A/N: Hello and welcome to a very long, dramatic oneshot! :3 Some things to know before you being reading… 1) When it switches to italics, Taichi's POV has ended and Gatomon's had begun. Vice versa. 2) This takes place after a 15 year timeskip, not a 25 year one. 3) This definitely ended up longer and more involved than I planned. Sorry bout that! And last but not least: 4) This is based off of the best doujinshi ever created. It's a Fullmetal Alchemist doujinshi by the same name – if you know the fandom, READ IT. I used a lot of the same ideas but also implemented a few of my own, so… Enjoy!

-x-

Taichi often regretted the fact that he and his sister were no longer close. They had been close once, when they were both young and carefree and adventurous, involved in workings of destiny far greater than themselves. Hikari had looked up to him – seen him as the "perfect" elder brother, because no matter what he had always been there to protect her. He had been willing to lay his young life on the line for her, and she had loved him for it.

It would have been hard to find more perfect siblings.

But people change. They get older and forget what it was like to be a child. They become wrapped up in their own lives, lost in a startling whirlwind of school and romance, careers and families. The complicated issues of the adult world isolate people from their loved ones, breaking the happy bonds they once shared. The love still remains, yes, but… Once a relationship breaks, shattering into many insignificant shards, it is often impossible to put the pieces back together again. Not perfectly at least. There's always something lost that can never return.

Taichi tried to visit his sister as much as possible, but given their conflicting schedules it was often very difficult. Hikari was a schoolteacher, dealing with badly behaved youngsters, working late hours without any extra pay, grading papers until the clock struck midnight, then rousing herself early to do it all over again. Taichi himself was surprisingly busy working as ambassador to the Digital World – solving disputes between angry Digimon and irate parents was not as easy a task as it sounded.

But on this rainy Saturday, Taichi had surprised even himself by declaring that he was finally taking a day off. No one could deny that he deserved one, given all the work he had put in lately supervising the opening of the Gates between the two worlds. There wasn't any other human or Digimon who had put in as much work as he had, after all. It was only fair.

As he drove aimlessly around the city, however, Taichi began to feel slightly perturbed. He finally had a day off… And yet he had no idea what to do with his time. This miffed the brown-haired young man to no end. Had he already forgotten what fun was? He really needed to get out of the Digital World more often. Taichi scowled and ran his fingers through his hair, once again feeling slightly disappointed when he touched air sooner than expected. He still missed his old, wild locks from time to time.

Taichi stopped at a red light and leaned his head against the wheel, shutting his eyes and taking a deep, shuddering breath. What in the world was he doing? His life was wasting away before his very eyes, and yet he had hardly even noticed until this very moment. Sora and Yamato were happily married with adorable children. Koushirou had a daughter of his own, and Taichi often watched their playful interactions from afar, feeling sharp twinges of jealousy in his heart. Even Ken and Miyako, years younger than him, had settled down and started a family.

What had his life come to?

Taichi was jolted out of his trance by the aggravated honking of car horns. He glanced up and saw, through the rain-washed windshield, that the light had changed to green. Grumbling about how impatient people were, he stepped on the gas and set off aimlessly once again, taking random turns without realizing where he was headed.

After what felt like hours, Taichi noticed that he had subconsciously turned on to a familiar street. Hikari's apartment complex was one right turn away.

Taking it as a sign (and grateful for something to occupy his time), Taichi turned into the apartment parking lot. As he stepped out of the car he couldn't help but feel a bit worried. Would Hikari even want to see him? She had never been one of those unreasonably emotional girls, but one could never be too sure. He hadn't been to see her in ages, and he hoped she wouldn't be too angry with him…

-x-

"I'll be right there!"

A few moments later the door was flung open, and Hikari Yagami stood in the doorway. It had only been a few months, but to Taichi it seemed like she had grown up all over again. Her bangs were pushed back from her face neatly, and there was a certain edge of maturity to her pretty young face that hadn't been there before. Taichi felt a lump rising in his throat as he looked at his dear sister. She was an adult now, not an innocent child like he always remembered her. She had taken her place in the grand scheme of life, and he could no longer protect her as he once had.

Taichi quickly pushed back the sudden wave of emotions and proffered up a silly grin. "Hey, little sister. How have you been?"

Hikari's face lit up and she smiled in pure happiness before throwing her arms around Taichi's neck. "Brother! I haven't seen you in so long! I missed you!"

