in the boy's heart he knew they would be there for him. Fears of being abandoned and unloved evaporated from his conscious mind, now replaced by a light but tangible hope for the future he and Rika now shared.
Plans for doctor's visits and such were made; nothing really heavy although all present knew there was going to be a lot of upheaval in their lives from this point on. But for the four adults gathered, they now knew the forthcoming changes in their lives were born-not out of carelessness- but from two young people simply trying to find love in their own special way.
The comfort knowing that their children were safe and happy and truly in love was enough for them, at least for now.
Rika blinked as she felt her mom's gaze on her for several long minutes. Unable to stand it any longer she sighed. "Something on your mind Mom?" she asked around a mouthful of potatoes.
It was then the model blinked, drawn back to reality by Rika's voice. Standing to the surprise of all Rumiko walked over to the phone, apparently not realizing she never answered her daughter's question. A long series of numbers was punched in, leaving Takato and his parents confused while Rika and Seiko wondered who she was calling internationally at this hour of the night.
A bright smile came onto Rumiko's face as a voice picked up on the other end. "Jean-Luc! Bonjour!" she began in highly accented French. A short laugh escaped her throat. "Oh, Jean-Luc; such a flirt! What would Beverly say!?" she teased back, enjoying catching up with an old acquaintance. "Yes, yes I'm doing fine! Mother is as well! Rika is, oh yes, they do grow like weeds don't they! How old is Wesley now? Six!? My stars it seems like he was just born yesterday!"
The woman laughed at something told by the stranger on the other end as Seiko leaned over to the group. "Jean-Luc Picard, one of the premier vintners in France. His wife Beverly is a top-rated fashion designer that Rumiko has modeled for…" she explained, drawing looks of understanding from Takato and his parents.
"Oh, Jean-Luc, you simply are too much! Opening a second vineyard? Are you capable of handling yet anotherenterprise??" she asked, not sure how the man found time to run one business, yet alone two. A quick laugh and nod was Rumiko's reply to the man's answer.
"Well, best of luck to you then! I'd loved to catch up more but you're right, this is an international call! I'm letting the cat out of the bag here Jean-Luc, but I'm afraid I'm going to need that dress Beverly was making for Rika a little sooner than Christmas if at all possible…" she said, casting a wink at her daughter unveiling the gift that had been in the works.
Rika blinked. Even she knew a Beverly Picard original went for thousands in boutiques across France; to get one custom-made was even more so.
"Oh, just a little event that's a once-in-a-lifetime! Well, I hope so anyway. Might as well try and get her the best dress imaginable don't you think?"
A hint of unease crept down the girl's spine. *What event is she talking about?*
"Oh, yes, that will be perfect! I almost forgot: could Beverly add a little extra material into the design? Well, you know how girls Rika's age start to fill out here and there. I'd hate to get the dress and not have any leeway to alter it should she need it."
The young Tamer blushed deeply, squirming in place as her mother talking about her 'filling out' in front of guests. Seiko put her head in her hands as Takehiro and Yoshi stared at some paintings on the wall. Takato decided to count the flowers on the plates design.
"That will be perfect Jean-...no, no I will not let you give it to me! No…Jean-Luc, I don't care that I was able to fill in for Beverly at the last minute when her star model was out due to that Botox accident!" Rumiko fumed and took the phone away for a moment as she collected herself. "Okay, okay if you insist, but only one condition; I want to donate an amount equal to the cost of the dress to that orphanage you're on the board of-what is it? The 'Federation' or something? Oh, that's how it's pronounced! Okay, if you're willing to let me do that, it's a deal! Excellent! E-mail me the information and I'll talk to you soon! Au Revoir and all my best to the family!"
The call ended and Rumiko hung up the phone turning to face Rika and the group. "Ta da!" she said, eyes dancing with delight at her idea.
"Mother, did you have to say that in front of company?!" the teen growled, cheeks still tinted beet red.
"Oh, come on Rika!" began the woman, arms crossing. "You've slept with the boy! I'm sure he's pretty much seen everything you've got so I don't know what you're so upset about!" she shot back. *If she's going to make me a grandmother at MY age, then a little embarrassment on her part isn't too much to ask for!* thought the woman as she knelt down to kiss her daughter on the forehead. "And just wait until you see it Rika! It will be the most exquisite garment you could imagine! It'll be the perfect wedding dress!"
The entire room froze. Not a single sound was heard save for the beating of four hearts.
