A/N: Sorry about the long wait! I got pretty busy these last couple of weeks! Hope you guys all like the new chapter. I'll try to start the next one as soon as possible.
Following the Footsteps of Destiny
Chapter 238: Tough Love
Masato 'Matty' Takaishi
Server, Eastern Hemisphere, Digital World
Glancing around at the drab scenery, his amber gaze focusing on the murky waters of the ocean, Matty wasn't exactly shocked by the rather depressing appearance of the Dark Ocean, but it still somewhat surprised him. The sky hanging over their heads was dull and grey, and even the sand looked a bit off colour. The entire beach looked a little bit off, to say the least, and that was putting it nicely.
So this is the World of Darkness.
Matty wasn't quite sure what to think, but he suspected that was partly due to the atmosphere of the Dark Ocean. It was a lonely place, and standing on the sand with his friends, Matty could feel the darkness trying to drain his energy.
But it wasn't the scenery that was the most interesting thing about the World of Darkness. No indeed, as Matty was quick to discover. The most shocking thing about the World of Darkness was its current occupants and the bizarre scene that appeared to be playing out on the beach.
Sam was near the water, gazing warily at his father, and standing a little apart from Sam, his emerald eyes staring off into the trees, stood DarkAngelicmon. And all around them there were shadows like the one that had been in DarkAngelicmon's castle. Their strange violet eyes were filled with hate and malice, and they seemed to be waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. Matty didn't like the look of things one little bit, and holding Kenji's Halomon tightly in his arms he moved closer to Mickey, his amber eyes watching his brother's face closely.
Mickey was also taking in the scenery and the atmosphere of the World of Darkness, and Matty could tell it greatly disturbed his twin. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"This place is filled with anger and sadness," Mickey said softly, shivering slightly. "So much darkness and despair. We have to find a way to help Sam break free from all of this."
Matty nodded in agreement, his amber eyes narrowing in determination.
You're not going to get rid of us that easily, Sam.
"Sam!" Glowmon cried, zooming into his partner's arms, nearly knocking the raven-haired Digidestined off his feet.
For a moment Sam didn't seem to recognize his own partner, but then his eyes cleared and he hugged the little digimon fiercely against his chest, his sapphire gaze filling with tears. "Glowmon! You're here! It's really you!"
"Why?" Glowmon wailed, snuggling against Sam's chest. "Why would you leave me behind like that? I can't protect you if you don't at least take me with you!"
"I'm sorry," Sam mumbled, hugging his partner even more tightly. "I'm so sorry."
Ken was standing at the head of the group with Yolei, but Matty could tell he was reluctant to approach Sam. And not only that, but Ken was also watching the shadows with a rather critical eye.
I wonder what he's thinking...
All around them the shadows were stirring, and Matty had a bad feeling that sooner rather than later they were going to attack. And since nobody was moving or making any effort to get the situation resolved, Matty took it upon himself to step forward. Ignoring the sudden gasp from his brother, he stepped towards Sam, and coming to a stop he settled his gaze on DarkAngelicmon, who turned to regard him with interest. "So you really are here. Just like we thought you would be."
DarkAngelicmon raised his eyebrows, and crossing his arms over his chest, he said dryly, "You're late."
"Here you are in what looks like a rather compromising position, and yet you don't believe you are the one who lured Sam here," Angelicmon said quietly, his sudden words startling Matty.
Matty hadn't realized his partner had followed him, but sensing Angelicmon's strong presence at his shoulder he felt suddenly much more confident about approaching Sam and the fallen angel.
DarkAngelicmon shook his head, confirming Angelicmon's suspicions, and catching sight of the little rookie Matty was holding, his emerald eyes narrowed into a frown. "Who is this rookie and where did he come from? Gabrielmon is with your brother. This digimon is an outsider."
"Hey, who are you calling an outsider?" Kenji's Halomon shouted, looking indignant. "I'm part of the Digidestined too!"
"Explain please," DarkAngelicmon said stiffly, watching the newcomer warily.
Matty gave the little digimon in his arms a comforting hug, and keeping his gaze focused on DarkAngelicmon, he said calmly, "This is Halomon. He is the digimon partner that belongs to Kenji Iwamoto, who was a member of the first Digidestined."
"What?" Sam gasped, taking interest for the first time in the sudden appearance of a second Halomon.
DarkAngelicmon did not reply, but watching him closely, Matty thought he saw a flash of recognition in the fallen angel's eyes.
"You..." Kenji's Halomon said softly, gazing curiously at DarkAngelicmon. "Do I know you?"
