Mie Matsuda had awoken to a golden glow around the edge of her window-blinds; by this, she knew it would be a beautiful day. And it was. Everything was clear-edged, bright, as if the world had turned into a giant postcard.

            Just so…just so should all days be, at least for a little while. For a little while, for her son the artist to recreate with pen and paint; a little while, for her son the child to play in. Just for a little while – and then it could storm all it wanted, if payment for such beauty was needed.

            She wouldn't care.

            She drove Takato and Ruki to the park, and then left them there to drive errands. She didn't have to; Takahiro would have done it for her if she wanted. But she thought, with the intuition of a mother prickling at her, that Takato would have liked to have this time with Ruki alone. So she gave it to him.

            When she returned to pick him up, the park was full of people, taking advantage of the sun. Simple, riotous games were taking place everywhere, people playing tag or tossing Frisbees or flying kites. The air was filled with happy yelling and dogs barking and the whir of bicycle wheels and skates. A group of teenagers on a picnic had brought a stereo along with them, set at a volume loud enough to be discerned, but not enough to distinguish it from the rest of the sounds of the park. Still, its music stayed with her, drifting along with the wind, as she searched for her son.

---
i don't know all the answers i think that i'll find
or have it within the time
…but it's all that i'll have in mind
---

            Mie found the two of them under a shade tree. Takato had his head tilted back lazily, face towards the sky – or what would have been the sky, if the leafy boughs hadn't blocked it. Sun-dappling painted strange shadows on his face. Ruki sat next to him, her own head bowed. One knee was drawn up to her chest, her left arm propped on top of it.

            The two children – for that was what Mie thought of them as, even if they might have protested the label – seemed strangely apart from everything around them; like a nook recessed from the rest of the room. Shadowed while everything else was soaked with sun; still while everyone else ran and jumped and laughed.

            And perhaps it was fitting, because they weren't like everyone else. But Mie would have much rather that they were.

---
until i fall away
i won't keep you waiting long
---

            Takato knew his mother had arrived. One eye drew open slowly, saw her standing at a distance, at the edge of his vision. He closed his eyes again, reveling in the delicious feeling of being half-asleep.

            A slight twinge in his stomach told him he really should let his mother know he saw her, so that they could leave and go to lunch together as they'd all planned. Maybe Rumiko and Seiko, Ruki's family, and his own father Takahiro were waiting for them at the restaurant.

            But he liked it here, sprawled on the ground like any other kid. Well, actually, any other kid would probably have been playing some sort of game, not just sitting quietly. But that was beyond him now, and this was the closest he could come. His wheelchair had been left at the other side of the tree, and he was thankful that its trunk was thick enough to hide that symbol of his illness from his sight.

            So…just one more minute to lie here, holding hands with Ruki, and sleepy enough to forget everything else around him.

---
until i fall away
i don't know what to do anymore
until i fall away…
---

            He could feel Ruki shifting next to him, and knew she had seen his mother. Unconsciously he stiffened before commanding his body to relax again. He closed his eyes a little tighter, deepened his breathing, so that he could better pretend to be asleep.

            Liar.

            And he knew he would have to get up soon.

---
my fear pretend
that i'll never be in love again
---

            Ruki raised her head, and saw Mie standing a little distance away. Takato's mother wasn't looking straight at them, but seemed to be staring abstractly at a point somewhere above their heads.

            Perhaps she was remembering. Ruki had seen that look on her own mother's face often enough. Maybe she herself looked like that, sometimes.

***

            It had been Janyuu, Jenrya's father, who had insisted that the Tamers get as thorough a medical check-up as was possible. And it had been Janyuu who had first heard the news. His face was pale when the rest of the families had entered the conference room, hurriedly appropriated from the hospital, to accommodate everyone involved.

            When the doctor entered, he had made the children leave the room, leaving only their parents inside. They'd filed out obediently, if puzzledly. Ruki's stomach felt cold, and she was on edge from that look on Janyuu's face, but she only talked about small things with the others – schoolwork, TV shows, and the like. They didn't talk about Digimon, because the loss was too fresh, too raw. She was sure the others had noticed Janyuu as well, but they hid it as well as she did.

            All of them had bolted to their feet when their parents came out, though, anxious to find out what had happened. And Ruki would have been the first to demand an answer, except that her mother had engulfed her in a tight, desperate hug. Rumiko had always been quick to tears, but her crying today was a silent, body-wracking affair – different from her usual noisy hysterics – that frightened her daughter. Over her mother's shoulder she could see her grandmother's pale face, tears already streaming down paper-white cheeks. And then, craning her head, saw all the rest of the Tamers in similar situations, frightened and confused as their parents cried.

***            

It had taken the doctors a long time to figure out why, and even now there were some things they didn't know. But they'd figured out enough to draw that terrible conclusion: that all the Tamers hadn't long left to live.

