Author`s Note: I'm baaack! After an embarrassingly long time, I admit. And I apologize, really, I do. But hey, you have to hand it to me -- I always, eventually pull through. Which isn't always the case on this site!

There are some things to be learned here, folks.

1. Never read a chapter story written by me. Because it'll take years, and each chapter will get longer and longer until it just becomes ludicrous.

2. Embrace weird couplings! Canon is good, but the funnest part is seeing what you can do with canon, and how you can make it turn out different.

3. Never read a chapter story written by me. But if you're crazy enough to, review!

So there's a lot of introspective rambling in this chapter. I apologize for that too. The writing style probably changes. Half of this I had written months ago. Maybe about 3/5ths. And then I wrote the rest of it in the span of a night and a half when I realized IT IS 2009 AND THIS STORY STILL HASN'T BEEN UPDATED. I stayed up until 3:30 in the morning until my weary eyes could see no more, and then I finished it today. I don't know if people still read this. I hope they do! And if you do, thank you very much. I love you all. Message me if you ever want to talk, I'm friendly, I swear! I love everyone that has ever reviewed. But let's get on with the story, huh?

Graduation was tomorrow morning.

Kari would have liked to be able to say that it snuck up on her. That in all her joyful bliss and wonder, it had just suddenly hurled itself at her with full force, shocking and exciting her.

Yeah, that so wasn't the case.

In this last month, she'd been achingly aware of graduation. It did not scare her, nor did it necessarily excite her. It was just a chapter of her life that was about to end. There was so much more to life than high school, but leaving it was still somewhat daunting. Somewhat. Not scary, not exciting. But it was slow. Every day passed by slowly, as the sun grew brighter and brighter outside and gold-soaked the afternoons that they were spent inside reviewing. She wanted to go outside and walk and smile and absorb all of Odaiba in it's blissful summery state.

She wanted a lot of things. Obviously, she wouldn't get all of them.

Like Matt. Like friendship with T.K. Like for everything to go back to normal, in her happy, healthy existence at the beginning of the semester. Like ... valedictorian. Yeah, that one stung, too.

Everyone had been so confident that she'd get it. "It's gonna be you, Kari. It's gonna be you."

It hadn't been her.

But Kristen Tam had won it instead. Kari had never spoken to Kristen, but the other girl seemed nice enough, brainy, obviously, and probably a lot more deserving of it than Kari. Kari had become less focused on her studies as of late, less motivated and perfect. In grade ten and eleven, she had helped run nearly every club out there, but this year the most she had done was host a bake sale at the beginning of the year. Plus, Kristen probably didn't destroy everything ar--

Stop, she commanded herself. Self-deprecation was a no-no. She was sick of it (GOD, was she ever freaking sick of it) and she was trying to be positive.

So, positives: Graduation was tomorrow. Where she could don the gown, throw the cap and not die of inadequacy and jealousy when Kristen made her valedictorian speech. Seriously. No, really.

At least, she'd try.

It was early Thursday morning, and a particularly vivid dream had woken her up. It had been about graduating, and random killer fishermen (why oh why did she watch movies with Tai and Mimi? Why?) and this big ugly mesh of terrible dream-happenings that had awoken her. Her heart was not pounding quite as quickly as it would have if it were a nightmare, but it was close. Close enough to wake her up.

Without lethargy, she raised from her bed and toward her closet. The dress she would be wearing underneath her gown hanged neatly from a wooden hanger. It was a slightly muted green with thin straps, and it fell down to right above her knees. It wasn't tight enough to cause any embarrassing arm fat, but it was fitted, in that nice sort of way that reminded her every once and a while that she was actually becoming a woman. God, the idea of being a woman sounded so ... intense and serious, but also good. A little daunting, not too exciting, not too scary -- just like graduation.

She nearly banged her head against her closet door. You knew it was way too early in the morning when you were comparing your dress to your life.

But she wasn't overly frivolous. Hopefully. Anyways, she was allowed to think about this dress, she figured, considering she had never got to wear a prom dress. T.K. had gone with Ally, Suki had gone with Davis and she had gone with no one. Tai said Izzy would step in and take her, and a guy from her English class had been cancelled on and asked her as well, but she hadn't accepted either offer. Prom wasn't very important to her. She used to think about it, at the beginning of high school and even up till a few months ago. But it seemed unnecessary now, more of a chore than it would be a joy. So she had stayed home and spent time with her family instead, stuffing themselves silly on take-out while everyone danced the night away.

She had been okay with that. More than okay. Actually, just being with her family, her mom, dad, and Tai had just felt complete. It had been wonderful and functional, and she had missed it so much. How had she let herself drift so far?

But if she was getting into the how's, she'd probably never stop. The why's were even worse. She tried to refrain from asking herself questions. So instead of delving into uncomfortable territory, she approached her book shelf and began looking at all the spines.

There were some classic literature novels, some embarrassing chick-lit, some sci-fi, some best-sellers, and so on and so on. Her book collection had slowly grown every since she was about twelve, coming together through gifts and garage sales and various bookstores. She liked to read, she did.

Her fingers grazed over one the thicker spines, and she immediately grabbed it and gently pulled it out if it's spot. One of her old photo albums.

"Geez," she said, exhaling slowly, making her way to her desk chair as she began to open the book.

God, it's going to be filled with tons of old pictures which is just going to send me into this great mental rant, isn't it?

But instead, it was dozens of pictures of just around Tokyo. She'd taken these all through last year, she remembered now. God, she'd been so passionate about photography. And yet, she hadn't taken a single picture in months. Suddenly everything became about school, and getting into a good pre-med program in a good university, about this and that that she hadn't even had time to enjoy one of her favourite pastimes! Her camera was tucked away at the top of her closet. Following her feet, she reached toward the top of the closet with minimal effort (long legs had their uses) and grabbed the large case that held it in their. She pulled it out gingerly, the large, professional camera that she had gotten for her seventeenth birthday almost a year ago. Her eighteenth birthday wasn't until September.

She turned it on, popped off the lens cap and aimed the camera at her unmade bed.

Click!And even though it was just this stupid, unimportant picture, it felt so nice to take one again that she didn't even mind.

Click. Click. She took two more of various things around her room.

