Disclaimer: I do not own Digimon. Toei Animation does.

Game Over

Matt feels Tai's arms envelop him and leans into the embrace clutching desperately at the proffered forgiveness as if it is a lifeline that will save him from dying. A floodgate of emotions breaks open within: anxiety, stress and guilt all rolled into one comes poring out through the tears that flow from his eyes.

He knows. Tai knows that they know and he doesn't hate or hold him responsible for the pain he has suffered, doesn't blame him for his fall off the cliff, and Matt nearly buckles under this profound revelation because, god, he doesn't deserve it.

Tai's alright. His best friend is back, not some stranger wearing his appearance. He's back, whole and in one piece, his memories intact, his eyes no longer clouded by forgetfulness. Here in front of him is the person who time and time again had punched sense into him when he had fallen sway to his own doubts and irrational fears, who had believed in him when he had not been able to believe in himself, and whom he had fought alongside with against the forces of evil on so many adventures. He's returned and together they will battle this new foe and vanquish it, and everything will be back to normal once more.

Then Sora shifts beside him in their three-way embrace.

Matt jerks as if he's been stung and stares at his friend, struggling to find words, any words, to say something, but all he manages to croak out is "Tai, I…" before his voice catches and dies in his throat.

And a loud hissing sound fills the air, resembling somewhat the noise of a gas leak, they look upwards to see Miasmamon rippling, expanding its dark mass, purplish mist pooling about its edges.

"Later," Tai says to him with narrowed eyes as he gazes at this creature that seems to follow the Digidestined like a plague. "Let's figure out how to get rid of this thing first."

Matt nods reluctantly, as all three pull free from the encirclement.

"What have we got on this guy so far?" Tai asks.

"Nothing much, just its name: Miasmamon," Izzy states, bringing him up to speed. "Oh, and apparently, none of our digimons' attacks work on it."

"So, if we're basically sitting ducks out here then why isn't trying to get past them to us?" Tai questions, pointing to Stingmon, Angewomon, and Pegasusmon, who are hovering in the sky as a blockade against their nemesis.

Beyond them, Miasmamon waits, its black tendrils flicking out like hundreds of snakes' tongues in a lazy fashion.

"Maybe it's because WarGreymon showed up?" Cody ventures. "He is a Mega after all."

"That can't be the reason," Izzy says, shaking his head. "It attacked us last time regardless of WarGreymon's presence."

"Yeah, but WarGreymon got knocked out of the fight pretty early on due to… uh, well…" Davis trails off, looking abashed.

"MetalGarurumon and Imperialdramon were there too and their presence didn't seem to frighten it off either," Matt says, swerving the topic away from the direction it is heading. If it is possible, he never wants to think about that horrible incident again.

"Well, we'll never know if they could have defeated it by sheer power since it just turned tail and fled after…" this time it is Izzy who does not finish his sentence, and fidgets with his top collar button awkwardly, before continuing, "In any case, I think it would be a futile effort and a waste of energy if we have our digimon digivolve into their highest forms until we have assessed this situation and exploited Miasmamon's weakness."

"Sounds great," Tai says dryly. "Any idea of what that may be?"

"Unfortunately, no."

"Kari, you made Miasmamon release you with that pink light," T.K. speaks up suddenly. "That light—it sort of looked like back when we had our Crests and they glowed when we tapped into their power. What happened?"

"I didn't want revenge anymore," Kari says, thinking back. "I didn't want to fight. When I saw Tai… I don't know—something was different inside me. It was as if a heavy weight was lifted. I'm sorry, I can't really explain it."

"Negative emotion," says a voice hoarsely and everyone turns to see Yolei helping Ken, finally haven emerged to the waking world, to stand upright on shaky legs, his face a chalky white.

"It feeds on negative emotion," he explains. "That's why our attacks didn't work on it last time and why they still don't now. Too much negative emotion—that's what attracted it to us in the first place and what makes it grow strong. That's why it left before, so we could come back with volatile energy running high. Its entire existence depends on thriving off negative emotion: Miasmamon."

"Oh, god, I'm so blind!" Izzy exclaims abruptly, his features twisted up in a chagrined grimace. "Miasma… why didn't I see the connection before?"

"Miasma actually stands for something?" Davis asks blinking quizzically.

