Balance of Power

*Note* Wow - I didn't know people missed my stories, else I'd have come here sooner! And I think it's great to see so many regulars from the old site! *bows head for moment of silence in memory of* Talk to you soon!

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Digimon - I'd never be THAT negligent in proprtion when it came to the design of them.

FEEDBACK: It's up to you - do I give up on Digimon and go back pokemon? Or do I smell a new series?

" It's a stupid idea!"

"It is not!"

" It is so! There's no reason-"

" There's plenty of reason!"

" - to risk our lives-"

" What risk?!?!"

" -for curiosity's sake!" Matt finished with the air of one who is always right. Tai bristled.

" It's not idle curiosity!" he spat out angrily. " The digimon are coming from the cavern right? So it makes sense to go and make sure there aren't anymore! Or do you want to be eaten in your sleep?"

" And what if there are more in there?" Matt countered smoothly. " Are you just gonna walk in and ask them to pretty-please leave us alone?"

Tai growled and turned around, stomping off before he said something he'd regret. Matt watched him leave with a mixed feeling of satisfaction at having gotten the upper hand, and guilt for once again causing a doozy of a fight with their leader. He grumped - how Tai was destined to be the leader was beyond him. Tai was reckless, careless... Selfless, brave... an annoying voice in his head sing-songed mockingly. Scowling, Matt silenced the voice and headed back to the campfire. The rest of the group was silent as well, not wanting to get involved in there spat. Gabumon came and sat by him silently, while Agumon got up and headed after Tai. Sora cleared her throat.

" what was decided?" Matt waved his hand in the vague direction Tai had taken off.

" Genuis there wants to go confront the monsters." he said. Sora and Izzy exchanged a glance.

" It might be a good idea," Izzy ventured forth, somewhat reluctantly. Mat glared at him.

" I'm not risking my life-" Or TK's "- on a suicide run! If there are more evil digimon in there, why walk into the lion's mouth?"

" Not all of the digimon are evil Matt - some of them are victims of those black gears," Sora pointed out.

" Wouldn't you want to be helped if the situation were reversed?" Matt hedged a bit at that.

" Well..."

" Where'd Tai go?" Joe asked suddenly. Gomamon cocked his head to one side.

" You don't think Tai would go by himself?"

" No way Gomamon," Sora said soothingly. " Tai's too smart to try that alone. He's probably with Agumon, blowing off steam." She looked at Matt pointedly. Matt crossed his arms and looked away. TK stood up and walked over to Sora, tugging on her hand until she looked down at him.

" TK?

" Don't be mad at Matt Sora!" TK said earnestly. " He's just watching out for everyone. He doesn't want anyone to get hurt."

Across from them, Matt's face blushed scarlet. Sora grinned and nodded at TK.

" I'm not mad at him TK. We all just need to get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning, and we can decide what to do then."

" 'Kay!" TK's smile lit up the campsite. Matt's scowl softened at the sight of that innocent face.

" Yeah, I think it's time for bed too." Joe came up to them and they began to rearrange the site for sleeping. As everyone settled down, Sora glanced up at Matt.

" You not tired or something?"

" Not yet," Matt lied, sitting on the edge of the log before the fire. Picking up a stick, he casually stirred up the embers, watching the yellow-gold sparks shoot up and waft away on the breeze. Sora shrugged and lay down, cuddling up to Biyoman for additional warmth. Matt strained to hear some sound of Tai's return. _Why do I keep blowing up at him?_ he asked himself. _He's trying to do his best and I keep antagonising him._ Matt's thoughts turned to TK. THERE was the reason. _He'd have to come too, and if there ARE more black-geared digimon in that cavern, he'd be in danger. More then us, since Patamon can't seem to digivolve._ Matt sighed. It wasn't that he didn't like Tai - their brown-haired leader just didn't seem to have to much forethought. _That could get someone hurt._ It also didn't help that they were so much alike. Matt remembered the two of them fighting back on the iceberg. _We NEVER seem to get along._ Matt stiffened as he heard the sound of Tai returning, branches crackling, underbrush rattling. Matt lay down next to Gabumon just as Tai made his way into the clearing, a dejected expression on his face. Agumon trotted alongside him, gazing up at him with sympathy. Matt watched the two lay down on the other side of the campsite. _Well, at least he didn't get into any trouble THIS time,_ he thought, and closed his eyes.