And then just as she was about to take picture number four, her alarm clock went off, making her almost drop her camera. Thankfully, she held onto it.

She groaned. So, it was time to officially be awake now. Somehow, the buzz of the alarm clock had her suddenly feeling lethargic, despite how awake she was moments ago. Maybe it was just a built-in reaction to her alarm. She went over and shut it off, and then with a long look at her camera and a small smile, she tucked the camera back into it's case and went to go take a shower.

"We freakin' graduate tomorrow," Suki almost squealed, holding onto Kari's arm with a deathly strong grip as she took in her surroundings. "Are you even comprehending that, Kari?! We graduate tomorrow! We just attended our last math class. And this might be our last time seeing that kid, or noticing that picture or … oh my God, we're going to be adults. And … soon. Kari!"

Kari was equally amazed, although a bit less vocal. "I know," she said quietly, looking around at the busy halls. Everyone was getting everyone else to sign their yearbook. Kari had already signed several.

On Suki's, she had written: Suki, you've been there for me so much this year. What would I do without you? You're my best friend in the world, keep me sane when I'm going crazy and get me going crazy when I'm too tame. High school would have just been an absolute bore without you. We'll be friends forever, okay? I don't care how mega successful and awesome you get - you'll make time for me! And I will, of course, do the same. Love love love you, Kari

On Davis's, she had written: Davis, Davis, Davis. You sure make my life interesting. I'll miss you so much! Lets pledge to talk often, okay? Good luck out there. You deserve everything you want. You know, within reason : ) Love, Kari

TK hadn't asked her to sign his, which was probably for the best. She probably would have filled up the entire year book with endless apologies that he most likely did not want to hear. The perpetual guilt she felt every time she thought of him never seemed to lessen.

"Kari! Suki! What's up?"

Kari whipped her head around to see Davis, yearbook in tow, coming rapidly around a corner and trying to catch up to them. She grinned, nudged Suki and they slowed down their pace until he caught up.

"What's up, guys? You signed my yearbook, right?" He looked impossibly eager.

Suki rolled her eyes. "Davis, for the third time, yes I signed it."

"You don't have to get huffy, woman. It was just a simple question. And it is incredibly important that you signed it, considering you were my grad escort and all."

"I don't see how the two relate--" Suki started.

"It matters!" He cut her off.

Kari had to grin. "At ease, guys. How did you survive through prom without tearing each other's heads off?"

"A tux seemed to make Davis a lot less douche baggy," Suki explained.

"While being in a very tight dress made her so much more bearable," he added.

"It wasn't that tight!"

"It was tight enough."


Kari laughed, the sound spilling over Davis's huffing. "But you guys had fun?"

"Somehow, yeah we managed it," Suki admitted it. "He picked me up, had a corsage that was only a little smushed … I was actually highly impressed."

"Never underestimate a Motomiya. Especially not my sister, because occasionally she's psycho. Hey, Lara! Have you signed my yearbook?"

When Davis bounded off, Kari grinned at her friend. "I don't think I've ever met two people who bicker at each other as much as you do."

"We have a gift. But it's all fun - Davis is actually pretty awesome."

"He is," Kari agreed, and then skipped a beat, suddenly suspicious. "Suki?"


"You don't … like him… do you?"

Suki shot her a sheepish grin. "Well. Maybe. We've known each other so long, and I think … I've always sort of ignored what's in front of me." She let out a sigh of anguish. "I can't help it, Kari! Suddenly, I see him all different and stuff!"

Kari's jaw dropped. "Oh my God! Are you serious? That's great, but--"

Suki burst out into snickers. "Oh, God no I'm not serious. I mean, he is pretty awesome but that is the extent. He's pretty much just like another brother in my massively ginormous family. It's just not squicky to think he looks good in a tux."

Kari nudged Suki. Hard. "Why would you do that to me? I thought you were serious!"

Suki shrugged. "Because it was funny and I'm an asshole … ahh, Kari, I will miss your gullible self when we're out being independent and excellent. "

"I will miss your lying, deceiving self! Lucky for you." She draped an arm around Suki and pulled her into a half hug, when Davis came back. Apparently, he had gotten Lara to sign it, judging by his triumphant expression.

"So, I pretty much got like, everyone." He shrugged and looked around. "Minus a couple people like -- TK!"

"I'm sure you'll see him around soon," Kari said as neutrally as possible. She wished the topic of TK would stop stinging from the inside out.

"Like now." Suki gave Kari a hard nudge, much harder than the one that Kari gave her before. It actually made her wince and straighten up. And then gape slightly … as TK seemed to be heading their way.

She was just so not mentally prepared for this. No way this could go well. No way. She wanted to curl up somewhere and die. No, not die. Die was too dramatic. She wanted to shrink enough so she could run away undetected or maybe hide in someone's pocket and be shielded from the inevitable humiliation.

"Hey, Davis. Hey, Suki."

Kari braced herself for the snub. The charm bracelet on her wrist seemed like the most awesome thing in the world at the moment. If he could just commence ignoring her, and then move on then she could stop feeling like the most pathetic human being in the world.

"Hey, Kari. How's it going?"

She stopped. He actually … She was so incredibly stunned that it took her upside a moment to respond. Finally, she managed words.

"It's going excellent." Which was a) not even remotely true and b) more enthusiastic than the situation required. Why was she so incapable of saying anything normal or appropriate?

But still, he smiled crookedly. "Cool."

He was being so peaceful and kind that it made her feel like a horrible person for assuming that he could be anything else. Or she would have felt horrible if self deprecation was still something she practiced. But it wasn't. Really.

But he wasn't a saint. He looked down, she noticed, and then around. And then began cracking his knuckles, which she knew from years of dating and even more years of friendship, that it was a nervous habit. And then he looked up at her, and the world became just the two of them. He held her eyes, and stared and despite the smile, despite the kind words, she could tell. She could tell that he was still angry, and disgusted, and she could tell that it was taking a lot of effort to be even neutral toward her.

And yet … the fact that he was putting in the effort, to spare her the public humiliation … it counted for a lot.

"Well. See you."

Kari nodded, and waved. "See you."

She could feel the relief coming off him in waves as he walked away. It matched her own.

"I can't believe you are making me do this," Kari muttered as she laid herself down beside Mimi. They were at a spa about to get their eyebrows waxed … per Mimi's suggestion, of course.

