The Long Winter: Chapter 7

The Long Winter: Chapter 7

** Disclaimers: I don't own digimon. Never will. This fic was produced for entertainment purposes only, and will not be sold. Leave me alone, you vultures!

** Author's notes: I'm back!!! I was on vacation, that's why I seemed to disappear for a little while. Not that long anyway, only about a week. OK. This is the last chapter of "The Long Winter". Basically a tie-up and a setup at the same time (if that makes any sense at all. Just read). A one-sided Takari. TK's still unconscious, so don't expect anything from him, though Kari's feelings for him are explored. Well, this is three days after the last chapter, and everything's settled down a bit, so keep that in mind when reading.

Again, had a lot of help from Tiger Shark on this, so if anyone sees her, give her a wave and congratulate her on the great job she's doing!

Jim Kido walked across the long hall in what passed for their base, or stronghold. His footsteps echoed dully in the otherwise silent corridor. Cradling a steaming mug of tea, he paused at a window, and looked outside.

Dawn was just beginning to break over the gray horizon. The city of Tokyo outside was covered in snow. At least the storm's stopped, he thought to himself. The gray sky seemed to stretch on forever, above the forlorn and broken city beneath. Everything was covered in a wintry blanket of white, the snow glistened like gossamer jewels of diamond-like hue. Winter, when man's flaws are exposed.

The season of death.

How appropriate.

Sighing, he turned back to walking. Looking out the window depressed him, and right now, he didn't need to be depressed. Things were bad enough as it was. Funny, I thought morning was supposed to be a cheery time of the day.

Matt was missing, TK was severely injured, and Mark was dead. Not exactly a high point for the little resistance. The only thing they had gotten out of this was that they had established a link into the network. From now on, they could log on whenever they wished. Jim wasn't sure it was worth the cost. His footsteps clicked dully down the hallway.

Finally, he reached the right room. Holding the mug in one hand, he knocked with his other. "Kari? May I come in?" He wasn't really expecting an answer. It was the crack of dawn, and she was probably asleep.

Silence. Then Jim was surprised when he heard, "Sure, come on in."

Juggling the mug with one hand, Jim opened the doorknob, and stepped into the small gray room. The smell of antiseptic lingered in the air, from the disinfectant he had used on TK's wounds. Glancing to the side, he saw Patamon and Gatomon curled up, fast asleep.

Kari was sitting on a wooden chair, beside TK's bed. The boy's staff was standing beside the bed, retrieved by Kari when she had taken TK back to the base. The blond boy himself was sleeping on the bed, still unconscious since the fight. The small, gray room looked forlorn, and the girl seemed pale and drawn, yet she still managed to summon up a tired smile. "Hey Jim."

Jim looked concerned. "Kari, did you sleep at all last night? You haven't left this room for two days in a row now. I know you're worried about TK, but you have your own health to consider too."

He was right. Ever since the group had staggered in, TK had been put in this room, and Kari had been beside his bed. Shunning food, rest and sleep, she had remained by his side the whole time, not setting a foot outside the door, waiting for TK to wake up again. Like a vigilant guard, to protect the small boy.

Kari however, refused to be budged. "I'm fine Jim, really, I am."

Jim shook his head. As a doctor, he could see that she was not fine. The young girl looked pale, drawn, and tired, but it wasn't like he could order her out. With Matt missing, perhaps dead, and TK down, Kari was the next in charge. He sighed. "Well, if you're not going to come out for meals…" He held out the cup of tea. "…then someone has to bring the meals to you."

Kari took the mug, and wrapped her hands around it gratefully, allowing the warm liquid to warm her cold fingers. The fragrance of the hot tea tickled her nose. "Thanks. I appreciate it." She smiled gratefully up at the taller boy, her tired crimson eyes meeting Jim's own.

Jim smiled back, "You're welcome."

A short silence descended on the two friends. For a moment, neither of them spoke, as Kari sipped the tea. Then she spoke up. "Any news about Matt?"

Jim shook his head sadly. "None. I'm not giving up hope yet, but it has been three days since the battle. With the city in such a stir over the battle, it's not safe to go out to look for him. All we can do is wait…and hope."