He patted her on the back awkwardly until she pulled away, eyes dancing with delight at seeing her beloved elder brother for the first time in quite a while. Suddenly her expression darkened, and Taichi winced inwardly as the rage he had expected arrived like a vicious storm on the horizon.

"Why haven't you come to visit lately?" Hikari demanded. Her arms were crossed over her chest defensively, which Taichi took to be a very bad sign indeed. "Am I not important enough for you to make a little time on the weekends to come visit? I don't get many visitors, you know. With Takeru busy writing his novels and Miyako trying to take care of her kids, you'd think the least you could do is take some pity on me and drop by every once in a while! But no, the Digital World is all that matters to Taichi!"

The brown-haired man rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I really am sorry, Hikari," he said. "I've just been so busy lately, what with solving disputes and monitoring the gates and such… Listen, I promise that I'll try and stop by more often, alright? Now can I come in or not? If you haven't noticed by now, it's a little wet out here. You wouldn't want your dear brother catching anything, now would you?" He grinned again winningly.

Hikari frowned, sighed in exasperation, and then rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine," she muttered, trying and failing to stay angry. "Just don't track anything on my new carpet! And don't touch any of the papers in the kitchen!"

Taichi chuckled quietly to himself as he entered the tidy little kitchen, seating himself with a flourish at the table. Everything was orderly and immaculate – the pots and pans gleamed, the marble countertops shone, and there was not a single speck of dirt on the linoleum tiling. Even the graded worksheets on the table were stacked in perfect piles, without a single paper out of place.

"I'd forgotten how much of a neat freak you've gotten to be," Taichi said teasingly as Hikari entered the kitchen. She ignored him, instead choosing to take a moment and arrange the line of bottled multivitamins on the counter.

"How about some wine?" she asked, pulling a cheap-looking bottle of pinot grigio out of the fridge. "I've been saving it for a special occasion, and I'm pretty sure this is as special as it's gonna get."

Taichi nodded his agreement. "Sounds good, sis. I could use a drink."

The wine was poured, and they sat regarding each other intently from across the table. Neither of them knew where to begin. Somehow, "a few months" now felt like eternity.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Taichi finally attempted to break the ice. "So, like I asked you before you started ranting… How have you been?"

And all traces of awkwardness were gone in a flash. "I'm so tired," Hikari groaned, putting down her drink long enough to massage her temples. "The school lost three teachers this year, so I'm stuck teaching four classes. Which means over a hundred students. I stay up so late working that sometimes I just forget to go to sleep…"

As Taichi looked closer, he saw the stress in his sister's face. Dark, bruise-like circles, disguised with makeup but still visible, had developed underneath Hikari's eyes. She looked much more pale and drawn than usual, as if she were suffering from a cold. A pang of sadness pierced Taichi's heart like a knife as he stared at the tired shell of his once vibrant sister.

"Not to mention that money's so tight right now," she muttered, glaring into her white wine as if it had caused all of her problems. "But then again, it's tight for everyone."

Taichi nodded solemnly, draining his glass in a single gulp. He knew this better than anyone – being a DigiWorld diplomat hardly brought in the big bucks.

"… I'm sorry, Hikari," he murmured, reaching across the table to squeeze her hand in what he hoped was a comforting way. "Things will be better soon, I'm sure of it. Darkness before the dawn and all that shtick, you know."

She laughed quietly – bitterly. "Yeah," she whispered. "Everything will work out just fine."

Her doubt and anxiety hung heavy in the air like a thick, poisonous mist.

"Well what about you, brother?" Hikari asked, lifting her tired eyes to meet his. "Are things going well for you?"

She knew that they weren't. Why was she being so damn polite?

"Hardly," said Taichi with a resigned sigh. "A lot of Digimon – and humans, for that matter – are wary of the two worlds being connected. I don't think people are quite at that stage where they're ready to see digital monsters walking freely through bustling city streets. I mean, it's happened before… but not on this scale. Riding the subway with a group of Meramon? Sharing a crowded beach with a couple of Gizamon? Humans just aren't ready for that yet. And I'm even more worried about humans crossing over the Digital World…"

"Why's that?"

"Just think about it. The Digital World is strange and different. It's exciting and new. Once humans begin to flock there… Well, just imagine the damage they might cause! Humans will bring their innate evil to the DigiWorld. They'll ruin it just like they did to Earth. Pollution, crime, war… Those are all very human things. I don't want the Digital World to become tainted like our world is. I don't want it to become filthy and disgusting."

