Changes

While Taichi and the others hold one last reunion before college, another gathering is taking place not too far away. One-shot

Disclaimer: I don't own.


Yagami – Susumu and Yuuko, Taichi and Hikari
Ishida – Hiroaki, Yamato
Takenouchi –Haruhiko and Toshiko, Sora
Tachikawa –Keisuke and Satoe, Mimi
Kido – N/A, Jyou
Izumi –Masami and Yoshie, Koushiro
Takaishi – Natsuko, Takeru
The autumn leaves danced around her high-heeled shoes as she quickly tapped her way across the street. Takaishi Natsuko tugged on the strap of her purse out of habit once more, gently biting on her lip as she paused to straighten her scarf. She stopped in front of the glass shop window and delicately arranged her attire, being careful to look presentable enough. Once she was satisfied, she smiled confidently at her reflection, swallowed the nervous fear that threatened to paralyze her, and continued on her hurried way.

Only three of them were there already:

Yagami Yuuko, her mouse brown hair pulled into a casual ponytail, flipping through a cooking magazine with her brows knit in dutiful concentration, seemed the most comfortable, as usual. She lounged in her café chair with a natural, care-free grace, her flower patterned skirt fluttering around her knees. When Natsuko approached, Yuuko looked up and smiled widely, and the former offered a cautious, weak smile in response, nervously fingering her purse and hoping she still looked okay. But she knew Yuuko wouldn't care about things like that. Natsuko had always wished she could be like her.

Beside Yuuko sat Takenouchi Toshiko, whose traditional apparel made Natsuko feel even more out of place with her own western-styled blouse and skirt. Toshiko made no judgment however, choosing to don her style of clothing merely out of personal preference, and she never seemed to think differently of women who chose to dress more modernly. Even now, Natsuko knew that Toshiko would only compliment her outfit once she sat down, and it would not be out of resentment or haughtiness, only a genuine opinion.

Sipping tea across from the two women was Izumi Yoshie, whose soft red hair complimented her deeply-set brown eyes. She turned in her chair when her companions looked up, and waved Natsuko over, patting the seat of the empty chair beside her. Yoshie always seemed to be smiling now, and it was based on more than just her own happiness; she had literally been in tears of joy when Natsuko had told her of her promotion at work a few months ago. Yoshie never stopped looking for a chance to bring people's spirits up. It was in her nature to socialize, but only with the intent to share happiness, and Natsuko always treasured her for that.

"I'm sorry I'm late," Natsuko whispered, settling herself in her chair.

"Don't worry about it," Yuuko dismissed easily and readily. "We're still waiting for the men."

"I don't know if Masami will be able to come," Yoshie apologized immediately. "His mother's been sick, and he only just returned from her home very late last night. I didn't want to wake him up."

"Masami needs his rest. That's perfectly understandable."

"I hope your mother-in-law feels better," Toshiko comforted.

Yoshie smiled at her. "It's not looking very well, I'm afraid. That's why we've decided to visit her next week as a family. Koushiro will be on holiday until the week after."

"That's right. He starts later than the others, doesn't he?" Natsuko asked.

She nodded. "The new school has a different policy, but Masami and I agree that it's the best place for him."

"I agree. He's such a mature young man," Yuuko complimented. She looked wistful. "I'm only sad that he won't be there to teach my son a few things…."

Toshiko laughed.

"Well, in Taichi's defense, I think he's improved much since the days of his youth."

"Didn't he get that football scholarship?" Yoshie asked, drinking the rest of her tea.

"Yes, but I haven't made up my mind about it. America's the last place I want to send that boy. He must learn to be responsible and ethical before I let him leave the country carrying the family name."

"Oh, Yuuko, you're so hard on him!" Toshiko teased.

"Susumu's left me no choice!" she defended. "He only encourages his behavior. I can trust him to be the model father. Not like Masami or Keisuke."

"I agree," Toshiko said, ignoring Yoshie's blushes. "Both Koushiro and Mimi are very well-behaved children. "

Yoshie added softly, "And I'll owe it to their fathers for them becoming so."