Again, another silence descended. Matt had been missing ever since the battle, and they had no idea if he was even alive or not. The frustrating thing was that he could be lying hurt somewhere, and they wouldn't know. Kari sighed. "Well, I'll give him another day, and if he doesn't show up by then, we're going to go look for him, and to hell with the patrols."

Jim smiled. She sounded so much like her brother. Then he walked over to TK's side. The young boy didn't look like he was sleeping well, his brow was furrowed in pain. His head slumped to one side, and his golden hair spread over the pillow, and his breathing was shallow, and halting with pain. Taking off the blanket, Jim gently examined the golden-haired boy. Kari peered over his shoulder anxiously. "How is he?"

Jim glanced over his shoulder. "Give me a moment."

TK wasn't wearing a shirt, so Jim merely had to unwrap his bandages to examine his cracked rib. Kari winced at the sight of the huge bruise on TK's bare chest. Jim probed it gently, then took a new roll of bandages, and firmly wrapped up his chest again. "It's healing nicely, though it'll be a couple of weeks before he can walk and breathe normally without pain."

Then he looked over at Kari. "Is he still coughing up blood?"

Before Kari could answer, TK was caught in another coughing fit. Hurriedly Kari took a handkerchief, and pressed it against his mouth. When the fit subsided, she pulled the napkin away. It was stained dark red, and it bore the evidence of many similar maneuvers.

Kari looked at Jim grimly. "Yeah. Though it seems to be slowing down." The boy's breathing was still laboured with pain, as each breath he took strained his ribs. Thankfully though, that was getting better as well. "Isn't there anything you can give him for the pain?"

Jim spread out his hands helplessly. "Like what? Kari, I'd like nothing better than to relieve his pain, but there's simply nothing I can do short of bandaging him up and giving him rest and food. We just don't have the supplies. The only thing we really have is his own healing powers, and his will to survive, which, I'm glad to say, is quite strong."

The brown-haired girl gently stroked a strand of blond hair off TK's forehead. "How about his head?"

The older boy shrugged. "He did crack his head rather hard, but again, it seems to be healing nicely. The gash has closed itself, and it shouldn't be a problem. He's a fighter, and a strong one at that. He'll pull out of it."

Kari smiled tiredly. "Well, that's good news at least." An awkward silence fell over the two.

Jim looked at Kari, and noticed again the pale, sunken cheeks, the tired eyes. The girl looked exhausted. "Kari…you really don't have to stay here. You should get some rest yourself, get a decent meal. You haven't budged from that seat for two whole days! Besides, TK's unconscious. It's not like he knows you're here. It wouldn't make a difference to him whether you're here or not."

Kari's shoulders slumped tiredly, but she shook her head stubbornly. "No, Jim. I'm staying here. When I was hurt, TK stayed by my side the whole time, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't do the same for him. Besides…" a gentle smile caressed her lips as she once again stroked his blond hair gently. She looked up.

"It does matter, more than you think. When I was hurt, even though I was unconscious, I…felt…somehow, that TK was there with me, comforting me, helping me. If it wasn't for him, I don't think I could've pulled out of that incident. Now…"

Kari paused, and took a deep breath. "Now…he's the one that's hurt, and it's my turn to be there for him, just like he was there for me…"

She paused and looked at Jim. "You understand, don't you? When you feel as if you have to, need to stay by someone's side, if only to be there for them, to support them. It doesn't matter whether they know you're there or not, or whether they can return the favour, because in the end, that's not what counts. It's crazy, I know, but that's what I feel…"

Jim pulled up a chair and sat in it. He was silent for a few moments. Then, "You really like him don't you?"

Kari turned away, embarrassed. "Well…he's been my best friend for more than 2 years. Of course I like him…"

The older boy shook his head. "No, that's not what I meant. I mean you like him, as in…" he raised his eyebrows suggestively.

The girl's cheeks flushed crimson red. "Oh…no. It's not like that at all…it's just, well, I like him a lot, but I don't think…I mean, I'm too young to be in love…I think…I'm only 10 years old!"