"Kari, I'm not about to let your graduate with your eyebrows unruly. Seriously!" Mimi told her, in that perpetual chirp of hers.

"What do we want to do with them?" the waxing lady asked Kari nicely, poised beside an intimidating looking pot. Kari shrugged helplessly. What could you do with eyebrows?! Raise them, wrinkle them … wax them, apparently.

"She needs more of an arch in her eyebrows," Mimi decided for her. "Not too much, we don't want her looking confused or anything." The lady doing Mimi's eyebrows chuckled; Kari slunk down further. "And just clean them up a bit. Kind of like how mine look, but probably not as thin as them…"

This meant absolutely nothing to Kari. Actually, that was a lie. When the wax was applied, so hot and sticky, and then promptly ripped off, taking masses of hair with it, it definitely meant something. It meant a very painful something. She cursed under her breath and bit down on her lip. Her eyes welled up without her permission.

But the torture didn't last forever. A quick couple minutes later, it was done. And so was Mimi, who had managed to go through the ordeal not only without muffled sounds of pain, but talking to her lady all nonchalantly as if hair wasn't so rudely being torn from her body! Her forehead felt like it was on fire, although the lotion the lady put on helped.

"What do you think?" the lady asked, holding up a mirror. Kari sucked in her breath … yeah, it looked nice. Made her look more feminine. Prettier, somehow.

And yet -- "They're so red! I mean… it's a nice job, don't get me wrong." Ever the gracious one. "They look very beautiful," she continued. "But I look like my eyebrows got sunburn."

After the two got up and paid, Kari was still obsessing over it. "The red is honestly not fading."

"It'll fade by tomorrow," Mimi assured her.

"Oh," Kari said, relieved.

"…For the most part."


"What? No one is even going to notice," Mimi said flippantly, squinting at Kari's eyebrows and then smiling triumphantly. "They look fabulous."

Kari ignored the compliment. "If no one is going to notice, why did I get them done in the first place?" she complained.

"Like I said, you can't have unruly eyebrows on your graduation! It's like having unshaved legs on your birthday. A no-no. On special occasions, you want to look and feel your best. It's not like I'm taking you to the place I get a bikini wax--"

"Please stop," Kari begged. Mimi had a tendancy to dip into TMI category. It was occasionally scarring.

"Okay, okay! But really, you do look amazing. A certain tall, older blonde boy is going to eat his heart out."

Kari knew Mimi was just trying to be nice, but she felt the same sting she felt when the subject of Matt was brought up. She smiled unevenly. "If he's even there," she muttered.

"TK is graduating," Mimi reminded her, hitting the unlock button on her car remote as they neared the flashy sports car. "He'll be there."

"Right," Kari remembered, flushing at the stupid moment. Because the world did not revolve around her. "But we are over. Done. Matt made it perfectly clear that he couldn't care less."

"It's not true!" The hopeless romantic in Mimi hoped for the best.

"Believe it." Kari suppressed a sigh. "I'm trying not to do the wallowing thing … I'm graduating tomorrow. And soon Matt won't be a part of my life at all. And my life will probably be better for it." After she stopped missing him all the freaking time.

"I guess," Mimi said with a sigh as they slid into her car. "I just don't get it. You two were so perfect." She paused. "Well, maybe not perfect but you think after all that trouble…" She shook her head. "I've tried to talk to him about it, but he just clams up. Sora has better luck, but not by much. Although we occasionally get drunk and speculate. Well, I get drunk and Sora gets more hyper on energy drinks than anything because a drunk Sora is a very butch Sora which is incredibly uncool."

Kari giggled as she tried to imagine, but sobered quickly. "You've tried to talk to him … but he won't say anything?" she ventured, trying to sound nonchalant but she knew she was failing horribly.

"Yep," Mimi confirmed. "You know him. So quiet and broody and self contained. Jack ass. I'm so glad Tai is loud and obnoxious. It makes my life so much easier."

Kari giggled again. "Well, I appreciate you trying to talk to him. But it's a lost cause. And that's fine, really." She shook her head. "I'll be okay."

"You sure?" Mimi was all fun and games most of the time, but she was concerned too. It showed in the look she gave Kari, the one that was almost … motherly.

"I'm sure," Kari assured her. "I'm not broken. Little cracked maybe but …time will do its thing." She smiled.

"That's the spirit!" Mimi cheered.

Mimi's perpetual cheerfulness was something she had always taken for granted. But right now, she appreciated it as fully as anyone could.

"Bye, Mom!" TK said, giving his mom a hug before she left to go back to her car and hotel room. She had come up for graduation and she had picked him up from school so the two of them could eat ice cream. And talk. Talk about plans, and what would be happening. Making arrangements. It had been hours, but it felt like … minutes.

Time, TK realized, was a slippery little thing.

It descended slowly, slowly -- and then without a backward glance, it would just slide right out from under you. And then sometimes it drag. Boy, did it ever. Sometimes it stood still. And then it would move way too rapidly. It was slippery.

One day, he was on the top of the world. A great brother, a great girlfriend. The next day, no girlfriend and as far as she was concerned, no brother.

Well, no. That was a lie. He still considered Matt his brother. It sounded really hardcore and justified to insist otherwise, but it wasn't true. Matt had doublecrossed him, yeah, but Matt was still his brother. That was the crappiest part.

But he was moving on. He was graduating. Man, he couldn't believe he was graduating. The feeling of incredulity had hit him at Prom too, although it hadn't been quite as prominent as it was now. It was easy for the worry to melt away at Prom, because it was a genuinely good time. Not the all American golden event where dreams came true, not even what he had originally envisioned, but it was fun anyways. Ally had sort of asked him to ask her. ("Say, Teeks." She had dropped the 'Teeky' at some point, something that he was endlessly thankful for. She smiled pretty and then continued, "Do you want to ask me to grad?") TK was a decent guy, so although he knew Ally wasn't the sweetest person in the world, he agreed. Besides, Ally had always been nice to him. And lately, it was for real. Apparently around the same time she dropped 'Teeky' she also lost her sugary sweet voice that always seemed to ooze fake sincerity.