"What….wedding…?" whispered Rika as she finally put two and two together, the cold feeling that had run down her spine now settled into the pit of her stomach.
"Why yours silly!" grinned the woman as she kissed her daughter on the cheek, only to pull back in confusion as she noticed the blank look on the teen's face. "What's wrong honey? You two HAVE talked about getting married…right?"
Daughter looked at mother, eyes wide as she finally glanced at Takato. The boy sat there, frozen in place, a forkful of food still halfway between the plate and his mouth.
Rika watched as her boyfriend put down the fork, face still set in stone. Standing slowly, the young man leaned over and kissed Rika on the cheek before turning to the assembled adults. "I'm sorry, but I'll be right back… " he whispered in a hard, even tone.
Not even waiting for a reply he walked towards the front door, mind racing as his fists clenched. She was right; they should have been talking about getting married-at least a little here and there. He had even thought about it a few times over the past couple of weeks, but with all that was going on there was never a good time to bring it up.
Besides, he thought they had plenty of time. In a few years, when he was better off then…maybe…he could get a ring and propose the right way.
The way a man should for the woman he loves.
But what if Rika had the baby before they were married? Was that wrong? Being married didn't mean he loved her or the baby any more than he did now; that just wasn't possible.
A slow anger started to build within the teen, but it wasn't until he stepped onto the porch did the Tamer realize who-or rather what- he was mad at.
He was angry that the universe didn't even let him enjoy a couple minutes of relief that came with the revelation of Rika's pregnancy or the fact his parents still loved him and would be there when he needed them. All the worry and guilt over the past few months-the nightmares that descended on him when his guard was down-all of that he could finally put behind him and enjoy his love for Rika and prepare for the baby.
With a sigh the Tamer turned out towards the night sky, the heavy weight of the future once again settling squarely on his young shoulders.
Renamon stood there, looking out of the still-sleeping city as Leomon's words weighed heavily on her mind. The lion had been open and honest about the extent of his relationship with Jeri; more than just Tamer and Digimon, the pair had become lovers upon his first night back among the living.
A stark silence filled the rooftop as the two Digimon sat lost in their own thoughts. Leomon knew he had revealed much to the fox, but he had to tell the open and honest truth; Renamon was at the same crossroads he had been before his death.
The difference now was that he had the clarity of hindsight; he never told Jeri how he felt and with his death any chance of telling her was lost. Only by the most risky of gambles did he gain another opportunity to tell the girl of his love for her.
Now Renamon was facing a similar decision with Henry; to try and see if there was something between her and the teen human. But unlike his own situation, she had someone to turn to for advice and he wasn't about to let his friend and ally down.
The Kitsune looked up, her expression neutral and set in stone. She met his gaze but said nothing for a moment. A million thoughts fought for her attention, the cacophony of her mind an unfamiliar-and unwanted-state of being for the Digimon.
A reassuring paw fell upon her shoulder as she looked up into the lion's face. A smile graced his muzzle as he turned to look out at the stars with her. "A difficult choice I know."
The fox nodded and sighed in agreement.
"I wish I could tell you what to do Renamon with a hundred percent certainty; that it would all work out right, but I am no liar and you are no fool. The path I walk-the path you might choose to follow me on-has no guarantees of safety or comfort."
"Life in general offers no such promises as well."
"Very true, but in my journey with Jeri I have discovered one important truth."
The Kitsune looked up at the lion hopefully.
"A life without love is hollow."
The words echoed into Renamon's mind, pushing all other thoughts aside as she focused on that one statement.
The lion moved towards the center of the roof, unsheathing his sword from the scabbard across his back. With a resounding THUD he chunked the tip several inches into the concrete and looked back at his friend. "For years I fought for those who could not defend themselves; to show that honor and courage could turn any tide or defeat any foe. But looking back on those cold , empty nights in the Digital World I now realize that I was searching for something more than just the next evil to overcome. I needed to define myself beyond the titles others had given me…" he paused, gathering his thoughts for a moment before continuing ."Take away my sword and my powers, who am I Renamon? A warrior still perhaps, but is that all that I am? When my data finally returns to the Universe, will that be all my marker says? No, because now I have Jeri. I love her and she loves me. That girl; that small, fragile human girl has more light in her soul than even the Sovereigns themselves. Her love is boundless-her hope limitless. It is through her eyes I see the universe anew, and in those times when I think about who I am NOW I say I am Leomon, warrior, lover, protector, friend, and perhaps someday husband and father."
