A/N: No, this is not supposed to be DADDY ISSUES! Chapter. Obviously their family would have some issues (after all, the parents DID have a divorce). Nothing can go smoothly after a divorce, and I know people exactly like I depict their dad here, so no, it's not drama-ish. Just a warning, haha.

Disclaimer: You know it already.

Beating Hearts

Chapter 18

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance. – George Bernard Shaw

Matt was doing his homework, for once. He was graduating that year, after all, and he had to study for university exams. It hadn't really crossed his mind. Rather, he'd been busy with the band and with Kari and the whole debacle to remember that he had a future he sort of had to prepare for. So the band had been temporarily put on hold so all of them could study.

A sudden knock on his bedroom door. Matt winced. If it was his father he did not want to speak with him. Their dad had acted horribly out of place, and if he was there to try and 'fix' things, Matt would laugh right in his face and slam the door.

"What?" he asked grouchily.

"… Me," muttered a voice. Matt shot out of his chair, stumbling toward the door nervously, scared for a reason he couldn't explain. When he reached his bedroom door he slowed down, smoothed his hair, took a deep breath, and opened it.

TK stood outside of it, the key to the apartment dangling from his fingers, which were being tightly held at his sides. He was looking up at Matt for maybe the first time in… well… a long time.

"Thanks," he finally blurted, and Matt could only stare at him, open-mouthed. "Thanks," TK mumbled again, and Matt felt inexplicable joy fill him at those simple words coming from his brother.

One week earlier…

"What?" Matt asked, shooting up from Kari's bed and dashing out of the room.

"Hey!" Kari cried from behind, running after the two boys as they raced for the front door.

"Tai, what the hell happened?" Matt asked, exasperated with his friend's secretive antics. "What's this got to do with me?" Please don't say TK went on a psychotic rampage or something, Matt begged to whatever higher power there was.

Tai slid his shoes back on as Matt tied his runners. Kari hastily slipped her feet into flip-flops. "Well—wha? No, Kari, stay here," Tai ordered her in a tired voice. Kari gaped at him.

"Are you joking?" she asked shrilly. Matt winced. "I'm not just going to sit here, Tai! I'm not stupid." And she dashed out of the apartment before Tai could say anything. He sighed heavily.

"Right, so, anyway," he continued as the three walked quickly to the edge of the hall and made their way down the stairs, "After school and our pleasant—meeting—with TK, I went to go play soccer with Sora, right? So we were having a good time, and I got this killer goal in on her—"

"TAI!" yelled both Kari and Matt, their faces a matching shade of angry red. Tai rolled his eyes.

"Okay, so anyway, she got this text on her phone from TK. It said something like 'please help. Get Matt.'

Matt's blood turned to ice at Tai's words. He tripped on the step he was on, stumbling forward. Kari grabbed his one arm to steady him. "Thanks," he mumbled, and Kari smiled up at him.

"It'll be okay," she whispered, giving his arm a little squeeze before letting him go. Matt nodded.

"So, that was it?" he asked feebly.

"Yea, Sora tried to text him back but no answer. And then she tried calling, same result. Then she tried calling you, but…"

Matt felt at his pants pocket. "Oh crap, I left my phone at home today. It's dead."

Tai nodded sagely, as if he had known it all along. "So I just ran to get you, since you'd said you were coming to talk with Kari."

"You could've called the house," Kari snapped uncharacteristically. Tai stared at her.

"Uh…" Kari groaned at his blank stare. So much for dependable older brother.

They reached the street. Matt stopped, having to briefly catch his breath. "So we have no idea where we're going?" he asked anxiously. Stupid TK! Matt thought bitterly. But I can't stay mad, because he—he wants my help. Something he could only describe as feeling rosy made its way through his body.

"Well… no." Tai shrugged helplessly. "I thought we'd just check the places: his apartment, yours…"

Matt nodded. "Can I borrow your phone, Kari?" he asked. She nodded and pulled it out of her pocket.

"Calling home?" she asked. Matt nodded as he dialled in the number. He waited breathlessly as the dial tone rang once… twice… three times… his father never picked up, but if TK was there…

"Hello?" The voice was deep, and gruff. Matt blinked. His father had answered the phone. That was odd.

"Hey Dad," Matt greeted, looking over at Tai with raised eyebrows. Tai knew his father, and he could only shrug back. They had both silently agreed it was an odd moment. "Is TK there?" he asked.

A silence answered him. "Actually I just got back from meeting him. I don't know where the hell he is." His tone darkened. "I need to talk to you, too." Matt frowned into the phone.

