A/N: I believe I said this before, but cut me some slack because I have no idea how the legal system would work regarding the situation with Takeru and it is extremely hard to find that information online! I tried, though.

As a side note, I have only now realized that Sora doesn't exist in this story! I apologize to all the Sora fans. I thought about going back and incorporating her, but I don't really have a role for her. Maybe in the sequel…

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Digimon or rights to any of the characters; I am not making a profit from this, etc.

Kukachi
VII
by: neo-chan

As simple as the situation with Tai now felt, the situation with Takeru was completely the opposite. When my parents explained to me what had happened, I felt worse and worse. I knew that Konomi needed to be arrested—I mean, stealing someone' child is serious—but I felt bad that Takeru had been ripped away from the person who had raised him as a mother. Konomi had been a good mother to him and if I hadn't shown my dad that stupid picture, Takeru would still be living in happy bliss. But now he was being torn from his pseudo-mother and thrust into the custody of a youth home. Yup, Takeru was sent to a youth home. Konomi had broken down on the spot when my parents showed up with the police and had confessed to stealing Takeru, but until DNA results came back proving that my mom and dad were his rightful parents, he couldn't be placed in their custody. Even once the DNA tests did prove it, things wouldn't be easy; you can't just walk into someone's life and become their parents instantly. We were going to have to go to family counselling sessions, and Takeru would probably feel somewhat resentful toward us, and adjusting to his new life would be difficult for him and probably call for some individual therapy sessions. Like I said, I knew that Konomi had done something seriously wrong, but… well I couldn't help but feel like maybe things would have been better for Takeru if I had just kept the picture to myself.

During this stressful period, the only thing that seemed simple and gave me relief was my relationship with Tai. He was true to his word; we took things as slow as I wanted, including revealing our relationship. I was hesitant about publicizing it, and Tai was patient with me, and eventually I got to the point where kissing in the halls didn't make me look over my shoulder and hope that nobody was watching. Tai was a complete sweetheart and I was lucky to have him.

I didn't tell my parents, though, and to be honest, I had no intentions of telling them—ever. I knew it was unrealistic if Tai and I were going to last, but… well, I knew my parents would never approve. Besides, what if I told them and Tai and I didn't last? Then I would have caused a whole bunch of controversy and stress for no reason. It was much better to keep it secret, at least for the time being. I would deal with that hurdle when and if we got to it.

The DNA tests came back proving that my mom and dad were Takeru's parents, of course, and after a hearing, Takeru was released into their custody. He had no choice in the matter, as he was under sixteen. My mom had a spare room that she turned into Takeru's bedroom, and my dad turned the den into a space for Takeru, and it was decided that Takeru would follow the same schedule as me when it came to alternating between our parents, because they acknowledged that it would be much harder for Takeru to adjust if he and I were constantly apart. It was still extremely hard for Takeru to adjust, though, obviously. I couldn't blame him; I had felt like my entire world was uprooted when my parents announced we were moving to Kukachi, so I couldn't even imagine what Takeru felt like after being told that his "mother" was actually a kidnapper.

With winter ending and the warmth of spring approaching, things began to settle slightly. Takeru wasn't as hostile and closed-off as he had been in the beginning, and he seemed to have lifted the blame he placed on me for showing my dad the picture of us—after all, it wasn't like I'd known it would result in such a drastic life-changing event. Takeru and I began to talk more when we were both around, and he started treating my parents less like strangers, and… well, it seemed like everything might be okay after all.

Second semester began and within a few weeks it was Friday March 11th, the last day of school before March Break. In addition to marking the onset of a week without school, that Friday also marked the first time I ever skipped school. Tai intercepted me as I made my way to second period and steered me in the opposite direction of our classroom.

"I heard we have a supply teacher," he told me. "It's the last day before March Break and barely anyone is here anyway; let's skip the rest of the day."

"Um, don't they call home or something?" I asked.

"Yeah but they only call once no matter how many classes you skip, and you can always just say that the teacher accidentally marked you absent," Tai said, waving his hand in dismissal. "Your parents will believe you; it's not like you're the type to skip school."

I was skeptical. "What if one of the teachers gives a pop quiz or an in-class assignment or something?"

Tai gave me a look. "On the last day before March Break? They know no one's going to be here, so they never do anything. They just make us watch movies or something."

I hesitated, but gave in after a moment. "…okay."

"Great!" Tai grinned and pressed a kiss to my lips. "We're going to have fun, I promise."