"The word is Greek," Izzy expounds. "It means pollution. In ancient times, it was believed to be a poisoned vapor made up of decomposed matter that caused illnesses like cholera and the Black Death, but was later proven false by the discovery of bacteria and—"

"Izzy, please skip the history lesson and get to the point," Tai says through gritted teeth.

"Right," Izzy coughs. "Well, the theory of diseases may have been wrong, but this myth having spanned the course of so many centuries transformed into the idea that it was still a toxic discharge at least metaphorically, so modern-day society and culture identifies it as negative emotion and often depicts it as a cloud of a black mist-like substance."

"If you allow its darkness to overtake you, you are only giving it more strength," Ken finishes.

Darkness…why is this sounding so familiar to Matt?

"It reminds me of that time you were trapped in the cave, Matt," Gabumon says, following the same train of thought as his partner. "It has the same aura as it did then only much more potent."

Yes, of course. The darkness in his heart that had almost completely enveloped him because he had not felt worthy enough to be a Digidestined, to be the bearer of Friendship, to have friends and treat them so cruelly the way he had. The same darkness that had ensnared Sora because she had been so overwhelmed at the burden of saving two worlds, and she had felt she wasn't strong enough for the task.

But… the darkness then hadn't been able to use attacks of green fire and red droplets of destruction. It hadn't even been a digimon then. So how…

"Things evolve here," Izzy muses out loud. "If digimon are reflections of the real world based on human ideas and concepts, then it is entirely possible for miasma to creep into the Digital World and slowly over time, transform into a digimon. That must be the origin of Miasmamon's creation."

"Can you see it?" Ken whispers in a detached tone of voice, staring transfixed out past the cliff walls towards the vast body of water below. "Can you see the ocean?"

The way he says it, in that mesmerized manner gives the others pause long enough to do a double take, trying hard to see what his eyes are beholding.

Kari stifles a startled cry a mere second later and T.K. wraps a protective arm around her shoulders, his own face paling as it becomes visible to him as well.

Slowly, one by one, the Digidestined see it come into focus: the serene blue of the sea, reflecting the colors of twilight, the moon and the stars glittering upon its surface; they disappear and are replaced with murky black water, its waves crashing tremulously, and a stormy-grey overcast sky in the background.

The Dark Ocean. Matt only knows about it from the younger kids' tales, how it is one of the parallel dimensions running alongside the Digital World. They still haven't figured out what exactly its purpose is, but they do know that it is a dark and foreboding world of evil, and occasionally those with bright souls are sucked into it, like Ken, Kari and T.K.

Does Miasmamon originate from there or has its noxious atmosphere grown strong enough to unlock a gateway to it?

But there's no more time to contemplate or discuss anymore, because now Miasmamon at long last releases its attack in a shower of blood-like raindrops down upon them and there is nothing to do but scatter and try not to get hit.

The ground is cracking beneath Matt's feet and smoke and heat billows up from the craters left behind threatening to split the cliff into two, and a wild fear seizes him because he has lost sight of Tai and the image of him falling through empty space flashes through his mind with alarming speed. He yells his name in a panicked clamor and coughs as clouds of dust clog in his throat. Then the smoke clears for instant and he sees him a few feet away. He lunges forward and grabs him by the arm and Tai whirls on this new assailant only stopping his retaliation when he sees it is Matt.

"Don't go near the edge," Matt says pleadingly, his voice suspiciously husky.

Tai takes in his friend's pinched, overwrought expression, at the way his arm is being held in a clamp-like grip by trembling hands, and nods.

They can't see the others through the thick smokescreen from the explosions, debris is flinging up shards of rock and gravel everywhere, and turbulent air swirls around them in a maelstrom. Throughout the chaos, they can hear their digimon engage in battle and Miasmamon emits what sounds like a long, deep-sighing exhale like that of a person's dying breath.

Neon yellowish-green flames flare up in towering columns that dance vividly across their eyes, slicing through the sheets of smoke that obscure their vision and the wave of scorching heat that emits from the fires forces them backwards and to the ground gasping for air.

oOo

Acrid, black smoke obscures her vision and claws its way down her throat setting her lungs on fire, and Sora's eyes water at the intensity of the torrid air. She struggles to breathe and nearly gags at the overpowering odor of putrid rot and decay the green flames send out as they lick and burn hungrily towards her. She staggers backwards, nearly stumbling into a gaping crater and the red raindrops still shower down about her like blood, and her ears ring from the brutal assault of the explosions.