"Dad, what did you say to him? Whatever it was it seriously freaked him out—"

"Nothing big, I just told the kid to lighten up." A little chuckle escaped, and Matt grew more nervous by the second. His dad was acting odd. Usually he was a quiet guy, and lately he'd been pretty antisocial but his voice was off at the moment.

"Dad," Matt said in a warning voice. "What did you say to him?"

"I already told you," his father replied with a tight voice. "Nothing he can't handle."

Matt groaned internally. At this point in time TK was about as tough as a blade of grass. "Why did you guys meet up?" he continued. Oh yea… hadn't TK called to speak with their dad only recently?

"He just wanted to meet with me to talk about how things are going with him. You know, a little family catch-up time. You need to meet with your mother soon, by the way," he voiced, and Matt grimaced.

"Dad, I know, but that's not really the issue." He paused. His father had always been the sort of 'manly-man, tough business guy' sort of dad. How would he react if Matt told him TK needed help because of what their dad had said? What if it was nothing after all? Matt frowned and Kari wrapped a hand around one of his reassuringly.

"Look, just, do you know where he went?"

"Uhhhh, no. He sort of left abruptly." A sigh. "Kids these days."

"Kay, sure, bye Dad," said Matt, before hanging up suddenly. "Agh, he met up with TK—we do that every once in awhile, me and my mom and TK and dad—and I can only guess he said something to throw TK off or something. Dad thinks it's normal, or a joke, but he won't say what went on between them."

Tai sighed heavily. "Your dad is complicated."

"My whole damn family is complicated," Matt replied grouchily, passing the phone back to Kari. "Thanks, Kari."

"No problem."

"So his apartment?" TK guessed.

"I can only assume so."

Kari let a little smile escape her lips. Matt noticed and looked over at her. "Kari, this is not really the right time to laugh."

"I'm not," she objected, still holding comfortingly onto his hand, "I just think it's wonderful that even though you two are angry with each other right now…" She fell silent and shrugged. "You know."

"No, I don't," objected Matt, and just then Tai's phone vibrated in his coat pocket. He withdrew it immediately, eyes scanning a text.

"I just mean, TK thinks of you immediately when he really needs help, and you're really worried about him." Her grin grew wider. "Things were never broken, then."

Matt mulled over her observation as Tai looked over at them. "Sora said TK texted her back, only saying he was at home. We should head over there."

Matt nodded silently. "Okay." And the three trudged silently down the street.

Kari didn't really understand the hardened concern on Matt's face as they walked, nor had she truly caught what Matt was thinking when he was talking to his dad on the phone. He had looked the way he used to, before Kari really knew him: distant, and cold, and someone you shouldn't talk to. How could a dad make such an expression on a person?

Kari looked down at the sidewalk as the three teenagers walked briskly through the streets. Her own parents had always been supportive, always kind, if not a bit… stuffy. But never had she had to worry about them bringing her down, or hurting her. She'd never have to worry about calling Tai and begging for help after talking to her dad. To think that this was a result of a father/son talk was… the only word she could think that fit the picture was sad.

And she'd never known. Tai had. She'd caught the look between Matt and Tai. A small part of her wished that at least one of the boys had told her about their family, maybe talked about it a bit more… but it was the one topic both had never really breached. It had always just been 'they're divorced', and that was the end, you never talked about it again.

She cast a sidelong glance up at Matt. He hadn't let go of her hand yet. Was he nervous? Scared? Kari hadn't really been able to put it into words earlier, but it was just… how could she have gotten in the way of those two? Matt and TK had always been the closest of siblings, even though they didn't live together. Siblings she had envied. And then she had stepped in and twisted it all around until everyone was crying and stressed and afraid, and still they sought each other out when they needed help the most. It was like some sort of miracle. Or maybe it was just love.

She had a lot to think about.

It wasn't a very talkative walk. All too soon the three were riding in an elevator up to TK's apartment. Kari saw Matt's foot tapping impatiently. What would they do if he wasn't there?

When they reached the door—all still silent—Matt still didn't let go of Kari's hand, and she wouldn't have let him if he had wanted to. He stuck a key in the lock and turned. As he peeked in he took a cautious step as well. Kari and Tai followed.

The apartment was silent, and eerily so. Kari hadn't paid a visit to it in awhile. It was all newly redecorated, she remembered, in a modern fashion. There were no mats, nothing warm. In fact, it was all rather chilly looking.

Matt closed the door behind him. "I'm gonna go look for him, okay?" Kari finally let go of his hand, glancing over at Tai. Did they have a say in this, or not?

"Sure," Tai agreed, and Kari took his point and nodded worriedly.