" This sleeping on the ground is not doing anything for my beauty sleep!" Mimi whimpered as she tried to detangle her hair without ripping it out. Sora smiled at her and helped her sort through the aubern mass.

" Don't pull on it."

While the two of them worked, Izzy had set up his laptop and was watching the map Gennai had programmed into it.

" If my calculations are correct, then the cavern's depth extends far deeper into the earth then we previously anticipated."

Tai blinked at him. Tentomon stepped in to translate.

" He means it's deeper then we thought."

" Oh."

" That's what I said!" Izzy protested. Tentomon waggled a claw at him.

" That's what you said in Izzy-speech. Luckily for you AND them, I've become quite good at deciphering your way of talking!" Izzy laughed at that and closed the notebook PC down. Tai rubbed his chin absently.

" Deeper? Meaning there could be additonal caves? Or just a dropoff?"

" Possibly either and probably both," Izzy nodded. " There could be a veritable labryinth of caves and digimon living in them."

" A maze," Tentomon clarified before Tai could ask.

" I knew that!"

" Sure you did."

" Guys!" Agumon stepped in. Having gained their attention, he shrugged. " So what do we do?"

" I still say we should go and search them." Tai said, shooting a look at Matt, who was busy trying to wake TK up for the day. " But somehow, I get the feeling SOMEONE is gonna fight me over that."

" He's just being cautious," Izzy pointed out.

" I thought that was my job," Joe objected, coming to stand beside them. Gomamon snickered.

" It is. That and being paranoid, and being afraid, and -"

" Okay! We get the message, thank you very much!" Joe shouted clapping a hand over his digimon's mouth. Tai and Izzy laughed. Truth be told, Joe was a lot braver now then when they had first arrived. _Gomamon was a good influence on him,_ Tai mused. Sora included herself in their little group, yawning slightly.

" What's up guys?"

" Just deciding."

" Oh."

Biyomon fluffed out her feathers.

" I think you're right Tai," she said. " We SHOULD look in that cavern. I'd want help if I were them."

" Then it's settled," Tai declared. He glanced over at Matt and TK, a sinking feeling coming over him as he prepared for another round with Matt.

" I'm up, I'm up," TK mumbled sleepily, rubbing his fists against his eyes. Matt grinned, and tousled his hair with affection.

" Come on kid. you're gonna miss breakfast."

" No breakfast?" TK's eyes widened.

" No breakfast?" Patamon echoed, eyes just as wide. Looking at each other, the two became a flurry of activity in their haste to get ready. Matt chuckled. Sensing movement, Matt turned and saw Tai there, a determined look on his face.

" What's up?""

" We're going to help the digimon in the caves," Tai said quietly. Matt's eyes narrowed.

" So eager to risk everyone, I see."

" Stop it Matt!" Sora said sternly, placing one hand on either boys chest's and pushing them back. " We've all decided to go. It wasn't just his decision." Matt shrugged.

" Fine," he said tightly. Tai closed his eyes, waiting for the fight. Then his mind registered what Matt had said.

" Huh?"

" I said fine!" he snapped.

" You don't have to come-"

" And leave me to be the one to bail you out? Not happening." Matt crossed his arms again. Gabumon nodded in agreement.

" We will both come."

" Yeah..." Matt reached out and hooked one finger into Tai's shirt collar, pulling him forward. " But if ANYTHING happens to TK or anyone else, I'm holding YOU responsible!" he hissed quietly, so the others wouldn't hear. Tai's face turned to stone and he brushed Matt's hand away.