She can't see anyone, isn't sure if they have survived the sudden onslaught, and her heart beats wildly in her ribcage as she dimly spots two crouching figures through the heavy veil of smoke and recognizes them. She rushes forward before they are lost to her sight again and throws herself down beside them.

"Sora!" they exclaim together and she grabs both of their hands so they won't be separated again.

"If either of you have a plan now would be a good time to execute it!" she yells in an effort to be heard over the raucous din storming around them.

"I can't even hear myself think let alone try and whip up some half-baked strategy!" Tai shouts.

"Well, if we don't think of something fast, we'll all be half-baked!" Matt cries.

Miasmamon roars overhead triumphantly and it sounds like the winds of a hurricane wreaking havoc in its path.

"Agh, have I mentioned how much I hate that thing? It's really getting on my nerves!" Tai declares.

Hate.

"If you allow its darkness to overtake you, you are only giving it more strength."

Himself, feeling alone, so worthless…

Afraid.

"That's what it does, doesn't it?" Tai murmurs, a glimmer of understanding starting to shine through.

"What?" Matt says.

"It preys on your mind and uses your thoughts against you. All your dark secrets and fears you never let into the open. It makes you feel scared and lost and alone. It feeds on these emotions and then you feel empty, but no matter how much it feeds, it's never satisfied. It let us go…" Tai trails off, the wheels in his mind frantically turning.

"That's why it left before, so we could come back with volatile energy running high."

Connect the dots.

Find the hidden key.

Figure out a way to defeat their enemy.

"Too much negative emotion—that's what attracted it to us in the first place…"

Is that the only contributing factor?

What had they been doing that day it first attacked them?

Picnicking on the shore, taking a vacation, building sand-castles, swimming, splashing in the surf, laughing, playing, having fun… being alive.

Miasmamon had originally just been darkness in its barest form.

"Things evolve here."

Had the darkness evolved into a digimon to become stronger or had it been a way to become more real, a firmer substance: a breathing, living creature?

It wanted… to live? Tai thinks, the gears in his head grinding to a halt as he realizes. It wanted to live.

"It isn't just attracted to negative emotions," Tai explains. "It's jealous of what we are."

"What are we?" Sora asks.

"Alive," Tai says, feeling the warmth of his friends' hands interlaced with his own. "Capable of feeling—the good emotions as well as the bad."

"Its entire existence depends on thriving off negative emotion."

It hates them. The darkness hates them because they are living proof of its unfulfilled desire that would never come true. Miasmamon had wanted to live.

Being consumed by negative emotions every waking moment isn't living at all.

In his amnesic state, there hadn't been one instance where Tai had been truly happy. He had felt caged and frightened and angry when he couldn't remember or understand things he should have. Coming out of it, hadn't been particularly pleasant experience for him either when he had remembered.

Living is painful. Living can be cruel and unfair.

Living only for oneself will make you slowly go insane over time.

Living takes more than one person to do.

Living can bring happiness as well as long as there is someone to share it with.

"This isn't our digimons' fight," Tai says. "That's why their attacks are ineffective. Humans created the myth about miasma and what it's comprised of and the notion of it was so real, it filtered into the Digital World and transformed into the very thing we imagined it to be. We allowed it to become this strong. We're the ones who have to defeat it. We're the only ones who can."

"You expect us to fight a digimon by ourselves and win?" Sora inquires incredulously, wondering if perhaps Tai's brain is still a little scrambled from the amnesia.

"I don't mean a physical retaliation. If Miasmamon has formed some sort of symbiosis to our negative emotions, then we're going to have to get rid of them in order to destroy the real problem—what?" Tai asks because Matt and Sora are eyeing him like he has grown another head suddenly.

"You know what symbiosis is but not a semi-conductor?" Matt questions.

"I can't believe your plan actually sounds plausible," Sora states.

"Four-month amnesic here!" Tai cries, pointing at himself in defense, feeling the tips of his ears burn. "I spent way too much time buried in my textbooks—it's sort of scary and exhilarating having all that information jam-packed in your head ready to be pulled up at a moment's notice with ease though. I wonder if this is how Izzy feels all the time: power-drunk on knowledge."

For a few seconds, there is no battle raging about them, no hurts lost between them. They are just three friends again, exchanging ribbing banter back and forth. It is a familiar, welcoming feeling that wraps around them like a warm blanket of security shutting out time and all other intrusions and they bask in the presence of unconditional acceptance, loyalty, and affection so that everything else is forgotten.

