AN: So here is what I was doing when I could've been getting some decent Harry Potter stuff done--I apologize. ^_^; But this Digimon fic holds a bit of sentimental value to me--yeah, okay, so a LOT of sentimental value. The original version hit more upon that "adopted" issue that I think is just barely scratched on here...but, yeah, I'm adopted. So I've always wanted to do something about adoption, though nearly all of that has been cut for the final. Still, I've grown very attached to Digimon, and this fic.
Watch for: Out-of-character-ness...reasonable, I think. Typos (still have some revising, but spellcheck has been completed, thank god.) Swearing, drug use...more swearing. More out-of-character-ness. Character death...and major, MAJOR angst. So unlike me. _ But I put a LOT of heart into this, so I'd appreciate...erm...I don't know. Kindness. Unless it's an absolutely terrible piece of work and you must flame.
Reviews craved. Of course.
The party was dark and nightmarish, clouded with cigarette smoke and feverish bodies visible only by the strobe lights flaring in the corners of the room. Everything seemed lit by black light so that the world was crazy and purple, tipping precariously under every step with a sort of surrealistic giddiness that gave way to fights and spilled beers--of which he'd had none; he was being a good boy and drinking sodas. But to no avail, really--the intoxication of the situation compensated for the lack of alcohol in his system, making him just as inebriated as any of the others. He stumbled against someone and caught a banister. It was cold, but he hugged it to his chest anyway...he was so unsteady on his feet that he was sure he'd fall if he tried another step.
Beneath him, the floor rumbled. Music exploded from the speakers, light on decency, heavy on bass. It was turned up so loud he could actually feel the vibrations chattering in his teeth, the torrential pulse of percussion in perfect sync with the throbbing in his temples. Slowly, after a long moment of gathering his scattered thoughts, he pulled himself up the stairs. Opened a door. Staggered into a room, where a group of about thirteen or fourteen mingled and chattered--god, it was bright.
"Izzy!" A familiar voice. He couldn't quite place it. "Izzy, I've been looking for you!"
Strong, stable hands on his shoulders.
"I think we should leave now." Same voice. Quieter, now. Whispering. "This party is getting way out of hand. Someone spiked the drinks and I'm seeing joints--we need to find TK and get the hell out of here."
"TK," he mumbled, without understanding.
"My brother. TK. The one who's always--oh god, Izzy. You're smashed. Guess you know about the spiked drinks, then."
The distantly recognizable figure started to move past him. Izzy reached out and desperately grabbed his arm, not wanting his last semblance of familiarity to abandon him. The teen stopped, gently extricating himself and squeezing his hands. He spoke carefully and slowly. "No, you stay here. I'm going to get TK, okay? You just stay here and don't do anything until I come and get you. Then--then--I don't know. I'll take you to my house and sober you up with a nice cup of tea, okay? You can spend the night."
Vague flashes of memory. "Heh...pillow fights...?"
His companion laughed, breathless with relief. "Yeah, we can have pillow fights! Now sit down and wait for me. I'll be right back."
Footsteps pattered down the carpeted hall, then down the stairs. Izzy closed his eyes and leaned numbly into the doorframe, staring at his open palms with lofty interest. He had small hands. Dimly, he grabbed onto another strand of recollection...those hands scribbling jagged, angry notes--suicide notes? he free-associated, then shrugged, feeling wildly confused--those hands holding handfuls of aspirin, then depositing the pills back into the container. He saw those hands tearing futilely at a reflection in a bathroom mirror, a reflection that he hated, those hands clawing at his sheets at night, those hands clasped together over sweat and tears during prayer at night--
--please, Lord, let me die--let me just die--kill me, God, please kill me--
It came back in a rush...the agony, the suicide attempts, the pills he'd been trying to swallow before Yamato came to take him to a band-mate's open-house birthday bash--it was still there. A couple spiked sodas didn't erase the pain...and this party was the last ditch effort to escape his hellish life. But it came back. Bet your fur. The pain came back.
"Koushiro," someone cooed, and this voice was not friendly. "Koushiro, I've never seen you like this--away from your computer? Drunk? Today's quite the day for new things."
He was guided farther into the room. The grasp on his forearm was vice-like. Even if he'd been clear-headed, he doubted he would've been able to break away. He was pushed down on the sofa between two other strangers who immediately crowded him between them, both with pupils dilated to cat-like proportions. One of them moved to kiss his neck, obviously intoxicated senseless. He moved away, more out of instinct than anything else.
The first man was hovering over him now, grinning drunkenly. "We got somethin' for you, just to initiate you into the cool crowd. Somethin' we've been savin' just for the goody-goodies. You'll love it, I promise."
He held up a hand. A joint was pinched between forefinger and thumb.
"Cocaine?" Izzy said, uncomprehending.
"We'll turn you into one of us yet, Kou. Take it."
He closed his clumsy fingers around it without thinking, then hesitated.
"Snort it. Do it quick. It's worth it."
Drugs are wrong, spoke his conscience, sing-songy and almost mocking. Drugs are bad, you SILLY boy, momma always told you to keep away from happy dust!
But it gave you a high. He'd read that on the Internet. It made you feel like you were floating. It made you forget all of your problems.
Izzy felt his eyes welling with tears and swiped at them impatiently. He stared down at the tiny white cylinder in his palm, torn--even drunk, he knew that a drug was a drug. But it looked so harmless, just sitting there in his soft, pink hand like that--it was almost like a cigarette. And one cigarette never hurt anyone.
You'll forget aaaall your problems. No more loneliness. No more identity crises. No more school--no more anything.
They helped him lean over and get his trembling hands up to his face, arranging the joint so that he'd be able to put it to use. He sat there for a moment, just thinking--and Matt's face appeared in his mind; nothing meaningful, just a wisp of conversation from some past event. "You're just a kid," said Memory-Matt, softly and smiling as always. "And things seem so rough right now. I won't tell you when to keep on going, and when to sit down--because I am not you. But I promise you this, Izzy. Someday...someday..."
The rest of it was lost. Shaking the last thoughts out of his mind, he inhaled.
The cocaine burned like hell. He put his hands to his face and scrubbed fiercely, falling back into the couch and pressing his fingertips to his stinging eyes. Then the pain passed, and everything seem to slow down...the music lowered in pitch and throbbed quieter, and the guys above him were laughing in deep, echoing tones that made Izzy feel as if he were underwater. There was no high for a moment--then he was floating; so far above his worldly troubles it was as if they had never existed.
"You're feeling it?" said the man, collapsing onto the couch next to him.
Izzy laughed dazedly. The man muttered something else, but Izzy didn't hear it--he was too busy listening to that other beat; a sort of drumming...it was different from the music. It wasn't as hollow...it was so strange.
"Is it supposed to feel like this?" he whispered.
"Yeah. Dontcha love it?"
"I--I...the music--it's...so loud..."
"Music's stopped, Kiddo."
"Then...then what is that weird noise...?"
He dreamily closed his eyes, then opened them when he heard Matt shriek from the doorway. The blonde slid into the room, tripping over several people in his haste. "What the hell did you do to him?" he screamed. "Shit--Izzy! Izzy, can you hear me--? Izzy!"
"That noise," Izzy repeated. He felt suddenly hot. Way too hot. "Music."
"There's no music, Izzy! What's wrong with you? Don't blank out on me--tell me what's happening to you!"