"Yes, Mimi. There's a sweet girl," Yuuko nodded approvingly.

Toshiko said, "She is. I would have thought a new country would have changed her, but she's as eager to be back in Japan as ever. Whenever she comes to visit Sora, she can't stop eating all my cooking- and that's very rare for me. Sora usually eats out now, with the others." Here Toshiko glanced at Natsuko, who smiled back, feeling a little awkward. It always got this way when one's children communicated an interest in another's, she thought, though if it were up to her, she would have chosen a girl like Sora for her son. If she could still call him her son. She rarely saw him. She only heard of his interest in Sora from Toshiko herself.

Feeling guilty, she ordered herself some chocolate along with her tea and waited for the comfort foods to arrive while the others fell into conversation. Moments later, they were joined- to their surprise- by Takenouchi Haruhiko. He was a professor at a university and traveled a lot for his job. Natsuko had only met him a handful of times. Now he approached in his signature dark brown, thick coat, shyly, uncertainly, greeting Toshiko first and then politely nodding to the other women. He pulled up a chair next to his wife, and they smiled at each other, saying nothing. But it was not a bad nothing. Natsuko, who watched them closely, could tell that there was a respectful admiration there, an understanding between them that left words useless and made emotions more valuable.

Soon following him was Izumi Masami, who looked tired, yet happy to see everyone again. He sat next to his wife as well, calling the waiter over to order a tea for himself and Haruhiko, who offered his gratitude for the gesture. Before silence could settle completely, the Kidos arrived, helping the other men rearrange the café tables to accompany the large number of customers. They sat between the Izumis and the Takenouchis. Finally, Tachikawa Keisuke and his wife Satoe appeared, and they made a big deal of greeting each one individually before settling down between Masami and Natsuko.

Small talk resumed while they all waited for the last two members of the group to join them.

Natsuko nervously glanced at her watch while Yuuko impatiently tapped her foot. She leaned over the empty chairs between them and whispered to Natsuko, "See? This is why Taichi will never learn how to behave like a gentleman."

Natsuko laughed and Yuuko grinned mischievously. She opened her mouth to make another comment about her husband but was interrupted by the culprit himself, who popped onto the scene groggily, scratching his head as he squeezed in between Natsuko and Yuuko to collapse into the chair by his wife. Said wife frowned at him resentfully.

"Susumu, I was talking with Natsuko."

"Don't let me interrupt," Susumu mumbled, his bleary eyes closed.

Yuuko gently slapped his shoulder. "Don't sleep. That's rude."

"But I hardly slept at all last night. You should have taught that son of yours to be mindful of the elderly when he comes banging through the doors at three in the morning."

"He's more your son than mine," Yuuko snapped.

"Now, now, you two," Masami began with a grin.

Susumu opened one eye and smirked at him.

"You were supposed to talk to him about staying out all night anyway," Yuuko accused him.

"He's a kid, Yuuko. Let him have his fun."

"He is not a kid. He's eighteen and ready to go to university. You should be teaching him better habits."

"Why is everything my fault?"

"Because you're the father, Susumu. You're in charge of Taichi; I'm in charge of Hikari."

"That's not fair. How come you get the easy one?"

"Yuuko, Susumu, your voices are carrying to the other tables," Toshiko whispered, shifting in her chair.

Yuuko shook her head in despair and looked away, frowning bitterly, while Susumu rubbed his nose and stubbornly turned his face in the opposite direction. Natusko watched as, minutes later, Susumu cautiously glanced back at his wife, and, leaning forward slowly, planted a small kiss on her cheek. Yuuko melted like a schoolgirl and shrugged him away, mumbling something about keeping appearances in public. Susumu's smile only widened wickedly, and he sat back, one arms swung casually, protectively around the back of Yuuko's chair.

"Well, now that we're all here, for the most part," Keisuke cleared his throat, "I guess we can begin."

There was a prolonged silence.

Somehow, Natsuko noted, this was all easier when there was no formality.