Then Miasmamon swoops down upon them through the billowing columns of smoke and green fire in a roaring fury and there is no longer any place for them to hide.

It strikes out at its targets sitting defenselessly on the ground with dozens of snapping black tendrils like whips unfurled and comes crashing down upon barrier of light that springs up suddenly about them in the air. They can see it condensed, solidified: crisscrossed beams of glowing orange, blue, and red lights stretching into a spherical, spider-web encasing them in its protective shield.

They watch astounded as it holds up against the blackness that is Miasmamon as it pounds furiously—futilely—down upon it, and slice through the dark tendrils into a thousand fragmented pieces, scattering them from the main body of their incorporeal form to the winds where they dissolve like grains of black dust.

Miasmamon pulls backward sharply as if to lick its injured wounds and the air fairly hums with a coiled, tense energy. Tai can feel it through the barrier of light—perhaps it has heightened their senses—Miasmamon's confusion and frustration at this new obstruction. It surges around them, hitting them suddenly with a wave of fear and pain that is not their own and it pelts viciously against the shield like acid rain intent on eroding the very fabric of their fortification.

They can only watch helplessly as thin, hairline fractures slowly manifest in the glowing beams of the web and Tai knows it can not hold out forever: this shield the three of them have involuntarily erected out of courage, friendship and love for each other. The orange, blue and red lights began fading as the barrier threatens to unravel… then other streamers of light streaked out from all directions to join theirs: yellow, purple, green, pink, fuchsia, different shades of every color melding together to form a iridescent rainbow that seems to stretch endlessly in a brilliant radiance.

One by one, the rest of the Digidestined emerge from the screen of smoke to stand alongside Tai, Matt and Sora, guilt having been replaced with determination. It is like they are part of one vast consciousness, one part of a collective connection and a feeling like fire sings in their veins and their minds. A righteous fire burning with resolve and it pours out of them strengthening the barrier shimmering in front of them like the Aurora Borealis until it stands firm, immovable, and all-encompassing, and they can no longer feel the effects of Miasmamon's toxic projections brushing over them like suffocating mud.

There is a moment of surprise as Miasmamon realizes it is effectively cut off from the source where it is drawing its power and hovers in a pool of black mist as if startled. Then it hammers down upon the rainbow shield in a falling sheet of darkness in a way that spoke of panic and desperation as it struggled to gain back the hold—the touch—it possessed on its prey.

But there is nothing now. Not a smidgeon of negative emotions that had been there before, just a strange, warm caressing energy that it does not understand, and Miasmamon writhes with keening sense of loss as well as anger.

The setting beyond the cliff wall looks distorted—like someone has cut out the background and replaced it with another that does not match. There is a gaping hole in the sky and the world of the Dark Ocean beckons longingly to them as the gateway threatens to implode now that the negative energy that fueled it to open have been nullified.

Now their digimon strike. Together as one unit they launch lightning-like attacks, blow after violent blow in a synchronized team effort that promises swift annihilation unless their foe chooses not to evade, and Miasmamon is driven backwards, a madly writhing, wraithlike dark mass that they maintain a safe distance from, giving it the same kind of leery respect one would to a leech they had just yanked themselves free from.

Miasmamon is frantic now—it lashes out with its coils trying to reach for the faintest hint of negative emotion… and finds only the same blank void as before. The rainbow barrier of light is blocking its mental assaults and the digimon are blocking its physical approach. It is so very hungry and there is nothing but the yawning chasm of darkness behind it, and it does not want to there because it will be so alone, alone, alone…

Tai watches the Dark Ocean welcome Miasmamon eagerly into the archway of its jaws, hears the wretched creature emit a shriek of rage and fear for one last time before being swallowed up whole, the dimension winking out of existence until something draws its attention again.

He almost feels sorry for Miasmamon. Almost.

The air inside the rainbow barrier twinkles in a kaleidoscope of colors like light reflecting off a pile of jewels. Here is the missing piece of his life that had been felt even when he couldn't remember. Whatever might happen in the future, wherever the path his feet might tread on, here is the moment that will carry him through, here in this all-encompassing shield of unity, compassion, and friendship.

oOo

They decide to spend the night in the Digital World. It is late, their parents think they are having an overnight study session anyway, and they are high-strung and drunk on the delicious taste of victory, and there is four months of catching up to do.

