Neverland

a/n: I was feeling pretty melancholy last night, and I had this image of Tai in a playground, and this fic grew out of it. Just a one shot idea I've been playing with. Set almost a year after the Christmas episode in Season Two.

Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon.

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It was fall in Odaiba. The world was on fire, and a boy in the park was just relieved to see that something could still move him. The breeze picked up, pushed his hair about insistently, flung a few leaves at the sky, and then settled back into its edgy pout. Stirred up by the wind, a swing screamed softly, and he pretended it reminded him of something ordinary. He was so aware of the grate beneath him; the walls of metal that had never formed a cage. Not until...after. He took some comfort from the rust, the new slide, the trees that weren't always that tall. Maybe it was supposed to be different. Maybe it wasn't crazy to stare up at the clouds and see an entirely different sky.

As he stood on the edge of a break in the red-orange-gold forest, Matt was only mildly surprised to find Tai sprawled on his back on top of the tangled heap of playground equipment, arms flung wide in a characteristically childlike fashion. He had one foot propped up on the sturdy grate, the other dangling and keeping time to some song he probably didn't know the words to. That ragged blue bandana was tied around his head, keeping his hair at bay, and there was a soccer ball not two feet away from him, resting precariously close to the top of a slide. Seemed normal enough. Classic Tai. Except for the occasional hitch in his breath and the barely detectable tremor in his hand.

Matt stepped on to the gravel around the jungle gym and watched Tai tense up instinctively, coil, and then relax. He smiled, almost bitterly, and called out, "It's just me, Kamiya."

Tai didn't move or respond, and Matt climbed the ladder, picked up the soccer ball, and settled down cross legged next to Tai. He bounced the ball a few times, amazed at how loud a sound could seem in silence, and waited. Matt watched a thousand expressions play across Tai's face. Finally, Tai started the conversation, just as Matt knew he would, "When did this place change?"

"This place?" Matt stared at the trees, Tai straight into the clouds.

"The playground." Tai said.

Matt glanced down, "A long time ago."

Tai sat up, stretched his athletic frame, and jumped to the ground with a light crunch of the gravel. Matt tossed him the soccer ball, and he trapped it easily, launching it back into the air with his knee, "How's Sora?"

"Tai, don't."

Tai let the ball hit the ground. He shook his head as if to clear it and sent an apologetic smile Matt's way, "Sorry."

Matt shrugged, "What's on your mind?"

Tai started juggling the ball again, "Neverland."

That one caught Matt off guard. As well as he knew Tai, the guy still threw him a curve ball every now and then. He scooted to the edge of his perch, let his legs dangle, and rested his arms on his knees, "Neverland."

Tai nodded, not looking up at Matt, but concentrating on keeping the ball in the air, "Yeah. If you end up there you never...grow up."

Matt didn't say anything. He tried to remember the last time he'd seen Tai's infectious, boyish grin.

The ball hit the gravel again, "I..."

Matt looked up, "Yeah?"

"We went to another world, Matt. Had an adventure. But we didn't keep our innocence."

Tai booted the ball as hard as he could, into the burning forest. He tried to pretend he saw what everyone else did, but he didn't. He couldn't see anything but a bunch of kids fighting a war.

Tai's hands fisted at his sides, "When do I get to be a kid?"

Matt watched Tai walk away, and he didn't call him back. He just laid back on the playground equipment, took a moment to stare up a the sky, felt the subtle weight of his crest beneath his shirt, "You wouldn't have been happy in Neverland." He murmured, "You'd've had your childhood, but you'd never have found out what it means to live."

He jumped to the ground and headed into the forest to find the soccer ball, knowing that Tai would want it back, but an odd feeling had him turning around. When Matt stopped to look back at the playground through the trees, he thought he could see a small, wild haired boy chasing a radiant red headed girl, a toothy, boyish grin on his familiar face. Matt closed his eyes, turned, and kept walking.

The sun started to go down, and all at once the sky was on fire too. Standing there in the forest at Sora's favorite time of year, Matt heard himself say, "I don't think it was the Digiworld that did this to you."

The soccer ball braced under his arm, gold hair falling in his tired eyes, Matt headed for home.

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a/n: I never could figure out how to react to the Sorato situation in Season Two. I don't suppose Matt and Tai did right away either. Please leave me a review and tell me what you thought. Thanks for reading!

Veranda