"It's like a dream," he said distantly. "A big, swirly dream with that funny music--"
TK stood in the doorway, pale as a sheet. Matt grabbed Izzy's shoulders and shook as hard as he could, but the redhead was swiftly lolling into unconsciousness. He snatched someone's drink off the end table, fishing out a handful of ice cubes and pressing them to Izzy's flushed face. Then he moved them down to his neck--and his entire body went cold.
Oh. My. GOD.
"It's his heartbeat!" he cried, tossing the ice aside. He pressed his fingers under Izzy's chin, hysterically searching for a pulse. "The music--he's hearing his own goddam heartbeat! TK, get an ambulance!"
"You fuckin' crazy?" one of the guys shouted at him. "You can't call the police!"
"Not our fault you have drugs!" TK yelled, whipping out his cell phone. There were tears running down his face.
Drugs, Matt repeated to himself.
His stomach lurched into his throat.
DRUGS!! THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED; HE TOOK DRUGS!!!
He finally located a pulse. He couldn't even distinguish one beat from the other; it was a constant flurry! Izzy was completely unconscious now; his eyelids weren't even fluttering. His breathing was shallow and rapid.
"God, no, Izzy," Matt sobbed, fanning him off with a rolled up magazine he'd seized from the table. "C'mon, Izzy--stay with me--please don't leave me--"
But when the medics arrived four minutes later, Koushiro Izumi was dead.
. . . . . .
"Izzy's--Izzy's gone. He took coke at a party and his heart rate and blood pressure went crazy--he had a fatal heart attack, Joe--Izzy is dead."
He didn't believe Matt, at first. Why, Matt was cool as ever--maybe even cooler; he sounded almost as if he was in shock. But he wasn't crying, and didn't it make sense that when a friend died, you cried? He thought it was some distasteful joke. Even after hanging up, he couldn't really accept that it was real. Jim asked him about the call, and Joe said calmly, "Oh, Izzy's dead. Something about cocaine." Then he'd gone upstairs to do his homework.
Three hours had passed since Matt had called. Joe had finished with his math and was setting to work on his language arts. He was halfway through his interpretation of Catcher in the Rye's symbolism when he glanced up, struck suddenly with the impulse to look at the photo he had on his dresser. Carefully moving his books from his lap, he stood and examined the framed picture. Him and Izzy; whadda ya know? He'd dated the back--Izzy had just turned eleven, while he had reached the dreaded one-three of teenagerism. The picture was oddly serious--neither was smiling, even though Izzy had his arms wrapped around Joe's neck in a relaxed piggyback. It was the type of photo you'd expect to be in black and white.
He knew more about me than anyone else, he thought, replacing the picture. I'd definitely call him my best friend, but I don't know if I was his--maybe because Izzy was everybody's friend. But he came to me because it was appropriate--Ol' Reliable Joe; that's me.
No doubt about it; Izzy did disclose secrets about himself to Joe--whether they were funny and trivial, like his passion for pineapple jellybeans or classical music...or whether they were more serious--fears and tears; trials and tribulations. The whole shebang. Joe had a nauseating feeling that Izzy's motives for taking drugs would become clearer as soon as his mother opened that small, discreetly labeled word document on Izzy's computer's desktop. It was his diary. Joe knew that he typed in it quite frequently--especially recently. That blob of megabytes was probably the only entity that knew everything about Izzy. The kid had had so many facets--only some of which Joe knew of.
Izzy can't be dead. He just can't be.
Joe returned to his homework.
. . . . . .
"Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust."
Matt let the dirt slide gently through his fingers, watching it slowly filter down into the ground that would bed his friend for the rest of forever.
Forever was such a lonely word.
He and TK had screamed themselves hoarse at each other that morning. It was a stupid fight...he couldn't even remember exactly what it was about. It had something to do with vacuuming. Then TK had started to cry, and they knew that their argument wasn't about some dumb chore--the underlying rivers of grief inside them had finally bubbled over.
It was so funny, life without Izzy. So empty. Matt never knew how dependant he was on him, but now that he was gone...there would be no more movie nights on Friday; no more study groups on Wednesday...no more classmate on the weekdays or companion on the weekends--a vacant seat in algebra 2. A vacant place in his heart; drilled by peer pressure and a line of cocaine.
Why'd you do it, Izzy? he thought numbly, staring blankly across the grave at Tai, who looked so uncharacteristically lost that Matt felt like he was breaking in two. You were always there for me when I had problems, and I could've been there for you...yes, I know you had problems--you could see it in your face; your eyes--even in the way you walked. I know you didn't do it on a whim, Iz...you're too smart to something that incredibly stupid. There was a reason you took that joint. Were you lonely? Were you sick? Was something hurting you? I wish you'd know that I was there for you--we all were. You should've taken our hands. Not a drug.
TK was kneeling on the grass near the six-foot depression. He was still releasing his handful of dirt, one grain at a time--depositing it with meticulous care. No one spoke a word; they just waited for him to finish...which took nearly half a minute, but not a person shifted until he had finished and climbed back to his feet, his cheeks covered in tears.
The funeral ended informally. Everyone departed, one or two at a time.
Matt stayed. He watched as they shoveled dirt back into the hole. Each mound of dirt made a pattering noise as it hit the coffin. He felt someone step next to him.
"Mrs. Izumi wants to see us," said Sora softly.
"Gimmie a minute," Matt whispered.
The dirt no longer pattered. Just dirt on dirt, now. Izzy was down there. Somewhere.
"I feel like this is some sort of colossal prank," she said, lowering her eyes. Her face was red. "All through the service, I kept thinking that he was going to sit up and yell 'surprise!' Did--did he look different, Matt? During the open-casket? I--I couldn't bear to look."
"Neither could I," he said flatly. "The Izzy I knew was alive."
Lull in conversation. Birds chirped somewhere off in the trees. It was such a beautiful day out; unusual this early in spring--no rushes of rain and swirls of dark storm cloud. It did not seem like a funeral at all--but then again, Matt hadn't been to a funeral before...none quite like this, anyway. The person in heaven was not just some random grandparent or Uncle What's-His-Name. This was Izzy.
Sora was sobbing quietly, muffling the sound in her hands. Matt put an arm around her, closing his own eyes over burning hot tears and leading her away. "Never mind, I'm all set. We can...we can always come back, you know."
"I know," she said, and cried harder.
Somehow, though, she managed to collect herself completely before they reached the others. Yolei and Ken were in a subdued knot to Mrs. Izumi's left; Joe, looking oddly alone, stood to her right. Tai and Kari sat together on a bench; TK on Kari's other side with his fingers twined tenderly with hers. Davis wasn't even looking at them. He stood the farthest away from the group, looking at something in the distance. His hands were stuffed in the pockets of his black slacks. With dull surprise, Matt realized how much Davis had grown up in these last few days. How much they'd all grown up.
"Mimi couldn't come," said Kari. She seemed unable to meet anyone's eyes. "And Cody--he--he couldn't handle it. He says he's sorry."
Quiet. A wind rustled by, then settled.
"I don't know quite how to begin," said Mrs. Izumi, trying valiantly to smile through her tears.
Joe put an arm around her shoulders. "It's alright, ma'am, just do your best."
She took in a long, shuddering breath and began falteringly. "Well--an autopsy was performed. His--his death...it was a heart attack as you've been told; I don't want you to get any misconceptions. But...as you know...autopsies can reveal certain--certain aspects of a person's life that they tried to keep secret. And--I'm desperate to know if any of you were aware of this, and if so, could you perhaps--give me some more information? I was...I was completely in the dark about this, and it's tearing me up."
