hold that thought...

"Who was it I saw you talking with this afternoon?" Koushirou's mother asked when he arrived home from school.

Koushirou slid into a chair and his mother set a plate of apple slices and carrot sticks in front of him. "It was a boy with bushy brown hair," she said, "and how he gets it to sit that way, I'll never guess."

Koushirou knew exactly who she was talking about, but he feigned indifference and bit into an apple slice. "There are lots of brown-haired guys at school. I don't know who you're talking about."

"Yes, you do." His mother looked at him with a knowing smile. "My Koushi is the brightest son any mother ever had. You were sitting outside with him when I came to bring you your lunch."

Koushirou grunted around his piece of apple and stared fixedly at a dark, spiraled notch on the wooden table. He'd hoped his mother hadn't seen him talking with Taichi-san. When he'd spotted her, Koushirou had run to the gate to take his lunch, leaving Taichi kneeling in the grass. Taichi hadn't come over, and Koushirou was grateful. He didn't want to introduce them.

It had surprised him when, as he'd wandered to his usual spot outside to mope over having forgotten his lunch, Taichi had suddenly appeared at his side and flopped down next to him. He'd tucked his arms behind his head and grinned up at Koushirou with a dazzling look of pure mischief.

"What are you up to, Taichi-san?"

"Shh," Taichi said. "You're too noisy. I'm hiding from Sora."

Koushirou wracked his brain and realized Taichi was talking about Takenouchi Sora, a red-haired, spirited girl he'd often seen Taichi playing with in the park. Taichi usually ate lunch with her and some of their soccer friends.

"You're not doing a very good job of it," Koushirou informed him. "You're a lot bigger than me, so I won't make much of a human shield."

"Yeah, but nobody's going to look for me over here." Taichi tossed his head around and, finding no sign of his redheaded pursuer, settled back complacently on his elbows.

Koushirou looked away to carefully school his expression to hide his hurt. It shouldn't have surprised him that Taichi had only come here for the safety of Koushirou's shroud of invisibility. Besides, Taichi was right – no one would ever expect to find him eating lunch with Koushirou.

He'd done some research after that day in the ice cream parlor. What he'd discovered hadn't been surprising, and yet surprised he had been. Yagami Taichi was a fourth year and a genuine playground celebrity. He was an exuberant, boisterous kid who received mediocre grades and excelled at sports. He was popular among his peers for his friendly nature and sense of humor. Most of the teachers liked him too, even though he was something of class clown. He might slack off in class, but his personality was so likable that it didn't earn him a bad reputation. Everyone was his friend, and those few exceptions weren't friends with many people anyhow.

That a person like Taichi wanted to be friends with Koushirou set off warning bells in his head. He already knew exactly how this would play out. Taichi was a user. He made friends with everyone so he could avoid consequences, and so he'd always have someone to turn to when he had a problem. But that was as far as his friendship went. It was superficial and convenient. Koushirou was just another groupie to add to his fan club.

He wasn't entirely sure why Taichi had decided to notice him so suddenly. Maybe he'd been worried Koushirou would get him in trouble for hurting him that day in the park. If so, he shouldn't have bothered – Koushirou wasn't about to tell anyone what had happened. It was embarrassing enough that Taichi recognized him from that day without everyone else finding out how he'd been caught off guard by Yagami Taichi and his wayward soccer ball.

Whatever the reason, Koushirou was sure it existed. He wasn't going to be drawn in.

"Where's your lunch?"

Koushirou snapped out of his reverie and turned to find Taichi watching him with his head tilted in that quizzical way of his. He almost shivered at the look in his eyes. Why did he always seem to be on the verge of knocking him over again?

"I forgot it," Koushirou explained. "My mom's going to bring it over soon." His brow furrowed. "What's your excuse?"

"I didn't bring one," Taichi replied.

"You… why?"

"Because I was dared to steal Sora's lunch every day for a week," he said. "It worked on Monday, and yesterday. But now she's on to me, and I only got to snatch this –"

He produced a container of pudding from his pocket. Ripping off the seal, he went on, "She started chasing me, so I ducked into the gym and hid behind a crate of basketballs. She thinks I'm inside, so I'm safe as long as I stay out here for a while. I'd go back for the rest of her lunch, but her friends are guarding it like mice with their last bit of cheese."

Taichi overcame the problem of not having a spoon by plunging his tongue into the pudding and slurping it up. He surfaced with a glob of pudding dangling from his nose like a Christmas ornament.

"Taichi-san, you shouldn't steal Sora-san's lunch. Then she won't have anything to eat."

"Aw, girls always think they're too fat anyway. She should be grateful I'm helping her stick to her diet."

Koushirou had a hard time believing Sora was on a diet. For one thing, she was an incurable tomboy, and kept a slim physique simply by playing sports all day. For another, if she had pudding in her lunch, she obviously wasn't too worried about calorie intake.

"Did you crack your code thingy yet?" Taichi asked. His impressively long tongue slipped out deftly and swiped the pudding off his nose.

Koushirou blinked. "My code thingy?"