Jim smirked. "I thought so. You're in love." He nodded knowingly.

Kari looked like she was going to explode. "Jim! I'm too young to be in love! I'm only 10!"

Jim almost laughed out loud at the expression on the girl's face. Almost. With a tremendous effort he restrained himself. This was serious, he could tell. She really did care for him. It wasn't just some childish game. Besides, Kari looked like she would die with embarrassment if he teased her any further.

"Kari…" his voice was gentle. "One thing you have to realize is that you and TK are much more mature than other kids your age. It wouldn't be fair to judge you two according to your age. You've seen and done things that others wouldn't even dream about."

"You two've been through a lot together. You've been friends for two years now, battled together side by side, and sometimes back to back. You've faced down demons and monsters far more horrific than people's nightmares, and you've saved the world, several times over." Jim paused, and looked Kari straight in the eye. "You two are more mature than most adults I know, and that's the truth."

Kari still looked abashed. Looking down at her tea, she took a sip. "Well, thanks for the compliment, but…what exactly are you saying?"

Jim leaned back in his chair, and looked at the two of them, TK lying injured on the bed, and Kari standing a vigilant guard over him. Ironically, the roles seemed reversed from what it had been a couple months ago.

"Simply this. You shouldn't think that you're too young to be in love. Love comes at different ages for different people. Don't try to fight it, for in the end, you'll regret it bitterly."

Kari flushed red again, and she flashed a look at Gatomon. Thankfully, her digimon was still fast asleep, or she would hear no end of this. "When did you become such a Romeo?"

Jim laughed. "Hey, just because I'm a nerd doesn't mean I'm totally clueless." He got up to leave. "Kari, I see all the signs of you two being in love. All you have to do is admit it to yourself." Placing a hand on the doorknob, he prepared to leave the room. "Think about it. Don't let your age be a barrier…" Closing the door gently, he left. His footsteps once again echoed dully down the hall. Click…click…click…

Kari buried her face in her hands and groaned. Was that supposed to make me feel better? She felt so embarrassed. At least it had been Jim, and not someone else who was bound to tell everyone about it, like Gatomon. In love? With TK? I don't think so…

Yet, when she gazed down at the young boy, sleeping fitfully on the bed before her, she felt an undeniable bond with him. Is this love? It didn't have the erotic nature, the component of lust that always seemed present in the love portrayed in movies. She certainly didn't lust after TK. The mere thought was alien to her. His good looks merely came as part of the package. Not unwelcome, to be sure, but not what she was attracted to either.

No. She felt attracted to his spirit. His gentleness and compassion. His personality, and not his physical body. The exterior was merely a shell, a vessel to hold the true treasure. From the moment she had first met him, she had known there was something special about him. He possessed something that not even the other digidestined had. A wisdom and compassion that surpassed anything she had seen before. She looked down. Though he does look kinda cute…

Is this love that I'm feeling? Am I capable of feeling love? Does he feel the same? The problem was that she had never been in love before, and thus had no idea what it felt like. Sure, she loved her brother…she quickly shut off that train of thought before it led to something more painful. She loved her parents, but somehow, that wasn't the same with what she felt now. Yet, at the same time, it wasn't exactly the same thing as what she would feel for a friend either.

Slowly, she picked up the glass pendant she had given TK for Christmas. Fingering it lightly, she gazed at the delicate symbol she had painstakingly carved onto the glass. I mustn't lose hope…Kari had pocketed the delicate object after its owner had been attacked, since she was sure he would want it back. Taking a piece of cord, she threaded it through the hole, creating a new strap, and gently put it around TK's neck.

Sighing, the brown-haired girl leaned forward, resting her forehead on TK's warm shoulder. It didn't feel awkward at all. They had known each other since they were eight years old, and such gestures were completely natural to them. She closed her eyes wearily. All this thought of love vs friendship was too complicated for her. She would let time sort it all out. When TK woke up, they definitely needed to talk about it.