We ended up going to visit Akira first and foremost. He had just woken up—he wouldn't be caught dead at school on the last day before March Break—and he joined us, though we had no idea what we were planning to do. As we walked, Akira fumbled in his pocket for something and finally retrieved a cigarette and a lighter. Tai rolled his eyes.

"Seriously? Didn't you quit?"

"About five times," was Akira's nonchalant reply.

"Well, when you die of lung cancer, don't come crying to me."

"I can't if I'm dead, can I?"

Tai glared at him, and Akira lit up the cigarette. His eyes flickered towards me.

"I'm assuming you don't smoke."

I shook my head, and Akira nodded. "I thought as much." Regardless, he held one out to me. "Want to try?"

"Akira!" Tai batted his hand away. "Don't offer death to my boyfriend!"

I couldn't help but laugh at his choice of words, and I shook my head. "Tai, don't worry, I'm not going to start smoking."

"This hypocrite's one to talk," Akira said with a snort, nodding in Tai's direction. "He used to smoke more than me."

My eyebrows shot up, and Tai threw Akira a dirty look. "Really?" I asked in disbelief.

"Yup," Akira said despite Tai's lethal glare. "He went through, like, a pack a day."

"And I stopped," Tai said through clenched teeth, shooting daggers at Akira with his eyes. "Just like you should."

I was, of course, surprised. I mean, I had figured Akira smoked and did drugs and stuff, but Tai?

Apparently Tai saw the look on my face because he huffed at Akira, "Go spread your second-hand smoke somewhere else for a minute; me and Matt have to talk."

Akira rolled his eyes, but sauntered away. Tai turned to me and, shaking his head, said, "Look—I should have told you."

"Well, you're not smoking anymore, right, so… I guess it isn't a big deal," I said.

"It wasn't just that," Tai said with a sigh. "I mean, yeah, I smoked a lot, but… I did other things, too."

"Like what?" I asked carefully.

"Well…" Tai let out another sigh. "I figured this would come up eventually anyway, but it's still hard to talk about…" He paused for a moment and then began explaining. "So, um… last year, Akira and I started going to raves and stuff. And, of course, at raves there's always a whole bunch of drugs and stuff."

"You did drugs?"

"I did MDMA," Tai clarified. "Akira did a whole bunch of shit, but I stuck to just that one. Not like it makes things better; 'cause, y'know, MDMA does stuff to you."

Call me ignorant, but I was not fluent in talking about drugs and their effects. "Um… like what?" I asked, feeling stupid.

Tai looked like he didn't want to say what, and I learned why when he finally spoke. "Like making touching feel really good… which makes you want to, y'know… touch other people that you don't even necessarily know."

Oh.

"So you, um…" I trailed off, but Tai knew what I was asking.

"Yeah," he said guiltily. "Kind of with a bunch of people. I got tested and everything after that whole phase, 'cause I got scared after some rumour about people getting infected got passed around, but it's still not a very proud moment in my life. I know I shouldn't have. There were just so many open-minded guys willing to mess around, with no strings attached, and…" Tai shrugged helplessly. "I don't know."

I didn't know what to say. I was shocked, to say the least.

"I know you're a virgin," Tai added, "and I don't want you to feel pressured or anything—that's kind of why I didn't tell you."

The word 'virgin' jolted my mind and I realized that what Tai was talking about was more serious than I thought. "Wait, you—you actually…" It came out in practically a whisper when I finally said it; "Had sex with people?"

Tai shrugged helplessly. "Well… yeah."

I was silent for a few moments. I was surprised, to say the least, and it was a pretty intimidating past to deal with, but… well, it didn't change who Tai was now, right? If I couldn't overlook his past, then what kind of a person was I?

"I know it's fucked up," Tai said. "If I could go back and change things, I would."

Finally, I shook my head. "No… I mean, yeah, it's kind of awful, but… well, you learned from it, and you moved past it, right?" I took a deep breath. "I guess it's all in the past now, so…" I chewed on my lip slightly and asked hesitantly, "How many, um… how many people did you…?"

"I don't know," Tai answered honestly. "That whole time in my life is kind of a blur."

"Oh."

Tai and I were both silent for several moments. I didn't know what to say, and the information was still processing in my brain, but I knew that it didn't change how I felt about Tai. He was still the same sweet, caring guy, regardless of his past. It was slightly intimidating, knowing that he was so much more experienced than me, but he obviously didn't have an issue with me being a virgin, and I was sure Tai wouldn't force me into anything I didn't want.