" I would anyway," he said in a hard voice before turning away. Matt watched him leave, guilt welling up within him again. _That's gotta be some kind of record for a fight_ he thought tiredly. _Way to go, Matt._

" Tell me why I thought this was a good idea!" Tai covered his head as a shower of rocks sailed down at them.

" Nova Blast!" Greymon obliterated the rocks into gravel before turning back to the battle at hand. In their haste to go free the digimon from the grip of the black gears, they forgot to take into consideratiion HOW they'd go about taking on several LARGE digimon at a time. Tai scrambled over to where Sora stood, shouting directions out to Birdramon, who released another Meteor Wing attack at the two Monochromon attacking Kabuterimon.

" Because we're HELPING them!" Sora said sarcastically. " It's just taking longer then we thought."

" Electroshocker!" Kabuterimon zapped one Monochromon square in the back, targetting the black gear. Izzy grinned in satisfaction as the offending disc spun once more before dissolving into black dust. Kabuterimon waved once before flying to help Birdramon dispose of the other one. Tai squinted across the battle field. Greymon and Ikkakumon were working together to bring what looked like the older brother of Seadramon, to it's knees._Or flippers,_ Tai amended. Speaking of brothers... spinning around, he caught sight of Garurumon attacking what Izzy had identified as a Trollamon - an ugly brute thing that wielded a large sword in one hand, and a club in the other. Togemon needlepsrayed another Digimon -Tai didn't know THAT one- and watched with pride as another gear bit the dust. Mimi clapped her hands in approval.

" Nice going Togemon!"

Tai scanned the rocks apprehensively. There! Tai saw Matt blocking TK prtectively with his own body as he shouted out instructions to Garurumon. Tai's heart leapt into his throat when he saw a shadow move behind them.

" Matt! TK! Look out!" Tai jumped off the rock and hit the ground at a run. Matt whirled around at Tai's warning and saw a shadowy-looking digimon about to pounce on TK.

" I don't think so!" he snarled, thrusting his digivice out in front of him. The light streamed out and the black thing screamed before leaping to the side and firing a return beam of dark energy. Matt pushed TK to the ground and grunted in pain as he felt the beam brush by, missing by inches. _Got to distract him_ he thought, and stood up.

" TK - stay down!" Matt then dove to the side and waved his arms frantically, trying to lure the creature's attack towards him. He looked around wildly for Garurumon and saw the wolf-like digimon already engaged in battle. _Uh-oh._

The black phantom digimon gave him a vicious smile as he raised his arm. Matt closed his eyes, waiting for the energy to hit. It didn't. Something else did.

" Look out Matt!" he heard Tai yell as something solid struck him, knocking out of harms way. He hit the ground and rolled as the black energy sizzled. Matt jumped to his feet just as Garurumon and Greymon lunged past, both their Nova Blast and Howling Blaster attacks striking the digimon and obliterating the disc, knocking the digimon out. TK rushed up to him and wrapped his arms around his waist, hugging him tight. Matt gripped him hard as a wave of relief flooded through him. Clearing his throat, he turned around.

" Guess I owe ya one...." his voice trailed off as the relief turned to stark horror. Tai lay motionless on the ground, blood pooling beneath his body. " No!"

" Tai!" he choked as he stumbled towards the prone figure, dropping to his knees. He placed two trembling fingers at Tai's neck and for a heart-stopping moment, he couldn't sense anything. Then he found it - weak, thready and faint - but the pulse was there. TK had silent tears streaming down his little face and Matt told him almost gruffly, to turn his head. Sora came up to them at a dead run.

" What's going on? What happened?" Her gaze fell on Tai's form and she gasped in shock.

" Tai!"

" Sora, get TK out of here!" Matt snarled savagely. Sora wanted to argue but she reached for the little boy, hugging him to her as she watched Matt gently turn Tai over. She bit her lip at the sight of the grisly wound on the boy's chest, his red life-blood gushing forth. Matt swore and ripped a chunk out of his sweater, pushing it against the wound in an effort to slow the blood flow. The sounds of battle behind them began to fade away and the others began to run up, each pulling up in horror at the scene before them. Agumon pushed by them.