Hikari's eyes were sad. "Neither do I."

"I'm starting to think this was all a big mistake," Taichi said, running his hands through his hair once more. "Perhaps the two worlds were never meant to coexist after all."

The brunette girl said nothing at first. She simply refilled both their wine glasses.

"Taichi," she said finally, her voice small and mournful. "Why does life have to be so sad?"

"… I don't know, Hikari. I honestly don't know."

"Everything seemed so much simpler when we were young. Good and evil. Right and wrong. Black and white, you know? But now I'm not sure. There's always something in between."

"A gray area."

"Exactly. Why couldn't everything have stayed that way, Taichi? I'm so sick of not knowing the truth from the lies. I knew it then. I knew it when I was young. Why did things have to change?" She sounded desperate – pleading, but Taichi didn't know what to say.

"Everything changes, Hikari," he murmured gently, for that was all he knew for certain. "People, places, situations... It all changes. I suppose we're just expected to live with it. Learn to accept it. But it's hard, I know. It's hard to forget how things used to be."

They lapsed into silence once again. What Hikari had said had really bothered Taichi, for reasons he couldn't quite fathom. I'm so sick of not knowing the truth from the lies… He shivered, and it had nothing to do with the cold linoleum beneath his feet. There was something nagging at the back of his mind… Something he had been curious about for quite a while now.

"So, how's Gatomon?" he asked nonchalantly, as if it were the most innocent question in the world. In a way, he almost hadn't wanted to ask, but some questions just needed to be spoken aloud.

It was like a shadow passed over Hikari's face, stealing away her emotions and replacing them with a blank, hollow mask. Her eyes suddenly seemed dull and lifeless; her gaze remote and uncaring. This was her defense mechanism, one that she had built up over the years.

"Gatomon is the same, Taichi," she said mechanically, not betraying even the slightest hint of the emotions that were surely raging within her mind. "I don't see why you always bother asking."

"I might as well be hopeful. It's been almost a year since I've seen her last, so…"

"One more year is not going to make any difference. She's been like this for more than sixteen years now. Nothing is going to change."

Taichi put his head in his hands and sighed heavily. "Yes, I suppose not. Sorry to bring it up."

The apartment was quiet but for the soft pattering of raindrops on kitchen window. Hikari's lifeless eyes followed the droplets on their descent from heaven, watching them closely as they slid down the smooth glass in rivulets.

"Would you like to see her?" she asked finally.

Taichi's head snapped up in shock. He missed Gatomon, but then again… She hadn't been herself for nearly twenty years now. She was hardly the tough-talking, no-nonsense feline he remembered from his childhood. On that day, nearly twenty years ago, Gatomon had lost part of herself. She had gained it back a few years later, once her frightening fantasies began, but… There was something about this new Gatomon that had unnerved the others, and as the years passed by they did their best to put her from their minds. Things were better that way, for her and for them. Even Patamon, Gatomon's long-suffering friend, had eventually given up on her, realizing that there was nothing he could do to make her see reason.

But for Taichi, thoughts of Gatomon still managed to strike him with a morbid curiosity of sorts. Truth be told he had been secretly hoping to see her when he paid Hikari a visit, wondering if her condition had somehow gotten better or worse over the past year. Apparently it hadn't, and yet… The morbid curiosity still remained, clawing at his mind like a caged beast.

"Yes, actually," Taichi said resolutely. "I would like to see her. It's been far too long."

-x-

Hikari knocked softly on the door. "Gatomon," she called. "You have a visitor."

As Taichi slipped inside, Hikari shot him one last warning glance, but he wasn't sure if the warning was intended to protect him or Gatomon.

The white cat Digimon was standing near the sliding glass door, paw against the glass, staring out at the rain as if it held the answers to all of life's secrets. She turned as Taichi approached, and like always her brilliant blue eyes seemed faraway and dreamy. When she saw who her visitor was, her expression brightened much like Hikari's had.

"Taichi!" Gatomon exclaimed, grinning widely. "How long has it been, eh? More than a year, I'd say. It's good of you to finally stop by for a visit."

Taichi plastered a fake smile on to his face. "It's good to see you too, Gatomon. How's life been treating you?"

"Oh, not too badly. Nobody's been to see me in quite a while, though… Not even Patamon. And for some reason Hikari won't let me leave the house." She soundly positively perplexed as to the young woman's reasoning. "That Hikari… She worries too much, yanno? People are used to seeing Digimon by now, aren't they?"