The lion watched as the fox's eyes widened and he couldn't help but chuckle softly at her expression. "Perhaps those last two are more wild wishes than tangible goals, but the others help define me-not just to the world at large Renamon, but to myself. And THAT is why I love her; because without Jeri, I simply am not whole."
The weight of the words tore through the Kitsune like lightening as she staggered at how personal…how powerful…they felt in her heart. *Is that what I am looking for now??* she asked herself, looking back out over the moonlight city towards-not Rika's, but Henry's- as her right paw absently clutched at her left arm. *Being partners…friends…with Rika has made me stronger, but am I still just a warrior? I am a part of her family now, but…do I dare dream of a family…a life…of my own? How can I take such a chance with a human? I can't! But…if I don't…*
The lion re-sheathed his sword and walked over to the fox, knowing his words had hit hard. It was with the most gentle of touches his paws found her shoulders once more, his gaze locked onto her own. "Renamon.." he almost whispered, trying to draw her fragmented attention back to him.
She looked back, the confusion evident in her eyes-the lone warrior within her at battle with the Digimon she felt she could be with Henry by her side.
"Do you remember what I said the other day about regret?"
A soft nod was her only reply.
"Then consider this Renamon…" he said, his tone set in stone. "Which is the greater regret to carry around for eternity; a love that was tried and failed, or a love never given the chance to bloom?"
The fox staggered back as she suddenly found herself years in the future, old, alone…lost in some desolate wasteland. For a moment she was looking at herself and what she saw terrified her. A broken Digimon met her gaze, eyes showing she was still living on habit and instinct rather than a reason to live in her heart. A face full of regret at choices made long ago that could never be undone. The younger Renamon looked at her elder counterpart in horror; she was alive, but she wasn't living. A shell of her former self; alone with no reason to live yet unable to die, trapped in a ghastly state of simply…existing.
Renamon shook her head and found herself back on the rooftop, still being held reassuringly by Leomon. She took a step back and with a clarity in her eyes he had not seen before the Kitsune pulled herself together and turned back towards Henry's.
"Go to him Renamon. At least, give him a opportunity to be who and what you're looking for. Perhaps it will work out; perhaps not. But you and he deserve the chance, if nothing else."
With a nod the Digimon was off, merging with the shadows and out into the night. Somewhere on the breeze a whispered 'thank you' was heard by the lion, who simply nodded in reply and turned to go back in.
Jeri was standing there by the access door, eyes full of tears at what she had just seen.
"Jeri.." began Leomon, but was cut off by the girl running over and hugging him with a fierce tightness as her flannel PJ's pressed against his fur.
The Tamer looked up and smiled, showing she was crying tears of happiness.
"How long were you there?" he asked, knowing she had come up in the first place out of worry for him rather than any malice to eavesdrop on his conversations.
"Long enough. I'm sorry, but I was worried when you didn't come back down! And, I heard you tell Renamon…" the girl sighed and composed herself before looking back up "she's really in love with Henry?"
"Perhaps, but they need to find out for themselves; all we can do is be there for them when they need us."
"Maybe that's another reason you were sent back to me; to be there for her when she needed it."
The lion nodded and picked up his Tamer in a powerful hug. "Perhaps it was fate for you and me to fall in love so as to help others take that same first step."
A powerful kiss fell upon his muzzle, which he returned with equal passion. For a moment each was lost in the other until the separated, the girl resting her head on his broad shoulder. "Did you mean what you said?"
"Being a husband…and a father?" she asked trying to keep the twinge of hope she was feeling out of her voice.
"I was, but like I said it might be more dream than anything else. The road we travel will not be easy Jeri; Renamon knows that if nothing else."
"I know. Still, there's always hope."
This time the lion kissed her, his grasp promising he would lever leave her alone again. "Yes, " he said after breaking the kiss "there's always hope."
They said nothing else as the pair disappeared into the home they shared, wasting no time on practicing to become the latter of Leomon's dreams while wishing for the first in each of their own ways.
A gentle hug broke into his dark thoughts, pulling him back to reality as Rika stood there, holding him as she met his gaze with her own. He wanted to tell Rika of his plans; reassure her he would do the honorable thing and marry her when it would be perfect like it should be.