"Yeah – that aych-tee-whatever thing you were talking about the other day."

"Ah, html code. It's not something you crack. It's like… well, it's a markup language…"

The blank stare he received in response informed him that giving any more details would be futile. Until he could think of a fitting sports metaphor, Taichi wasn't going to understand when he got caught up in techie jargon.

He sighed as Taichi rolled his tongue around the base of the plastic container. "I guess you must be pretty smart then, huh," Taichi said. "Since you know all that computer stuff and you're only a fourth year."

"I'm a third year."

"Really?" Taichi's eyebrows flew up. "You're younger than me? I know sixth years who aren't as mature than you."

Koushirou blushed and dropped his gaze to his hands. "I just know stuff about computers. It's nothing special."

"Sure it is!" Taichi exclaimed, jerking back like he'd been shocked. "I don't know anyone else who knows about aych-tee code and markup languages. Heck, I've never even heard of it."

Koushirou was saved from further embarrassment by his mother's arrival at the front gate. He scrambled to his feet and started walking even as he spoke:

"My mom's here. I'll be back after I grab my lunch."

"I'll keep the grass warm for you," Taichi said.

Koushirou returned only after his cheeks had finally stopped flaming, and found Taichi sucking air out of the empty pudding container and sticking it around his mouth. On an impulse Koushirou reached out and batted it away. The container dropped limply to the ground.

"Ha ha ha," Taichi leaned back on his arms again. "You're so uptight, Koushirou."

Koushirou gave the container a long look, then turned his attention to his lunch.

Koushirou knew his mother well enough to realize she wasn't going to let the subject of "that bushy-haired boy" drop just like that. She seemed determined that Koushirou make friends outside of the Internet, as if the people he chatted with online were nothing more than data themselves, and not really people at all. Even when his e-pal, Willis, took pity on him and mailed him a letter (all the way from Colorado, written on sky blue stationary paper and containing a stick of gum and a picture of the wheat-haired American kid himself), Koushirou's mother continued to act like her son was a friendless hermit.

"He's in the U.S.A. You can't invite him over for sleep-overs, you can't go on a camping trip with him, you can't even talk to him normally – just look at this mix of Japanese and English! How do you make any sense out of it?"

She'd shaken her head and let the letter flutter down to the table. But she'd still made him write back to say thank you for the gum, even though Koushirou told her Willis would prefer an e-mail since his parents didn't know he'd given Koushirou his address.

After learning what he could about the character of Yagami Taichi-san, Koushirou had managed to convince himself that day in the ice cream parlor would remain an isolated incident. Taichi was so absurdly popular that the idea he would want to be friends with Koushirou was laughable, and even if that weren't the case, their personalities did not match. Koushirou was the quiet type, introverted, worked best on his own, and didn't want or need much of a social life. Taichi thrived on making himself the center of attention, entertaining, trying to be everyone's best bud. Koushirou didn't think it was prejudging to assume so; anyone with eyes had only to look at Taichi's record to tell.

Besides, even if Taichi did the unthinkable and pursued a relationship with Koushirou – for more than a week until he lost interest – what would they talk about? What games would they play? Koushirou was hopeless at sports, and always the last one picked in gym class. He had a hunch that Taichi wasn't too tech-savvy either.

He'd decided it was better not to mislead his mother into thinking he'd made a friend. She'd only pity him when she found out the truth, and he couldn't bear that. He was tired of being a disappointment.

But mothers are the worst kind of schemers when it comes to their sons' social lives. Koushirou didn't know when, or how, his mom had figured out who Taichi was, but one night he was there at their doorstep, flanked on either side by his mother and his little sister (the reason for the Hello Kitty Band-Aids, Koushirou surmised).

"I'm so sorry Susumu couldn't come," Taichi's mother said as Yoshie led them into the family room. "A meeting came up, and I heard him mention sake…"

"It's fine, Yuuko-san." Yoshie took her coat and hung it in the closet. "As a matter of fact, my husband can't join us either, and his reason also involves co-workers and sake."

Koushirou tried to bore holes in his mother's back with his eyes, willing her to turn around so she could see just how much he liked her motherly plot. But she only waved the children off to play, and took Yagami Yuuko into the kitchen where she was putting the final touches on dinner. Koushirou could hear their soft, womanly voices fall into an easy lilt as conversation took them away.

It couldn't be helped. He looked at Taichi, who had plopped himself on the sofa and started swinging his legs back and forth, occasionally striking the bottom of the sofa with his heels. Thump.

"I didn't know you were coming," Koushirou said.

"Neither did I," Taichi replied – thump – "but you know how moms are."

"Oniichan's mad because Kaasan made him take a bath and change before dinner, because he came in all sweaty from soccer practice." The little girl giggled from her cross-legged position in front of the TV and wasn't fazed by her brother's death glare in the least. Yagami Hikari was a pint-sized version of her mother, right down to the way her soft brown hair parted just so to fall into her eyes, which were prettier than her brother's – almost auburn in color, and rimmed by a thick fringe of lashes. Her smile, though much more subtle than Taichi's, still shared the same impish, slightly predatory quality.