She yawned. I guess Jim was right after all…I really am tired. She could hear Takeru's light breathing, feel the slight rising and falling of his chest, his heartbeat, and his shoulder made a nice pillow. Slowly, she drifted off to sleep, her head resting on TK's shoulder. The last thing she saw before she drifted off to sleep was his face, bright and angelic in her dreams…

Had anyone been awake to see it, they would've seen a soft, pinkish aura envelop the two children. And had Patamon and Gatomon seen it, they would've immediately likened it to TK's golden glow that had helped Kari when she had been hit with shrapnel. Gradually, TK's breathing became just a little less laboured. His brow smoothed out, and for the first time, he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. His coughing stopped. Even unconscious, he instinctively raised his arm and put it on Kari's soft hair. Together, the two children slept contentedly, and for a blessed moment, forgot about the war, forgot about everything but each other…

Izzy goggled at the computer screen. "So…you're online, just like that?!"

Willis smirked. "Yeah. It's real simple once you figure out how to do it. The first time was the hardest, but then once you're in, you can create back doors for yourself, so you can open them whenever you want."

Izzy scratched his head. "So…you can browse through everything? Is that it? Do we have complete and utter access to everything on his network?"

The younger boy shook his head. "Unfortunately, no. Diaboromon's put authorization levels on his network. The most common, mundane and non-sensitive information is in the lowest level, while the top-secret stuff is at the top. I haven't been able to go that high yet. Also, you have to watch out for periodic electronic sweeps that can pick up your signal."

Tai sat back. It was all Greek to him. Hell, it was all Greek to Izzy, so how was he expected to understand it? "Put this in English for me please."

Willis rubbed his eyes. He had been staring at the screen for the past three hours straight. "In a nutshell, we have partial access to Diaboromon's info. There are periodic sweeps of the net that detect any signals, so if we're online during one of them, we'll be caught, so we can't stay logged on 24/7."

Tai looked blank again. Willis sighed. "24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Izzy was still frowning. "But what's the point of putting authorization levels on his own network? Is there a hierarchy among his ranks? Is he aware of you hacking into his network?"

The blond boy shrugged. "Dunno. My guess is he knows about the potential risk of hackers. The higher the security, the more firewalls, passwords, etc., the slower and more clumsy his network becomes. It makes sense that only the most vital and sensitive info would get protected the most, while the mundane ones, which are accessed more often anyway, would be less heavily guarded."

Tai, Izzy and Willis were sitting in front of Willis' laptop, which was hooked onto the Internet. Sora was behind them, having given up on trying to understand half an hour ago, and Mimi was standing guard.

Izzy reached out and typed a few simple commands on the laptop. "Amazing!" he breathed. "Even at the lowest level, we have access to stuff like patrol shifts and paths, troop movements, etc."

Tai leaned forward again. "Anything on the other digidestined? Has he found them yet?"

Izzy tapped a few more keys, then shook his head. "Sorry Tai. This level's too low. A request like that can only be made at a higher authorization level."

Willis took over, and started browsing through the network. "Well, just to be on the safe side, I'm checking the patrol shifts for this area of town. It would be helpful to know when the next sweep's coming along…"

Suddenly, the young boy stopped. His eyes focused intently on the screen, and a small frown appeared on his face. He pressed a couple keys on his computer, and noted the results on his screen with intense interest. Izzy saw the change. "What's the matter?"

Willis looked puzzled. "I don't know. There's just seems to be something wrong with this network. It's as if someone else has created a backdoor for himself, so he could log on as well."

Tai looked interested. "Is it one of yours?"

The blond boy shook his head. "No. I'm certain of it. This is of a different type than my own 'back doors'. The code is different. Besides, I don't remember leaving one here. Whoever did this was a genius, and I'm pretty sure that Diaboromon wouldn't be going around creating 'back doors' to his own network."

"Could it be someone else who has figured out how to crack the network, just like you?"

Everyone turned to look at Sora. She had been quiet for the most part, so the sudden sentence was unexpected. Sora shrunk back. "Just a suggestion…" she muttered.