The words started to leave his lips when a fingertip settled on his mouth. "I know you want to do the right thing, and if that meant getting down on your knee and asking right now you would do it. You want it to be perfect, don't you?" Rika said, not in an accusing tone, but rather one of total understanding. "But you're worried that if we're not married by the time she gets here, what will that say about us?"
He could only nod, not trusting his voice or his emotions at the moment.
"It will say nothing Takato, because we won't let it!" she whispered, holding onto him with powerful grasp. "I don't care what anyone says; I know you love me, and her, and that's enough! So what if I don't have some stupid ring on my finger?!" she almost yelled, only just pulling herself back from the edge of anger. "Listen, I'm new at all the mushy stuff, and I'm never going to say this enough but…'I love you Takato' and a ring won't prove that any more or less to the world! And if the world don't like it, it can go take a flying leap! We're going to get through this…together!" and with that the girl kissed him with all her love and passion, holding him as the moonlight bathed them in its soft, even glow.
The adults watched through the parted curtains as the teens kissed, defying the universe and its rules and regulations. They loved each other and that was all they needed to know.
Their journey from enemies to allies, then from friends to lovers had been long and treacherous. Behind every corner Fate seemed poised to break them apart; but they found the strength to overcome so much to finally be here.
In this place.
At this time.
They would face the future as it unfolded before them, walking that path together. Hand-in-hand , no matter the obstacle or danger that lay in front of them, they would meet that challenge united as one.
In that distant cave so very far away something wonderful happened, and Takato Matsuki and Rika Nonaka would never be the same.
And they wouldn't have it any other way.
While many Digimon could blend with the shadows and hide within their obsidian depths, some could actually become them, hidden in ways undetectable by most other life forms.
Devimon was one of those few in Zhuqiaomon's service that could do just that.
The dark creature bowed before his master. "My Lord, our…allies… in Azulongmon's court report that he will be journeying to the far ends of his realm within a few months."
The fiery Digimon nodded his pleasure. "Excellent work my spy.." he said, gazing at the champion level agent he had only recently employed. "Inform them that I am to know immediately when he leaves. They shall be well rewarded for their loyalty-and well punished should they fail to do so."
Devimon cringed at the tone of voice his master used but said nothing. "Of course, my Lord. I shall make your wishes fully known."
"You may go."
With another nod the dark creature stood and turned to go, only to pause as he looked back over his shoulder.
"You have something else to report?" intoned the Sovereign.
"My Lord, I do not seek to question your wisdom, but I find myself compelled to ask a question."
The phoenix blinked, taken aback by his subordinates boldness. Still, he had served him well these past few months so he would allow a little leeway. "You may speak."
The dark Digimon knelt once more. "My Lord, why HER, of all Digimon?" he asked, only just catching himself from shouting at the supremely powerful being before him. "She is a traitor to our kind! She sides with the Humans and chooses to make herself weak by relying on them for power! There are others…many loyal to you and you alone…who deserve such a chance at greatness!"
The Sovereign smiled; a cold understanding smile that would shake many in the Digital World to their cores. "Digimon such as you?"
"No, my Lord.." the spy lied, not knowing he wasn't fooling Zhuqiaomon for a second. "I speak not of myself but those others who toil to bring your wisdom to the rest of our world! To make…that Digimon…the first of your new Deva's will be an insult to all the Digimon who struggle to make this land better in your name!"
The bird's eyes narrowed, his temper flaring as the flames around his body erupted. "You forget yourself Devimon!"
Devimon knelt lower, knowing he had said too much too soon; his emotions getting the better of him once more. "Forgive me my Lord! I mean no disrespect! I only wish to see this land grow and be protected like you!"
A tense moment passed as Sovereign looked at spy and for a moment considered deleting the smaller creature that knelt before him. Realizing that would be a waste of a good spy for a moment's lack of judgment, the fiery phoenix reigned in his anger and spoke in as close to a normal tone as he could muster.
"And you think my choice is…in error?"
Devimon knew his answer would save his life or ensure his death, so he took a moment to compose his words carefully. "My Lord, I believe your wisdom is beyond reproach; whatever path you chose I and many of the Digimon loyal to you will follow. I only wish to point out there will be some who will not see your wisdom and might actively seek to sabotage your efforts in retaliation. They are good of heart, but might turn away from you in anger and ignorance."
Zhuqiaomon knew there was more to Devimon's explanation than he was letting on, but his words did have a ring of truth. He had not considered there would be those who might defy his will should that be his choice for the first of his new Devas. Although none could derail his plans for a Digital World free from human influence, banded together those who might oppose him could alert the other Sovereigns.