"Well…" I shook my head and forced a small smile onto my face. "It doesn't matter. You're not that guy anymore. Now you're… well, you're my boyfriend. And I like you, even if you weren't always completely… you."

Tai broke into a smile and wrapped his arms around me in a hug. "Yama… you're amazing, you know that?" He pressed a kiss to my lips.

'Yama' was a nickname Tai had developed for me since we'd begun dating. I smiled at him some more and leaned in for another kiss, but we were interrupted when Akira's voice sounded.

"Okay, lovebirds, your minute is up."

We went to Tai's house and hung out, and when Kari got home from school she brought Mikomi with her. Apparently Tai's parents were going away for the weekend and had told Kari she could have Mikomi sleep over. The moment Mikomi saw Akira lounging on the couch watching TV, she bounced over and plopped down beside him.

"Hi, Akira!" she exclaimed eagerly.

Tai snorted. "Mikomi, please, just give it up," he said. "You and Akira are so not going to happen."

Mikomi blushed furiously. "Shut up, Tai!"

Tai just laughed and as we all began to watch TV, he turned to me and pressed a kiss to my lips. I kissed back, of course, and we began a series of small kisses which only ended when Akira snorted and spoke.

"Keep it PG, please," he remarked. "We don't need to witness that stuff."

I blushed, but Tai rolled his eyes. "Ignore this guy; he's half-gay himself."

"What?" Mikomi gaped in surprise. "Akira, you're bi?"

"I prefer to call it straight with a twist," was Akira's casual response.

Tai snorted. "My ass. You've been with enough guys to—"

"I'm going to kick your ass if you say one more word," Akira said, giving him a look.

Tai smirked, but shut up. I was a bit surprised, but kept my mouth shut. I'd kind of just assumed Akira was straight, but I guess it made sense, especially with the knowledge I now had about Tai and Akira's past experiences.

The four of us eventually decided to leave the house again and wound up passing Daisuke's neighbourhood. He and Takeru (who had gotten my mom's permission to stay at his "friend's" house for the weekend) were just leaving to go play street hockey with some friends, and they invited us. I'd never really played street hockey, and I could ice skate but had never really been great on rollerblades, so I was skeptical but everyone else agreed (well, except for Akira, who planned to just watch) so I kind of had to.

It actually turned out to be really fun and regardless of my lack of skill, our team won. Afterward my legs felt kind of heavy and once we had walked back to Tai's place (after parting from everyone except for Kari and Mikomi), it was even worse.

Mikomi and Kari occupied the living room and put on a chick flick, and Tai and I retreated to his room. The moment I sat down on his bed, I groaned in pain.

"My legs are so sore," I complained. "I don't want to move for the rest of the day."

Tai chuckled and shut the door behind him before sitting down beside me, lifting my legs and resting them on his lap. "You'll be fine. Maybe you just need a massage," he suggested, and I couldn't help but notice the somewhat seductive tone of his voice.

He ran his hand from my ankle to my thigh and then leaned in to kiss me. Our lips separated and meshed repeatedly and as we kissed, his hand continued to stroke my leg in an increasingly sensual way. Like I said, Tai and I had been taking things very slow—so when his hand moved to the inside of my thigh and lingered near my crotch, my breathing hitched a bit.

"Is this okay?" Tai asked me in a murmur, squeezing my thigh. I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and, my heart beating faster, I nodded. His hand slid further and finally made contact, and I let out a shaky breath.

"Just relax," Tai told me, kissing my neck and slowly rubbing the area. "And tell me if you want to stop."

I didn't want to stop. In fact, now that Tai was touching me, desire was spreading throughout my entire body and I desperately wanted more. I allowed Tai to push me onto my back and when he lay on top of me and rolled his hips against mine, I moaned into his mouth.

"I think," I panted between kisses, "we should maybe… take our clothes off…"

I didn't have to tell Tai twice.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Tai and I spent a lot of time together during March Break, and so did Takeru and Daisuke, but Takeru and I also did a lot of bonding. He asked me about my life before I moved to Kukachi, and I asked him about his life in general, and we both learned a lot about each other. He found it interesting that I had been straight up until recently and that I was extremely hesitant about revealing mine and Tai's relationship, and after telling me that I needed to loosen up a bit, he backtracked and mused,

"I guess I can understand, though, why you would feel that way… your mom—I mean, our mom—seems to be a little… wary about that kind of stuff."