Mrs. Izumi squeezed Joe's hand, lowering her face.
"There--there were scars. Mostly around his ankles, but a few on the hands. I--th-they were self-inflicted."
"We're not talking about self-mutilation," said TK, his voice cracking. "C'mon--this is Izzy!"
"You mean that you never saw any outward indication as to any problems he was having in his life," Mrs. Izumi said, her face crumpling.
Matt whispered an apology, but it was inaudible. He shoved his hands deep into his jacket and turned his face to the ground, wanting so much to dissolve into it. For a long moment, everyone struggled for his or her composure--but--astoundingly--Tai was the first to snap. He shook his head violently, freeing tears with the motion.
"He didn't tell us any of his problems! Why didn't he talk to us?? You know, maybe he tried, but I was too busy to listen!!"
Sora reached to touch his shoulder. Tai shook her off aggressively, starting towards the parking so hastily that he almost stumbled. Giving them one final, despairing look, Kari rushed after him. They disappeared quickly into the distance--or Matt's vision had blurred so that it was impossible to see them anymore. Either way, Mrs. Izumi was speaking again, trying desperately not to lose hope.
"No signs at all? No actions that may have hinted at his problems?"
"He was a very closed-off person," said Yolei in a tiny, choked voice.
"But sometimes," said Joe suddenly, startling them all, "he would--lose his ability to hold on. He'd...be unfailingly cheerful in a group. Then, when I'd catch him alone, it seemed that he couldn't even smile. Once he came over to my house, real late at night...and just...cried. He said that his cat died."
"We never had a cat," said Mrs. Izumi faintly.
"I...surmised as much."
"You were his best friend, Joe?"
"No--I've never been anyone's best friend--I--I'm just--
"Yes, Mrs. Izumi," Matt interrupted gently. "Joe was Izzy's best friend. Anyone here will vouch for that."
Murmurs of agreement. Joe shifted uneasily, his face painfully flushed.
"Then I want you to read this," said Mrs. Izumi, removing a floppy disk from her coat pocket. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "It's a document I found on his desktop...a diary, of sorts. There's so much pain in it...so much real pain that I know it can't have been some story that he was writing. Tell me if it triggers anything he might've told you about the struggles he was having--the entries are all terribly vague."
"I can't take that," said Joe in a broken whisper.
"I--I--it's not appropriate; I'm--"
"Joe, please," Matt urged, grabbing his arm. He hadn't expected his voice to be so steady. "I'm sure I didn't know Izzy as well as you did, but I was close enough to him to know that he wouldn't grab a joint at the party just to see what it's like. There was a reason he was miserable enough to risk his life for a couple of minutes of happiness. And maybe it's too late...but I want to know why he was hurting the way he was. It's the least I can do...I mean, I didn't help him when he was living. But he's not a druggie, Joe, you know that. And he wasn't stupid. Don't let that be written on his death certificate. Please, Joe. Please take it."
Joe hesitated, then slowly accepted the disk with a distraught expression.
"I feel so wrong about this," he said as Mrs. Izumi left, her husband's arms wrapped comfortingly around her.
"Don't," said Davis, speaking for the first time. He turned to them, his face solemn and oddly adult. "Joe...despite what you think, you were the closest to Izzy. He never came to us in tears, am I right, Matt?"
"As far as I'm aware."
"So read the diary. See what was going on with him. You're our last chance to know what he was going through."
"He's not going to come back to life," said Joe, looking away.
"Which is why we have to preserve his memory."
Daisuke flashed them a small, bittersweet smile, threw his coat over his shoulder, and began walking back to the church. After a moment, the others proceeded after him, leaving Joe standing alone under the eave, the disk held tightly in a trembling fist.
. . . . . .
"'--when we were young the future was so bright--the old neighborhood was so alive--and every kid on the whole damn street was gonna make it big and not be beat...'"
"Go away, Kari, I'm busy," he said without looking at her. She tried to say something else, but he blocked out her protests by pressing his headphones even harder to his ears, sitting on his bed and facing the window. Clean, pure sunlight poured in, reducing him to a mere silhouette. Even from his handheld CD player, the music was screaming out in distressed strains of agonized vocal and guitar--Tai was shouting the lyrics as loud as he could, without much tune.
"'--the neighborhood is cracked and torn...the kids are grown up but their lives are worn...how can one little street--swallow so many lives--'"
She slowly retreated, backing out of the hall and into the living room, where her mother slept. Mom covered her face with a smile during the day, but when she was sleeping, Kari could see the red around her eyes. Kari's own eyes felt raw and swollen.
Feeling another one of those terrible trying-not-to-cry pains griping her at the base of her throat, she sat down before the coffee table where she'd spread out all of her old photographs. She remembered a day, rather long ago, when all eight of the original group had managed to get together for lunch and shopping. The pictures were random, casual and cheerful--a picture of Joe staring meditatively into a women's underwear shop; a shot of Tai and Matt trying to wrestle each other into a wishing fountain; a slanted image of herself, Mimi, and Sora in a Charlie's Angels pose outside some arcane bookstore--and then a slightly blurred one of Izzy chewing at the end of a straw in the food court with a puzzled smile.
If she had known, she'd have focused the camera more.
That was the last time we were a group, she realized. Tears were spilling down her cheeks again. Sure, we gathered a couple of times--but never all of us; Mimi was always in America, or Joe had to study for a test--and now Izzy is gone forever. We'll never be together again.
"'--committed suicide--Brandon OD'd and died--what the hell is goin' on? The cruelest dream; reality--'"
Suddenly Tai was sobbing. There was a clatter of plastic and a dull thump--it sounded like he'd heaved his CD player at the wall. Kari went to his room again. He lay facedown on his bed, his shoulders heaving with every heart-wrenching sob--he flinched away from her as she climbed onto the bed and gently touched his shoulder, trying to stifle himself quickly. "I'm f-f-fine, Kari," he choked out. "Go away--I don't n-need you to--I'm fine, I just--just--"
Kari burst into tears, hugging her knees to her chest. Tai immediately grabbed her into a tight hug, burying his face in her shoulder.
"Oh god, Izzy..."
. . . . . .
The Ishida house seemed morbidly quiet.
It was the first Wednesday after--what would have been study group day. Knowing that Matt would be upset, he'd had his mother take him over to chat...but somehow, he hadn't realized it would be this painful. Matt was asleep on the couch when he'd arrived at nearly seven o' clock, his backpack's contents strewn over the carpet and a rumpled tissue tucked into one hand. The kitchen was undisturbed, indicating that Matt hadn't eaten anything. So TK set to work.
Matt was the cook around the house, to be sure, but TK did his best with the rice-maker. He had to scrape some of it off the bottom because it had burned, but the rest of it seemed edible. He heated up some old leftovers and poured his brother some soda--their dad never let them drink soda with dinner, but he figured it was a special circumstance. After all, Dad was working late, Izzy was dead--that type of thing.
He woke Matt up as gently as he could, but Matt came to with a violent lurch, rattling the coffee table as he banged his knee on it.
Breathing hard, Matt glanced at him. It seemed to take a minute for him to focus, then he shook his head and put his head on his elbows.
"I guess so, Teeks--I can't really remember."
"I made dinner," said TK, struggling to attain his normal cheer. "And I didn't set anything on fire."