"Um, we all know that our children are heading for a new chapter in their lives," Keisuke continued nervously, Satoe beaming proudly beside him but not really offering any tangible help. "That's why when Mimi told me they had decided to meet once more before everyone went on their own, separate way, I thought it would be a good thing for us to meet also, again. I realize it's been quite some time for some of us." He smiled, "At least, for Satoe and I, it has. But it's important, I believe, that we maintain a communication just as our children have. It brings them even closer, somehow, and they're happiness and friendship is the most important thing after all."

Yoshie spoke up next, wringing her hands under the table until Masami gently wrapped one of his hands around one of hers as reassurance.

"I- I just want to thank you all for being there for my son, Koushiro. I'm sure by now all of you know the story behind how Koushiro came into our lives. I think it's only because of the encouragement and friendship of the others that he could finally open himself to me and Masami. I just- you don't know much that means to us."

Yuuko smiled warmly at her and Toshiko leaned over to squeeze her hand comfortingly.

"Jyou, too, loves the friends he's found in the others," Mrs. Kido said after a small hesitation. "I know we haven't been the most…the most accessible and available parents, but I truly believe that if it weren't for your children and the Digital World, he would have never given us the second chance we needed to change, to learn to accept him and his brothers as who they are."

Toshiko straightened a little. "The Digital World taught my daughter a lot of things. Before she went, our family wasn't exactly the most…understanding, I guess, but when she returned, she was so full of love and grace that I knew it was right of me to learn to let her go. And I think that was the hardest part for all of us, learning to let each of our children go. It's something that makes every parent afraid, I know, but it's necessary. I could never have learned that if it weren't for Sora and the other children and you all."

"I love what my daughter's become," Keisuke murmured. "And yes, Toshiko, I agree; it's very hard, letting go. But Mimi taught me that doing so not only helps me mature as a parent, but also her grow as a daughter and a friend. Now, I have to treat her differently, and it's painful, but there's an independence there that I could never wish away, and I'm glad to see it, even if I still want to protect her. But now I know she take care of herself."

There was a bit of silence, and Natsuko realized a moment later that they were all staring at her expectantly. She gave a small start in horror, embarrassed, and looked down at her hands as she stumbled over her words.

"Well, um, Takeru- Takeru just treasures his friends so much and…and it's always good to know he has them to count on all the time. Especially Hikari and Taichi," she stopped to smile affectionately at Yuuko and Susumu, "they're second family to him. I don't even think he makes distinctions between family and friends anymore. And I can see all the wonderful things he's become because of the experiences he's shared with the other children." Here she paused again, doubtful. "And Yamato…." But she blanked. What could she say about him? "Yamato is…." She could see some of the others fidgeting in her hesitations. Toshiko looked like she wanted to say something, but suddenly Natsuko didn't want to let her. Yamato was her son first. She should know things about him.

"Yamato talks to me now," Natsuko finally whispered, feeling her throat dry. She took a deep breath. "Not as much as I would like, but that's my fault, I guess…. But at least we talk."

That was when Hiroaki came.

He still had a cigarette in between his lips, but he snuffed it out and threw it away before he approached the table. Like the silent, observant visitor, he sat down stiffly in the only chair available, the one between Natsuko and Susumu. Natsuko's tea came then, too, and she, relieved, gratefully unwrapped her chocolate and nibbled on it, avoiding Hiroaki's gaze.

"Sorry. I was held up at the office," he muttered as an excuse, coughing once into his hands.

Susumu shook his head. "Right in the nick of time as usual, Ishida."

Hiroaki made a gesture that would have otherwise been a smile, if it hadn't been him.

"We were just talking about how the children benefited from their experiences in the Digital World, and from their friendships with each other," Keisuke explained.

Hiroaki was quiet for a moment, before he leaned back in his chair and said softly, lowly, "I believe the Digital World was not just meant for the children, but also for us."

Everyone stared at him, but he appeared unfazed. Natsuko wondered if anything ever caught him off guard.

