chapter one

a/n: So, here's a first chapter two years in the making. I know it's crappy of me to disappear for so long, but seriously, if you could see the draft I was writing back then you'd thank me. I know I have a lot of unfinished work, and some of it I'd like to come back to, but most of it I won't, because I wrote it too long ago, and it's hard to pin down. New work, however, is very likely to appear. Here you have my alternative season two, which is (sadly) lacking in Zero Two characters, but they don't really belong in this place. It's got its fair share of different couples, a bit of Taiora/Sorato tension, some Takari. I'll definitely be showcasing Joe, Izzy, and Mimi (I am absolutely fascinated with her right now) so there should be something for everyone. The ages of the characters are as follows—Tai, Matt, Sora-16; Izzy, Mimi-15; Joe17; TK, Kari-13. Anything in normal font is three years after the end of season one, anything in italics is flashing back to the end of season one. Enjoy, and please leave a poor writer a review.

(The usual disclaimer applies.)

The trolley lurched in midair tossing the Digidestined violently to one side, some landing on the floor and others sprawling across laps and empty seats, groping for handholds or balance as the vehicle righted itself. That is where the whole disaster began.

When the deafening scream of torn metal died down and the trolley held steady, Sora picked herself up off the floor, touched her tongue to a sore spot on her lip and tasted blood.

"Is everyone okay?" she asked, turning to locate the rest of the Digidestined, but everyone's eyes were fixed on the hole in the side of the trolley—or rather, what was reaching through it. It was an enormous dragon-like claw, three pronged and gnarled grotesquely, the owner of which was hovering outside, wings beating furiously at the air, looking out of place in the pastel blue sky not only because of its monstrous appearance, but because it was not so much black and white as a colorless void, dimming the air around it to shades of almost-gray. The monster let out a cry and the claw scrabbled around the inside of the trolley, reaching and grasping at air, effectively cutting Matt and Tai off from the rest of the group. The limb flailed wildly, connecting sharply with something blocked from view. Sora felt her knees go weak.

Tai's voice came quietly from somewhere beyond the claw. "It's okay, guys, let's just stay calm. It's all right. Matt, move away from there. Okay, good. No, just hold still now. Is it broken?"

"Tai?" Kari called uncertainly, as the long arm strained to reach the other end of the trolley, and the creature's wings beat against the windows.

"God, Kari, just stay there," Tai called.

Sora was already pulling Kari back to the wall where Mimi, white-faced, said, "here," and held out her arms steadily.

After that, everything happened very quickly. The monster reached for Matt again, and Tai stepped in. Matt started yelling, and the three enormous fingers snatched Tai right off the floor in a tight fist. Izzy lunged forward but Tai yelled at him to stay back, and Izzy froze in place, poised like all the others, waiting for some sort of direction. The fist started pulling back through the ragged hole in the wall and Tai struggled, eyes flashing angrily when several of them started to edge toward him. "Don't move, it's okay," he said firmly, but with an edge of panic. And then, absurdly, as if addressing the monster, "Wait, okay? Just…wait. I…" The beast wrenched its fist free and took off into the sky, bat-like, its wings kicking up a wind that buffeted the trolley, and got smaller and smaller until it disappeared in the distance.

The trolley car shuddered, lurched, and continued on its way, the world peaceful again, the sun shining through the gaping hole in the wall. There was a long, silent moment, and then Sora ran and stumbled to her knees beside Matt, who was covering his eyes with one arm, the other cradled against his stomach as he slumped against the wall, breathing through his teeth.

Somewhere, vaguely, she heard Kari's voice, high pitched and frantic, and Mimi's soothing tone, occasionally faltering but mostly solid. "It's his arm," Joe said suddenly from somewhere above her, and she looked up to see him standing next to TK, whose wide eyes faltered between his big brother and Kari, uncertain of who needed him more.

"Go take care of Kari, TK," Sora said, as she edged in closer and reached out a hand to rest lightly on Matt's elbow. "Go on."

"We have to go back," Izzy said, somewhere on the other side of the trolley. "Tai's still back there, we have to go back for him."

"Great," Joe snapped. "Good plan. Just go ahead and turn this thing around."

Izzy sent him a cold look and disappeared into the control room at the front of the trolley, but Matt shook his head. "It's not going to work. He's already gone."

"I'll fix it," Izzy called over his shoulder.

"It's not going to work," Matt repeated, his voice tight and shaking, his arm still covering his eyes.

Sora looked down to the end of the trolley where TK had placed his hand on Kari's small shoulder as she curled up in Mimi's arms. Joe sat down heavily on one of the bench seats and dropped his face in his hands. Izzy kept working the controls all through the long trip home, but Matt was right, and the trolley never paused on its way. Not even for the briefest moment.

Three years later…

In a dark room in Odaiba, Japan, a haggard Izzy Izumi bent over his laptop screen, his face illuminated by the computer's glow, making his features look hollow and ghoulish. He typed furiously, muttering around a pencil that dangled from between his teeth. "Come on…come on…"

The room was a mess. Piles of chicken-scratched papers littered the floor, and one wall was covered with charts of strange symbols and binary code held in place by dozens of multi-colored thumbtacks. But the state of Izzy's room was nothing compared to his own disheveled appearance. He looked as though he hadn't been out of the dark room in weeks, and that wasn't far from the truth. His hair was badly in need of a trim, hanging shaggily around his ears, and his face was pale and drawn. He hardly looked like himself anymore, but then, his appearance was not high on his list of priorities.