Ally had become less of a doll, and more of a human and the two of them had a blast at prom. Suki had given him all sorts of weird looks but by the end of the night, even Suki and Ally, bitter enemies, were making conversation. He felt accomplished, although he hadn't actually done anything.

Ally had been voted Prom Queen (sure, she had manipulated and intimidated most of the senior class but apparently that made for votes) and the title of King had been bestowed upon a guy that used to be on TK's basketball team, and was in involved with practically everything. When Roger (that was the newly titled Prom king's name) and Ally went to do their customary dance, TK hung back with Davis and Suki and realized that he was having a pretty good time. Kari's absence hadn't killed prom for him. And then with that realization, came another realization -- that he could go on without her, and it didn't have to hurt all the time. That knowledge made it possible to be civil to Kari. Not easy, and certainly not enjoyable, but possible. And that was the important part.

But he could not be civil to Matt. Because Matt was his brother, his flesh and blood, and he had stabbed him in the back. And that he couldn't tolerate.

But it wouldn't matter soon anyway.

Kari was exceedingly glad to get home after her day. It had been a decent day, just exhausting. Saying goodbye to everyone at school was weary, and it was upsetting, and it made her want to cry. Getting her eyebrows waxed actually did make her cry. And now, finally, she could just … chill for a bit before the ceremony tomorrow. Kari was a girl who tended to keep busy, but even she needed her downtime. It was nine thirty already. After waxing with Mimi, she went out for dinner with Suki and the two of them endlessly gabbed about their year, about the coming year, about everything and everything. Except, thankfully, for Matt.

She came into the house quietly. The lights were dark, and her parents probably went to bed early because they, like her, would be getting up early. And also parents just went to bed early apparently. She went toward the living room, dodging a soccer ball Tai had left laying around, and without a second thought, flung herself toward the couch. Good couch. Seen her through a lot. Same couch that had housed some of her best naps. Same couch that she had cried and sobbed and cheered on while watching girly chick flicks that loved, despite what anyone said. The same couch her and Matt had once made out on and -- she stopped. The urge to move flared, but she fought it. She had sat on this couch before after that experience. Big deal. Why did it matter now? Just because she was graduating tomorrow? It's not like that changed everything ever. She couldn't become one of those sad, pathetic girls who proclaimed everything their ex-boyfriend touched dead to them. It was just a couch! A perfectly good couch! And she freaking loved it!

She sunk it stubbornly, almost unwilling to believe that she literally had just contemplated that couch for about a minute.

Awkwardly she sat for a moment.

Damn it.

She was just about to get up and hole herself up in her room because why even bother anymore, when her mom came and sat down beside her. And smiled.

"Hey, honey."

Kari was incredibly relieved to have the distraction. "Hey, mom. I thought you were sleeping. Did I wake you up?"

Mrs. Kamiya shook her head. "Oh, no not at all. I was awake before. Your dad is asleep, but I'm feeling … restless, I guess."

Kari definitely knew how that went. "I can relate."

"Well, of course. Graduation day tomorrow! Big day. I bet you're excited."

The appropriate answer to this would be yes. She could please her mom and it would be really very easy. No real answer required. She swallowed, prepared, and then felt an unexpected wave of guilt. Of course guilt. She was always guilty. Always felt it, had felt it since that first kiss with Matt and maybe even before then. And it was ridiculous. She needed to take back her life. She needed to be honest, at the very freaking least.

"Sort of." That was her grand answer. Well, at least it didn't provoke any guilt. She wished she had more eloquent words, more poignant and important, but alas.

"Oh." Apparently, her mother had expected more.

"I mean -- yes. No. Yes." She breathed out. "It's hard, mom."

That surprised her mom a bit. "Hard?"

"Yeah, hard." She didn't know where to go from there. She hadn't had a real conversation with her mom in so long that she had forgotten how. Good daughter she was.

"Because you're graduating … or because of everything to do with Matt and TK?"

It was Kari's turn to be surprised. She knew her parents knew, vaguely, what had happened, but they'd never confronted her about it. She felt breathless and nervous and once again, she felt guilty. She almost got up, but she stayed sitting.

Be honest, she reminded herself. Another day, she would have avoided a confrontation like this. In fact, she basically had before. She'd see her mom zero in on her, and she'd bolt. She was truly awful. Nimbly, she nodded and tried to find her voice. "Yeah. That'd be it…" she faded off, and then found her voice again. "First time you ever mentioned that."

Her mom smiled sadly. "I didn't think you wanted me to."

Kari's newly waxed eyebrows rose. "Well. I don't know." They slunk back down. "I didn't want you to … yell at me. To tell me how stupid I was being. I didn't really want to hear it." It was so hard to say this to her mom of all people. Her mom had always viewed her as virtuous and sweet, just like everyone else, and Kari didn't know how to deal with a dynamic where she had done bad, and her mom was judging her for it. She felt sick. "I know I deserved it." She bit her lip, hard. "But …"

"Kari, sweetie…" Her mom's arms draped around her shoulder. It was so warm and loving, and Kari could barely stand it. She inched away like she'd been burned.

"You guys should have yelled at me. Talked some sense into me, something. I was being horrible and stupid, and I'm trying to be better but… I'm sorry. I'm just -- I'm sorry. I'm trying to do the best I can, but it's not good enough. I'm just … a horrible, horrible person."

"It is good enough," Mrs Kamiya argued. "Honey, you are doing your best. You're human. You make mistakes. And then you try to fix them. That's just how it works."

"But I hurt people!" she burst out passionately. "The people I care about! Don't you even care about that? That your sweet doting daughter basically ruined everyone's life?"

Mrs. Kamiya looked stricken at that emission. "It happens, Kari. People get hurt. But it's not the end of the world. Was it uncharacteristic of you to go to Matt after so many years with TK? Yes. Was it a surprise? Yeah. Was it a little reckless? Absolutely. But it does not make you a horrible person." Her voice softened. "Please believe that, sweetheart."

Kari could tears start to prick in her eyes. "I wanted to come to you, I did. But everything I did was so bad, I just felt … guilty all the time. I can remember not feeling like that. And I couldn't take you thinking that too."

Mrs. Kamiya leaned close to Kari to hug her again, and this time Kari let her. "I could never."

They sat silently for moments. Kari was able to look her mom in the eye without feeling exponentially guilty for the first time in months. A clean slate. This was good. Except --

"Mom," Kari piped up, a little timidly.