I gave him a questioning look. "How do you mean?" Of course I had already decided that my parents wouldn't approve, but that was because I knew all about my parents and their beliefs; Takeru hadn't really had time yet to learn those things about them, so I wondered how he could have decided this already.

"Well, when I introduced Dai to her, she gave him this look when he put his hand on my shoulder. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but she did. And, I don't know… she just seems suspicious whenever I talk about Dai, or ask her if I can go to his house. Maybe I don't hide it well enough because I'm not used to it, I don't know, but it seems like she's caught on. And it doesn't seem like she's too happy about it. That's why I've been calling Dai my 'friend'," Takeru said with a shrug.

"Well, to be honest, she isn't very approving of the idea," I confirmed. "But I didn't know you had figured that out already."

"Hm." Takeru frowned. "What do you think she would do? If she found out, I mean? Because I don't plan on keeping this a secret forever. I don't want to keep it a secret."

"I don't know," I admitted. "I never really thought about what she would do, I just… I know it wouldn't be pleasant." I then asked, curiously, "What about Dad? You haven't mentioned anything about him."

Takeru waved his hand in dismissal. "Oh, he knows."

I nearly choked on my own spit. "What?"

"Yeah," Takeru said with a shrug. "Dai and I hung out the other day after school and then he walked me home, and he kissed me goodbye and Dad happened to be walking down the hallway at that same time."

I gaped at Takeru. "And what happened?"

"Nothing," Takeru laughed. "He stared a bit, then stammered out a hello to Daisuke—because Dai just greeted him like nothing happened, 'cause he's Dai—, and that was it."

"That was it?" I echoed. "He didn't… say anything?"

"Nope. He basically just ignored it. Which is fine with me," Takeru said with a shrug. "As long as I'm not being stifled, I don't care."

This was news. I had always assumed that my father would react the same way as my mother—though I had never really thought about what exactly her reaction might be—, but now… well, Takeru was basically saying that my dad didn't care!

It was for this reason that I was less careful than usual when Tai slept over the Sunday that March Break ended. I was usually very tedious about the sleeping arrangements, but this time I simply shrugged my shoulders when Tai fell asleep on my bed while we watched a movie and cuddled up next to him. We moved under the covers sometime during the night and when I woke up to my alarm, Tai's arms were around me. I turned off my alarm and looked at Tai, who hadn't been disturbed by the brief alarm sounding, and smiled.

…and then jumped when the sound of a throat clearing startled me. I quickly looked toward the door to find my dad standing in the doorway. Blushing promptly, I opened my mouth to say something but he cut me off.

"I was just making sure you got up for school." He opened his mouth again, then closed it, then simply walked away.

Relief washed over me. He hadn't told me I was disgusting or sick or that he wanted to disown me. He hadn't yelled and thrown Tai out. Takeru had been right; he really didn't care.

"Why do you look so shocked?" Tai murmured as he woke up, noticing the stunned look still on my face.

I laughed in disbelief, still staring after my dad. "Because my dad just saw us in bed together and didn't care."

Tai woke up a little more at that comment. "Seriously?" he asked in surprise.

"Yeah." I laughed again. "I can't believe it."

Tai smiled and squeezed my waist. "See, things aren't as scary as you think they are."

Maybe not, but I still had no intentions of telling my mom.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

Things had been going so well that I had nearly forgotten about Kouji. Well—it wasn't so much that I had forgotten about him; it was just that it seemed like that part of my life was over. The beating Akira and Tai had given him seemed to have worked, because he hadn't so much as looked at me since then. I assumed that he had figured it wasn't worth it and had given up on making my life hell.

However, probably due to the way mine and Tai's displays of affections were becoming more obvious, he reminded me of his presence when we got back from March Break. Tai and I had just parted with a kiss to head to our respective classes when I began walking down the hall and immediately saw Kouji heading in my direction. I faltered for a moment, but then took a deep breath and continued walking. I was bound to run into Kouji eventually, after all, and maybe he didn't have malicious intentions; maybe he just happened to be walking down the same hallway as me.

I braced myself as we got closer and as he passed me, he bumped my shoulder roughly. That was it, however, and my shoulders sagged in relief as I continued walking to class.

I had nearly forgotten about the minor incident by the end of the day and when I got to my locker after last period, I blinked in surprise when I opened it and a note fluttered out. Bending down, I opened it—and then felt a chill run down my spine.

