Disclaimer- I disclaim my ownership of Digimon.

A/N- Yes, I am alive. And I realize it's been months since I last updated. I've been really, really, really busy with classes and college applications, so that's my lame excuse for the lack of updates. But at least I haven't abandoned the story and I've finally updated with chapter 3!!!

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"That which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence." –Kahlil Gibran

Chapter Three- A Stranger

Sora Takenouchi had to be in some sort of horrible nightmare. There was no other explanation for the sight before her eyes.

No…this couldn't be reality…

She closed her eyes, trying to drift away from what she desperately wished was a dream. Instead, the incident flashed across her mind's eye for the umpteenth time: Matt pulling her into a kiss… both of them pulling away at the sound of a screeching vehicle… looking up to see a van collide with Tai… Tai lying sprawled across the road… blood…

Sora opened her crimson eyes, now shining with tears. Her eyes fell upon Tai, who was lying on the hospital bed in front of her, hooked up to countless machines.

"He's in a coma." The doctor's words still rang through her like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far depths of her mind. An icy horror seized her as she realized this wasn't a dream. This was reality. Cold, ruthless reality.

Seeing Tai in such a fragile, vulnerable state was not something Sora was accustomed to. For as far back as she could remember, Tai had always been so strong, both physically and mentally. He always seemed so hardheaded, almost indifferent to emotional pain. But Sora knew otherwise; she knew that Tai allowed tears to escape his eyes when he was greatly distressed.

That was why Sora had been so touched when she learned that Tai had cried when Datamon had abducted her. She still remembered Mimi's shining eyes as she excitedly informed Sora of this revelation. The thought of Tai crying over her sake made her feel immensely moved to know how important she was to him.

Of course, Tai never mentioned that he had wept over her abduction. He was like that; always wanting to be the strong one, so the rest of the team wouldn't weaken and lose hope. It was his duty as their leader, and he never forgot that. Even now, with their adventures as a team far off in the past, Tai refused to let their group drift apart. But what would happen to them if Tai should d-

No. Tai was not going to die.

Sora refused to think of the possibility. She shook her head, as if the action would shake off the thoughts of death that were clinging to her mind.

The fear that she might never see Tai again felt familiar. Hadn't she almost lost Tai before?

Sora searched through the dark corners of her memories; recollections that were too painful to keep in the light.

Yes, it was coming back to her now: the day Tai and MetalGreymon disappeared through a rift, right after he had rescued her from Datamon. The group had searched for their leader in vain, and Sora couldn't help but fear that Tai was dead and that their searching was futile. Eventually, Sora broke off from the group, unable to bear the thought that she would never see Tai again. No, Tai couldn't have just disappeared…not after he had just saved her life…just when she was beginning to see him in a whole new way…

It seemed as though Tai had been unconscious for years, but in reality, it had only been about four hours since the accident. And yet, Sora missed Tai's presence, his laugh, his ridiculously adorable lopsided grin, and his deep chocolate eyes, as if it had been years since she had last savored each.

Each torturous second felt like a day to the distraught girl as she gazed at her best friend with the hope that any second now, he would open his eyes and gaze back at her with his warm, chocolate eyes.

But now, Tai was lying before Sora with the looming possibility of his death pressing down upon her from every which way. She began to feel dizzy, and could almost feel the floor beneath her crumble away, throwing her into an endless void of darkness. Sora shut her eyes and gripped the sides of her chair for dear life.

Why was it that she suddenly felt so helpless? Would she feel the same if it were Matt lying in Tai's place?

And with a sinking feeling, it dawned upon her that she wouldn't feel as forlorn if Matt were lying before her.

But why?

Didn't she love Matt?

Did she, after all these years of denial, love Tai?

Sora felt herself standing apart and watching the world fade away from her. "Oh, Tai," she whispered, warm tears now slipping down her cheeks. "Why do I feel so lost without you?"

That was the problem with society. They only know what they have until they lose it. And Sora was no exception.