"No. You're onto something there." Willis frowned. "There's not many people in the world that can do this. It would require somewhat of a genius to be able to hack through Diaboromon's firewall without any prior knowledge, but it can be done." He glanced at the others. "I had somewhat of an unfair advantage, since I created him. I know how he thinks. But then, whoever did this would have no such advantage. They would have to be really good."

Tai bit his lower lip as he thought. "Do you think you can contact whoever it was that left that "back door"? It would be useful to see who our allies are. They're probably underground resistance groups like us."

Willis looked doubtful. "Well, technically I could rig up a program that would automatically send a message the moment whoever it is logs on. I can even trace where he's logging on from, since we've already found the back door. The thing is though, the message itself might be intercepted. You wouldn't be able to put any sensitive information on it."

Izzy nodded. "The message would have to be fairly short too, since large memory transfers would probably be detected. Another thing. Once you send the message, whoever it is would probably modify his program so that it won't happen again. If it was me, I would do the same thing. Secrecy must be preserved at all costs, and the less we know about each other, the better."

He looked at their leader. "It's not going to be like email. We'll only be able to contact each other once, and even then, we won't be able to put any sensitive information on it. You can't use it to coordinate our efforts, that's for sure. We can't even tell them who we are, for our own safety."

A moment of silence. Then Sora spoke up again. She had to breathe shallowly to prevent from straining her ribs, and she still couldn't walk properly, but at least she as up and about. She had been lucky. Terriermon hadn't fired at her full force, or she'd be dead by now. "But we can send the message right? Even if it's just a message of encouragement?"

Izzy and Willis looked at each other. It was Izzy that finally answered. "I don't see why not. It wouldn't accomplish much strategically, but at least it would encourage whoever it is, tell them they're not alone. We'd also be able to trace where they're logging on from, so we might be able to contact them in the future," he said.

Tai frowned, then made his decision. "Fine. We'll do it. The traced location might be useful anyway." Leaning back into his chair, he sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. He had gotten three hours of sleep in the last three days. He missed his goggles. "Willis, type this out. This is the message we'll be sending…"

Joe scanned the streets alertly, the morning sun glinting off his glasses. Beside him Gomamon yawned from within his mound of blankets. "Why do we always get stuck with the morning guard shift anyway?"

Joe turned and stared at his digimon. "Oh come on, Gomamon. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it."

The water digimon stirred sleepily among his blankets. "Yeah, well, it's still damn annoying to have to spend every waking moment on the lookout for danger, if you know what I mean."

The boy leaned back in his chair on the lookout post in front of the base. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I can't remember the last time I've gotten a good night's sleep without being afraid of an attack."

Then the boy and the digimon fell silent again. Slowly, the sun rose in the east, doing little to warm the forlorn scene. The skeletal remains of buildings stood out starkly against the horizon as the feeble rays struck them. Never before had the city of Tokyo looked so dead, so empty. It was as if the spirit of the world had finally died.

"What do you think about Matt?" Gomamon looked up at his partner, his dark eyes troubled.

Joe sighed. "Well…I don't know. Matt's one of the most capable people I've ever met. If anyone can take care of himself, it's him. But then, he was just one kid against an entire army…" He trailed off. For a moment, Joe's eyes looked uncertain. "I really hope he's okay. I hear Kari said that we're going to go looking for him if he doesn't show up by the end of today."

The water digimon snorted. "And we won't find a thing. Even if he's still alive, with the manpower that we have, the snow, and the patrols, you know it would be just a useless gesture."

"Well, we certainly can't just abandon him! He could be lying hurt somewhere, dying, and we would never know. We have to at least try…"

Silence fell. For a moment, the only sound was the incessant wind blowing through the streets, lightly pushing the snow around. Joe watched as the snow danced across the ground in wispy patterns. He could remember times when he used to play in that snow, without a care in the world. He smiled bitterly. Those were the days…he thought ironically.