"Just… Good luck." Matt gave her a fleeting smile before taking careful and silent steps through the apartment, peeking into each room before stepping toward TK's door.

"What the hell is going on," Tai muttered, not really as a question. Kari shrugged.

"If it helps them, I'm not going to complain."

"I meant with their dad. I thought these guys' family issues were sorted when they had a divorce."

Kari hit Tai's arm, but quietly. "Don't be so ignorant," she snapped childishly. "How would we know what goes on in their lives?"

"Well you think they'd tell us," Tai muttered, and Kari realized that Tai was feeling the same tug of annoyance she was. Why hadn't either of them spoken a thing about the issues—whatever they were—with their dad? She shrugged and dug her hands into the pockets of her jeans.

"Who knows what's going in their brains," whispered Kari.

A small silence descended. "I think this is the first time I've been really glad to have the family I have," Tai said softly. Kari grinned over at him.

"Took you awhile."

He shrugged. "Like you always say, I'm just… stupid."

Kari looked back into the apartment. Matt still hadn't come back out, so she assumed TK had been in his room. She wondered what was going on.

"No you're not. You're just a boy," she said heavily, wishing she had some female companionship at the moment. Really badly. Boys were just confusing.

Matt hesitated outside of TK's spotless white door. He opened it softly in case TK had fallen asleep (it was an odd habit of his. After being mentally stressed he'd always have a nap), anxiety hammering his heart. Matt hadn't realized how worried he was about TK until the message 'I need help' had been sent. Help… from Matt.

"TK?" he whispered, stepping inside. TK had the same half-sloppy room Matt had, and it was the only room left in their mom's apartment that had a spark of life in it. Honestly, Matt wished he could understand their parents.

Then he saw his brother, slumped against his bed, half-lying, half-sitting on the floor. He didn't look up at Matt's entrance. He closed the door behind him, standing awkwardly, not quite sure where he was supposed to go. Back when things had been normal he would've just flopped down on TK's bed, or kicked him in the shin or something to move over so he could sit beside him. But now—

"I guess it was really nothing," TK began slowly, quietly. Matt tightened as TK spoke. "I mean, I met up with him just 'cause I wanted to, you know?" Still looking at the floor. "I missed him. So we met up after school at a café, to just eat and talk and he knew something was up with me. He asked what, and I… I told him about you and Kari." His voice grew troubled at this point in the story. Matt paled. Ah. So that's what their dad had meant to talk to him about. And then a second thought flew in: why did it always have to be about his and Kari's relationship? Geez.

"What did he say?" Matt whispered, taking a step closer and squatting down on the ground.

TK smiled weakly. "Really, it shouldn't bother anyone… but I got so flustered, and I almost started—started crying, and he just got all irritated and said things." His voice wobbled on the last word. "Why am I so weak, so stupid, so much like a girl, toughen up, you'll live through it, don't be such a baby, I came to talk to you not to hear you complain about your—insignificant—problems."

Matt's heart started to beat faster at TK's words. It happened. Their father would say things—hurtful things—and then just act like it was normal, like that was what any parent was supposed to say. Matt frowned at the floor.

"TK, I know how he is. Of course you're entitled to let it bother you," Matt said in a quiet voice. "Those sort of things said by a parent are… the harshest things in the world." Matt would know; he lived with him after all. Of course their father was usually all right, but sometimes he would snap like that, but then an hour later laugh it off and blame it on the kid for making it something it wasn't.

"I just panicked," TK muttered. "I knew that you'd know what it was like… everyone else seems to have normal parents, and I didn't want to bother them but I can't talk about this sort of stuff with them." He hastily wiped at his eyes. "God, I'm such a—"

"You're not anything he said," Matt interjected roughly. "Dad's a goddamn idiot, so don't worry." Matt shook his head. Honestly. He was a father. Shouldn't he act more responsible? At least apologize?

As the two sat in silence for a few minutes, Matt revelled in the small fact that this was like old times. Being together without hatred, with one common goal, just knowing the other was a sort of calming presence… for once.

"And… And he said…" TK shifted away so his face was hidden by his knees, which he had pulled up as if to protect himself when Matt walked in. "He said he was glad I had ended up living with Mom." A little bitter laugh escaped him. "Geez."

Matt frowned. "Don't worry about it, okay, Teeks? He's an idiot, and he doesn't mean what he says, you know that."

"I know." But… he knew it was coming. "But still. He's my dad." He laughed. "As if I need this right now." He finally gave Matt a meaningful look, and it was nothing short of a deadly glare.