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Matt Ishida was in awe of doctors. The calm way in which they told a parent that their child was dying was almost inhuman. He only wished that he had let the doctor tell Kari about Tai's condition, instead of taking on the duty himself.

Poor Kari was in hysterics after Matt broke the news about Tai. "K-Kari, don't…don't panic, okay?" he had stuttered over the phone. "Tai…he…he…" Matt could almost see Kari at the other end, holding her breath. "Tai…got hit by a car."

A sharp intake of air.

"He's in the hospital. And, and, well, he's…in a…in a coma."

Silence.

"Kari?" Matt felt the phone vibrating—his hand was trembling. "Kari? Kari, are you there? Listen, don't…don't…cry."

Too late.

Kari's sobs rang through the phone as Matt felt his face heat up, and before he knew it, he was crying as well.

As if Kari's reaction wasn't bad enough, Sora's was worse. Kari's cries had been deafening, but Sora's silence was even more deafening.

"Sora, say something. Please."

Nothing.

"Sora? What's wrong?" Stupid question.

"Are you okay?" Another stupid question.

"Sora." Matt turned her around to face him and put his hands on her shoulders. "You can't stay silent like this forever. Talk to me. Cry. Anything. Please!"

Matt looked up at the hospital ceiling and sighed. He never knew silence could be so nerve-racking. He looked down to see Sora's empty eyes; two glass orbs painted a crimson color to hide the empty interior. She was gone, her spirit stumbling through the shadows, groping in search of Tai.

"What kind of boyfriend are you?" a nasty little voice in his head mocked.

"You're right," Matt replied in a whisper. "I can't even comfort my own girlfriend."

He slowly lowered Sora back into the seat beside Tai's hospital bed and turned to look at his comatose friend. Tai looked absolutely horrible, with his face covered in cuts and bruises, a bandage wrapped around his bloody head, and countless tubes sticking through his mangled body to keep him alive. It wasn't hard to see why Sora was so upset. Maybe a little too upset.

"Oh my God…"

Matt turned to see T.K. standing at the door, cerulean eyes wide in shock.

"I cannot believe this."

"Neither can I, little bro." Matt looked back at Tai as T.K. came to his side. "Did Kari call you about this?"

"Oh…yeah. I couldn't really understand what she was saying at first, 'cus, well, she was kinda sobbing…a lot."

Matt nodded in understanding.

"But I caught her say 'Tai' and 'coma' and rushed over. Sora?" T.K. bent over Sora's chair to look at her, his eyes glistening with concern. "You okay?" Sora was just as unresponsive as she had been with Matt. "She's taking this really hard, isn't she?"

Matt sighed. "I don't know what to do. She won't talk to me or even look at me. She hasn't even cried this entire time." He sunk down onto an empty chair beside Sora. "She's just…empty."

T.K. gave Sora's hands a comforting squeeze before walking over to the window. "Empty…" he whispered, gazing out the window. "Reminds me of Tai last Christmas, after Sora—" but T.K. abruptly stopped talking.

"What?" Matt looked up at T.K. "What happened to Tai last Christmas? And what about Sora?"

T.K. swiveled around to face Matt with a nervous face. "N-nothing! Nothing happened!" he stammered.

But Matt saw a glint in T.K.'s cerulean eyes that said otherwise. "T.K., tell me what happened," he said in a gentle but assertive tone. He saw his brother hesitating, needlessly fumbling with the ends of his shirt sleeves.

"I really don't think I should tell you…"

"T.K., please. Look at those two," Matt said, turning his head toward Tai and Sora. "I'm trying to figure out how I can help them through this, and you're not telling me something that might give me a clue."

T.K. turned his gaze toward Tai and Sora. Finally, he sighed and looked at Matt. "Okay. But I think we should talk outside," he said, giving Sora a quick glance.

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Tai Kamiya had a pounding headache. Moaning in pain, he rolled over onto his stomach and heard the familiar sound of his bed creaking under his weight. With his eyes still glued shut, he pulled his pillow over his head and allowed a heavy sigh to escape his lips. Why was his head hurting so much? And when had he fallen asleep on his bed? Hadn't Sora just been over to visit?