Slowly, both Joe and Gomamon's gaze drifted up to the goggles hanging from the wall. Matt had cleaned and repaired Tai's trademark goggles after picking it up from the summer camp, and now, it seemed to mock them. The leader of the digidestined was always at the forefront, always the first to take the bullet. And it seemed Matt had gone the way of past leaders…

Then, Joe tore his gaze away from the goggles fiercely. No. It wasn't going to be like that. Matt would be fine. He had to be fine. End of story.

Gomamon stretched, trying to relieve the somber mood. "Who's going to relieve us?"

Joe took off his glasses, and cleaned them on his shirt. "We're not getting relieved for a while yet. TK's down, and Kari's tending to him. Jim's already taken his watch and Kevin's obsessed with his computer for some reason. Something about the network."

The digimon flopped back onto the ground with a groan. "Oh mon…" (pun intended)

Together, the boy and the digimon continued to scan the streets. Despite their seemingly relaxed attitudes, they both knew that in war, the slightest mistake could prove fatal. And Joe, being the holder of the crest of reliability, was not about to let his friends down.

Then Gomamon squinted. "Hey, Joe. Look over there. What's that?"

Joe turned in the direction his digimon was pointing. Straining his eyes, he picked up a figure in the distance. "Dunno…looks like a human. I don't think he's a Bakemon, since he's walking and not floating."

Gomamon looked at his partner. "It might be Matt. Perhaps you should check with your binoculars."

The boy already had the binoculars up on his eyes before Gomamon had finished. Squinting hard into the lenses, he focused on the figure. He caught a glimpse of a lean, human figure, with ash blond hair…When Joe lowered the binoculars, his digimon could see his partner's eyes were flashing with excitement. A jubilant smile lit up his features. "It's him all right. Come on. He might need our help."

In a flash, the blue-haired boy leapt up from his post, and Gomamon jumped out of his blankets. Together, they ran down the stairs to the exit. Passing by the main room of the resistance, Joe poked his head in through the door. "Hey Jim, Matt's back."

Jim, who was at the moment gulping down a mouthful of water, choked. "Wha…what'd you say?" He sputtered around a mouthful of water.

His brother was already throwing on his coat. "Matt's back, and he might be hurt. I'm going out to help him in. Get some food ready, or something. He's probably hungry and half-frozen."

The young doctor collected his wits, and nodded. "I'll get right to it."

Joe didn't hear his brother. He was already out the door, running through the knee-high snow. I knew he was too smart to get himself killed…

In the distance, he could see the figure marching along in the snow, but as he got closer, Joe began to get worried. Matt was stumbling along, as if he was hurt, and Gabumon was nowhere in sight. He didn't even seem to notice Joe as the boy ran towards him from a side street.

Finally, Joe reached the lanky figure. He drew in a quick breath. "Oh my God… Matt, what happened to you?"

The slim, blond-haired boy looked up tiredly, and Joe was shocked at his appearance. His clothes were ripped, torn and coated with mud, blood and snow. Blood encrusted a gash on his head, and he was literally dragging his left leg behind him, carving a furrow in the snow. He cradled an unconscious Tsunomon in his arm, who looked to be in even worse shape. Looking down, Joe saw a trail of blood behind Matt, bright red against the pure white blanket of snow. Matt's glazed over eyes flickered over the other. "Joe…is that you?"

Joe ran up to his leader, quickly taking off his jacket and putting it on Matt's shoulders. Matt's teeth chattered, and his lips were blue from the cold. "Matt, you're almost there. It's only a block back to the base…"

" D…did the other's get back? H…how's TK?" Matt cut him off. His voice sounded weak, but insistent. "How is h…he?"

Joe put a supporting arm around his comrade's frame, and began leading him back to the base. "TK's fine. He's still unconscious, but Jim says he's healing nicely. He'll be all right in a week or two."

A small smile touched Matt's blue lips. "Good…" then his ice-blue eyes glazed over, and he stumbled, falling face-first into the snow. Joe frantically grabbed his friend and turned him over. "Matt? Matt, are you all right?"

Matt didn't answer. His eyes were closed, and his breathing ragged, as his teeth chattered. Desperately, Joe wrapped his jacket tighter around the hypothermic boy, then picked him up on his back, and began trudging back to the base. "Hold on buddy, you'll be all right in a few minutes." He tried to reassure the unconscious blond. Joe looked at his digimon. "Gomamon, do you think you can carry Tsunomon? I kinda got my hands full right now."