Taichi nodded weakly, trying not to betray any of his emotions. Pity was stabbing at his heart, its edge sharp and biting. Poor Gatomon had no idea why her friends had all left her. She didn't know about the sympathetic glances they had given Hikari before walking out the door and disappearing for good. She didn't know what she was doing to the ones she loved most – pushing them away with talk of her fantasies and hallucinations.

… She didn't know that she was mad.

Taichi sought after something, anything he could say to take his mind off such thoughts.

"Gatomon, that's a lovely new tail ring you're wearing," he said desperately, latching on to the first thing his eyes fell upon. Gatomon glanced back at her long tail, where a new silver ring hung next to the tarnished gold one. Inlaid in it was a large, glittering sapphire that shimmered in the light. Gatomon smiled happily, tracing the outline of the blue gemstone with a sharp claw.

"Isn't it beautiful?" she whispered. "Wizardmon says it matches my eyes perfectly."

Taichi froze. As she spoke his name, there was nothing but love reflected in Gatomon's expression. The way she spoke of him… As if he was in the room next door, instead of… Instead of… God, she honestly didn't know. After twenty odd years, she still didn't know. Or perhaps she had just never accepted it. Oblivious to the truth, trapped in a lucid dream where everything was right in the world, Gatomon lived on.

A single thought drifted through Taichi's mind unbidden.

'This is pure insanity.'

x

xx

xxx

Gatomon lay curled under the weeping willow tree, trying to enjoy the sweep of soft branches across her fur. Sunlight tickled her nose and warmed her, sun shadows danced prettily across her line of vision, but on the inside her soul was as cold as ice. Sadness did that to her sometimes – froze her soul. All the feelings she kept bottled up inside created a killing frost that iced over any shred of happiness she allowed herself.

She missed him.

They all did, of course, but… She missed him more than anyone could ever know. Even Hikari could not feel the deep ache that filled her whenever his name arose in conversation, or whenever a memory flashed through her mind of days long gone. Her heart refused to let go of him – to allow her the slightest bit of solace. Why did she do to deserve this torture? Why had he left her, and where had he gone?

A hauntingly familiar voice cut through her thoughts of melancholy.

"Well, well, well, little Gato. Sleeping in the sunlight again? How did I know I would find you here?"

Gatomon opened her wide blue eyes slowly, disbelieving. It couldn't be. It simply wasn't possible. There was just no way…

She turned her head to see who had spoken, and the ice that covered her soul melted into nothingness.

"… Wizardmon?"

His green eyes smiled down at her, full of mystery, secrets, and wisdom. Underneath his cowl she knew that his lips, marred by scars, were smiling too. His hair, the color of flaxen gold, fell gently across his face, just as she remembered it… He had to be an angel. There was no other explanation. Wizardmon had returned to her, this time as an avenging angel sent to be her undoing.

"How can this be?" she heard herself murmuring. "You… you're back, Wizardmon. How?"

He tilted his head to the side in apparent confusion. "Back? Back from where, Gatomon? I've been here by your side all along, just like we promised each other all those years ago. We promised we would stick together, no matter what."

"But you… You left me. You left me all alone!"

Now he looked worried, and he bent down in order to run a comforting and very real gloved hand through her thick white fur. "Gatomon…" he whispered, and the sound of her name from his lips sent a shiver down her spine. "Gatomon, did you imagine all of this? I never left, little Gato. I've always been with you, remember? We vanquished Myotismon together. We won."

It was the truth. It had to be. Why would he lie to her?

Gatomon felt her heart swell with joy, and she leapt nimbly to her feet before throwing her paws around him, holding him tightly and savoring the feeling of just being there. With him.

It was meant to be, was it not? It was her happy ending, like in all of those fairy tales that Hikari had liked to read as a child. She had waited so long, but finally the waiting was over and done. He was here, and they had won. Gods, why had she not seen it sooner?

Gatomon heard Wizardmon chuckling lightly; felt him patting her gently on the back as she pulled away to gaze up at him with adoring blue eyes.

"Come now, little Gato," he said sagely, taking her by the paw. "Hikari is waiting for us. We don't want her to worry, do we?"

"… Hikari?"

The pair turned and in front of them was a lovely little cottage, quaint and immaculate, with ivy encroaching on the walls and smoke billowing from the chimney and a neat little flower patch in front of the sitting room window. Gatomon had to blink back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. They lived… there? In that perfect little dream house, a paradise where the sun always shone? She and Hikari and Wizardmon, together in their own private heaven…

As they walked up the cobbled path to the cottage door, Gatomon had to swipe away a few rogue teardrops that had managed to slip past her defenses. She had never thought that she would find such peace and contentment. It seemed… so unreal.