---
it's real to me
but not like these fools
and not like this scene
---

            She looked around her, at the others who were playing and running instead of sitting in the shadows, who never thought about death except as an abstract that would never apply to their young immortal selves. And she felt the now-familiar rage rising in her – for herself, and for Takato, and for everyone she loved – before she pushed it to the back of her mind.

            It had something to do with their being Tamers, Ruki knew. She hadn't understood all the medical jargon the doctor had said. But the bond with Digimon that had been the greatest thing in their young lives had exacted a toll on their bodies. Like a cancer, spreading like one – only not. Everyday, there was a little less cohesion to their cellular structure; everyday, thousands of cells died and were not replenished.

            She once thought of it as a payment. As if their life-force had been the currency they used to pay for everything they'd done. To pay for every card-slash; for every time Renamon had become Kyuubimon or Taomon; for every Biomerge that mixed data with the cells of her body.

            Juri, Kenta and Kazu had gotten off the easiest. They would probably live all the way to their forties, though wracked with considerable pain that would worsen with every year. But for Ai and Mako and Shuichion, their bodies too young to withstand the cost, that wasn't an option. They didn't know yet, because their parents couldn't bear to tell them, but they probably only had a decade of life left. Ruki and Jenrya were older, but they had also exposed themselves to more; they could assume the same amount of time was left to them, if not less.

            But Takato and Ryo – in them the degradation was faster, more savage. The doctors weren't sure why. Maybe it was because Ryo had spent so much time in the Digital World. Maybe it was because Takato had created his own Digimon – everyone could see there was something extra in the bond between Guilmon and him.

---
i won't find
or have it within the time
if it's all rusted and faded
---

            They would probably not find out. They wouldn't have the time; Takato and Ryo had been told they had until the end of the year.

            Ryo, in despair, had already committed suicide. His father had found him with slashed wrists. His funeral would be next week, with Ryo in a long-sleeved suit so that it wasn't so obvious. No one had told them that Ryo had suicided, but with a strange, nearly unnatural certainty, they'd all known.

            And Ruki always watched Takato now, and sometimes it was to be a sentry, so she would know if he was meaning to go the same way as Ryo; and sometimes it was for a more fatalistic reason, because she wouldn't have many chances to watch him later.

---
in the spot where we fell
where i thought i'd left behind
it's loose now but we could try
---

            But he never seemed like that. He never referred to their impending deaths, him with his so much the nearer. And he'd attempted to carry on a semblance of normalcy, sometimes so earnestly that it broke her heart; because how could he, with his legs that could no longer carry him, and his fingers that shook and couldn't hold onto his pencils anymore?

            Even his eyes…his sunset eyes, his red-sky eyes…sometimes so bleak that it made her want to embrace him. And she was not a person who liked to embrace people. Even him…even now.

            But she could help him keep up with the pretence, with the play that they had just as much time as everyone else. It helped him with what remained of his life. It helped her with what remained of hers.

---
until i fall away
i won't keep you waiting long
until i fall away
---

            She hauled herself to her feet, biting back a curse as she tottered ever so slightly. Her own balance was beginning to go; she had seen Takato like this, months ago. But in him it had come much more suddenly, progressed much faster. Mie, seeing her stand, had begun to make her way to the two.

            To get to her feet, she'd had to release her grasp on Takato's hand. It flopped lifelessly onto the ground, and Ruki winced, a gesture too slight to be noted by anyone other than herself.

            He stirred, eyelids fluttering before opening fully. "Are we going now?" he asked, words distorted by a yawn that followed close.

            Ruki nodded wordlessly, already going around the tree to fetch his wheelchair.

---
i don't know what to do anymore
until i fall away…
---

            Mie was there to help her son into the wheelchair. Takato's knuckles were white as he gripped the arm-rests of the wheelchair, jaw clenched.

            Around them, children were stopping their games to look curiously at the handicapped boy – a wheelchair, imagine! Their eyes were like hungry little lights. They would stare until Takato would get into the van, into the little elevator they'd installed for the purpose. And Ruki would not be able to do anything about it; could not ignore them, like Takato did - could not make them look away.

            If Renamon were here…

            But that's what started all this, wasn't it?

---
when there's no good answer
and no good questions
---

            Mie wheeled her son over the park's concrete walkways, trying to keep the motion smooth and unjarring for his sake. Ruki walked beside her, gaze straight and unblinking. They passed by a small child, a toy forgotten in his hand as he stared at Takato with the wide, cruel eyes of the very young. Takato, despite a sudden spurt of pain, smiled at him.

            The child's mouth opened, and he made a tiny, fearful sound before whirling around and running to his mother. Takato's smile wavered a little. Ruki clenched her fists.

---
another personal disaster
there's nowhere to go but down…
---

            They passed by the group of teenagers with the radio, still playing the English song. More blasé with the world, and already taught it was rude to stare – no matter how much they may have wanted to – these kept their eyes carefully averted from the three after one quick, avid glance.

            The music faded away as they quickly – or as quickly as possible, considering the awkwardness of the wheelchair – got into the van and drove away.

---
until i fall away
until i fall away…
---