Matt wants to talk to Tai alone but he finds no ample opportunity to do so, not with his friend being swamped by everyone else with a barrage of endless questions, which only comes to a halt when Tai sneezes in between breaths of an explanation and Kari asks worriedly if he is sick.

"Don't be silly, I may get beat up and injured, but never sick!" Tai declares stoutly.

Before sneezing again.

Three times in a row.

Violently.

And returns everyone's astonished gaze with a mirror image, the only exception being the small trail of leakage that dribbled out from his nose.

Tai finds himself draped in several jackets, pushed on the ground in front of the fire, and Joe pressing him for answers before his time to blink.

It doesn't take long for him to determine what has brought this sudden cold on.

"You were out in the rain for how long before the weather here dried you off?" Joe asks, his brow furrowing in disapproval.

"I don't know. I wasn't completely lucid at the time then," Tai says somewhat annoyed at his current predicament of being treated like an invalid. "How far away is the soccer field from my place by foot anyway?"

"You came to the Digital World from the soccer field?" Izzy asks his interest piqued. "So there is a rogue gate there. That's never a good thing."

"We can worry about that later," Joe says, rummaging in the supply bag he had brought along while mumbling to himself. "We get attacked by a dark digimon, nearly suffocate from the smoke and stench, almost burned and turned into ash by its flames, have to run to avoid the earth collapsing beneath our feet, and I have to use this for someone whose cold was brought on by a stroll through the rain. In their pajamas."

"These aren't pajamas!" Tai protests flushing red. "These are just clothes I wear around home!"

"You're wearing our house slippers!" Kari exclaims in surprise, noticing for the first time.

"Oh sure, let's be nitpicky now," Tai grumbles.

"Here, Tai, drink this," Joe orders, holding out a cup filled with a thick, pungent-smelling, red liquid. "I don't think your cold's too serious, but let's deal with it while it's in the early stages before it gets worse."

"Is that cherry-flavored? That's the worst-tasting kind ever," Tai states, curling up his lip in disgust. "Besides, I'm fine. There's no need to—"

"Drink the medicine!" Kari screams, pushing her face up closely against her brothers in a sound rebuke.

Tai stares wide-eyed at her for one second, before grabbing the proffered cup, downing it in one gulp, then makes a strangled gurgling sound and clutches at his throat, toppling over sideways.

"Rosebud," he croaks pitifully and his sister pounces on him shrieking that that wasn't funny in the slightest.

"Not the hair!" Tai yelps as Kari grabs several thick tufts of his bushy locks.

Matt smiles and decides to sit back and simply be glad that Tai is back with them at last. He can talk to him tomorrow.

"Who's up for a game of cards?" Davis cries waving a pack.

"Anything but Go Fish," Yolei says grimacing.

They play a variety of games that last long into the night and fun teaching their digimon the different rules for each one and voice opinions on what exactly the rainbow barrier was composed of and whether or not it is possible to summon forth again or if it was a one time thing, but the urge to sleep is too heavy to resist and one by one the Digidestined succumb to it until finally only Tai and Kari are left awake.

"Tai," Kari says anxiously, shaking her brother as his head bobs in exhaustion. "Let's play another game of Slapjack, please."

"Mmm?" Tai mumbles blinking drowsily.

"Or we could play Egyptian Ratscrew," Kari suggests hastily. "Or—"

"Kari," Tai interrupts, smiling in tiredness and understanding, his eyes heavy-lidded. "I won't have forgotten everything when I wake up, I promise."

Kari nods, not entirely convinced and watches her brother give an enormous yawn, stretch his arms over his head and flop to the ground, curling around Agumon who had long ago drifted off beside him, his eyelids closing shut.

"Hey, Kari," he murmurs, teetering on the abyss of sleep. "Don't think of yourself as weak, you're not. You're one of the strongest persons I know."

In a few seconds, he is snoring lightly.

A hidden patch of icy fear and guilt that she has towed around with her for as long as can recall slowly begins to thaw. Scooting over, she uses Agumon as a cushion for her back, and places her brother's head in her lap, standing guard for as long as she is able to keep her eyes open before slipping off into a deep sleep, lulled by the crackling song of the campfire.

oOo

Sora isn't sure what has awakened her. It is dark, still nighttime, and she rubs her eyes confused, looking around. The bushes rustle on the far side of the campsite and a shadow glides into the fire's light suddenly and she stifles a startles scream.