"We've changed, too, haven't we?" he asked in his standard, ambiguously rhetorical tone.

"Yes," Haruhiko agreed suddenly. He and Toshiko exchanged glances. "We have. Or at least, I have. I make more time to be with Sora now, after she had no choice but to separate herself from us for so long a time in the Digital World. That was strange, to have your own child be taken away, but only for the good of others. And it made us all sad and worried, but at the same time, enabled us to grow closer once she came home."

"We all grew closer to the children, I think," Satoe said.

Hiroaki added, "Which is why we must promise that no matter what happens to the families, we'll make sure our children never grow apart."

"He's right," Masami said.

"Yes. The children come first, always," Toshiko nodded. "We must make sure it stays that way."

"And we will," Yoshie smiled. "The children need each other, and we need them to need each other."

"We need them," Mr. Kido said. "We need them together, as a whole."

"So that's our resolve, then?" Keisuke asked.

Everyone nodded.

"Good."

Susumu smiled, "And as a final note, I want to thank all of you for entrusting the lives of your children in the hands of my son. Heaven mend the damage done."

They laughed, amused.

"We can't begin with how much Hikari and Taichi mean to the others," Toshiko said.

Yuuko shook her head.

"Each of the children mean just as much to each other."

"But the Yagami children hold them together," Masami smiled kindly, "and there's no use in trying to be humble about it. It's something we all know, and we are all grateful for."

"I think I see them coming," Natsuko interrupted suddenly.

They all turned to see the figures of their children making their way lazily out of the park across the café, their heads bent towards each other in laughter, their faces bright and their steps lighthearted. It was only together that the best seemed to be brought out in each of them, or perhaps, they brought out the best in each other. Natsuko liked to think it was both.

One by one, they got up to meet their respective child, until only Yuuko, Susumu, Natsuko, and Hiroaki remained at the table. The Yagamis seemed content in proudly watching their children interact with the others, Susumu holding Yuuko's hand the entire while. Natsuko and Hiroaki tried not to look at each other until it became too awkward to avoid it, and the former finally said, "You're right, you know, with what you said about the Digital World earlier."

Hiroaki fingered the cigarette box in his coat pocket, his hands itching to light another, but he refrained from it now.

"It's true."

"Yes, it is."

She was quiet. Takeru had noticed them and now waved, visibly surprised to see the two sitting together. He leaned in to mention this to his older brother, whose dark blue gaze mirrored Natsuko's for a second before looking away coolly.

"At least, I hope it is," she added, tugging at her scarf nervously.

"It is," Hiroaki repeated easily, casually. "I can see it."

"See what?"

"You. You've changed, Natsuko."

Her cheeks flushed a little. "I don't know."

"You have. Believe me, I'd know."

"So you've been watching me, is that it?"

He glanced at her, eyebrow raised slightly. She immediately wished she hadn't said anything.

"From the way Yamato's watching you know, I'd say you have. After all, my opinion naturally weighs little in your eyes-,"

"That's not true. You're their father. You matter very much."

"In your eyes?"

"In the children's eyes, Hiroaki."

He leaned forward, staring at their sons. "Do you think, Natsuko, that we could ever change?"

"Haven't we?"

"Well, you and I have individually, yes, but I wonder if we ever could together."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean…maybe you and Takeru- maybe you both could come for dinner sometime. Or we could come to your place. Whichever's convenient."

Natsuko looked at him in surprised.

"Do you really mean that?" she asked softly.

He shrugged his shoulders.

She glanced back at the boys, her eyes a little wider. Dinner as a family? All together? She wondered if it could work. It'd been so long. And though they all had changed since the Digital World, and she and Yamato were slowly working on their relationship, she thought they needed something more to really get to the point the other families seemed to have reached. Perhaps this was it.

"What about Saturday?" Hiroaki asked casually.

"Saturday's good."

"I'll tell Yamato to make something good."

"He cooks now?"

Hiroaki smirked, unable to resist the cigarette craving any longer. "He gets it from his mother."