"Yeah, hon?"

"A couple months ago, I said I was sleeping over at Suki's. But I went to a party instead. An after party for Matt's concert."

Her mom was silent for a moment, and then she nodded. "All things considering, I think I can let that go."

Relief flooded through her. "Love you, mom."

"Love you too."

She left out the time where she said she was sleeping over at Suki's and actually stayed the night with Matt at Mimi's. Because she wasn't a horrible person, and she had repented or whatever, and she did have a clean slate -- but she wasn't a saint.

Sleep came easy that night.

It was almost midnight and TK still wasn't sleeping. He'd regret that in the morning, that much he knew, but his lack of sleep wasn't for lack of trying. He had tried for a solid hour, and then decided to resign himself to a bag of chips.

Chips were good. Chips made him happy, and provided him an excellent late night snack. He made sure to be quiet so he wouldn't wake up his dad, or Matt. Especially not Matt. Not because he was concerned about disrupting Matt's sleep, but because he was more so concerned about having to actually talk to Matt. Because that was the person he was now.

But life didn't tend to work in his favour. Because about two minutes into his relationship with the chips, Matt came in and ruined it. Well, that was what he was good at, after all.

"I'm leaving," TK announced, not caring if it was rude or harsh. It was justified. He got up from the kitchen chair. It made a god awful screech against the tile. Both brothers winced.

"TK." Matt's voice was desperate.

"What?" TK's voice was harsh, and cold.

Matt swallowed. "Are you ever going to be able to … I don't know, look at me? Ever again?"

TK looked highly unimpressed. "Well, I'm looking at you now."

TK was so angry that it scared him. Matt knew he deserved every little drop of that anger, but still, it was odd. That his little brother, the one who was so bright and full of hope to be so full of anger, something Matt knew was so toxic … it was heartbreaking. And it was even shittier because it was 100% Matt's fault.

"You know what I mean," Matt said quietly. He should have just let it go, but he couldn't. TK was graduating tomorrow and he couldn't bear the thought of going there and having TK hate the ceremony simply because Matt's presence ruined it. Or maybe he was just selfish and wanted his brother to forgive him and although he'd been too chicken shit to confront him earlier, the desire to eat something had somehow lead him to TK and the absurdity came him the courage to finally give it a stab.

Yeah, probably that one.

"Are you for real?" TK asked incredulously. "You went for my ex-girlfriend! Barely ex-girlfriend at that. And I'm supposed to be … what, forgiving?" His voice hardened. "Gracious?"

"No," Matt agreed and again he was just so deeply sorry, more than words could express. But he couldn't take it back and he wouldn't anyway. Kari and him had just been so completely right and while he may not have exactly done everything the way it happened, he wouldn't have erased it. He was just sorry that TK had gotten hurt, that it all had worked out that way. But he had had no way to prepare. One day Kari was just … whatever, his dorky little brother's little girlfriend, best friends kid sister. And then one day she was Kari, all beautiful and adorable and kissing him and … it'd happened so fast his emotions couldn't have really kept up, but happen it did. He was paying the price for it.

"You should want to kick my ass," Matt continued. "And yell at me. And you can." He shrugged. "But we have to live under the same roof, Takeru."

"Not any longer."

Matt felt himself freeze up. "Not any … longer?" he repeated, realization dawning upon him. "As in…"

"I'm moving," he confirmed. He did not look smug or happy or pained. Vaguely triumphant, maybe, largely expressionless and this scared Matt. "In about a week. I'm moving in with Mom."

Matt felt like he'd been punched. "All the way across Japan?"

"Yeah." TK nodded. "Get a job, some experience … get away from here." That had been what his mom and him were talking about over ice cream. TK had mentioned that he wanted to get away, and his mom had posed the option of living with her again. He could intern at the place she was starting work out, because they had spots open. And suddenly it seemed like a door was opening to him, one had never considered. He always knew he wanted to take a year off, and this was just the perfect way to spend it. He had quickly agreed. He had yet to tell his dad, but he knew he'd understand.

Matt winced at the last part.

"At her newspaper thing? Since when are you interested in newspapers and reporting?"

"I don't know, maybe it happened around the same time you got interested in my girlfriend?"

Matt deserved each and every blow, but It was hard to believe it was coming from TK's mouth. "TK, I never tried to--"

"No," TK cut him off. "You didn't try. But you did it. And I will never, ever get over it. It's not because of Kari. It's because of me. Because of what you did to me." And for a moment, TK's voice was not hard and cold. It was vulnerable, and it was TK's. Matt felt worse than he ever had. Or at least it was on the top of the list.

"Can I say I'm sorry?" Matt said wearily. He was tired. And hungry, but he was actively trying to ignore that. Sorry, he knew, would mean nothing.

"Go ahead. But I'm not listening. Don't bother coming tomorrow. I don't want you there."

It was a good exit line, and TK capitalized on this, storming off to his room. Matt stood there, utterly rejected, before deciding that was not how the conversation was ending. No fucking way.

He bolted to TK's room and knocked on the door. Once, twice, ten times impatiently. He wasn't worried about waking out their dad, because he generally slept like the dead after he got to a certain point in his sleep. Matt knew that after years of living with him. TK did not swing the door open, but Matt was unphased.

"I want you to listen," Matt said loudly against the door, knowing TK was listening against his will on the other side. "I am sorry. I am so fucking sorry for what I did to you and it kills me. Okay? It kills me that I hurt you. And not just you. I hurt her too. I thought it'd be easier if we stopped, so I dumped her. And you know what? It fucking sucks. I know you are the last person in the world who wants to hear this but I'm telling you anyway. I didn't try for this to happen. I tried really fucking hard not to, actually. I haven't spoken to her in a month. You can hate me. You can hate her. But don't act like we purposely chose this."

Silence. Matt closed his eyes and sunk against the door. "TK."

He didn't know how long he stayed like that, but the door opened at some point. TK looked blank again. He said nothing.

Matt opened his eyes. "I'm coming tomorrow."

TK nodded.

Matt cracked his knuckles simply for something to do. He didn't even know what to say. Until he did. "I'm in love with her."

TK swallowed hard. "I know."

"And I'll stay away from her if you want me to. But I'm fucking miserable." He laughed mirthlessly. "I bet you're happy about that."