"You must have me mistaken for someone else," DarkAngelicmon said stiffly, avoiding the little rookie's eyes.
Kenji's Halomon shook his head, and Matty gasped as the little rookie suddenly leaped out of his arms and fluttered over to the fallen angel.
Reaching out, the little rookie placed his small hand against DarkAngelicmon's cheek, his expression showing a mixture of both curiosity and a sense of familiarity. "No, you feel familiar to me. I've sensed your presence before. I know you. I don't know how, but I've felt you before..."
DarkAngelicmon quickly jerked his head away, and swatting at the little rookie Kenji's Halomon tumbled to the ground with a startled yelp. He wasn't hurt, but at the same time Matty could tell he also wasn't at all impressed either.
"Keep your hands to yourself, rookie," DarkAngelicmon snapped. "It isn't polite to treat strangers in such a manner. I do not know you, nor do I care to get to know you."
Kenji's Halomon did not reply. Instead he merely sat up and glared at the fallen angel, causing Matty to smile in amusement.
DarkAngelicmon was lying.
Matty could tell by the look in the fallen angel's eyes that Kenji's Halomon felt familiar to him as well, and it clearly confused him. It was definitely an interesting tidbit of information to investigate, but unfortunately Matty didn't have the time to think about it now. He needed to focus on Sam, so he filed the information away for later, for a time when he could analyze it and discuss it with the rest of his fellow Digidestined in a more appropriate setting.
"What do they want?" Matty demanded, nodding at the shadows, who were gazing at him with hungry eyes.
In truth he was absolutely terrified of those manifestations of darkness, but he wasn't about to let it show. He had to be strong for Sam, and he wasn't going to show any weakness to DarkAngelicmon, who had grown more distant from him in the last little while.
Why? What changed?
"They want your light," DarkAngelicmon said quietly, meeting his gaze.
"You mean like you do?"
It was a challenge. DarkAngelicmon had never said it right out in those exact words, but Matty knew instinctively that the fallen angel wanted something from him. And he was sure that something was the light he held within himself. The light that DarkAngelicmon envied.
For a long moment the two of them merely stared each other down, neither of their gazes wavering in the slightest. By this time the others had caught up with them, and Matty felt his brother's comforting hand come to rest on his shoulder.
"You okay?" Mickey asked quietly in his ear.
Matty nodded without looking at his twin. "I'm fine. Worry about Sam, not me."
"Sam," Ken whispered, taking a step towards his son.
Sam quickly scrambled back a bit, and glaring at his father, he snapped, "You shouldn't have come here! Those shadows are going to get you! They're going to want you even more than they want me!"
Ken paused and warily turned his attention back to the shadows that were slowly beginning to creep towards him. They were converging in a circle, closing off any chance of an escape.
Sam was right.
Why? Why won't they just leave Ken alone?
All of the shadows were gazing at Ken, every last one of them, and their hungry eyes were burning with desire.
They want to steal Ken's light. If they can do that, Ken might lose his way and become the Digimon Emperor again.
Or at least that's what the shadows seemed to think. Matty, on the other hand, didn't believe that for a minute.
Ken won't ever become the Digimon Emperor again. He's a smart man, and he learned a lot from his bad experiences in the past. More than likely they'll end up with an empty shell of a man rather than another actual Digimon Emperor.
"Get out of here!" Sam snapped, glancing frantically at the shadows. "Get out of here before they get you!"
"Prepare yourselves," DarkAngelicmon warned, summoning his spear. "A battle is close at hand. Protect the Digidestined, and do not let the shadows touch them."
None of the digimon even thought to disagree with their supposed enemy. Angelicmon immediately summoned his own spear and Gabrielmon summoned his sceptre. Kenji's Halomon was already glowing as he perched on Angelicmon's shoulder, and Aquilamon and JewelBeemon positioned themselves appropriately in the air.
Only Glowmon hadn't readied himself for battle, and that was only because Sam didn't seem to have the strength to help him digivolve.
"I'm not going anywhere without you," Ken said quietly, his sapphire gaze not once flicking away from his son's pale face.
"You don't trust me on this either?" Sam shouted back, hands clenching into tight fists. "Mom, make him go back!"
"I can't do that, Sam," Yolei shot back, shaking her head. "He was the one who brought us here at great risk to himself. I've seen the look in his eyes when he's been forced to open a portal to the World of Darkness before. It's not a pleasant experience. We came here for you, and we're not leaving without you!"
"Dad...you opened the portal?" Sam asked quietly.
"Yes, just like he did when he sent Daemon to the Dark Ocean," Mickey confirmed. "This time he did it to find you, and we helped him do it."