Koushirou shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling blood build in his face. He never knew what to say in these situations. Acting as host to his guests wasn't one of his strong suits.

Meanwhile – thump. Thump. Thump.

"Would you stop that?" Koushirou snapped.

The thumping stopped. Koushirou's cheeks reddened and he couldn't raise his eyes from the curve of his left big toe in his socks. He wondered if his mother would see through his act if he pretended to have a stomachache and needed to lie down.

A noise distracted him from plotting and he lifted his head to find Taichi had crossed the room and was rummaging through his video game collection. Taichi gave a long whistle and when he smiled at Koushirou, it was without reproach.

"Man, you have more games than I've ever seen! Assassin's Creed – Halo – hey look, he has that Harvest Moon you love, Hikari – Final Fantasy VII, Mario Kart, Virtua Fighter –"

Koushirou stopped him before he named every game on the shelf (which was actually only part of his collection, the rest was in stacks in his room). "You want… to play something?" he asked, meeting Taichi's eyes timidly and still feeling uncomfortably hot in his collared shirt.

"Yeah!" Taichi's head bobbed in an enthusiastic nod and he yanked Super Smash Bros. from the shelf. "How about this one, so Hikari can play too?"

"I want to be Pikachu," Hikari said, scooting over in her interest.

"Okay." Koushirou took the game from Taichi, who had been staring at his N64 with puzzlement (later, Koushirou learned Taichi only had Playstation at home, since his mother didn't approve of video games), and quickly set it up. He handed them each a controller and lowered himself down to the left of Taichi as if it physically pained him to do so.

Koushirou didn't play Super Smash Bros. often. He'd unlocked Ness and that had been the last time he'd played. Brawl-type games didn't provide enough of an intellectual outlet for his tastes.

It was clear Taichi didn't have the same reservations. He'd chosen Donkey Kong, and was enjoying throwing the rest of them across the screen. Hikarif's Pikachu waddled around aimlessly, occasionally trying to electrocute her brother before he picked her up and tossed her into the air. Taichi won with ease at first, until Koushirou replaced Link with Kirby and succeeded in knocking him out.

"Donkey Kong, defeated by the floating cotton candy monster!" Hikari cried with glee, as if it didn't matter that it hadn't been she who K.O.ed Taichi, as long as someone did.

Koushirou decided she was cute, but Taichi folded his arms and pouted. "Rematch!" he cried a moment later. "This time I'll trounce you!"

"You'll have to save the trouncing for later," Koushirou's mother said from the doorway with a small, amused smile on her lips. "Dinner's ready."

Three groans followed her as she returned to the kitchen. Koushirou turned off the TV and put the game back in its box. Together he and the Yagami pair filed out of the family room for a leisurely dinner.

When the time came for Taichi and his family to go home, Yuuko bent down and shook Koushirou's hand as if he were the man of the house. Hikari wrapped her arms around his neck (he bit back his irritation that a six-year-old was almost as tall as him) and kissed his cheek.

"I hope you come to visit us at our house sometime!" she chirped, and followed her mother outside.

Taichi leaned against the doorframe, looking at Koushirou with a grin like a lazy cat in a patch of sunlight. His goggles had started to slip down his forehead. Koushirou's mother brought her hands to his head and adjusted them.

"Please come over to play again sometime, okay, Taichi-kun?" she said, and patted his cheek.

Taichi nodded dreamily. To Koushirou's surprise, he suddenly made a fist and bopped Koushirou on the head. It didn't hurt at all; rather, it struck him as an oddly intimate gesture, but not one that he could figure out.

"I'm gonna stick a pin to your Kirby and watch it zoom away," Taichi announced.

Koushirou found himself grinning. "I have Melee too, you know. And a lot more games than you saw today."

"Hey, don't make me jealous, or it'll be that much rougher on you when I win next time."

Next time. For the first time, Koushirou let himself believe there might really be a next time.

"You're on," he said, puffing out his chest (to the amusement of Yoshie, who hadn't yet moved from the doorway). "I'm not scared of any dumb hairy ape anyway."

"I'm insulted!" Taichi gasped. "I'm not that hairy."

Koushirou laughed. They said good-night, and Taichi disappeared behind the closing door.

A/N: Thanks everyone who reviewed last chapter. I'm glad you're enjoying it - I thought the pace might be a bit slow. I'm a veteran Digi-fan of ten years, so you can imagine how long this idea has been fomenting. Blonde-Eko: To answer your question, I'm putting Taichi at nine-ish, Koushirou eight, for the time being. But they'll be growing up throughout the story.

Notes: I'm just about as tech-savvy as Taichi, so if I mess any computer-y stuff up, please do tell me. I think I did all right with the html code, but I can't be sure. You'll probably notice that Koushirou has a bunch of video games, including some that might not have been available when he was a kid. Please just excuse that. I really don't want to research the publication dates of video games! We can just claim it's one of those Koushirou things. :)

Please review, and the next chapter will be up asap!