"Sometimes," TK admitted. "I try to be."

"And it's working?"

"Sometimes. Not always."

"Okay" Matt turned to retreat to his bedroom.


Matt turned slowly. "What?"

"I don't want you miserable forever. Just for now. Just while I am." How the mighty have fallen.

"What are you saying?" he squinted in confusion.

"Do what you have to." TK squeezed his eyes shut. He could believe he was saying that. What was it, some kind of … very very vague blessing? Something like that. He didn't know. He was tired.

"Good night," Matt spoke up.

"Doubt it."

Neither of them slept fitfully.

"Hey! Sister! Kari! Kari, get up. You are graduating today!" Kari could vaguely make out Tai's voice, but it was too loud and too intrusive considering it felt like she had just gone to sleep.

"What time is it?" she finally managed, although it came out a croak. Seriously, hadn't she just gone to sleep

"Morning," Tai answered vaguely.

And then he did something so crass, so unforgivable that she was appalled down to the bone.

He turned on the light.

Her eyes fluttered in shock and she flipped over so her eyes would be smushed into the pillow and protected from the light. "Why do you hate me?" she moaned.

"Wrong. I love you. Now get up and shower. Breakfast will be ready soon."

Kari stopped. And suddenly, she remembered. All of this, waking up early, making breakfast -- she'd done it for Tai years ago for his graduation.

She smiled into her pillow. And yawned. Graduation day had started with a bang.

True to his word, Matt had come to the ceremony. Him and TK had not spoken since the previous night, but it felt like there was a sort of … it just felt like tense. Kind of. Everything was still so unresolved with everyone he knew, but it felt right to be here. Watching all these bright young things (haha, he said that like he was sooo old) get ready for grad kind of made him feel like everything would be all right.

"This is so exciting," his mom remarked with a grin, smoothing her skirt down as she looked around. "I can't believe my little boy is graduating." She glanced over at her ex-husband, and amended her statement. "Our little boy."

"Ahhh, they're growing up so fast!" Mr. Ishida squeezed Matt's shoulders and Matt rolled his eyes lovingly while Ms. Takashi laughed politely.

The ex-couple were civil enough, polite in that almost over-bearing sort of way but they did their best. Matt could deal with it.

While peeking around, he spied the Kamiya's sitting in another section, all dressed up and glowing with pride. Their prodigal daughter was graduating and would undoubtedly go onto an amazing school. Of course they were proud.

His eyes fell to them again when the K's got their turn, in which almost immediately 'Hikari Kamiya' was called up. He smiled at their pride, at their cheerful bliss and warmth. They looked upon their daughter like she truly was light.

Matt finally stole a glance for himself. She looked pretty, even weighed down in that gown and under the hat. She was smiling brightly as she claimed her diploma. She was … basically the epitome of everything bright and awesome and wonderful. And she wasn't his. That thought hurt. It ebbed and throbbed and man, he hadn't really realized how much until just now. For a month, she'd been totally out of his life. She walked out of that apartment and far, far away from him.

He'd asked for it, though. After all, it didn't get much clearer than "you're wasting your time, because I don't love you." Did it now?

He continued to watch in quiet reverence for a moment. Kari, this brilliant, beautiful person that he had somehow totally fallen for. It still didn't make sense to him. He didn't do love. Girlfriends, yes. Sex, yes, and sweet Jesus, he hadn't had a good lay forfuckingever. But she was so much more than that. Love? Love? Really? It was terrifying as hell, but he did.

Not that it mattered.

She was off the stage now. The Kamiya's all sat down, their cheering and whooping subsiding. Matt smiled. Tai was all cleaned up, and that was amusing to see. They would have mocked each other for being decked out in dress pants, a nice shirt and a tie if you know, they weren't on terrible footing right now. The pure fury in Tai's voice and face was still clear in his mind.

And then Tai looked over and stared Matt straight in the eye. It was a not a look of anger or loathe. It was … Matt didn't know, really, but it didn't exactly radiate warmth.

Matt did not cower under the levity of his gaze. He kept it, until Tai broke eye contact.

Matt exhaled. That had been unbearably awkward. Awesome. He trained his eyes back toward the graduate, watching person after person in complete disinterest. Man, graduation is so fucking lame. So much for being exhilarated by the bright young things.

Finally, TK's name was called.

Matt smiled wide as his brother went across the stage. He stood up, along with his parents, and they all clapped loudly.

His little brother was graduating.

His little brother that was so good and caring.

His little brother that looked so much like him it was downright surreal sometimes.

His little brother who hadn't even wanted him here (for admittedly good reason).

His little brother.

Matt was unspeakably proud.

When the ceremony was over (about a thousand freaking years later) there was a big swarm of people trying to get out of their seats and meet up with their graduating folk to congratulate them. Or just to plain get out of their seats. Matt was not exempt from this.

After a minute, he threw a glance backward and realized his parents were lost in the sea of people. Oops. He walked backwards for about another minute, seeing if he could spot them, but no dice. He grumbled.

He grumbled again when some random blonde bitch elbowed him out of the way and stepped on his foot with her massive heels.

"Sonofabitch," he cursed, glaring at the blonde chick as she ran off.

He heard a similar curse somewhere behind him. Was it possible that Hurricane Blonde had also hurt others? He turned to face behind him, grinning. "Did she just--"

He stopped. It was Tai who was rubbing his arm. Of course it was Tai. Because that was the way that the universe worked, apparently.

Well. He'd try, at any rate. "She really doesn't know how to work a crowd, huh?" Lame, lame, lame. But it was all Matt had,

"Maybe she's the smartest of us all. Every man for himself, or what not."

Tai was talking to him. It felt like Christmas. Was there something about graduation that just made everyone much more chill or something? He was starting to think so.

"Maybe," Matt muttered, trying to formulate intelligent words.

"What?!" The crowd was loud, and mutters were the first things to get lost.

"Nothing," Matt said, but he knew it wasn't loud enough. The crowd was getting louder. Once they reached the doors that lead to the outside, or diverged into hallways and rooms in the stadium (the actual high school was too small to hold the graduation, so the school always rented out an arena to host it). This was his first conversation with Tai since Tai had given him a black fat shiner. He should take advantage.