"I'm proud. Knew you had to have some of that Ishida skill in you, somewhere," said Matt. A smile tugged briefly at his lips, then fell away. His face knotted, as if he were about to bring something up--but with convulsive effort, he shut his mouth and forced another grin. "Let me guess...you made a nutritious meal of boiled water, pre-cooked pasta, and fig bars?"
"Close...burnt rice and leftovers, heated up so hot that the flavor's all evaporated."
"Sounds great. Um, thanks."
They gazed at each other briefly, smiling constrainedly. TK broke the glance first, a familiar sense of grief seizing his chest. He'd only been over once during study group, just to hang out...you'd never think that Izzy could get so wired, but that one time TK had visited, both he and Matt were bouncing off the walls. Books abandoned on the kitchen counter, Izzy had been blowing furiously into Matt's harmonica, emitting dying-squirrel noises with hysterical consistency that made TK's stomach ache from laughter. Those had been such good times...ephemeral ages of innocence that seemed so utterly lost now.
Neither of them could eat, though they sat at the table, pretending, for nearly an hour. Then Matt tossed his chopsticks away, angrily--they clattered onto the floor. He screeched his chair back, preparing to stand. TK grabbed his wrist.
"It's my fault he's dead!" Matt cried abruptly; shockingly. "I took him to that stupid party, then abandoned him! If I had just stayed with him, or taken him with me--he wouldn't have taken that joint!! He'd be over right now, teaching me how to conjugate Spanish verbs and...and explaining the cell cycle--and--and helping me learn city names and--"
"I was there too! Did you forget that?? There was nothing you could've done!"
Matt was sobbing so hard now he could barely speak. "I...shouldn't...the party was--"
"We can blame ourselves all we want, but it wasn't our faults! Don't you think I've done some thinking about that night? If I hadn't separated from you, so that you'd have to come looking for me--if I had called the police right away, instead freezing like a goddam baby--but do you blame me, Matt? Do you blame me for what happened to Izzy??"
"Of course n-not, I'd n-n-never--"
"And that's exactly why I don't blame you! And that's exactly why you can't blame yourself!!"
The silence following his outburst seemed to ring. TK slumped back in his chair, lightheaded from shouting and dizzy with grief. Matt put his head down on the table, hands clasped limply together in his lap.
Tentatively, he took Matt's hand, then the other with more steadiness. Matt's fingertips were callused from years of guitar-playing, but his palms were so soft and baby-like--TK remembered that about Izzy; his hands. It was such a strange thing to recall about someone; anyone--regardless of whether they were alive or dead. But Izzy's hands always seemed so oddly delicate, almost feminine in their persistent care and fluidity. That had probably come from typing so often on the computer. Typing in his diary...which Joe was most likely reading at this very moment. TK wondered wildly what it would reveal.
"It hurt to say that Joe was Izzy's best friend, because we were all so damned close to him," said Matt suddenly, lifting his head and wiping his damp cheeks. "I never broke our group down into 'best friends,' until yesterday. We came together, not in pairs. It was so weird to say that...but...I guess Joe talked to him more. Or rather, Izzy talked to Joe more."
"Matt, I hope you're not taking it personally," said TK softly. "Because I don't think he broke it down into pairs, either. But--certain people can only talk with certain others. You know what I mean? Like, Tai. He's comfortable sharing his personal feelings with you, while I'm sure he never came to Izzy to talk about the same things. Tai can speak with you because you appeal to the kind of advice he needs, and the way he wants to hear it. And vice versa. Am I making any sense at all?"
"Yeah...I think I get it."
"It's like how I can talk to Kari about school, friends, teachers--anything but love and growing up. So I come to you for advice and help with getting older, and I go to Sora or Mimi for love advice. Just as an example, you know. There are specialized subjects that I share with everyone. Even Cody and Davis."
"And I'm just not the person Izzy felt he could talk to about his personal life," said Matt bitterly. He cut TK off as he started to open his mouth again. "No, I'm okay with that. I can't imagine him asking me about love advice. It's like what you said; it's a balance. I know that to me, he was always--above all that. He knew everything, and it'd be weird for him to disprove me by telling me his problems."
"But I think you know everything. And that's why you don't talk to me."
Matt gazed at TK hesitantly. "I thought I did."
"Sometimes, but not really. Matt...you haven't been eating, have you? You didn't tell me that. And you're grieving just as bad as the rest of us, but you're doing your 'I'm perfectly calm' thing. That...that lone wolf thing. And you just implied that you've been feeling guilty, like you killed him, somehow...? It...it scares me."
For the first time that visit, TK faltered. He looked out the kitchen window, his blue eyes over-bright with tears.
"I don't know why people
die. I--I just don't understand
it. Who chooses who goes, and who
stays? And why would all these unknown
deities want to take Izzy away from us?"
Under his lids, Matt's eyes were burning again.
"Tough questions, Teeks. I wish I could answer them."
A single tear plopped onto the table, soaking the edge of his napkin. He rubbed it away.
"I'm not going to put on a calm front now, TK; I'll be honest. I don't know how in hell we're going to be able to go on without him. It's like we lost the brain of our friends...no. Like we lost the heart. I can only think of how empty it's going to be. I've never felt so alone before, and I want to be there for you...but...when I can't be there for myself...it's just...it seems like such a hopeless situation."
"They don't call me 'hope' for nothing," said TK, vying bravely for a smile.
"You mean to say you've still got some?"
"I don't know," he responded to the desperation in Matt's voice. He cupped his hands over his face, putting his elbows on his placemat. "I feel so confused. I feel like I've gone blind, suddenly. Like I'm wandering through darkness. But--there's something that's prevented me from dying myself, I think...I think it's Izzy. Izzy...and knowing that he wouldn't want us to lose hope. I don't feel like I can hang on, just for me...not anymore, I'm just so tired; I want to lay my burden down and go to sleep. But I can hang on...for him."
Matt sobbed, muffling the sound under his hands.
Slowly, he stooped to pick up his chopsticks again.
They finished dinner in silence.
. . . . . .
--feel like everyone's laughing at me and I'm the edge of a precipice...I can take that last step and it'll all be over...but there'll be people behind me that I'll leave behind...and I don't want them to follow, I don't want to leave them with nothing to justify my motives...but I don't want to be me anymore. I'm so sick of being me.
Every few minutes, Joe had to back away from the computer screen and take deep breaths. As he slid back his chair this time, a shadow fell into the light cast by the glowing monitor.
"Do you want anything to drink?" said Jim, timidly.
"No thank you."
"Anything to eat?"
"No thank you."
"Is there...anything I can do?"
"No...no. But...thank you."
"You can tell me to stop if I'm overstepping my boundaries, but I want to make sure you're okay. Do you think you should be reading that this late at night? If it's bad, you'll never sleep. Is--is it bad?"
"Oh, yes. It's--" Joe broke off, gesturing helplessly at the screen. He took a moment to gather his thoughts. "I'm finding it difficult to believe that a person can be in so much emotional pain and show so little of it, externally. This is like treading through a waist-deep swamp...excruciating. Grim. Painful. I--I--could you leave me alone, please? I...need some space right now. I'm having trouble...breathing."
Jim crossed the room and opened the window a few inches, letting a cool, spring breeze replace some of the staler air. He paused behind Joe and kissed him awkwardly, clasping him on the shoulder.
"I'm proud of the way you're handling this."
Simply stated. Jim began to leave.
Joe paused, fighting to find his voice again.