" Tai!" he cried out, tears welling up in his eyes at the sight of his best friend. Gabumon and Biyomon flanked him protectively, offering their comfort.

" Is...he..." Izzy couldn't say the fateful word.

" No!" Matt snarled again, pressing the cloth even harder. " He's not gonna die, either!" _It should have been ME!_ his shocked mind repeated over and over. _It should have been ME._ Joe cautiously approched them, carrying the bag of supplies.

" Matt?" He asked tentatively, not wanting to startle the high-strung blond. " Let me help." Matt looked up at him, pleading with his eyes to do something. Joe nodded and crouched down beside them, opening the bag and pulling out a roll of bandages and some bottles. Gomamon placed himself directly in Agumon's line of sight, effectively blocking him from seeing what was happening, as Joe carefully lifted the blood-soaked cloth and sprayed something on it.

" This will help disinfect the wound," he explained carefully. Matt nodded mutely, mind going into shock. Gabumon placed a comforting paw on Matt's shoulder. At the contact, Matt instantly turned to him.

" It should have been ME!" he whispered and buried his face in Gabumon's fur.

" How is he Joe?" Gabumon asked, a bit fearfully. Joe shook his head.

" I don't know," he admitted. " I've only taken basic first aid courses that my mother insisted on. I'm doing the best I can!" Gomamon curled up next to him, watching wide-eyed as Joe finished cleaning the wound and began to pack on a clear dressing. Taping the bandages in place, he leaned back and wiped his brow. " I've done all I can, all I know how to do. I just hope it's enough."

Matt studied the pale face, trembling fists clenched in an effort to keep from screaming. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Sora spoke.

" Matt? Are you okay?"

" I'm not the one you should worry about," he ground out, squeezing his eyes shut. Sora's eyes sparkled with unshed tears.

" I AM worried about him - and you too." she said softly. " He'll be okay - Tai's tough. A fighter."

Agumon lay down next to Tai, his eyes never leaving his friends closed ones. He spoke.

" I should have been there."

" What?" Izzy looked up.

" It's my fault. I'm supposed to protect Tai." Agumon snuffled and tears began to course down his face. Palmon crept forward.

" It's not your fault - we were all busy fighting." Mimi nodded, brushing tears away.

" And since when has Tai ever stayed in one place long enough to BE rescued?"

" He saved me." Matt's chilling voice broke through the argument. Everyone silenced, they turned and saw Matt staring at his friend's unresponsive face. Matt continued, speaking in a monotonous voice. " He saw the creature fire and he pushed me out of the way. He sacrificed his life for mine. Why?" Matt shook his head slowly. " We fight. He saved me. Why?"

Gabumon, sensing Matt was slowly losing his hold on his sanity, tried to pull him away.

" No."

" Matt, you need to res-"

" I said NO!" Matt stood up, swaying slightly. " I-I can't...I have to know if...." he swallowed thickly and continued in a near whisper. " I need to apologise..."

Gabumon nodded and sat next to him. Joe and Izzy, feeling the need to be more active, quickly gathered some firewood and clumps of grass. Gomamon and Tentomon pushed some rocks into a circle. When the firewood was set, Agumon lifted his head. A tiny fireball flew forth, lighting the twigs and grass. Izzy piled some more wood on. Sora was still holding TK who suddenly pulled away from her. He was too young to really understand the seriousness of it all, but he knew one thing - Matt needed him. He flew into Matt, crushing him with his grip. Matt didn't mind, and returned the hug ferverently, almost desperately. He felt the closeness of his sibling, felt the wetness of his tears shed on HIS behalf, for his pain, and finally gave into his own, sobbing as the pain and fear erupted from him with all the force of an explosion. Gabumon and Patamon cuddled close to the shaking brothers.