Izzy shifted, tucking one leg up onto his chair and stifled a yawn. As he lifted his right hand to his mouth he continued typing with his left, and the muted sound of the keys of the Pineapple laptop continued without even the slightest pause. He was so deep in concentration that when a high pitched series of beeps issued forth from the computer's speakers, he jerked violently and nearly pitched the machine right onto the floor. There was a brief moment of panic, but he caught the sturdy computer and resettled it on his knees, his heart beating painfully in his chest. He took a deep breath and dragged a hand through his hair. "Get a grip, Izumi."

Izzy returned his focus to the screen and discovered that a small, black window had blinked into existence, distinguished only by the white cursor flashing in its upper left-hand corner.

"Well, this is new," Izzy said.

Slowly, white letters appeared in the window, one by one, as the white cursor traveled across the screen. Preparing connection.

Izzy's stomach turned over. He leaned closer to the screen, shoulders tight with apprehension under his thin white t-shirt. The cursor blinked for a long while and then moved to the next line.

Connection established.

Opening gateway.


Izzy sat for a long time, staring at the screen as the white cursor flashed. He felt a lump forming in his throat, coughed, shook it off. And then he slowly eased himself out from under the laptop, set it on the chair, and turned to reach for the phone.

Above the flower shop in her apartment, Sora lay comfortably on the couch, one dangling foot keeping time with the radio, her head resting on Matt's thigh as he absently toyed with her bangs. The song ended and another started. Sora watched the way the sun captured specks of dust in the air and turned them into a million points of light. She smiled, lifted her eyes to Matt's, and started to ask him a question, but the phone rang and she forgot what she'd been saying altogether.
Mimi, wearing black biker shorts that revealed long sculpted legs and with a canvas bag slung over one shoulder, could barely keep from breaking into a skip or a flailing run of total abandonment as she turned the corner onto Kari's street. Outwardly she was a picture of cool composure—all long pink hair and long even strides—but on the inside she was turning cartwheels down the street yelling, "We're going back! We're going back!"

Almost four years earlier, when they'd fallen into the Digiworld unexpectedly, alone and scared and too young to realize how much danger they were really in, Mimi never could have imagined the day when she'd be bursting to go back, but that day had come, and now they were on their way. She let out a little laugh and shook out her hair so it caught the early morning sunlight.

"We're going back," she whispered to the sky.

"Maybe I should make some tea," Kari said as she bustled about the room, brushing away invisible specks of lint and straightening the bags of gear she and TK had packed for the third time. "Or cocoa. People like cocoa. It's a good…morale booster. I should at least put on some water, don't you think?"

"I think that's a great idea," TK said, smiling up at her cheerfully from his seat on the couch. Kari didn't really seem to hear him.

"I really should have bought some soda, at the very least," she continued, leaning down to move the plate of meticulously stacked cookies on the coffee table to the left, to the right, back to the left. "Do you think I made enough cookies? I mean there are seven of us. Oh no! God…is Joe allergic to nuts? I think he is. There are cashews in these cookies, TK! What was I-?"

TK reached up from the couch, grabbed Kari's wrist, and tugged her down beside him. She plopped down heavily, her mouth a little "o" of surprise. "What are you-?"

"There are plenty of cookies, and Joe will probably be too nervous to eat anyways. If he does turn out to be desperately hungry, he can help himself to the fridge full of extremely healthy snacks your mom left us." Kari giggled. TK went on, "Don't worry about soda; I brought a case with me from home. I'll go put on a pot of water. Stay here. Kari…you're doing fine. Everything's perfect."

TK touched her knee once, lightly, and then pushed his tall frame off the couch and disappeared into the kitchen. Kari stared after him for a moment, then relaxed into the soft cushions and closed her eyes. She heard the water turn on and off, the burner light, and moments later the sound of a plate being set down on the coffee table. TK sat back down beside her.

"What time is it?" Kari said.

"Almost ten."

She cracked one eye open and peered at the coffee table, "What the hell is that?"

"It's a radish cake," TK said.

Kari snorted, and TK grinned indulgently. They were both shaking with laughter when the first person knocked on the door. Kari sucked in a surprised breath and looked over at TK. They took a long moment to steady themselves, frozen on the couch, and then TK stood up to get the door. Kari caught the edge of his shirt in her fist.

"Tell me we'll find him," she said. TK smiled.

"We'll find him," he said, and went to the door.