'Watch your back, Ishida. I'm coming for you.'

"Hey," Tai's voice piped up from a few feet away, startling me. I quickly crumpled the note up and tossed it in the bottom of my locker and then turned as he approached, forcing a smile onto my face and echoing his greeting.

"What's wrong?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "You look kind of… flustered."

I shook my head. "It's nothing—I just forgot about an assignment I have due tomorrow, and I'm going to have to work on it like crazy tonight." I mentally patted myself on the back for such a prompt and believable lie.

"That sucks," Tai complained. "I was going to ask you if you wanted to come over."

"Didn't you have enough of me over March Break?" I teased him.

"Enough of you? Never." Tai kissed me.

"Aww," came a teasing voice, and we both looked to see Mimi walking up. Smiling, she shook her head at us. "Honestly, you two are so cute together that it should be illegal."

"I guess that makes sense… after all, he is the cutest guy I've ever laid eyes on," Tai said, and grinned at me. I blushed, and he grinned before leaning in to kiss me again.

"Hazel and I are going to that café down the street," Mimi mentioned. "Do you guys want to come?"

"I can't," I said, having to stick with the lie I had told Tai. "I have an assignment due tomorrow."

Mimi made a face. "Boo. What about you, Tai?"

He shrugged. "Sure." He looked at me and asked with a pleading face, "Are you sure you can't come?"

"Certain," I said, and he pouted but then drew me for another kiss.

"Okay. See you tomorrow, then. If you finish working on your assignment early, call me!"

I promised I would and then waved to them as they headed off.

When I got home, my dad was already there, which surprised me because he should have been at work. He was sitting at the kitchen table and beckoned for me to join him once I had taken off my shoes.

"What's wrong?" I asked in concern as I sat down—because my dad looked stressed-out and tired, and something had to be wrong for him to be at home so early.

"I didn't go to work today, Yamato," he revealed to me, "because I was at the lawyer's office."

I stared at him in confusion for a good few seconds before uttering, "What?" He continued to simply look at me and I shook my head, asking, "Why were you at the lawyer's office? I thought you and mom's divorce was finalized a long time ago."

"It was. However, your mother isn't quite… satisfied." My father sighed. "Yamato… your mother is worried about you. I know that things have been better lately, but she's still concerned about your well-being here because of what you've had to go through."

"You mean me getting beat up."

"Yes. You've been very strong during all of this, Yamato, and I think you should be commended for that. But your mother thinks that the best course of action would be to avoid the situation altogether."

"Meaning what?" I asked, confused and a little afraid—because the conversation they had had after I had been in the hospital was coming back to me, and I didn't like where this was heading.

My dad let out a heavy sigh. "…your mother wants to take you back to Mirong."

So it was what I thought. I was silent for a moment, and then shook my head. "It doesn't matter, though, right? I mean, she can't. I mean—not that I don't want to go back, but you're here, and—" I blushed slightly before adding, "well, Tai's here, and…"

"I know you have… friends here," my dad said. "And I've been glad to see that you finally seem adjusted. But if you wanted to return to Mirong, I would respect your wishes." He gave me a questioning glance. "Do you want to go back?"

A few months prior I would have eagerly agreed, but now I found myself shaking my head firmly. "No. I mean, it was rough here at first, but now… well, I like it. I want to stay here."

"That's what I thought. Unfortunately, Yamato, it isn't really up to you or me."

I frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Your mother is arguing that keeping you here isn't good for your well-being, and now that she and I aren't together… well, she has no reason to stay here. She knows that her side of the family will eagerly help her settle back in in Mirong, and I think it's only a matter of time before she goes back. The problem is that… well, obviously I can't go back, and she wants to take you and Takeru with her."

"Okay…" I simply looked at my dad, not getting what he was trying to imply.

"Yamato… your mother is trying to gain full custody of you and Takeru."

It took a moment to sink in but when it did, my stomach clenched unpleasantly. "You mean… she wants to take us away."

"Not away," my father tried to reason. "Just… back to Mirong."

"Away," I repeated.

He didn't say anything.

"But she can't!" I exclaimed. "I mean—they can't just say that you have no say in this, right? They only give full custody to a parent when the other parent is unfit. Right?"