"Izzy was my best friend."
Jim regarded him, his eyes serious but glittering with tears. "I know."
He went, closing the door behind him again. Joe closed his eyes against the relieving air for a second, then pulled himself up to his desk and immersed himself once more in Izzy's world of pain:
Our crests--everyone else carries a trait that will help you in life. Love. Hope. Friendship. Reliability...Joe; I admire him so much for owning this crest. But I have knowledge. And how does that benefit me? Wonderful--I read books and comprehend difficult reading material. Books don't do me any good. They don't bring me happiness or the will to live...which is what I need now.
Joe bit his lower lip so hard it bled.
Izzy, I can't believe you felt like this.
It was getting to be too much. He couldn't read the whole thing in one sitting. Joe scrolled down a few pages. The entries were swiftly losing coherency.
Today I cut again. I know mom would be so disappointed if she knew but I had to, I don't even feel like I'm living--the pain assures me that I'm still here however gone everything else is besides my physical shell. I could push a little harder and die but there are things I've got to do, like finishing my sciences courses and becoming fluent in binary code. And of course, I can't leave the others yet. They don't need me but it's my experience that change in life can be terrifying and I'm so sick of scaring people away from me--mom tried to take me to the hospital because she found one of my notes. Goodnight, diary. I feel sick.
Joe knew that Izzy had been in an advanced placement language arts class. He knew how to punctuate properly, and he could identify run-on sentences like anything. Reading this was deeply disturbing...a document filled to bursting with black, gripping agony. The last entry, written in two brief paragraphs, had hardly any punctuation at all. Even the capitalization went to blazes:
I'm going to a party at Matt's and i hope it'll go fast tonight was supposed to be the night but he came over earlier than i expected. Even though i want so bad to kill myself i know i won't be able to do it Izzy's a coward
It's like i can't even FEEL anything anymore i want it all to END. Cause sometimes i feel like I'm going to be okay...but days like this makes me want to scream. this is like drowning except so much slower i don't feel anything and i don't see anything and i don't have anything to live for except my friends...but i can't even hold onto them any longer, guys, i've got to let go i've got to let go i've got to let go
And he did let go.
The entry was dated the night of his death.
. . . . . .
Cody--like Kari, Joe, and Mimi in America--was looking over his old photographs.
He had a bunch of them. Yolei loved pictures, and she usually got doubles or triples. She was always slipping them in the mailbox--she thought it was much more fun than just giving them to him. Sort of like having a pen pal right next door. So he took them out and sorted through them by person, keeping all the group shots together. The hundreds of photos were stacked neatly inside one of his clothes drawers, just under his socks.
Izzy's pile was close to the top, just under Joe's. He extricated the fistful and taped them carefully above his headboard, spacing them as evenly as he could in rows of six by six. He ended up with an extra--his favorite; it was the same as Kari's--and put in on his bookshelf, next to the one of his father. The splash of color was almost offensive in his plain room, but he found it comforting somehow...as if Izzy really was here with him; as if he had never left.
His mother had difficulty explaining death to him. Sure, Cody knew the concept--any kid his age would know that death was when someone departed and never returned, and there was his father--so of course he knew what death was, speaking in the most general of all terms. But he'd pinned his mom with the same questions that TK had posed on Matt--who takes people away? How do they pick who dies and who lives? Why Izzy?--and asked a few of his own, the underlying message in each being, "I understand that this happens but I can't understand why." Which was not because he was young, but because he was human. And because he was grieving.
"I'm sorry, but I can't go to the funeral," he'd said to Kari on the phone, his throat closing up rapidly. "I just...I can't."
She had understood that. "Cody, I respect that. You shouldn't force yourself to go. After all, the purpose of a funeral is to bring closure--and that will come on its own. You won't be dishonoring his memory because truthfully, funerals aren't for the deceased...they're for the people who are left behind. Just come to terms with this in your own time, and things will eventually work themselves out."
And then there had been a horrible idea...one that made Cody hate himself:
I'm glad Kari is still alive.
What did that imply, anyway? That he was happy that Izzy had died, instead of her? Because that wasn't true. He had never had such amazing friends before. He didn't want to lose any of them. But that wild and confused thought was enough to keep Cody up all night, immersed in throes of the deepest guilt and sorrow.
I miss you so much already, he thought numbly to himself, clutching his pillow to his chest. He stared out the window. Blue evening light drifted in, silvered by just a tiny slice of the waning moon. I can't imagine what things will be like without you, Izzy--and neither can the rest of your friends, or...your parents, by god!!! Your poor parents!! I can't believe it--thirteen years of hugs and kisses and story-times and schoolbooks--gone; all gone in five minutes. It can all end so quickly. Any day now. Kari or Yolei or Davis could just lie down and be dead...no warning...suddenly, they could be gone...
He was crying now. Tears sparkled on his cheeks like the stars outside.
Daddy--please keep him safe.
. . . . . .
"It's so peaceful here."
A month ago, Tai never would've believed that such heartfelt words could fall from Daisuke Motomiya's lips, but as they stood side by side on the wide expanse of green grass in the Digital World, the sentiment seemed beautifully bittersweet and fitting.
Tentomon had perched in the V of a tree's branches, automatonic body glinting with every anxious flicker. The environment was private, as requested. "Is something wrong?" he asked with uncharacteristic apprehension, flittering down to join Tai and Davis. His wings clattered rapidly as he settled. "You looked so worried when we last spoke. And you still do. Where's Izzy?"
"That's what we needed to talk to you about, Tentomon," said Tai quietly.
"Did something happen to him? We've been out of contact." The bug's voice was suddenly different; almost cynical. "Then again, we're always out of contact."
Davis slowly sat down on a log across from Tentomon. Tai began to do likewise, then reconsidered. He preferred to stand.
"Tentomon--I--I don't even know where to start. He--h-he was--"
"Izzy is dead," Davis interrupted Tai's stuttering, not rudely at all. His voice was muted with distress and tenderness but perfectly clear. Tentomon's wings stopped clicking abruptly. Tai suddenly felt the need to take a seat as well, as difficult as it was to kneel on legs that were as insubstantial as Jell-O pudding. The three of them sat like that, regarding each other with perfect solemnity--then Tentomon gave a sort of shiver, as if trying to shake himself back into reality.
"Oh," said Tentomon faintly. "Well--I'll confess, I'm not entirely familiar with the human concept of death...but...does this mean I get another one?"
"Another what?--oh. Another Izzy. No. He's...not coming back."
A heartrending pain seized Tai right at the heart. It was like kicking a puppy; seeing Tentomon wither. He had only seen Patamon cry on a few occasions, but beyond that, he had never seen another Digimon cry--and certainly not Tentomon, who, like Izzy, had served as the composure of the group in their past adventures. And Tentomon didn't cry now, even--he just let himself droop against the grass and lay there as if wounded, staring dully at the cloudless sky.
"Izzy liked rainbows, you know," he said, almost inaudibly. Tai and Davis had to lean in close to hear him. "He told me that it was something that Mimi would care so much for, rainbows, but he said that there's not enough natural beauty around his world, and that after it rains, the buildings are always blocking his view. He said that triple rainbows represent great emotion and are lovely in their rarity...I've never seen one here. But he told me that if I ever did see one, it would mean something special. I didn't understand that."
Davis reached to hold Tentomon briefly, hugging him close.
"He's never coming back. Not ever," said Tentomon.