Mimi came in first, boiling with laughter and energy, hugging Kari like they hadn't seen each other in years and then bounding off to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. TK laughed at Kari's satisfied little smile. The tension melted away as Mimi chatted sunshine into every corner of the room, exclaiming over Kari's hair, the weather, the interesting little cake on the table. The doorbell rang, and Matt found himself nearly bowled over by the tight ball of excitement that was Mimi. He hugged her back with a soft, genuine smile, and nodded hello to TK over her shoulder. Izzy bustled in next, and pleasantly astounded looks were exchanged all around at his short, neatly trimmed hair and generally tidy appearance. He blushed and told them to leave it alone, but they could tell he was pleased by their reactions. Sora let herself in quietly a few minutes later and made her way past Matt—subtly pressing a hand at the small of his back—and over to Kari, where they became lost in quiet conversation. Matt stood with TK, listening halfheartedly to his little brother's cheerful ramblings, but mainly just watching Sora—the way her hair barely curled at the ends, the hint of skin just above the button of her jeans, a flash of her wicked little grin. She felt his eyes on her and winked at him, catching him off guard and making TK laugh.

The room was filled with the buzz of voices and the once-a-year feeling of a family holiday, the smell of freshly baked cookies and occasional bell-like laughter. It was a long while before anyone noticed that Joe wasn't there.

"Maybe he's just late," Sora said uncertainly.

TK straightened from where he was leaning against the couch and checked his watch. "I hope nothing's happened. Was he driving here?"

"He's not coming," came Izzy's voice from the study, where he was working on the Kamiyas' sturdy desktop computer, surrounded by wires and years of research.

"Excuse me?" Matt said.

Izzy appeared in the doorway and crossed his arms over his chest. "He's not coming. I called him and I told him when we were leaving and he said he wasn't coming."

"This has to be a joke," Matt said, his voice low and dangerous.

"Yeah, well, it's not." Izzy went back into the study, and in the quiet living room, they could hear the sound of his fingers on the keys. After a while the typing stopped and he called, "Look, we don't need him, okay? Just…forget him. We'll bring Tai back on our own."

Deflated, Mimi flopped onto the couch, snagged a cookie, and started munching dejectedly. "Well that just…stinks."

The others tried to act like nothing had happened, but the atmosphere had changed, and all the warmth of five minutes ago was replaced with nervous tension. Matt took up pacing the length of the room, and kept it up until Sora caught his hand and held him still, and they stood without looking at each other, fingers intertwined. TK caught Kari eyeing the table suspiciously, as though the cookies were somehow to blame, and it was less funny than he would have expected it to be.

It wasn't long at all before Izzy came out of the study, and five pairs of eyes met his steadily. He took a moment to look around at the remaining Digidestined—Matt and Sora anchoring each other quietly, Mimi with that ever-knowing twinkle in her eyes, Kari with her arms folded over her chest and her lower lip jutting out stubbornly, and TK watching her from across the room as young and innocent as ever. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him.

"All right, campers," he said, and was rewarded by a knowing smirk from Sora. "Get your gear and put on your game faces. It's time to go."

And in spite of the news and the desperate circumstances, in spite of how long it had been and how fully aware they were now of the hard road in front of them, there was a rush of excitement in the Kamiyas' living room; a mad scramble to sort out bags and shove a few cookies into empty pockets—a few subtle glances at the front door—and one by one they moved to stand quietly in the study in front of the computer screen. Izzy, his laptop tucked under one arm, held out his hand over the keyboard, paused, and glanced around quickly. "We ready?"

Sora laughed. "Is that a serious question?"

The white cursor flashed.

Connection established.

Opening gateway.


Izzy took a deep breath, grinned enormously, and punched down the "Enter" key with one gloved finger.

At first, before everything changed, there was only the sound of young voices—laughing, yelling, talking quietly—and then beyond the walls of the trolley car, a bell sounding in the distance as some ghost train rushed by. There was a hush as they listened for the huff of steam and the steel-on-steel sound of the train on its tracks, and a reverent look was exchanged between two of the children who knew they'd been there before, in that moment, perhaps in another life or in a dream. The bell faded, and trees and grass bowed in the direction of the sound, and then there was nothing but stillness.

This was the split second of in-between-time that Mimi remembered whenever sunlight hit the back of her neck or made her hair warm to the touch, and that Sora fell back into guiltily in quiet moments when she was missing Tai—missing them all, really—in her lofted apartment above the flower shop. It was the place Matt went to whenever he pulled his dusty harmonica out of the bottom drawer and released a few bluesy notes when he was sure no one was listening. TK and Kari talked about the in-between-time only once at a fast food restaurant while splitting an order of fat salty fries and a vanilla shake, but Izzy never could move on and lived it every day until there was nothing else, and the others worried, but they understood—except for Joe, who forced it down to a dark, quiet place in his mind so hard, so fast, that he forgot it had ever happened at all.

And Tai? Tai didn't think about the in-between-time half as much as he thought about the others, mainly because he missed them more than he'd ever miss that one moment of peace. He'd trade it in to change what happened afterward. It was hard to be the only one who didn't make it home.

a/n: All right, there you are. I'm working on chapter two, but it'll probably not be up for a couple of weeks. I seriously need to give my classes some attention after the writing binge I just went on. Oh, and for anyone who read my fic "After All," the sequel (formerly a prequel) is in the works. Again. And it's Mimato. Stay tuned. Oh, and please leave me a review. I basically just hover around my computer all day waiting for them. Sad but true. You guys own me.