"She plans to argue that my inability to remain secure in a job is harmful to you," my dad said quietly. "She's using it as apparent evidence of my irresponsibility. Between that and the argument about your well-being… well, the courts are slightly biased toward the mother of the children when it comes to cases like this, and your mother's relatives have found her a very good lawyer…"

I stared at my dad in shock. "But… no, she can't… they can't. Can they?"

"I don't know." My dad sighed. "I hope not. I just wanted to prepare you, in case, because… I think you deserve to know what's happening."

I nodded, my eyes stinging with tears, and my dad came around the table to take me into a hug. I couldn't believe this was happening. It was bad enough that my parents had broken up, but now my mom was so hostile toward my father that she was trying to take me away from him… it was insane.

"But hasn't she thought about Takeru?" I asked. "I mean, she can't just rip him away from the only home he's ever known. What he's had to go through over the past couple of months is bad enough!"

"I know. And I hope that those are factors taken into consideration when the court makes their decision. Don't tell Takeru yet," my dad added. "It would crush him."

I nodded, and then sat there numbly. Well, I had wished to go back to Mirong a thousand times when we had first come to Kukachi… I guess it's true that you should be careful what you wish for.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxXxXx

I didn't tell Tai. My father's news was the last thing I wanted to talk about, and anyway, I convinced myself that there was no way it would actually happen. The courts might be biased, but they weren't stupid, and they wouldn't let such flimsy claims influence them. Besides, I was sure that mine and Takeru's opinions mattered, and neither of us would agree to being taken to Mirong so I tried to push the whole situation out of my mind and not worry about it.

That Friday I decided to stay over at Tai's, and as it turned out, Kari also had Mikomi over. Akira came over to hang out with us and before we could start watching movies, Kari and Mikomi elected Tai, Akira, and I to go to the store to get snacks. We wanted snacks too so we agreed and set out while Mikomi and Kari painted their nails or whatever teenage girls do at sleepovers.

Tai and I were standing near the checkout line of the grocery store, waiting for Akira, when Akira walked up with a frown on his face, looking over his shoulder.

"I just saw one of Kouji's guys," he informed us.

A shudder ran through my body. "Is Kouji here?" I asked worriedly, the words from the note flashing in my mind.

"I don't know. But anyway, let's get out of here," Akira said, nudging Tai and I toward one of the checkout lanes.

We bought the snacks and left, and as we began walking home I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy. Tai seemed to notice this and kept an arm securely around my shoulders as we walked, and I contemplated telling Tai about the note Kouji had left in my locker, but decided against it. I told myself that I was being silly. We didn't even know if Kouji had been at the store for sure and even if he had, so what? He needed groceries just like anyone else, right?

We were about halfway home when a noticeable multiplicity of footsteps began sounding behind us, and we all looked over our shoulders—and stopped promptly. My blood ran cold. Kouji, along with four other guys, were approaching.

Tai stepped in front of me protectively, and Kouji laughed.

"You can't save him, Tai. It's about time you realize that."

"Leave Yamato the fuck alone," Tai ordered. "It's me you have a problem with, not him."

Kouji's eyes flashed. "Don't pretend you know anything about me, Yagami," he hissed. "You lost that right a long time ago."

"You want to talk about rights?" Tai laughed humourlessly. "You think you have a right to victimize Yamato like this? God—you're pathetic. What kind of fucking coward targets other people with violence because they're that fucking scared of their own feelings?"

Naturally, that didn't sit well with Kouji and he gestured toward one of his guys, apparently having lost his infatuation with Tai enough to watch him get beat up but still unable to do it himself. The guy moved toward Tai promptly and they were fighting within seconds. I moved toward them, though I had no idea what my intentions were, but Kouji signalled two of his guys to hold me back. Akira of course then headed for Kouji but the fourth guy stepped between them, fighting Akira instead.

There was almost no need for Kouji's guys to be holding me back, because very shortly I found myself almost paralyzed with fear. It all seemed like something out of a movie that I didn't want to be part of, and dread was growing in me—because although Akira and Tai weren't doing poorly, all it would take was Kouji sending his other two guys after them and holding me back himself, and they would be outnumbered. And Kouji would have his way with me.

Speaking of which—Kouji had apparently decided not to wait until that happened, because he was walking toward me already.

"Poor little Blondie," Kouji taunted, sneering at me. "All alone with no defenses. It looks like Tai can't save you this time."