So he did. "Can we talk?" he yelled out, before the crowd could separate them for good.

Tai considered it very obviously, and then nodded. The two headed out the doors and kept walking til there wasn't a thousand million people around. Matt was pretty much sure his palms were sweating, which was just beyond ludicrous. This wasn't a date, seriously.

Matt realized he actually didn't know what to say. Tai looked at him expectantly. Maybe he'd break the ice with a joke! "So, you're not gonna punch me, right?"

Tai looked at him weirdly. Matt decided it would just be better for everyone if he stopped saying stuff.

"I don't know. Do I have a reason to?"

Matt frowned. Wow, this was a reassuring start to the conversation. "I'm sorry." That seemed to be a safe conversations starter lately.

"Yeah." And then, the unexpected. "Me too."

Matt's brow furrowed. "Why?"

Tai shrugged. "Punching you wasn't the nicest thing I'd ever done."

"You're a lot more chill about this," Matt said suspiciously.

"Oh, it still disgusts me to my bones."

Matt accepted that. "Gotcha."

"Know what disgusts me more?"

Did he want to know? Probably not. Nervously, he shifted in his spot, shoes scuffing the grass. "What?"

"The fact that my baby sister has been going around the last month trying to be all brave and strong, when really she's pretty much miserable. Because you broke up with her."

Matt could feel his stomach sink to the ground. "Tai, you don't understand--"

"What, were you trying to be noble or something?"

Matt frowned. "Well, it's like I did it for the novelty of being noble. I was genuinely trying to do the right thing."

"So crushing my sister's heart was the right thing to do?" The sarcasm in Tai's voice was nearly tangible.

"Apparently not," he muttered. "Well, what did you expect? TK hated me for it, you punched me for it. We kind of hit an all time low."

Tai looked impatient. "Matt, do you know why I was so pissed off beyond belief?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Because you snuck around behind my back for how long? Because you didn't tell me. Because it's my sister. And you know why I was so against it? Because I know you."

"I don't…" Matt's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "You know me?"

"I know you," Tai repeated. "I know your history with girls. And that wasn't allowed to be Kari, some random fling. I didn't want you together because I knew it'd end up hurting her. And you did the exact thing I was scared of. You broke her heart."

Those words were like a punch to the gut. "I didn't mean to. I thought … it'd be better."

"Well, it's not," Tai said bluntly. "Yeah, I don't have to deal with the disgusting factor but I do have to deal with the fact that my baby sister looks like someone died half the time."

Matt tried to process all this information. "So is this … your form of a blessing?"

"No," Tai said firmly. Then he seemed to rethink that. "Maybe. Sort of. It's saying, make things right. I don't care how you do it. But I want you to fix what you broke in her. Apologize, claim mental retardation, but fix it, okay?"

Matt hoped he could. He really fucking hoped. "And if I fix her, you and me … that gonna be fixed too?"

Tai didn't know, to be honest. He wanted to forgive Matt, life was lonely and not as awesome without him, but it just seemed too easy to forgive him like that. "We'll see."

Matt could accept that.

Kari was happy. Really, and truly, she was happy. She was taking pictures with Davis, Suki and TK. Despite everything that happened, they were still the gang. They had been her survival through the past four years. And then she took pictures with her family and Mimi. She took pictures with everyone. Cap and gown, the pretty green dress underneath.

At some point, her and TK were alone. "I'm sorry," she said, while he said, "I'm leaving in a week."

He smiled, while her eyebrows went up. "Where to?"

He explained, and she elaborated on her apology, and they smiled. They were not repaired, not even close. There was too much history but for graduation's sake, they could pull it together for a day. And so they did. They were functional. They were not whole, but that was life. And Kari would take it. One day, it would be better. Or so she would choose to believe.

"I can't believe we did it," Suki said, pulling them all in for a group hug. "Seriously!"

"I can't believe I didn't fall asleep through that ridiculous ceremony," Davis yawned.

Suki whacked him, and Kari and TK grinned.

"Congrats to us," Kari cheered.

TK smiled. "Somehow, we made it."

It took about an hour and a half to get Kari alone. He was posing in pictures with TK and his mom and dad (slightly awkward but okay) and taking them, and hanging out. Kari was near the entire time, but they didn't speak two words to each other. It was literally torture. Seriously, Chinese water torture probably had nothing on this. Because not only was he forced to be in a million pictures, but he was forced around Kari in a situation that also involved Tai and TK. Sure, it was just pictures but still, it wasn't the best. And he needed to talk to her alone but that wasn't so much happened yet. So he waited til she seemed to be done, or taking a break or something. He waited, and when the moment arose that she strayed from the group, he followed He couldn't wait anymore. And so maybe this wasn't the best way to go about this about a month silence, he was gonna do it anyway.

She didn't notice him as she made her way outside in that gorgeous green dress that he could definitely appreciate. He wondered where she was going. He realized that wasn't really relevant.

He needed to speak up and call out to her and stop acting like a stalker. Okay, any time now. Annnyyy time now.

Except then Kari heard his feet shuffle. She turned, ever so slightly, and stopped dead in her tracks. Matt managed a weak smile. He needed to do this, while the words were on his brain and the adrenaline was still in his blood. Go, go, go.

He walked up to her ever so nonchalantly. She looked positively stricken.

"Hi," he greeted.

"Hi," she said back, sounding so impossibly sweet and lovely he couldn't remember for the life of him why he had ever, ever let go.

"Um. Congratulations."

She nodded. "Thank you."

"So," Matt said lamely, rubbing at his eyebrow with the back of his hand and then continuing, "I… saw you up there." NO, REALLY? Jack ass. Get it together, Matt.Kari began to play with the bracelet on her wrist, moving the charms around and around her wrist, feeling them climb over the protruding bone in her wrist and then falling down and around. Nervous habit, couldn't break it. She nodded. "Well. Thanks?" It wasn't exactly a compliment, but she had no idea what else she could say.

Tai's words echoed in Matt's head. You did the exact thing I was scared of. You broke her heart. They propelled Matt to bite his lip, and then move a step forward. "You look … really great. Did I mention that?"

"Thanks," she said again, feeling hopeless and awkward. Over a month had passed and still, she felt the desire to just … be with him. It surpassed wanting to kiss him, and touch him. It had surpassed physical attraction, but had settled into emotional need. She couldn't have that. She couldn't need him. Not now.