"I'm sorry," Tai whispered, but Tentomon didn't even budge--just continued to rest on his side in the tall pasture, eyes never leaving the sky.
He reached down with great difficulty and forced Davis to stand, walking into the distance...first at a stroll, then his steps began to quicken and quicken until he was sprinting all-out to get away from Tentomon, Davis--from everything.
He felt like he had been crying constantly since Izzy had left him, and the tears came again, blinding him as he half-ran, half-fell down a steep dirt drop-off near the river. He stumbled onto the first rock, then skipped to the next. His balance was precarious but instinct prevented him from falling. He was stepping onto the next stone when Davis caught up to him, sliding down the same hill and whipping up clouds of dust. He followed Tai across the water, trembling arms held to the sides.
"Tai! Tai, stop--Tai--"
"Leave me alone! I just want to be by myself, okay?"
"I'd respect your wishes if I weren't afraid you'd do something stupid!"
"Such confidence in my composure, Motomiya!!"
Tai took the last four step stones with a casual grace imparted mainly from adrenaline, staggering against the next dirt shoulder. He tried to climb up onto the grassy embankment but found himself crying so hard that he could hardly move. Davis closed his arms around his waist just as he fell. They tumbled to the ground together.
"It's like losing a son," Tai sobbed, fists clenching relentlessly in the dirt. "I was responsible for him...I was supposed to be the leader. Nothing like this should've happened to him! He shouldn't have been mutilating himself and writing horrible diary entries! Fuck. Fuck!"
"Where did I go wrong, Davis?? You're the better leader. You tell me! What did I do? If I'd looked harder at him--and seen how much trouble he was having--we wouldn't even be here! How are you so mature about this?? God, I'm letting my friends down--I've already let Izzy die, Christ's sake--Davis...I'm just so scared...how do you manage to be so strong for everyone? How do you--"
Letting out a sudden, agonizing cry, Davis pulled him back onto his knees and threw his arms around his neck in an unexpected, fierce hug that nearly knocked them over again. He ripped off his goggles and buried his face in Tai's shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. After a moment of stunned immobility, Tai hugged back.
. . . . . .
They sat in the food court together, oddly monochromatic. Sora was in a lightly colored blouse and a black skirt. Matt was wearing a black sweater and dark jeans, the outfit muted but with a certain movie-star-ish bearing, and TK had his white hat and a matching coat. Kari and Tai, unconsciously tuned in to the same brother-sister wavelength, had thrown on shades of subdued gray. Joe had come directly from school, his blue jacket making him stick out from the crowd. Oblivious to this fact, he had sprawled his homework before him, scribbling notes so rapidly that it was a wonder to Sora that he was aware of what he was writing.
The six of them went through two rounds of sodas before anyone spoke, and even then, conversation was scattered and strained. Looking around, they all had red eyes. Except for Joe, who was still bent over his damn science text.
"I'm sorry, but I can't pretend anymore," Sora blurted out.
They glanced at her at once, but none of them looked remotely startled.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. She scrubbed it away.
"Am I the only one who's missing him?"
Collective "no;" vehement from TK and Kari, quiet from Matt and Tai. Joe made no response.
"It's so hard to talk about," said Matt haltingly. "Don't take my silence as indifference, Sora--I--just have trouble with these kinds of topics. Oh, god, have I been missing him. Every day. Every second of every minute of the day."
"The worst part," Tai agreed softly, "is that it's so senseless."
"You'd think that a DigiDestined would go down pushing a baby carriage from a road or something," said Kari, her face lowered. She hadn't pinned her hair back today. It hung freely around her pink cheeks. "But to get a call, and to hear that he'd taken cocaine? It's just so ironic. He survived Myotismon. He defeated Diaboramon. And then he takes one hit of a drug at a party--and he's gone forever."
TK spoke up in a stifled voice. "Which indicates something about his life. He thought he had nothing to lose. He was just desperate for a release from his problems."
"What were those problems, Joe?" said Matt. "Did you read his diary?"
Joe raised his eyes briefly, then looked back at his book.
"Yes. It was--vague. Just like Mrs. Izumi said it would be."
"So you have no idea what was happening with him," Sora pressed.
"He never--said anything?"
"What?" he snapped.
"We're on your side," Kari said in a small voice.
He made an impatient noise and returned to his work.
After a lengthy pause Matt spoke up, an icy edge of sarcasm to his tone. "Have we said something to offend you?"
"I just don't want to talk about this."
"You've been bearin' up pretty well," said Tai. "Haven't seen you shed a tear."
Joe flared up. "And what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"That you're either made out of rock or you're not accepting it," Tai snapped back. "And that kind of thinking is going to really catch--"
"--I'm accepting it," Joe interrupted, gazing at him with fury. "Hell, I have accepted it. Izzy took a drug and it triggered a fatal heart attack. He is dead. He's gone for good. We'll never see him again. Goodbye, Izzy, I love you, but since he's gone, let's stop thinking about it!"
There was a shocked silence. Sora could do nothing but sit with her mouth agape, appalled and hurt beyond all measure, and TK seized the brim of his hat and pulled it down over his eyes. Matt was sputtering wordlessly and Tai was gazing at Joe, a look of helplessness and disbelief in his expression. Then Kari spoke up, tears trickling down her face.
"We're afraid that you're not letting it out. Not emoting."
"You want me to emote??" Joe shouted, standing up and heaving his books to the ground. His papers exploded over the pavement. "There's some goddam emoting for you! What the hell do you want me to say??? If talking about it would bring Izzy back, then by all means, I'd never fucking shut up!! But it doesn't, okay?? No matter what I do, whether I emote or condemn his memory to hell--that won't change a fucking thing!! He's DEAD!! Maybe YOU don't understand what that means!! It means that I could tell you all about the trauma he was going through--I could pour out all of his life secrets to you, and his mom, and everyone on this whole damned PLANET and he'd STILL BE DEAD!!!"
"Then there was a reason?" Matt demanded, his breathing quick. "What happened?"
"It wasn't a specific thing. Izzy's could get over one problem, for God's sake--but it--he was going through so much. He was struggling with who he was...his identity...the adoption issue began to really confuse him--and with that in place, he started going downhill. He felt like the world was crumbling beneath him. He just couldn't hang onto a positive self-image--"
Joe broke off, struggling to speak. Every word was agony.
"I don't know why--we th-thought he was so perfect. Didn't you? But there he was, feeling...feeling so unimportant. Feeling that he was incapable of loving, or being loved...and certainly, of loving himself. So he started the cutting, and the crying, and the...the smoking...yeah, the smoking, are you shocked?? I'm not. There are only so many ways you can deal with your past."
He kicked back his chair suddenly, shoving handfuls of paper back into his textbook at random, then giving up and stuffing it into his satchel.
"He always had to be the certain one, you know. The one with all the answers. I could ask him the scientific name for a North American peregrine falcon and he could tell me. But when I asked him what he had to live for I guess he couldn't think of anything."
Joe snatched his bag up and left, heaving his wallet down at the center of the table.
"Take a look at his poetry," he added over his shoulder, his face twisted. "Kid was an amazing writer."
There was a terrible silence following his sudden departure, then Tai reached for the wallet and removed the slip of notebook paper tucked into the billfold. Its edges were soft from hundreds of unfoldings and refoldings. He smoothed it out and read it once, his eyes glistening with tears...then, after biting his trembling lip for a long moment, he cleared his rapidly closing throat and read the lines in a whisper:
"'I thought I'd stay for mother,
I thought I'd stay for dad,
I thought I'd stay for all my friends
And the special bonds we had.