"Has he talked to you since?" Not exactly a subtle escape, but…

"Oh, yea, we left on good terms. Sort of." He shrugged. "I just acted like it didn't bother me, you know? Because I didn't want him to worry or whatever. So I don't think he realizes that what he said really bothered me." Silence. "You know, I'm not even sure why I called you. I mean, I can handle it myself, it's not like it's some godforsaken family drama or whatever, it's just Dad being Dad—"

"Hey, Teeks, calm down. I'm not gonna stir anything up with Dad, all right? I'm not gonna bring back old feelings or whatever the parents are keeping from us." Matt finally fell down to sit cross-legged on the floor. "It's not gonna be soap opera-y stuff, okay?" He let out a little chuckle, and TK let a faltering smile cross his face.

"Yea, I sort of wondered if something like that might happen…"

"Boy, our lives sure have been weird lately, huh?" Matt asked quietly, looking up at the ceiling, where TK had pinned up a poster of what looked like a hand drawn sketch of Patamon… it was actually sort of difficult to tell, since it looked like TK had drawn it when he was about 9 years old.

"You're telling me," TK said grumpily, but Matt only continued to smile. Maybe their dad's usual ignorant behaviour had helped them, for once.

"What's going ON?" complained a loud voice that both of the boys could hear through the half-open door (Matt realized suddenly he had forgot to close it all the way). "This is so BOORING."

Matt rolled his eyes. "Tai was the one who came to get me, so he decided to tag along."

TK smiled. "Ah, right, Tai and his useful little lectures."

Matt fell silent. Why did TK have to keep bringing up the topic that had broken them apart? "Did his words actually mean anything to you?" he asked, rather (and embarrassingly) meekly.

"Of course they did," grunted TK. "I don't have to tell you everything that runs through my head, do I?"

"No, no, of course not," Matt amended quickly. "No, of course not…"

Another brief silence. "Is Kari here?" TK asked quietly. Matt kept his expression cool; he had been expecting this question.

"Yea. She was worried you'd been hurt." He was expecting some kind of scoff from TK, or snarling remark. But instead his brother was quiet for several seconds.

"That's… nice." Matt could hear the effort the words took him, but it still meant a lot to him.

"It is, isn't it?" he agreed brightly, and TK had to roll his eyes at that. Matt shifted uncomfortably. All right, too soon for jokes? He felt sweaty and cold all at the same time. This was maybe the scariest encounter he'd had in a while, flipping from happy to scared and back and forth constantly.

"So you don't want me to talk to Dad?"

TK shook his head vehemently. "I only called you because of the pressure, and all these things that have been happening lately and with finals coming up and—I don't know. I cracked."

"Talking to your older brother should never have to happen just because you 'cracked', TK. I'm just—really, really glad." Matt gave him a genuine smile, but TK just gave a rather tepid—no, make that pretty much cold—smile back.

"All right," he said, and Matt nodded, stood up, and nodded again, as if he were silently talking to himself. "Right, well, glad to have this conversation…" He smiled. "Bye!"

TK hesitated. "… Bye."

And Matt ran out before his brother could take back any of the semi-nice things he'd said. Yes, Matt was childish that way.

One week later…

A grin exploded over Matt's stony features (which he'd noticed that since he'd been with Kari had been growing softer as time passed) at TK's words.

"You're welcome," he said warmly, sincerely. It meant so much to him that TK had come all this way to say thanks rather than calling him.

TK was obviously going through some sort of mental anguish. The expression on his face was half pained, half confused. "Right, well, that's all I wanted to say…"

"Did you want to talk to Dad?"

TK frowned at him. "Do you think I do?" he asked sharply. Matt winced. "He doesn't think anything's up, remember? He's fine, I'm fine, end of story, I just wanted to say thanks." He began to turn back around but then spun back to face Matt again. "And don't think this means more than it does, okay? I'm just saying thanks!" His tone reminded Matt of TK when he was younger, when he whined more, when he wasn't always the sweet-hearted kid he'd grown up to be (that Matt had somehow warped lately, damn it he screwed up everything, didn't he?).

"I know," he said instead, a light smile playing on his lips. TK gave him one more narrow-eyed glare before walking swiftly down the hall and exiting the apartment rather loudly.

Matt couldn't help it. He started to laugh, his hand still tight around his door's doorknob. He leaned his body against the door, wheezing off into light giggles. He didn't really know why he found the situation so humorous.

Then he realized that it wasn't funny at all, but rather, he was just laughing because he was happy. Genuinely happy.

This deserved an ice cream trip with Kari, he decided. And he picked up the phone to call her, and after they'd agreed to meet fifteen minutes away, he didn't feel the slightest bit guilty.