They reached the door and Wizardmon nodded encouragingly. "Go ahead, Gatomon," he said, striking green eyes reflecting his love. "Hikari wants to see you."

Gatomon smiled sunnily back at him before turning the knob and stepping inside…

The little Digimon sensed at once that something was horribly wrong. The inside of the cottage was not wide, spacious, and rustic. There was no sitting room window through which sunbeams could reach their delicate golden fingers, and there was no table set for fancy afternoon tea. Instead Gatomon was standing on cold, gleaming linoleum, under the glare of harsh fluorescent lights. Hikari sat at the kitchen table, grading a stack of papers, the rings beneath her eyes more pronounced than ever.

"Hikari…"

The young woman glanced up from her task. "Oh, Gatomon. There you are. Where did you disappear to? You know I don't like you running around outside…"

"I was just sleeping under the willow tree, Hikari," Gatomon said, smiling despite herself. "It's such a lovely day outside, you know. Did… did you need to speak with me about something? Wizardmon said you wanted to see me…"

Hikari froze, her pen hovering above the paper. Her tired eyes narrowed to angry slits, and her shoulders began to shake ever so slightly.

"You're still doing that?" she whispered, her voice strained and barely audible. "Why can't you get it into your head, Gatomon!? Wizardmon is… He's… He's gone! He's been gone for years now! At some point you just have to stop pretending that everything's fine and learn to accept the truth!"

The feline Digimon was terribly confused. "What do you mean he's gone, Hikari? Wizardmon is right here!" She gestured behind her and turned with a smile, but there was no one there. The place where Wizardmon had been just moments before was strangely empty, and the green-eyed Digimon was no where to be seen.

The door stood ajar, but instead of the willow tree and the flower patch and the golden sunlight there was only rain beating down on a dark, empty parking lot.

"Wizardmon?" Gatomon whispered, feeling the first shards of ice beginning to cover her soul once more. "Wizardmon, where did you go?" Her voice became panicked. "He was just here a second ago, Hikari! I'm sure he'll be back soon! Won't he!?"

Hikari was trying her hardest not to cry. She simply shook her head, averting her eyes from Gatomon's wide, fearful blue ones.

"No, Gatomon," she murmured. "Wizardmon won't ever be back. He's gone. There's nothing you can do."

"What do you mean he's gone!?" Gatomon demanded once more, her fur beginning to bristle. "We beat Myotismon together, Hikari! We won! He told me so…"

Hikari eyes widened in shock, and this shock was quickly replaced by a sudden stream of tears. The young woman began to sob quietly, turning her face away at a pitiful attempt to hide her sorrow. "Why don't you remember?" she asked bitterly, voice thick and laden with emotion. "You were there too, Gatomon. You saw it happen. Why don't you remember?"

"… Remember what?"

"Wizardmon gave his life for you, Gatomon! He protected you from Myotismon's attack! It was so many years ago… Why haven't you accepted the truth by now? Why do you keep torturing yourself like this!? You have to move on, Gatomon! I know it's hard, but please, I'm begging you…"

But Gatomon wasn't listening. 'Wizardmon gave his life for you… Wizardmon gave his life for you…' Those simple words were repeating within her mind, causing a jagged, splintering pain in her heart that made it feel as if she was being torn in two. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. She couldn't feel. The words pierced her, burned her, froze her, until she felt entirely numb to the world.

This was no fairy tale. This was a nightmare.

Gatomon sank into blessed darkness.

-x-

She awoke to the soothing feeling of a hand on her back, stroking her soft fur affectionately. Gatomon's eyes opened slowly, taking in her surroundings with a good deal of caution. She was lying curled on a warm lap, her paws tucked daintily underneath her. It was a peaceful position to be in… But she recognized this place, with its dark walls and crumbling foundations. Myotismon's castle. She shuddered unwittingly, that old, familiar sense of foreboding overcoming her once again.

"Something wrong, little Gato?" a ghost of a voice asked.

The cat Digimon pricked her purple-tipped ears, turned her head, and once again found herself staring into a gaze of brilliant green. Unlike her frightening dream, however, this Wizardmon was far from perfect. His skin was ashen, his eyes were tired, his cape was tattered and worse-for-the-wear. Instead of angelic, he looked almost… human.