And if Azulongmon and the others found out before Renamon accepted his offer, his foothold on creating a new force of Devas could be lost.
"Your point has been made Devimon. Find out those who might seek to betray me and watch them. Inform me of their weakness of spirit so I might help them to…understand…the path they are to follow."
Devimon stood and mentally sighed a breath of relief, grateful he was still breathing at all. "Of cause, my Lord." he said, turning to go.
"Yes, my Lord?"
"Do not ask such questions again, or it will be your weakness of spirit that that I will need to…address."
The dark Digimon trembled for a moment at the barely-veiled threat and nodded. "By your leave, my Lord."
The phoenix nodded and Devimon left, following the twists and turns towards his own quarters many hallways over from the throne room of the Sovereign. Only when he was safely behind a locked door did his anger explode fully.
"That arrogant fool! Trusting her of all Digimon to be the first of his new Devas when it should be I who receives such blessing! A weak, murdering fool like her has no place in such a position of power!" Growling, he stomped over to the simple rock outcropping that served as a shelf and picked up a worn picture made more years ago than he wanted to remember. In it both him and his lighter-colored twin stood looking at some distant sunset, unaware at that moment the photo of them even existed until much later in their lives.
"You were a fool Ice Devimon for seeking a human to give you strength! You always were weak, but you are still my brother! I shall avenge your death by destroying both the human known as Rika and her pathetic partner Renamon! Lord Zhuqiaomon will then have no choice but to bestow his power to me then I, Devimon, shall be one step closer to ruling the Digital World itself!"
The Dark Digimon laughed, the creepy, fear tinged sound echoing out into the world and seemingly across the Digital World itself as his plans for the future began to take shape. There were many variables to predict and counter, and usurping power from the Sovereigns would be no small task.
Still, the rewards would be great and all it took would be the death of a human and her weak Digimon partner.
He was amazed how the greatest of feats could start with the simplest-and most pleasurable-of steps.
To be continued….
Wow. It's finally done. Cave of Wonders took me so much longer than I wanted, and I need to thank EACH and EVERY one of you who have stayed with me for this journey. I know the delays were not fair, and I can not apologize for that. I lost my desire to write so many times…and many times I simply felt like giving up.
But I owed it to Takato and Rika to complete this part of their story-the rich characters they are deserve no less than my best attempt. Henry and Renamon deserve my best as well-a couple that many might not understand but seems so obvious to me. The love is there…only they just don't see it as clearly as I do.
At least, not yet.
They deserve a chance at happiness; the same happiness that Jeri and Leomon now share.
Tamers is, and always will be, MY Digimon universe of choice. Their world is a tapestry of imagination and undaunted potential, and one I will surly come back to soon to finish not only Rika and Takato's journey, but Henry and Renamon's futures are still unfolding.
Even Jeri and Leomon's story is far from told.
I need to thank the following people for their input through this journey:
And again, my DEEPEST and most HEARTFELT thanks to every single one of you who left a review. I know I'm horrible about responding to them, but I read every one and I thank you for your praise, criticism and thank you for pushing me to finish this story.
I will return after the holidays to pick up where we left off here, of that I have no doubt. But in fairness I have to work on other stories, such as the conversation between Janyu and Henry the morning after Henry's first time with Renamon. And, of course, Seiko's conversation with her newest granddaughter will have to explored as well.
Jeri and Leomon have kept the depths of their relationship secret from the outside world save for Rika and Renamon. But when Tadashi finds out, all hell breaks loose. Can Jeri keep the two men she loves more than anything in her life from tearing her and the family apart?
Then, finally, it all comes together. The secret of Rika's baby and a Sovereign on Earth! Hidden relationships are revealed and the secret Jeri and Leomon possess (but don't even know about yet!) will change the tide of battle.
Even Amy's secret will be revealed. Of course, if you know who she is, you know the secret but don't tell please. :)
In Rage of the Heart we learned about Takato and Rika's love and the result of that realization.
In Cave of Wonders we saw that journey, and the journey of their loved ones and allies.
Please, join me next time for the finale as my stories of the Tamers comes full circle in:
The Unfolding Future
(or, Weddings, Destinies, and other Natural Disasters)
(can't decide on which title yet!)
And I say this with all my heart and soul:
December 17th 2009
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good write!
(the pun so nice, I had to use it twice!)