"You helped him?" Sam gasped, whirling on Mickey. "Why would you do something so stupid? You know he's vulnerable here!"
"Because leaving you to be swallowed by the darkness isn't a stupid thing to do either," Matty said sarcastically, feeling his anger starting to boil. "Have you completely lost all your common sense now?"
"We're all vulnerable here, Sam," Mickey said softly. "Not just your dad. Not even just you. Myself and Matty, we're no more safe here than you two are. Even your mom and all of our digimon are at risk here."
"Then you shouldn't have come!" Sam wailed. "I saw myself in that ocean. It was me! I was the Emperor! That's why the shadows want me. I'm weak! I'm not like you, Mickey, or like Matty! I'm not that strong!"
At this point Matty had had quite enough. Usually this was more the role Dai played in the group, but since Dai wasn't there somebody was going to have to play the part in his place.
And Matty knew that somebody was going to have to be him.
Tough love. That's what Sam needed.
Mickey was too passive and gentle for that sort of thing, and so was Ken, and this was the sort of job that needed to be taken on by a friend, not by a parent like Yolei.
That left him.
Bracing himself for the inevitable, Matty stepped forward and pointed an accusing finger at Sam. "You're not weak! You're just stupid! So what if you saw yourself as the Emperor in the ocean? A reflection, I'm going to assume? This is the World of Darkness! Of course it's going to show you something unnerving, something you fear! What did you think it was going to show you, huh? Sunshine and rainbows?"
"You can't believe everything you see, Sam," Mickey gently scolded, shaking his head in despair. "You know the history. This place has a way of trying to manipulate you. Why would it be any different now in your case?"
"How would you know?" Sam challenged, his eyes flashing and his tone growing bitter. "You two always act like you know everything, but you don't know any more than I do! You can't help me! None of you can. Now get out of here before you end up like me!"
"Well now, this isn't going quite as well as I'd hoped," DarkAngelicmon lamented, glancing over his shoulder.
"Oh would you just shut up for once!" Sam cried, throwing up his hands in exasperation.
DarkAngelicmon raised his eyebrows at this, but instead of responding he merely smiled in amusement and turned his attention back to the shadows.
Mickey hadn't reacted to Sam's insults, but Matty was beyond indignant. He hadn't risked his life to come to the World of Darkness only to end up getting attacked by one of his closest friends. This was not Sam, and he was going to get Sam back no matter how stupid the raven-haired Digidestined was acting.
"Sam, don't," Glowmon whimpered.
"I'm not worth it," Sam replied, his voice shaking. "I'm not worth all this."
"Is that what you believe?" Ken replied, his expression fierce as he took another step towards his son. "Have you really lost sight of what is most important to me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Sam shot back, his sapphire eyes flashing with anger.
Ken let his own eyes fall closed, and speaking softly, he said, "You keep telling me to leave, but I can't do that. I can't do that for the same reason you want me to leave. I would rather they take me instead of you, and if that's what it takes to save you...then let them come and get me!"
Ken's words must have been the signal the shadows had been waiting for. Almost before the former Emperor had finished speaking the dark shapes lurking on the beach attacked. Matty cried out and quickly pulled Sam towards him, and he gasped as all around them the beach went from relatively peaceful to complete, utter chaos in mere seconds.
There were shadows everywhere, surging all around them, and it was plainly clear their target was Ken.
"Stop them!" DarkAngelicmon commanded, his spear whirling to meet an oncoming onslaught of shadows.
Sam was screaming, and Matty quickly shoved him onto the ground to get him out of the way. All around them their digimon were trying to fend off the shadows, but Matty knew it was only a matter of time before some of them slipped through the circle and managed to reach Ken.
Great, just great! Now what?
There were bursts of light flying in all directions, some of which, to Matty's complete shock, were actually coming from DarkAngelicmon, but the battle was so fierce and there were so many shadows that he could barely tell what was going on.
In the end he simply stopped trying to figure in out and decided to join up with the others.
Attacking on instinct he shouted for his brother, and the two of them dragged a screaming Sam over to the middle of the battlefield where Yolei was hovering over Ken, who had fallen to his knees in the sand and was gazing sorrowfully at his son.
"What did you do?" Sam wailed in despair. "Why would you do that?"
Ken shook his head, and Matty was shocked to see that there were tears streaming down the former Emperor's face. "Sam, you believe I don't trust you, but you couldn't be more wrong from the truth. I was afraid, yes. Afraid of how you would feel about me once you found out about the Emperor, but it was more than that. That wasn't the deciding factor on why I chose to keep my past a secret."