"Wizardmon?" Gatomon murmured, still partially asleep. "Is that really you?"

His eyes gleamed bemusedly from underneath his fringe of straw-colored hair. "Why yes, Gatomon, it is indeed. The one and only. Did you expect anyone different?"

A wave of intense relief washed over the feline Digimon. She leapt up suddenly and caught Wizardmon in a tight embrace, with far more raw, unadulterated emotion than she had in her dream.

"Oh Wizardmon, I had the most horrid dream," she whispered. "It seemed so beautiful at first, and then… It turned into a nightmare. And it seemed so real…" She buried her face into his golden hair, inhaling the unique scent of lightning, spice, and the slightest hint of magic.

Wizardmon placed a comforting hand against her back. "Don't worry," he murmured, his voice relaxing and hypnotic. "Dreams mean nothing, Gatomon. They are simply visual representations of your innermost thoughts, fears, and desires. Do not be afraid of them. What you see within dreams cannot hurt you."

The white cat pulled back, looking at her paws in embarrassment. "I know that," she muttered. "Sorry for being silly."

She could almost see the scarred lips upturned in an understanding smile.

"It is no matter, Gatomon," Wizardmon said, rising from his seat. "But we must hurry. We are to report to Lord Myotismon soon, and we wouldn't want to be late."

Gatomon scowled, feeling her claws inadvertently unsheathe themselves. For some reason the mention of her master's name made her feel suddenly queasy… Why? She was loyal… Was she not?

She followed closely behind Wizardmon as they traversed the shadowy corridors of the castle, not wanting to lose sight of him. If she let him out of her sight for even a second, who knew where he might disappear to? Gatomon shuddered as she remembered the horrifying dream – the coldness of the kitchen tile seeping into her paws, the white glare of the overhead lights, the intense panic she had felt when she realized that he was no longer standing behind her…

Without thinking, Gatomon reached out and grasped his gloved hand, seeking comfort in the fact that he was real and true. That he was here to stay.

He turned to her, surprised, and raised a questioning eyebrow. "What's the matter, little Gato?" he asked. "Still frightened about that nightmare?"

"N-no, of course not." If she could have blushed, she would have.

"Don't worry," he repeated, and she could hear the smile in his voice. "No matter what, I will protect you. As long as I'm here, nothing will hurt you, Gatomon. Not even a bad dream."

A violent shiver travelled down Gatomon's spine as he spoke, making her fur stand on end. Hikari's voice was a mere echo in her mind. 'Wizardmon gave his life to protect you…'

"No!" she hissed suddenly – vehemently. "Don't worry about me, Wizardmon! I- I don't want you putting yourself in harm's way for my sake. Just think about yourself, alright?"

The green-eyed Digimon looked taken aback by this comment, but wisely chose not to press her further. Instead, he simply mumbled his unwilling agreement, and the two continued their walk in silence.

"Wizardmon," Gatomon said finally, her voice quiet and pensive. "Do you wish things were different?"

"How so?"

"I mean… Do you wish that you had chosen a different path? That you had never agreed to serve Myotismon?"

Green eyes flashed in the semidarkness. "That's dangerous talk, Gatomon," Wizardmon said cautiously. "By now you should know that in this castle, there's always someone… or something listening."

"… I know. I was just curious." She waited with baited breath for a terrible 'curiosity killed the cat' comment, but none came. Instead, Wizardmon seemed to be lost in deep thought.

"Well, I suppose it would be safe to say that I do regret many of my choices," he murmured. "I've been so very foolish… I've done things that I'd rather not think about, things that haunt me with every waking moment." There was such unforgiving sorrow in his tone that Gatomon herself began to feel depressed. "But then again… Without my foolish decisions, I would have never met you, Gatomon."

He was peering at her from under the wide brim of his hat, golden hair framing his face just so. In that moment the world shifted, and through her cat's eyes Gatomon saw the bittersweet truth. The truth was thus: They were miserable. Two souls, forced down a path they loathed to take, slowly losing sight of the light of hope… Yes, they were so very wretched; their lives so very empty.

And yet they were happy all the same. Because they had each other. Because together someday they might escape this life and find their true futures, the ones they wanted most.

Gatomon smiled. "Yes, I'm glad to have met you as well, Wizardmon. That's one thing I don't regret." She reached out once more and took his gloved hand in her paw, savoring the warmth that passed between them, connecting them to one another for an eternity. "Promise me you'll never leave me behind, alright? No matter what, we'll stick with each other until the end."