…Sora…

Upon the thought of Sora, the memory of the accident crashed down upon him: the voice; Sora and Matt locked in a kiss; something crashing into his body; darkness.

Tai's eyes shot open and he pulled his pillow off his head in one quick motion. He was in his bedroom, and it looked exactly as he had left it this morning. But…how? He was certain that the accident was no dream. Then, shouldn't he be at the hospital?

Tai sat up slowly, his head pounding even more painfully as he gingerly lifted his head. He ran his eyes around the room, but even as his eyes scanned the familiar surroundings, something didn't quite feel right. 'This definitely looks like my room…' Tai thought, as his eyes fell upon broken pens and crumpled paper balls lying higgledy-piggledy on his desk. 'But it doesn't feel like my room…if that makes any sense.'

As he struggled to make sense of his situation, a deep laugh rang out from a dark corner of his room. Alarmed, Tai snapped his head in the direction of the voice. Pain shot through his already pounding head at the sudden movement. Ignoring the pain, he demanded in a firm voice, "Who's there?"

The voice merely laughed in response. It was a haunting laugh that seemed to undulate around the room. It spread like a wave into every nook and cranny of Tai's room, causing whatever it touched to vibrate in fear. Tai, however, was less susceptible to fear. He glared at the dark corner of the room, waiting for the entity to respond.

A familiar voice spoke from the corner. "Have you thought about my offer?" it asked in its haunting tone.

Offer…? Tai was puzzled for a moment. He racked his brain and remembered what he had thought was a dream: the darkness and its voice. It had offered to help him forget Sora. Tai narrowed his eyes at the shadow hovering in the corner. "I don't care for your offer."

Somehow, Tai could almost see the shadow smirking in response. "I take it that you don't care for Sora Takenouchi, either?" it sneered.

Tai felt his face heat up in anger and gripped the sides of his bed. "You have no right talking about Sora," he growled through gritted teeth.

"Ah, but you have no right in wanting her love," it replied in a smug tone.

At this, Tai furrowed his brows. He had no right wanting Sora's love? Of course, he knew that loving Sora was like betraying Matt, but Tai had never thought of the possibility that he had no right in wanting Sora's love. Was it so wrong to love her?

Sure, he was insanely jealous of Matt, but Tai never said anything to him because as much as he was jealous, Tai still cared for his friend. He wouldn't dare hurt Matt.

But why was Matt hurting him so much?

"You have been betrayed by your friend."

Tai looked up in surprise. "W-what?"

The voice snickered. "Your so-called friend, Matt Ishida. Can you not see how he has betrayed you?"

Matt betrayed him? Matt, the bearer of the crest of friendship, betrayed his own friend?

It seemed ludicrous, and yet, Tai had a sinking feeling that the voice could be right. Maybe he wasn't the one betraying Matt by loving Sora. Maybe it was Matt who was betraying him by dating Sora. Afterall, Matt should have known that Tai had feelings for Sora. Surely, someone must have told Matt that Sora had rejected him for the blonde?

Tai felt a wave of hatred wash over him as he thought it over.

"Wouldn't you simply like to…forget?"

"For…get?"

"Yes. Forget. Forget Sora. Forget the cause of your pain." The voice continued upon Tai's silence. "It will be better, you know. Not only for you, but for Sora as well."

Tai hated the way the voice spoke. It carried out each word slowly, emphasizing every syllable so that the words sunk in and latched onto him, causing whatever it said to sound undeniably convincing.

Tai stared down at his hands, deep in thought. So, it would be better for Sora if he forgot her? Maybe it was time that he started being less selfish. If Sora was happy, he was happy. "Okay," he said as he swung his legs off the bed and stood up.

"Is that an agreement?"

"As long as you promise that Sora will be happier."

"Of course, of course." The voice almost sounded comforting. "Now, I need all the evidence that Sora ever existed in your life."