"Sit with me?" he asked hopefully, gesturing toward the bench that was conveniently a few feet away from them.

She nodded. "Sure."

The two approached the bench and sat, and each were much more composed than they had been at their last meeting. No fits of laughter or embarrassing monologues. Just them.

And yet…

You did the exact thing I was scared of. You broke her heart.

Matt spoke first. "I'm sorry," he said, quietly, seriously, and Kari knew he meant it. "I was … you know, kind a prick. You didn't deserve that."

His tone was sort of hesitant, as if he might go on, so Kari waited patiently for just that.

He did. "You asked me if you were wasting my time--"

Kari inhaled sharply.

"--And I said yes, because I didn't love you."


"I guess you don't need a replay. But I love you. Okay? There it is. I thought that we should stay apart, so I thought it would be easier if you, I dunno, hated me or whatever. That's because I'm a dick."

"Matt, I--"

"I know, I know." He was on a roll. "Like, who the hell did I think I was? Peter Parker? But I've talked to Tai, I've talked to T.K. and now I'm talking to you. We can do this, Kari. We actually can. You told me we were worth it, remember? That you could bend, we could do this. And okay, yes, I'm kind of delayed but --"


Matt's jaw dropped open slightly. "Sorry."

Kari could have laughed at how ironic this all was, if it wasn't also so painstaking. "We can't."

His eyes widened, his face dropped, and he looked no more than six years old in that moment. She ached. "But … we can."

Her lips turned up into a smile, but it was the saddest thing he'd ever seen. "We can't," she repeated. And then took a breath. "I'm going to Hokkaido."

He felt like the world was collapsing in on itself. "No."

She bowed her head down, and then managed to bring it back up. Embarrassingly enough, her eyes were teary. "Yes."

"But -- god, Kari, but we have to work this out. You can't run away from all this!"

"I'm not running," she said, slightly stung he would assume that. "It might seem that way, but it's not. I know I have issues to work through. And it'll happen. But I'm willing to wait. I need this. I need Hokkaido."

But I need you. "We're supposed to-- fix you." What was he even saying? He knew he was acting like a child, but he couldn't help it. How could Kari be leaving? She had to change her mind. She had to. "Kari, I want to be with you! We can't do it if you're that far away!" Too little, too late.

She looked down, telling herself to breathe evenly. "No, we can't."

"Is it because of me? Because I told you that I didn't want you?"

Kari shook her head, even though in truth, that had been part of it. "No. I need to do this for myself. I've always been Tai's sister, T.K.'s girlfriend, and now, with you… I just need to be. Kari. And figure out who I am, without everyone. I can't do that here. I love my mom. And Tai. And my friends." She bit her lip. "And I love you." She was teary again. Seriously, this was beyond ridiculous. "And moving will be hard… but I got to do it."

He kissed her. She didn't see it coming, but it was stunning. She kissed him back at some point, powerfully and deeply and she wanted to kiss him every second of every day for the rest of her life. A month without him, and a kiss erased all that. A kiss made her want to stay here with him. This very kiss could make her rethink her future and toss all that out, just so she could be with him. It was so powerful and all consuming that it scared her.

Finally, she pulled away. And then grinned, slightly, despite herself. "You have always had the worst timing."

"It's the Ishida charm. Screw everything up and try to fix it later. Sometimes it works … sometimes it doesn't."

They kissed again. They kissed for minutes, maybe even days or years, or at least that's what it felt like. They kissed, because they knew it'd be the last kiss they had for a very, very long time. And also they kissed because they felt like it. Because a month was a long time to go without kissing the person you were in love with.

"So does this mean you forgive me?"

There had been so much apologizing and making amends and forgiving in her life lately that she barely had to think twice. "Of course I do."

"I put you through a month of hell."

"Gave me perspective."

"You're being nice just so I don't feel bad."

She shook her head. "Am not." Except they both knew she was. And then she smiled, and stood up. "I have to go back in."

Matt kind of forgot about the rest of the world for a bit. "Where does everyone think you are?"

She shrugged. "I just told them I needed some air. We did the picture thing, they're probably all chowing down at the luncheon. So that's where I'm headed." She hesitated. "Are you coming?"

He shook his head. "I better not. Enjoy the time with your family and friends."

She wanted him there so badly but she knew it was probably for the best. "Okay. See you later?"

"Just try and keep me away."

Although Kari had graduated, the summer had been an educational one. She learned things, like that you could think your life was at rock bottom, but somehow it would recover. She learned that Mimi was a bridezilla in training and even picking china out was quite the battle with her. She learned that she was okay being Matt`s friend.

It was also a fun summer. Barbeques with the family, sometimes Mimi, with her dad cooking and her mom thankfully not. Bike rides with Suki, sometimes Davis. A couple pleasant letters to TK who had gotten settled across the country with his mom. Watching Matt rehearse with his band.

It was a sad summer too. There had been tears at Kari`s impromptu going-away party that Tai and Mimi had thrown. Everyone was there. Davis, who was staying in town, Suki who was going to a university not too far from home, Sora, everyone. Matt too. She hadn`t kissed him since graduation, knew there was no point. They could be together all summer, but it would have made it harder when she left. Friends was good for now. They managed it, somehow.

Her family had been there to see her off when she boarded the plane that would take her to Hokkaido. To her future. She didn`t know what it would hold. She truly had no idea. She didn`t know if it`d be a mistake, she didn`t know if she`d succeed, she didn`t know.

As the plane lifted up into the air, she looked out the window (which the old man beside her had graciously given her), took some pictures (her camera had come out from retirement) and watched Odaiba get smaller, smaller, smaller.

And for that moment, she felt free.

Author's Note: AND END. Actually, there's another chapter. It'll be set about a year later or so, and it'll be a long one. And it'll be the end one. So here is your opportunity to moan over the fact that this story is just never ending. Here's my obligatory promise that I will *try* to get the next one up soonish. Like, within the decade. Have faith in me guys. Have faith.

And review! I am dying to know what you guys think.

Don`t judge me too harshly if there is grammatical errors. I didn`t have a chance to edit, I was forced to peace out for a family dinner and wanted to get it up. Love you all!