"I would never leave you, Gatomon," the wizard said affectionately. "Where would I go without you by my side?"

"So you promise?" she asked, reproachful. "You promise that's we'll always be together?"

"Yes," he said, eyes alight and oh so alive. "I swear it."

xxx

xx

x

"I don't know what I expected. A year's not going to change anything for her."

"What did I tell you?" Hikari demanded, sounding almost impatient. "I told you she was the same as always, but you just had to insist on making sure for yourself. Do you have some sick fascination with it, Taichi? Do you enjoy seeing her insanity progress a little further with every visit?" She spat her words like they were venom.

The young man did not answer; though he knew what his sister said was true. It was sad to witness, yes, but Gatomon's insanity was like a never-ending train wreck. One could hardly just look away.

"And this wasn't even a bad day either," Hikari was muttering, massaging her temples once more and swallowing a few pain pills to dull the headache. "Some days she even talks to him, as if he was in the room with her. God, it's just… I don't know how much longer I can deal with this, Taichi. I don't know how many more years I can take before I go crazy too. When I was younger I sympathized with her, I really did, because I mourned his death too, but… Now it's just painful to watch."

"Haven't you ever tried to talk to her about it, sister?" Taichi asked, frustrated beyond belief.

"I did try once, and I even managed to convince her, but… She fainted from the shock, and after she woke up everything was right with the world once again. After that it just seemed pointless to even try-"

"Try again," said Taichi shortly, his eyes set with determination. "And if it doesn't work, then keep trying. Digimon don't age like humans, you know, but… Twenty years is twenty years, no matter how you look at it. She's wasting away in her fantasy world. Her life is just slipping by while she pretends everything's right and good. Hikari, you have to make her see the truth. You can't let this go on any longer!"

There were tears in Hikari's eyes. "No," she whispered.

"What?"

"I said no!" was her heated response, as tears ran in salty rivulets down her pale face. "Don't you see, Taichi? I can't do it to her! I just can't! Because she's happy. God, can't you see how happy she is!? It would be selfish of me to take her fantasies away from her, Taichi. She deserves to keep them, after a life as tough as hers. No matter how crazed or delusional, no matter how pitiable or sad, Gatomon deserves some kind of happiness. Don't you agree? Don't you? How can you ask me to take Wizardmon away from her for a second time!? It would just be… too cruel…"

Hikari collapsed in the kitchen chair once more, as if her outburst had exerted all her energy. She looked terrible – her face was red and blotchy, her nose was running, and her hair suddenly looked as if it hadn't been combed in weeks. Taichi handed her a tissue, feeling a tad uncomfortable with the situation. How long had it been since he'd last seen his sister cry? His strong, beautiful sister, reduced to a sobbing, hiccupping mess before his very eyes.

'Why is life so sad?' Taichi wondered, thinking of the question she had posed to him earlier. Why was it that nothing ever seemed to work out right? Why the good died young and the innocence of childhood never lasted? Why was it all so terribly unfair?

And as he wondered this, he began to understand why Gatomon had done away with her sanity. Perhaps it was better that way. To be trapped in one's own mind… and one's own paradise. To know nothing but utter bliss and harmony. Taichi couldn't help but wish, if only just a little, that his own life was that beautiful.

"It's alright, Hikari," he heard himself murmuring. "It's alright. I understand. I wouldn't take him away from her either."

She looked up at him through bleary eyes, trying to force her lips into a smile. "Thanks, brother. For understanding. I… I love Gatomon, despite everything that's happened, and… I can't do anything to hurt her."

"It's alright," Taichi repeated solemnly, remembering the white cat's glorious smile as she gazed upon her sapphire ring. "I understand completely."

-x-

He stepped back out in to the rain, feeling significantly heavier than when he had arrived. Knowledge was like a weight sometimes. Realization was like a prison. Comprehension was like a set of iron manacles, keeping one's self chained to the earth with the burden of understanding.

Taichi walked across the deserted parking lot with a heart full of lead. Nothing good ever came out of his visits with Hikari. He should have learned that by now, but he hadn't. She was his only sister, and so he just kept coming back whenever he could, trying to make things right between them, trying to show her that yes, he was still the brother she had loved all those years ago…

"Hey, Taichi!"

He turned and looked up. Gatomon was standing on Hikari's rain-washed balcony, staring down at him with amused blue eyes. They were like beams of pure azure light that cut through the falling raindrops and cast the world in their glow.