Gomamon nodded, and heaved Tsunomon on his back. The in-training wasn't very heavy, so the water digimon didn't have any trouble. Waddling along beside them in the snow, he glanced up at Joe. "He was really lucky."

Joe smiled through his tears of relief. "Thank God. I don't think I could stand losing another one…"

An hour later…

Jim stepped out of the room where Matt was sleeping soundly. He shook his head. He seemed to be tending to injuries a lot more nowadays.

Kevin stood outside anxiously. "How is he?"

The young doctor sighed, and took off his glasses. Rubbing his tired face, he put them back on. "Matt's fine. We've been really lucky so far. Both him and TK are going to be all right. He just passed out from exhaustion and hypothermia." He smiled. "According to Joe, he collapsed right after he found out that TK was alright. Maybe it was his love and concern for his brother's safety that kept him going, and when he finally found out, he just…well…collapsed."

Kevin wasn't satisfied. "Look, Jim, tell me what's wrong with my son, and don't sugarcoat it. As his father, I should know."

Jim wasn't offended. Kevin had, after all, had both his sons injured. Both of them were still children, and Matt had just been missing for three whole days. "He was severely hypothermic when he first came in, but he's out of danger now. He's wrenched his left knee, and there are a couple bad scrapes and bruises, but nothing that'll cripple him permanently." He glanced over at the father. "You Ishidas are a tough lot to kill off."

Kevin looked relieved. "Well, that's good news, to be sure. Can I see him?"

Jim shook his head firmly. "No. What he needs most right now is rest. That's the best medicine I can give him. I have nothing else to offer, I'm not going to deny him that basic necessity."

Kevin nodded reluctantly. "I understand. It's just that, as his father, I feel like I need to be with him…"

Jim laughed, and held up his hand. "All right, that's enough. You know, I heard almost exactly the same thing from Kari 'bout an hour ago. But this time, I'm putting my foot down. Matt's not ready for this, and won't be for at least another day. He needs his rest."

The older man sighed. "Well, I also have something important to tell him. Of course, the thing about Mark…" he trailed off awkwardly. Both men shifted uncomfortably at the mention of their dead comrade. "Then, I also have something new that I think deserves attention."

Jim's interest was piqued, but his decision remained firm. "Well, whatever it is, it can wait. If it's really that urgent, you can go to Kari with it. Though I don't think you'd want to. She's finally fallen asleep…"

Kevin looked up, surprised. "You managed to pry her off TK's side?"

The doctor snickered. "Yeah right. No. I didn't manage to get her out, and I'm beginning to think nothing short of an all-out attack would make her budge."

The older man looked confused. "But, you said she was asleep?"

Jim began walking down towards the central area of the base, where he had been working on cleaning their weapons. "She is. I just checked on her a few minutes ago, and she was sprawled over TK's chest, the uninjured side, fast asleep." He chuckled softly. "They looked so sweet together, I didn't have the heart to wake them. Besides, she needed the rest."

Kevin laughed out loud. It felt good. It had been a long time since he had smiled, much less laughed. "Even in war, love goes on. I do believe that girl's developed a certain attachment to my son."

His smile turned bittersweet. "Who knows? If this whole war didn't start, maybe they'd be dating each other in a few years. I have a feeling they would've made each other very happy…"

The young doctor turned to his older friend with a smile as they walked down the hallway. He couldn't help but tease the man a little. "Aren't you the least bit concerned that they might get into some…ah…let's just say, something inappropriate?"

Kevin shook his head with a small grin. "No. I trust TK with everything I have. And Kari's the most mature girl I know. If my son had to date anyone, she would be my first choice. It won't happen. Besides, I don't think they're attracted to each other physically. It seems to be something beyond that…"

A small silence descended on the two men as they walked. Both of them caught in their own private musings of what could've happened, possibilities, the path not taken...

Then Jim changed the subject. "So what's this urgent thing you needed to tell them?"