But it's hard to face the sunrise
When you fear what the day will be,
So my choice is made; inexorable:
I have to go--for me.'"
Devastated, Kari collapsed into soft, heartrending wails, leaning her head forward onto the table. TK gently rubbed her back, his steady hands betraying his quivering shoulders. Matt and Tai simply stared at each other, their expressions completely lost--but Sora saw none of this, for she was gazing down with a deep, empty sorrow at the picture that Joe had tucked into his wallet...a shot of him and Izzy, staring back at her with the clearest eyes she'd ever seen.
. . . . . .
"Kari doesn't like orange, does she?"
"Well--no, not really. She's more into pinks and yellows. Pastels."
"I can't imagine her wearing orange, anyway."
TK shoved the scarf back into the shelves, pulling out a red and examining it critically. He looked questioningly up at Tai and smiled--it was pained and a bit twisted, but it was a smile nonetheless. Joe noted with indifference that they were already learning to smile again. Learning to live, and do things like shop for birthday presents and go to school without breaking down at everything. Last week had been nightmarish, and so surreal...Joe was glad that it was far behind him. Things were a bit strained now, but that would go away.
"Maybe I shouldn't even get hear any clothes or anything," said TK with a sigh, looking around the girls' department with dismay. "I'm completely lost. Think I could get her a stuffed animal? Or a hair clip?"
"Not a hair clip," said Sora, giggling. "Trust me."
Tai laughed at that too, and she hooked her arm into his, hugging him briefly. TK plucked a skimpy tank top off a rack at random, his face lighting up, but Tai snatched it away and returned it quickly.
"Oh, no way!"
"Why? It's awesome!! I'm sure she'd wear it!"
"Over my dead body!"
Joe felt sick suddenly. He turned and clamped both hands over his mouth, but he only ended up dry-heaving. No one even noticed; they were farther ahead...and he wasn't about to mention it. After all, he was only nauseous because he hadn't eaten breakfast that morning--or, come to think of it, dinner or lunch the previous day. He was over it. Dead bodies, bah. No effect on Joe anymore. He was done grieving. He was getting stronger, like the others. Stronger.
Calm it down, Joe. You're cracking. Deep breaths--you'll be fine.
But he couldn't catch his breath. His head began to hurt. The store's music stopped, then began again. He recognized the song...they were the first lugubrious chords of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
--this--this was Izzy's favorite song--
Everything was spinning.
Oh, and the others noticed it this time--he grabbed onto the wall, struggling with his balance, then went to his knees with his hands clasped to his face again.
Breathe, BREATHE--GODDAM BREATHE--
Dimly, he heard Tai's voice, shrill and panicked. "Joe, what the hell?"
TK's hand fell on top of his. "What is it?? Joe!!"
"He loved classical music," Joe blurted, still gasping for air. "He--he loved classical music--and this...he...this was his favorite song; he loved this song, Izzy loved this song--"
"Don't talk, just concentrate on getting your wind back!"
Joe squeezed his eyes shut. His hands grasped at the short-fibered carpet, clenching and unclenching with such strength that his knuckles were sheet-white. He fumbled his glasses off. Heard them clatter somewhere in the distance. His mind reeled in lightheadedness..
"I know," said Sora, her own cheeks damp.
His chest was killing him.
"Why did he leave us? He knew we'd fall apart without him--why did he take cocaine?? Did he think that I wouldn't miss him?? I loved him so much!! He was my whole life; the one that I thought I was destined to protect--and he's gone...I don't know what to do anymore...oh god...I hate him for going away...I hate God for taking him away--all the goddam things he was never be able to do!! The things that he left unfinished--he never watched an R-rated movie by himself--he never graduated--he never made some shy girl feel loved or had smart little redhead kids--he never got to be a husband, a father, a grandfather--HOW COULD HE DIE???!! HE NEVER LIVED!!!"
Bits and pieces of Izzy's diary floated back to him.
--I just feel so alone--
--I can take that last step and it'll all be over--
--i can't even FEEL anything anymore i want it all to END--
--and then a memory, so random, so out of place--
"...just call me Rainbow Boy, Joe."
For the first time since Izzy's death, Joe began to cry.
. . . . . .
He lifted his head, gazing with gentle, tear-blurred eyes into the brown ones beside him. They regarded each other for a moment, questioningly. A blink, then a second, harder than the first--then a sigh of--not happiness; not sadness--relief. Completion, maybe. A tiny smile. Tai managed a small nod and put his hand down beside him, tilting his head back to the sun's warm rays and stretching out his legs.
"What I mean is--Joe. He--he's finally started to feel it. He's hurting. But you've gotta face the hurt to reach the heal...so we're finished now, Matt. We can mourn in peace."
"As much of an oxymoron that is."
"Mourn in peace--s'pose you're right...but..."
The gaze faltered. Softened under a mist sadness.
"I...I think I can mourn him in peace. It...seems right."
Matt whispered it.
As softly as the word issued from his mouth, Tai heard it--he gave him that same little grin. "Yeah," he said, and his voice cracked on that single syllable. "Yeah--Izzy."
They watched the sun set.
. . . . . .
It had been raining all day. All week. Even the vibrant greens seemed muddled and brown in the evening...but come morning, it was evident that the shower was replenishing the area's flora and fauna. It would be beautiful, once the blue-gray of aftermath cleared.
But Tentomon found nothing redeeming in the storm. The rain bothered him--it was like a constant flow of ironic tears; few things were optimistic about that--tears brought sadness, after all. Tears, just like the ones of Tai Kamiya and Daisuke...and probably even his Izzy, before he left. And after his experience with that particular emotion, Tentomon had no patience with the downpour, even when it let up and left the greenery sparkling with dew and youth. The sun seemed weary after the tempest, as did he.
Having been quite unfamiliar with grieving and the evocative memories that were associated, he did not know exactly how it was he heard Izzy's voice--but in his mind, he heard it, as clearly as if the boy had been standing beside him: "Triple rainbows are special, Tentomon--if you ever see one, you'll know the feelings they evoke."
Izzy, I remember that about you--your love for rainbows...
He turned towards the sky, bittersweetly prepared to close his eyes and try to envision those three beautiful bands of color--but then Patamon was nudging him frantically, voice rising with pure delight.
Tentomon opened his eyes, puzzled--and even without imagination, the rainbows were there; for the first time ever in the Digital World...and oh! how magnificent they were! Just like Izzy had promised! A normal, clear blue canvas was painted with violets and scarlets and oranges and dazzling yellows. He gazed at the colors, puzzled.
What did you mean, Izzy? What am I supposed to feel?
The suggestion of clean, innocent memory was his wordless response. It was so vivid and complete that Tentomon could feel Izzy's warm arms around him--as tangible as the flourishing meadow beneath his feet--and tears stung at his eyes, though--peculiarly--he was not the least bit sad.
I thought you said that you were never coming back...but here you are, my Rainbow Boy.
Here you are.
. . . . . .
The world whipped by in a gentle blur of greens, grays, and blues, blending softly together like Christmas lights as Joe's eyes welled with numb tears. It felt like the longest bus ride he'd ever been on...it was the predecessor for what he now understood would be an almost eternal period of mourning. And maybe that was only right. A friend's death was not supposed to be something to get over quickly, was it--? It was difficult to say. There were reference books on the grieving process, and he'd read many a medical text about it, having once been interested in psychiatry--but nothing could really sum up or prepare you for the agony of losing someone so dear to you. It sat with the other list of life's unfathomables...drowning there in the bottomless pit of Izzy's lonliness...of Joe's own. No...there were no words.