"Tai?" she says, recognizing the profile.

"Sorry, Sora. Didn't mean to frighten you," Tai says, squatting down in front of the fire. "Did I wake you up?"

"No, yes—I…" Sora stumbles over her words, her thoughts still fuzzy from sleep. "What are you doing up so late?"

"Ah, call of nature," Tai says, the glow of the fire casting crimson shades upon his face.

"Oh," Sora says feeling embarrassed, and then fidgets with the hem of her shirt. "Tai, could we—could we talk…"

A few feet away Davis mutters something in his sleep about licorice noodle soup and flings one arm out; Yolei, who is not lying nearly far enough away, gets smacked right across the face. The girl scrunches up her mouth in a scowl as if she has a built-in Davis-radar and kicks out, sending the boy rolling over on top of Veemon. A satisfied smile spreads across Yolei's features and all three continue to sleep on oblivious.

"Further away," Tai suggests pointing to the clearing near the plateau and Sora nods.

The moon overhead shines down upon them and a strained silence stretches between them until Sora breaks it.

"Matt says you fell because… that he didn't reach you in time because…" Sora pauses, fiddling with a strand of her coppery-brown hair nervously and her eyes darting sideway glances at her companion, before continuing. "He said you liked me. Is that true?"

"No," Tai says, short and brusquely and Sora isn't sure what the strange sinking sensation in her stomach means.

"No," Tai repeats, shaking his head. "Not liked, I still do."

It is so quiet that Sora can hear the blood marching madly in her ears and wonders if Tai has noticed her irregular heartbeat.

"That day at Matt's concert… I was going to tell you," Tai confesses, purposefully avoiding her gaze. "I have really bad timing and poor observations skills, don't I?"

"How long?" Sora asks, her voice coming out gruff and gravely.

"What?" Tai asks, looking up to meet her enraged expression.

"How long have you felt this way about me?" Sora demands, emotions she thought long gone and buried rising up within her and something hot and painful burns in her chest.

"I've liked you ever since I've known you," Tai admits. "I just didn't sort out my feelings until it was too late."

Sora's hands are clenched into fists at her side. "You should have said something," she accuses bitterly. "You should have said anything, anything but 'Oh, okay, that's great'!"

Tai stares at her, something flickering in the depths of his brown eyes as he tries to unravel the meaning behind her words.

"I like you too. I always have. Stupid Tai!" Sora all but screams at him and turns away quickly before he can see the tears threatening to fall.

Tai is quiet behind her and she can't see his face. She can't read his expression, and she doesn't know why she is so angry. She should be apologizing for indirectly causing him to fall off that accursed cliff not yelling at him, but she can't help herself. It's always been that way between them anyway. Tai does something stupid and she chews him out. Why should this be any different?

"Can I ask you something, Sora?" Tai says, his voice irritatingly calm. "If that's the case… why were you able to confess to Matt that you liked him but not to me? Why only now?"

Sora gasps, feeling like someone has thrust a dagger straight into her heart and twisted it cruelly. She whirls around but Tai's face is completely void of any expression.

"How could you ask that?" she whispers, but her mind is racing.

Why? Why had she been able to tell Matt she liked him but had never had found the courage to do the same to the boy who had been her crush for so long before? Had it been because she had matured and moved on? Had it been some sort of subtle revenge against him for blowing up at her when she had started to dress and act "girly" and for him calling her a traitor when she had chosen tennis over soccer? Had she done it to get a rise out of Tai, some sign that he was jealous, didn't approve, that he cared for her more beyond friendship? Had she just been afraid she would be rejected and so had settled for second best, for someone she knew liked her back?

No, that is a horrible thing to think. Matt isn't second best. He is wonderful, kind, and understanding. He makes her feel safe and warm.

So does Tai.

Why were you able to confess to Matt that you liked him but not to me?

"I don't know!" she cries her voice breaking, burying her face in her hands as her tears spill forth freely.

Her shoulders hitch in time with her sobs and she doesn't hear Tai's approach until he is right in front of her and draws her close. He's grown taller. She remembers a time when they both used to be equal in height, but now her head fits under the crook of his neck effortlessly and her cheek presses against his chest, as he rubs soothing hands over her back trying to ease the quivers.

"I don't know how much good it will do now," he says and she feels the warm puff of his breath against her forehead. "But thank you. Thank you for liking me. It helps."

She doesn't look up because she knows if she does the temptation to kiss him will be too much to resist.