Kevin glanced up. "Oh, it's not urgent, just important. There's a difference, you know. It's just that I've felt that this whole outing was a disaster from beginning to end. The only thing we got out of it was that damned link into the network. It would be a waste to not use it, especially after all it cost us." For a moment, his eyes looked pained, as he recalled the death of his partner, brutally incinerated and blown-apart before his eyes.

Jim was alarmed. "You logged on? After what happened? Do you know how dangerous that could be…"

Kevin shook his head. "Don't worry. I triple checked the connection, and we weren't traced, not by Diaboromon. I also discovered that stray cookie that got past me last time, and I've modified our program so it won't happen again. It's perfectly safe."

Jim relaxed a little. "Well, so what? Matt and Kari already know that we can log on. That's not news."

Kevin turned into a room along the side of the corridor, and Jim followed him. "No. That's not news. What I did find surprising was that I got email."

"Email?" Jim looked blank. "In the middle of this war?"

Kevin shrugged. "Someone had apparently found our little 'back door', and then posted a message so that the next time we logged on, we would receive it. It wasn't Diaboromon, of that I'm certain."

They approached Kevin's computer, and the older computer expert slipped into the chair, typing up a few keys, and calling up a window. "So, what exactly was this message?" Jim asked. His curiosity was more than piqued now. If it wasn't Diaboromon, then who was it?

The older man turned the monitor so the young doctor could see. "I think this came from a fellow resistance group, much like ourselves, who discovered how to log on without being discovered. They didn't include any info about themselves. It would be too dangerous for them to do so, since this message could've been intercepted. It's also rather short, but that's because large memory transfers would be detected. This is what they sent me…"

Our time is short, so we shall keep this brief. You are not alone. There are more of us out there, people who refuse to bow down to Diaboromon. Band together, cooperate. Apart, we are nothing, mere embers of resistance, easily snuffed out, but together, we are strong as a raging fire.

Life will go on, despite Diaboromon's best efforts to crush it. We humans are a tough lot to kill off. Remember that. Don't lose hope, for you are not alone…

Kevin looked up from the screen, and gazed at the young doctor beside him. "Well, what do you think?"

Jim smiled. His eyes looked alight, and it seemed his heart had been refreshed, as if the inner fires of hope had taken new light. "We're not alone…" Then, he traced a finger across the screen, slowly mouthing the words as if to memorise them.

Apart, we are nothing, mere embers of resistance, easily snuffed out, but together, we are strong as a raging fire…

Poetic, he mused. But then, I've always liked poetry…

** Author's notes: Um…sorry if that last message seemed a little corny. So sue me, I suck at poetry. Stick to prose. You'll live longer. *sighs * I think I bit off a bit more than I can chew this time. I was planning to make this a long and involved story, but nothing this…epic, you know what I mean? Way too long for a debut fic anyway.

Thanks to all my loyal reviewers. Hope you stick with me over the long run. Well, as you can see, this story will be continued in yet another saga, dunno, anywhere from 7, to even 10 chapters long (*groans* I hope not). I'll do everything in my power to make it the last. Any longer, and this'll just become pointless rambling, and I'll probably start to lose you guys to boredom. Sometimes, it seems like this fic has a life of its own. (I wonder, who's writing who?) Tentative titles are "Sacrifice of Angels", or maybe "Out of the Ashes." Dunno. Haven't decided yet. As of right now, I'm thinking of setting it quite some time after "The Long Winter", around 4 years, though that may change. That would mean TK, Kari and Willis are fourteen, while Tai and the others are seventeen, etc. etc.

What is certain though, is that the rebellion will be much more established. Expect things like secret hidden bases, rebel cells / commanders, secret underground passages, etc. etc. Anyone wonder what it'd be like to have the digidestined command an entire army? What kind of leaders would they make?

Intrigued? Well, just wait and see.

PS. Sorry about Angewomon's attack. According to both my reviewers and my editor, Tigershark (TS), it's "Heaven's Charge", not "Heaven's Charm." Sorry. I'll fix it in the future.