"You had better come back soon, you hear?" Gatomon called. "Hikari won't admit it, but she's been really lonely lately. So don't be a stranger!"

"… Yes, of course," Taichi called back. As much as the visits always pained him, he was never able to stay away.

Even from a distance, Taichi could see Gatomon's feline smile, so radiant that the rain seemed to lessen to a light drizzle. "See ya, Taichi!" she exclaimed, waving a paw in his direction.

He lifted his hand to wave in return but something stopped him, catching his eye.

There was someone… something standing behind Gatomon.

It almost looked like… a shadow. But no, no… It wasn't a shadow. It was far too clear and vivid and distinct.

It was a ghost. It had to be a ghost… Or was it? Its edges were blurred in a way, as if it was not of this world, but it still had a defined shape, one that seemed to waver slightly before Taichi's eyes. The young man squinted, trying to make out the features of this hazy apparition, but light rain obscured his view. The ghost stood behind Gatomon like a sentry awaiting its orders, an ethereal guardian angel…

And then the rain stopped falling and Taichi could see everything in perfect detail.

He saw wise eyes of green. He saw hair of gold, falling in casual disarray. He saw elfin, pointed ears. He saw a tattered, rune-marked cloak, a wide-brimmed hat, and gloved hands clutching a staff as bright as the sun which burnt away the last of the wretched rain.

Wizardmon stood behind Gatomon, looking as alive as he had twenty years before.

Taichi was unable to do anything but stare.

It wasn't possible. It simply wasn't possible. How? He had died. They had all seen it happen. But there he was, slightly faded and worn but him all the same, standing by her side as if nothing had ever gone wrong. Perhaps he was not completely alive, but that hardly mattered because he was there, exactly where he was supposed to be. His heart was there, and so was he.

All this time… they had all been so very wrong. He was there. He had been there for years and years. Had they just not looked close enough? Had they overlooked him, inwardly dismissing the possibility without even pondering the notion?

After sixteen years of troubles and heartaches, it all came down to a breaking of the chains. Taichi had thought he understood, when in truth he had known nothing at all. He had thought that he knew all there was to know, when in truth the human mind can only contemplate so much. He – no, all of them – had snubbed her, denouncing her as "insane" and "beyond help." They had stopped visiting. They had pretended that she – like so many other issues that had no immediate solution – was nothing but a bittersweet memory, and they had ignored her plight. Turned from her, when in truth… Well, perhaps they had been the insane ones after all.

Because they hadn't been able to see what was in plain sight.

Taichi locked eyes with Wizardmon – brown met green and some sort of complicated message passed wordlessly between the two. A confirmation. An apology. An acceptance. An explanation. A promise between two lost souls trapped on the path to Hell's fiery gates.

Wizardmon inclined his head slightly – the barest of nods, but a nod all the same.

And Taichi felt free.

There were hot tears on his cheeks. He was a man, not a child. He wasn't supposed to cry. But these were not tears of sorrow; they were tears of hope, because he had just seen a miracle.

He had just witnessed something beautiful: a love eternal, one that transcended the boundaries of life and death. He had forgotten that such a love could exist in a foul, dirty world like theirs; a delicate rose amongst the charred remains of a burnt, diseased garden. He had forgotten that love in of itself was one of the greatest miracles of all.

His heart light, Taichi finally lifted his hand and returned Gatomon's cheerful wave. Through the tears his lips were smiling, his eyes were smiling, and his soul was smiling too, and for the first time in God-knows-how-long he was completely and totally happy. It was a liberating feeling, this happiness. He savored it like a fine wine, fearing that it was too good to be true.

Taichi watched in a kind of reverent awe as Gatomon turned to Wizardmon. He held out his hand, his ghostly form shimmering a bit before righting itself once more, and she took it with a catlike grin. They turned and walked inside without a backwards glance, side by side, connected for eternity by a bond that could never be broken.

Nothing was perfect, life wasn't simple, dreams were broken easily, and love was full of sorrow. Taichi thought all of this quite matter-of-factly as he stood in the dreary parking lot.

But then again… Somewhere along the line, amongst all the regret and anger and remorse for decisions poorly made, there is sure to be something that makes it all worth it. A special person. A seventh heaven. A single, wondrous day.

All we can do is hope that these little miracles are enough, and that eventually our lives will grow and take root to become roses amongst the ashes of our cruel, unforgiving world.

Taichi closed his eyes, and looked towards the light.