Kouji grabbed me from the grip of the other two guys and threw me roughly to the ground. I scrambled to my knees and began to stand up, but he kicked me in the stomach and I collapsed back onto the ground. The two of his lackeys who had been holding me now knelt and pinned me to the ground, and I struggled against them but to no avail. Kouji reached into his pocket and when his hand came out, there was a flash of metal in the dark. My heart stopped.

Kouji advanced toward me again, but then suddenly stopped. His face slowly drained of color and he made a strangled, choking noise before falling to the floor. A puddle of blood began to form around him and I stared in shock before noticing the handle of a blade sticking out of Kouji's back. Looking up, I saw Akira standing there, one of his hands covered in red. He had come prepared.

All motion ceased, and it seemed like time stopped. Everyone stared at the corpse of Kouji, bleeding out onto the sidewalk, in utter shock. It was Akira who finally moved, stepping forward to remove the knife from Kouji's body. He turned to Kouji's guys, who were as frozen as I was, as if daring them to retaliate. I didn't know if they were carrying knives like Kouji, but I didn't want to find out, and the amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins made me almost dizzy.

A scream sounded, and time suddenly came back to us. We were on the street. Where a brawl had just ended in murder. And there were apparently witnesses.

Tai grabbed my hand and began running with me, and I felt numb but my body was working anyway, my feet propelling me as quickly as possible. My brain had shut down and movement was the only thing I could comprehend, following Tai's lead quickly when he began climbing a fence, and then continuing to run once we were on the other side. I didn't think of where Akira was; I didn't think of what would happen; I didn't think about anything except for running. We didn't stop until we were on the path behind Tai's building, and it wasn't a conscious decision—I simply fell to the floor. My thoughts were by no means organized but they were there, and I burst into hysterics, tears streaming down my face as I shook and hyperventilated and wrapped my own arms around myself. Tai knelt beside me, wrapping his arms tightly around me, and I clawed at his shirt, burying myself in his chest and wishing that I could hide in his arms forever.

"Matt, I love you," Tai said to me, stroking my hair. "God… I'm so sorry. I… God."

I was too upset to say anything back, or to even register his words, and Tai sat there rocking me in his arms for what felt like an hour. The sound of police sirens wailing in the background made me bury my face further in his chest, and it was only once I was motionless and cold in his arms that he took my face in his hands and looked at me.

"We have to go, Matt," he said gently, though his voice sounded strained. "If we don't get back, the girls will start worrying."

Oh god, Mikomi and Kari. The thought of them finding out made me shut my eyes and nearly break down again, but eventually Tai managed to get me to my shaky feet and we made it into Tai's building. We were both entirely silent as we headed to Tai's apartment and when we entered, Kari and Mikomi didn't have to take a second look to know that something was wrong.

"I need you girls to be calm," Tai said before they could open their mouths, and his tone was so gravely serious that they stayed completely silent and still while he continued to speak. "Go to bed. Matt and I are going to go to bed too. In the morning, we…" Tai paused and shook his head. "I don't know. Just… we'll see you in the morning."

Kari and Mikomi wordlessly got up from the couch and began to head toward Kari's room. Kari stopped within a few feet of us and after staring at Tai for a moment, she moved forward and threw her arms around him. He hugged her tightly and pressed a kiss to her forehead, then urged her back on her way. Kari and Mikomi went to Kari's room and shut the door, and Tai then led me toward his own room. I crawled underneath the covers, wrapping them around me as if they would protect me, and Tai held me tightly in his arms for the entire sleepless night.

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Early the next morning, a pale-faced Kari entered Tai's room. She didn't have to say a word; we got up and followed her out to the living room, toward the sound of the TV.

"…when police arrived at the scene of the crime, Kouji Nakamura's body was found dead. All parties fled the scene, but witness accounts have yielded the following sketch of the primary suspect."

A portrait that looked remarkably like Akira filled the screen, and I closed my eyes. Mikomi, who was sitting on the couch, gasped and covered her mouth.

"Breaking news!" The reported suddenly announced. "Police have confirmed the identity of the suspect pictured and have retained him in custody. As the suspect is a minor, no further information can be released about him. Police will continue to search for additional suspects—"

The TV turned off and we all blinked, then looked to see Tai with the remote control in his hand. He placed it down and then said, quietly, "Mikomi, I think it's time for you to go home."

Mikomi got up from the couch and first hugged Kari tightly, then uttered goodbyes to us in a quiet manner that I didn't know she was capable of. She left and Kari sat down on the couch where Mikomi had previously been sitting, staring at the blank screen of the TV. None of us said a word.

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