"Why else would you keep the Emperor a secret?" Sam snapped. "What other reason could there possibly be?"
"I wanted to protect you," Ken whispered, glancing away from his son. "This life as a Digidestined...I never wanted this for you. I wanted you to live a normal, happy life. I wanted you to have a happy childhood, full of warmth, and love, and laughter. Something I never had when I was a child. Why? Because I didn't want you to suffer the way I had."
Sam stared at his father and then he started to cry. "You could have told me! You could have said something!"
"Your mother and I believed that if we kept the Digital World a secret you would somehow escape it," Ken said dully, his sapphire eyes growing dark and stormy. "It was merely wishful thinking on our part. Deep down inside I always knew it would be a part of your life. That it would find its way to you. I spent years trying to deny it, but I think I always knew it was inevitable. A digimon partner is a wonderful thing, but the responsibility, the danger, the truth of what it really means to be a Digidestined...I didn't want that for you. None of us who are Digidestined wanted any of that for our children."
"Ken," Mickey said sadly, reaching out to touch his shoulder.
Ken bowed his head for a moment, and looking up to gaze once more at his son, he whispered, "I didn't want you to put your life in danger. I didn't want to lose you."
Sam could barely speak because he was crying so hard, but he managed to choke out, "I'm not like you at all. I am weak. I haven't been able to let go of the past the way you did. I can't escape what's happening to me!"
"No," Ken countered, his voice shaking. "You're stronger than me. You have your mother's genes as well as mine, and even if you didn't you would still be stronger than I am. How can you fail to see the strength you possess inside yourself?"
Matty was wondering the same thing. Sam was an intelligent kid. He was smarter than this and he should have been well aware of his own strength. It frustrated Matty, and it made him want to knock some sense into the young raven-haired Digidestined.
But there was something else happening that he also found strange.
Although he had yelled at Sam, Mickey hadn't scolded him or tried to stop him, which had been the case in the past when someone had gotten aggressive with the raven-haired Digidestined. In fact, Mickey wasn't saying much of anything at all despite the battle going on around them and the need to get through to Sam.
Instead of trying to help Mickey was sitting back and letting him do all the talking, which was unusual in a situation like this, though normal in standard conversations. Why was that?
Matty glanced at his brother, and to his surprise he found Mickey staring back at him. There was a curious look on the older twin's face, as if he was waiting for something to happen.
"Sam, you need to let go of your fear," Yolei said gently to her son.
"Fear is all I feel," Sam said dully. "You think it's so easy to give up the past, but you should know better than anyone how hard it is when there's so much working against you. How do you trust yourself? How do you forgive when no one else is willing to forgive?"
"What do you mean?" Glowmon whimpered.
Sam was about to reply when a sudden beep shattered the silence, and everyone looked around to discover the source of the noise admits the chaos and violence raging around them.
"A message," Yolei said, pulling out her D-Terminal to take a look.
"What does it say?" Ken asked quietly, without looking away from his son.
Yolei shook her head and held out her D-Terminal. "I don't know. It's not for me. It's for Matty."
Matty jumped in surprise, and staring at the offered D-Terminal he reluctantly took it from Yolei's hand.
Who could it be and why would they be sending me a message?
Matty glanced at the screen, and frowning he realized it was from Taniko. It was also addressed to him.
Opening it, his eyes widened at the simple message:
What did it mean and why was it addressed to him?
Sam needs to read this message more than I do. He's the one who's lost any faith he ever had in his dad, and in the rest of us too. That includes himself. He doesn't have faith in anything anymore. It's no wonder he can't forgive his dad or get over the whole Emperor thing. No wonder he thinks he's weak. If he would just believe in us and let us help him...
Wait. That was it!
Sam had lost his ability to believe in himself and in all those who were important to him. That was the reason he was so vulnerable to the darkness. His lack of faith was making him an easy target, and it was causing the light within him to waver. If he allowed his defences to fail, the shadows would easily he able to steal the light that was flickering inside of him.
And if that was the source of the problem then there was only one way to save Sam from himself. They needed to somehow restore his faith in all of them, including his father. And even more importantly they needed to restore the faith Sam used to have in himself.
I think I get it now!
Mickey was still watching him, and Matty met his brother's amber gaze with wide eyes. Mickey was trying to tell him something, and glancing at Taniko's message again the words seem to jump out at him.
Don't give up. Don't give in. And if you can't find the strength to fight, take heart from someone who does.
Someone who has strength enough for two.
Someone like me.
Thinking back on all the compliments he had received from Mickey, Takara, Ryoko, Dai, and even Sam himself, suddenly Matty understood.
And he knew exactly what to do.