"I'm sorry," she breathes and she can't be certain exactly what she is apologizing for or if it is for one or a multitude of things.

But Tai doesn't demand an answer or press any further and continues to hold her in his arms, reaching one hand up to cup her face gently, thumbing the curve of her cheek and wiping away the tears that transpire down it.

And only the night bears witness to this, the moon bathing them in a silvery glow under the watchful eyes of a thousand, glittering stars.

oOo

It is early morning when Matt awakes. The first thing he sees when he opens his eyes is the pale-blue of night fade away and the sky lightening to a soft grey. The morning mist still lingers low on the ground and the forest is filled with sleepy twitters of its inhabitants as they rouse into wakefulness.

He glances about at the rest of the Digidestined, spread out around the dying fire, now nothing more than a pile of glowing coals, still ensnared by the throes of sleep and starts when he notices that Tai is missing. Kari is slumped over a snoozing Agumon blissfully oblivious; Gatomon is draped over her partner's shoulders like an elegant fur scarf and her tail hangs and twitches in a feline fashion as she dreams. But of Tai there is no sign.

Matt is on his feet in an instant, his eyes darting around searching. He breathes a sigh of relief when he sees his friend standing in the clearing gazing out towards the sea, but retaining a safe distance from the edge of the plateau. The sun slowly crests over the horizon, painting the sky pink, dyeing the ocean a bright orange and illuminating Tai's profile with an outline of gold from its rays.

Now is as good a time as any for them both to get what needs to be said out in the open before everyone else wakes up. So with a pounding heart, Matt makes his way over to him.

Sensing his approach, Tai straightens and turns. "Morning, Matt," he greets smiling.

Matt falters in step before slipping next to him and together they stand in silence watching the dawn break until Matt can't bear keeping it in another moment longer.

"Tai, I'm sorry—"

"What are you apologizing for, Matt?" Tai asks, his arms crossed and tone completely neutral. "It was Sora's decision."

"But I… I didn't realize…"

"And if you had? What difference would that have made? You telling me you would have turned her down for my sake?" Tai laughs jokingly.

Matt says nothing and Tai's smile wavers.

"That's—that's… I bet you think that's really noble, don't you?" Tai spits out, anger flaring across his face. "I don't need your pity, Matt!"

Matt can't think of anything else to say and that may be a good thing since Tai's hands have clenched themselves into tight fists and he almost wishes Tai would slug him and they could duke this whole mess out in their usual manner, but there are some things that fighting can not solve.

"I want to hate you, you know," Tai admits. "I want to hate Sora. I want to hate both of you. It would make things so much easier. But that would be like trying to hate a tsunami that's already blown into your life and destroyed everything. It's done with it. I'll get over it… eventually."

"We didn't mean to hurt you, Tai," Matt whispers.

Tai turns towards him and anger melts from his expression, replaced by one of painful acceptance. "I know," he says.

There is a long pause and Matt stares at Tai's hunched shoulders and bowed head, at the way he shifts all his weight onto his left leg, his uninjured leg…

"I'm sorry I didn't reach you in time," he blurts out and he hopes that Tai will hate him for that incident at least, because he feels like he should be at fault for something.

Tai blinks and takes a moment to figure out what he means. "Please tell me you haven't been blaming yourself for that for four months!" he exclaims.

Matt still stretches out with one hand but all it can grasp now is emptiness…

Tai lies motionless on the ground so very far below, a tiny rag-doll of a figure, limbs spread out at unnatural angles and a puddle of red liquid pooling around his head…

Tai lying so deathly still on the hospital bed…

Tai's vacant, expressionless eyes…

His best friend doesn't know his own name or even recognize his sister…

"You almost died because of me," Matt chokes, his voice cracking in half. "How can I not blame myself?"

"No… no, it was my fault," Tai waves aside, claiming the responsibility. "I froze up. It was stupid. I got what I deserved."

Tai sounds like he is talking about more than just his fall.

All traces of guilt flee from Matt and old irritation that only Tai knows how to spark ignites within him. Seizing his friend's shoulders, he spins him around to face him and shakes him angrily.

"Dammit, Tai!" he curses loudly. "You didn't deserve that! You didn't deserve any of this! God, why do you make things so difficult? You—you—!"

"Wow, Matt, I think that's the first time I've seen you so darn mad in months!" Tai states in surprise, a familiar lopsided grin slowly spreading itself across his face. "You gonna stop acting like a martyr now?"