It was a sober night for everyone as they slowly began to drift off. Matt heard TK's breath even out and he gently lowered his sibling to the ground against Gabumon for warmth. Patamon rearranged himself and the three of them went back to sleep. Matt watched them for a moment before moving closer to Tai's side to keep watch through the night.

Matt was woken from his semi-doze as a sound reached his ears. He looked down and saw Tai shaking, whimpering in pain and fear as he trembled in the grip of a nightmare. Matt lay a hand on Tai's forehead and felt the heat radiating from him.

" Geez, you're burning up!" Quickly, Matt spied a water canteen and grabbed an extra bandage. Soaking the cloth with the cool water, he applied to to Tai's head in an attempt to sooth him. Agumon woke up.

" Tai?" he asked fearfully. Matt shook his head.

" We need some more water Agumon. We have to cool him down." Agumon loped off in the direction of the river and and Matt returned to the task at hand. It never crossed his mind to wake any of the others, not even Joe who had more experience. All he could think about was how he had done nothing but yell at and belittle Tai, who had turned around and risked his life for his. _I OWE him this!_ He thought desperately and replaced the cold compress again. Agumon came back with some more bags of water and settled down next to Tai again, who was still whimpering in pain. Each sound cut through Matt, adding to his guilt until he thought he'd suffocate from the weight of it.

" Take it easy Tai - calm down." Matt fought to keep his voice steady. " You're gonna be fine."

His words, although quiet, still woke Sora, who gently pulled herself out from Biyomon's wings and headed over. She knelt down and touched Tai's forehead and gasped as the heat penetrated her thick gloves.

" He's really hot!" she said, alarmed and reached for the water. Matt ignored her, repeating the same calming words over and over, trying to breach the veil of pain that held Tai prisoner. The two of them worked to keep Tai's fever from spiking any higher. Gabumon, having woken up, went to get Joe who came to check, Gomamon at his heels.

" You're doing the right thing," he said." He needs to cool down." The digimon set themselves up as water transport, constantly refilling the bags with cool water. Sora checked Tai's bandage while Joe and Matt kept replacing the compress. Joe seemed to be on the verge of giving up, until Sora gripped his arm and pointed.

" Look!"

Beads of sweat were pooling on Tai's exposed arms and chest as the fever finally broke. Sora gently touched Matt's shoulder.

" Look Matt - you did it!" Matt took in the sight in silence. Sora and Joe looked at each other in confusion before shrugging.

" He needs to be kept warm," Sora said. Gomamon looked at Joe quickly before walking over and laying down with his head on Tai's leg. Gabumon went to the other side and gently rested a large paw across Tai's stomach. Patamon suddenly appeared, alighting on Tai's other leg. Matt looked up quickly at this and saw TK staring at him apprehensively, looking as though he were about to be punished. Matt gave him a brief smile before motioning him over. TK curled up in his older brother's lap and stared at Tai hopefully. Biyoman flew over and curled up above Gomamon, resting her wings lightly across Tai's chest so as not to injure him further. Palmon and Mimi suddenly appeared and added their warmth as well. Izzy curled up next to Tentomon who had also joined the group. Sora shrugged and she and Joe lay down with the group, all of them feeling the need to comfort the others. Matt placed TK next to Gabumon and went back to his spot beside the fire. He didn't deserve to be there. Poking the fire with a stick restlessly, he kept watch for the rest of the night.

Next morning, everybody seemed to wake up at the same time. Sora quickly checked on Tai who seemed better. Some color had returned to his face, and he didn't seem to be in much pain. She caught sight of Matt who was dozing fitfully by the remains of the fire, where he had been all night.

" Matt?"

Matt's eyes shot open and he quickly became aware of his surroundings.

" How's Tai?"

" Better," Sora said with a smile. Matt got up to check. The digimon went out to forage for their breakfast while the rest of the digi-destined went about their morning business.

" He DOES look better," Matt admitted.

" So you can stop feeling guilty then," Sora said gently.

" I can't Sora." Matt stepped away. Sora followed, still protesting.