"Thank you for coming," was all Mrs. Izumi whispered before rattling the key into the lock, admitting him into Izzy's room. She had locked it the night she'd heard the news--it had never been touched, save for the few minutes it had taken her to copy his journal onto a floppy. The lights were off, but it still seemed so familiar.
Joe choked at his first step inside--god, the place even smelled like Izzy.
He cleaned out the closet and under the bed, which was bare but for a few blank notebooks and a clump of graded homework, sorting everything into two piles--first, the things that could be donated to charity or thrown out, and secondly, things that should be treasured and kept forever. The latter pile was enormous; the former comprised of perhaps three objects. Joe saved Izzy's precious laptop for last. It sat on the computer desk, closed.
He gently ran a finger over it. It came away with a thin film of dust--a deep, hungry sorrow rose in Joe. He let the sadness consume for just a moment, then straightened. There was a photograph taped to the side of the computer monitor.
It was the same as Joe's. Odd, how now it sent chills.
He slowly sat down in the chair, clutching the edge of the desk and rotating himself forward so he faced the screen. Intending to turn it on and transfer all of Gennai's files, he reached below the monitor, searching for an "on" button. Instead, something sticky caught his finger--he pulled it away curiously. His fingertip came back plastered with a tiny, horseshoe-shaped sticker.
It was a rainbow.
Joe laughed a soft, sobbing laugh.
You never had to keep this a secret, Izzy--rainbows are pretty cool, I guess. If Matt can openly admit to his love for gardening, you could've told us about your rainbows...your pain. But I don't hold it against you. How could anyone hold anything against you. I miss you so much, Izzy...I miss you so much--
Before the sobs could threaten him again, he carefully tipped the monitor onto its back. There was a piece of folded notebook paper secured to its underside with three rainbow stickers--the fourth still stuck to Joe's finger. With painful care, he removed the square of paper, trying not to tear any of the rainbows. He flattened it out in his lap and read once, twice, a third time--and by then, teardrops had fallen and blotted a few of Izzy's neat, cursive words. It didn't matter, though...Joe had already committed the poem to memory; to the deepest reaches of his heart:
"He Loved Them"
by Izumi Koushiro
(And a quick, scribbled message: "He loved them, and he still does!" Followed by a wide-eyed smiley face.)
He lived happily ever after;
A boy who often lied.
He wore a mask of happiness
While underneath, he died.
He left his friends alone on earth--
The lesser of two types of crime...
He had to go, but he loved them so---
Much more than once...upon a time.
. . . . . .
New York City. Three past midnight.
Mimi Tachikawa was dreaming, her sore red eyes fluttering gently in a REM trance--but her breathing was easy. She was not having another nightmare, one in which Izzy was being struck down in a battle, or crawling out of his grave, or even taunting her...beckoning for her to come join him, and disappearing as soon as she closed her arms around him to give him a last hug. No--this was her first pleasant dream in weeks--a memory that, upon waking, would make her cry.
They were in the Digital World, trampling through some unnamed forest. Tai, grinning and bubbling with confidence, led the group, as always. Sora and Joe followed close behind, Joe carefully holding onto eight-year-old TK's hand because, oddly, Yamato was hanging back. Mimi had stopped quite a ways back, sitting on a boulder a bit off the path to readjust her uncomfortable, rock-filled shoe. Through a gap in the trees, she could just see Matt, a few meters ahead of her but far behind the rest of the group. His face was lit up with the comforting contours of an acclaimed big brother, though she detected a hint of worry. Izzy Izumi was gazing up at him, his pineapple laptop tucked under one arm. They appeared to be in deep conversation.
Something in Izzy's expression made her eavesdrop. Of course, it was terribly rude--but the redhead looked so lost. And that was strange, because Izzy was not one to emote. When she strained, she could catch a little bit of what they were saying.
"...sick of walking. We're not going anywhere," said Izzy, sighing softly. "Story of my life, Matt...I walk and walk, and never get to anyplace special."
"You're just tired. We'll set up camp in a second."
"No, no! It's not just that--I mean it. Why are we going on? We don't know what's out there. We could just be walking into our deaths...and that's what scares me. Not just in this situation, but in life in general. I hate to head towards places where I can't see my goals. Sometimes...more often than not, now...I just want to sit down."
Matt stopped walking suddenly. "That's a suicidal mindset, Izzy."
A short laugh. "Now who's taking things too seriously?"
Izzy quickened his step a little, but Matt grabbed his arm and held him firmly in place.
"No, this is serious. You're still talking metaphors about life?"
"Well, to a certain extent, yes, but--"
"You can't just sit down in life. That'll kill you."
She expected Izzy to laugh it off and politely say that he didn't mean the remark in that way, but instead, there was a long silence. In the far distance, she heard TK say, "Hey--where's Matt, Izzy, and Mimi?"
Oblivious, Matt continued to stand, waiting for Izzy's response. It came quietly; almost whimpered.
"Some things, you can't control. Sometimes, people..." Izzy let out a hiccupping sob. Mimi felt a pang in her heart, sudden and clenching.
"Yes, Izzy?" Matt prompted, gently.
"Sometimes...you start feeling so alone, and--and it just won't go away...you feel as if the world is crumpling around you, and then...then...you have to sit down. And I--I mean that metaphorically. Really, though...someday, I might just do it. You know...die. Not because I want to die...but because I don't want to live. Because I don't know how to live. And..."
Mimi leaned closer. She could feel the tension and wanted to politely stay out of the conversation, but something about Matt's voice demanded attention. It was something important.
"You're just a kid," said Matt, softly and smiling as always. "And things seem so rough right now. I won't tell you when to keep on going, and when to sit down--because I am not you. But I promise you this, Izzy. Someday..."
Izzy's voice was so quiet. "Someday, what?"
"Someday we'll all sit down. Some of us, sooner than others. But in the meantime, we can plod on, or just walk, when we feel good enough--we can even go running and chasing the ends of rainbows, if you want."
Izzy laughed. It was a sweet, beautiful sound. "I love rainbows!"
"Good," said Matt, pretending to wipe sweat off his forehead. "Then I used the right metaphor. Just remember that if you sit down...you won't get the chance to get back up again."
"Hey!!" Tai shouted. Mimi, Izzy, and Matt jumped. "Hey, ya slowpokes, let's get moving or we'll get caught in the dark!! Pick up the pace, Ishidia, c'mon!!"
"Coming!" Matt called, flashing Izzy a grin. "Race you."
Without waiting for an answer, he bolted for the others, who were waiting on the crest of a distant hill. Izzy stared at him for a moment, then grinned back and tore after him, his laptop bumping against his side with every step.
"C'mon, Rainbow Boy, is that all you got?" yelled Matt, his voice fading. "Never gonna catch rainbows if you move that slow...."
....and Mimi's pillow was stained with tears, but her lips curved into a gentle smile. She watched her dream moving into slow motion, like the end of an old Western...Tai and TK laughing and cheering as Matt and Izzy raced to join them...Sora shaking her head and giggling behind her gloved hands...and Joe standing off to the side with a smile of his own, his face warm and content in the glow of the setting sun.
But in real life, over the New York skyline, another day was dawning.