"Evidence?"

"Pictures, videos, whatever shows the two of you together," it replied, sounding impatient.

Tai dug through volumes of photo albums and pulled out every photo of him and Sora. Tai and Sora in kindergarten. Tai and Sora at soccer practice. Tai and Sora at soccer camp. Tai and Sora at their junior high school graduation. Tai and Sora at the beach. Each photo piled up into a large mound of some of Tai's most treasured memories.

"Here," he said, reluctantly pushing the mound to the voice's corner. "I…I think that's everything."

The shadow that hovered in the corner expanded outward and absorbed the entire mound of photos. The photos seemed to melt into the shadow before disappearing into darkness. But the shadow quivered, as if searching for something in its black void.

"You have kept something from me," the voice said in an accusing tone.

"No, I didn't," Tai lied, the image of one last photo hovering in his mind. "I gave you everything."

"Do not try to deceive me, Tai Kamiya!" the voice boomed.

Tai felt the floor vibrate as the shadow began to pulse in anger. "I told you, I gave you everything!" he yelled, not caring that the voice was getting angry with him.

Behind him, Tai heard something crash into the wall. He spun around to see the drawer of his bedside table lying in a splintered wooden heap on the floor. Among the rubble, Tai saw his most treasured possession peeking through splints of wood, almost hiding from the shadow. He had half a mind to grab the last photo from the ruins of the drawer, but before he could take a step towards it, the photo flew out from the mess and came to a stop in front of the shadow.

"What is this?" the voice said in a mocking tone, as the photo hovered before the shadow.

Tai could only stare at the photo. He felt his chest grow tight as he gazed at the two young smiling children in the photo; he and Sora in one of their happiest years. He and Sora might never go back to such times. It seemed too far back in the past.

"I tried to help you, Tai Kamiya," the voice whispered hauntingly. "But now, I see that you only seek to deceive others." The voice began to grow louder, more menacing. "I will not only make you forget Sora, but everyone else as well. I will make you suffer."

Tai narrowed his eyes at the shadow. "Do your worst. I'm not afraid of you."

"Oh, I will," the voice promised. It emitted a malicious laugh as the shadow slowly absorbed the last photo into its dark void.

'I'm sorry, Sora,' Tai thought, as he saw the two smiling faces of him and Sora fade into darkness. 'You'll probably be better off without someone like me.'

Tai closed his eyes as he felt himself being sucked into darkness once more.

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'Why hasn't Tai woken up yet?' Sora asked herself for the thousand and first time.

She reached over and gently placed her hand over Tai's hand. His hand felt cool in her warm hand. "You'll wake up soon, won't you Tai?" she whispered. Slowly, she lowered her head onto his chest and closed her tired eyes. "It's been three days, Tai," she continued. "Everyone's worried sick." Sora felt tears welling up behind her closed eyes. "I miss you so much." She lifted her head and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. A sigh escaped her lips as she turned her head to look at Tai's face.

Tai's chocolate eyes were looking back at her.

Sora blinked and rubbed her eyes. "T-Tai…?" He was awake? "Tai!" He was awake!

But something was wrong. Something didn't feel right. The chocolate brown eyes Sora knew so well were empty. There was no warmth. No friendly glimmer.

This boy was not Tai.

This boy was a stranger.

Sora's heart raced as she brought herself even closer to him and took both his hands in her own. "Tai, can you hear me?"

"Tai…do you…do you know who I am?"

Tai stared at Sora with a vacant expression. "Who are you?" he asked quietly.

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A/N- I love cliff-hangers, don't you? I'll try not to leave you dear readers hanging for another 5 months. College applications are behind me, but my midterms are in a few weeks…but I promise to update sometime this month!!! Keep checking my profile for any updates on how the chapters are coming along.

And if you saw the updated story summary, don't be confused. The original summary I had up was a bit misleading, because it sounded as if I was going to have Tai die (which I never planned on).

Thank you SO much for reviewing the previous chapters!!!

Happy New Year!!!!!!!!