" Why not?"

" Because it's my fault!"

" Last time I checked, it was that black digi-thing that attacked," Sora pointed out calmly.

" Yeah, but it should have hit ME! If I had just moved, I could have avoided it. But I froze." Matt hung his head in shame. " I'm always calling Tai a reckless leader but he's got more of what it takes then I'll ever have."

" That's how Tai is," Sora said. " If there's a way for him to help someone, he'll do it."

" But why did he save ME?" Matt shouted in frustration. THAT was what kept bugging him, kept nagging at him. " Of all the people to risk his life for, why save the one who's always insulting you?"

"'s...m-my...job..." came a feeble voice from behind them. Matt and Sora whirled around in shock.

" Tai!"

" You're okay!"

" S-sort of...." Tai whispered and managed a half-grin. Sora rushed over to him.

" How do you feel?"

" L-like I got...r-run over with...a truck.." He chuckled once before wheezing in pain. Sora gripped his hand.

" Maybe you'd better not laugh until you heal up."

" TAI!" Agumon's shout snapped everyone's head up. Matt fell back as the whole group gathered about their friend to see for themselves that he was okay.

" Matt?" Gabumon appeared next to him." Are you not happy? Tai is recovering!"

" I know. Yeah, I'm happy," Matt said, but the smile on his lips never made it past his nose.

" You still blame yourself?"

" Him recovering does not erase what happened."

" M-matt?"

Matt froze at the sound of Tai's voice. Deliberatley acting nonchalant, he turned to face Tai.

" Yeah?"

" You okay?"

The honest concern in Tai's voice was what did it. Matt didn't know WHY Tai wasn't angry at him, or WHY he was so concerned. All he knew, was that Tai had saved his life, and was now asking if HE was okay. Matt felt his control break, and he sank to the ground. Tai looked at him with growing concern.

" Matt!"

" Come on guys - these two need to talk," Sora said, herding them all out of the campsight to the river. " And we still don't have breakfast yet."

Tai watched them leave and then returned his gaze to Matt who was trying very hard not to look up.

" Are you okay?" he asked again, wishing Matt would tell him what was going on.

" I'm fine," Matt lied.

" Yeah right," Tai snorted. And then winced. Matt looked up in concern. Tai waved his concern away.

" It'll heal."

" Why?"

" Why what?"

" Why did you save me?" Matt asked slowly.

" Huh? Well, what was I supposed to do? Let that thing hit ya?"

" You should have."

" Oh that's smart."

" I mean it!" Matt insisted. " It should have hit me!"

" Well it didn't," Tai said, shifting gingerly. " So get over it."

" I'm sorry Tai," Matt said, lowering his gaze again. Tai sighed.

" For what now?"

" The fight we had over all this...for calling you reckless...saying you're a bad leader..."

" That?" Tai grinned. " I never take you seriously."

Matt looked up quickly. " You don't?"

Tai shrugged. " Nah. Half the time you're right anyway."

" I am?"

" Much as I HATE to admit it." Tai picked at the bandage. Matt swatted his hand away.

" Leave that alone."

" Nag."

" What did you mean it's your responsibility?" Matt asked curiously.

" I'm the leader, according to Gennai." Tai shrugged. " I had to save you - it's my responsibility to make sure the team stays safe."

" Oh."

Tai suddenly realized what he said, and leaned forward carefully.

" Matt - that's not the only reason though."

Matt looked at him questioningly. Tai smacked his forehead.

" Yeesh, are you that dense? I saved you 'cause we're FRIENDS!! Haven't you learned what the word is yet?"

Matt smiled faintly. " I think Izzy defined it once."

" NOW he develops a sense of humour." Tai sat back. Matt laughed.

" Amazing, huh?"

" Yeah."

Matt suddenly sobored.

" Thanks Tai." In those two words, Tai could sense the depth of feeling behind them and he grinned back, sticking out his hand.

" Your welcome."

Finis! What'ja think?