Matt gapes at his friend and it dawns on him that he has just been played for the umpteenth time and fallen for it, and sputters incoherently in indignation. Then Tai is laughing at him and Matt has given him a mighty shove to the ground without thinking and has turned his back on him in disgust.

"Oh, now you're sulking! That's rich!" Tai calls out laughing himself hoarse until he is out of breath—hysterical, demented laughter—and then falls suspiciously quiet.

Matt turns around and looks at his friend lying on the ground, at Tai's heaving chest as he draws in huge gulps of air, at the moisture collecting in the corners of his eyes… and flops down beside him.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," he repeats in a faint echo of earlier.

A brisk wind brushes past them over the cliff and speeds out to sea, sending waves crashing it its wake. Footsteps tread lightly upon the ground behind them and a figure with coppery-brown hair seats herself quietly on Tai's other side.

Matt stares at Sora over Tai's head with searching eyes. She graces him with a beautiful smile, her eyes shining warmly. He hasn't really talked to her since yesterday in the real world and their conversation had been interrupted by the Kari's abrupt flight to the Digital World and Miasmamon. Now Tai has his memories back and all three of them are aware of this triangle they find themselves hopelessly ensnared in, and Matt isn't sure which way the strings binding them together are going to be cut.

Matt still stretches out with one hand but all it can grasp now is emptiness…

And he wonders if the outcome would have been the same if he had only tried to reach out a bit further.

There's a cool touch on his hand suddenly and fingertips sliding underneath the palm—the barest brush of a thumb against his knuckles—and Matt looks down to see Tai's hand has clasped itself firmly in his own.

"You've reached me in time," Tai says quietly, his face a picture of peace.

Matt swallows back the lump in his throat and curls his fingers around his friend's in a tight grip, seeing Sora slip her own into Tai's other hand.

This time if Tai falls, he won't fall alone.

A raw, half-healed wound in three hearts slowly begins to mend its whole.

And together they watch the sunrise.

The End

A/N: Yes, I made the ending ambiguous! *gasp* Like I stated in chapter five, this is a friendship fic, not romance. It's not about who gets the girl—that's just the catalyst. It's about secret hurts, hidden fears, regrets, confronting your cowardice and weakness, and finding the strength within yourself to overcome the obstacle in your path to moving forward in life.

If you must blame anything on waiting so long for the last installment… *points accusing finger at Miasmamon* It was all that thing's fault! It just wouldn't die! I had the beginning and end scenes all written out eons ago and the middle just sat there unfinished taunting me. I won't deny that battle scenes aren't my specialty so I have no delusions it was anything epic. I decided the fic must go on though; the readers deserve it, so I hoped the internal emotional struggle I tried so hard to portray was more than enough compensation for shoddy fight scenarios. (Just remember, nothing remains in the Dark Ocean for long, even if canon-wise this is never proved. I just get that vibe, don't you?)

Reasons Why I Decided To Write This Fic:

No doubt some of you have this before, but I'll share it again. First of all, I've had this tale in my head for so long, it's a relief to finally get it out and share it with others. Word of advice: when you want to read something and can't find it, write it yourself! See, I've always been miffed that season 02 never really resolved some issues between the kids. It must have been uncomfortable for Ken to be around Tai at first when he had captured Agumon and forced him to digivolve into SkullGreymon. They never showed what events made Sora and Matt become close enough to start dating, only the scenes afterwards when they are already a couple, and they never tell or show how this affects their and Tai's relationship. The directors merely assumed the audience would take their cake and eat it without pondering on how the ingredients mixed together.

One thing I did enjoy about season 02 is the episode where Kari is drawn into the Dark Ocean's world and how insecure and weak she feels and it's the closest TK comes to expressing his feelings for her. I also liked the episode where it shows Ken's back story and his path to how he became who he was. I wish more episodes where they portray character-developments and insights so deeply had been made.

There is a big difference between Seasons 01 and 02 in Digimon. 02 is much more about adventures and fighting, whereas 01 was really heavy on characterization, growth, and friendship. I guess a big part of that was because they were stuck in the Digiworld in the first season so they had to constantly deal with each other and survive on a daily basis together. In 02, it was basically: school, save the day, go home, save the night and hang out, go to sleep. So there wasn't much room for it. I guess since the 02'ers weren't stuck in the Digital World for so long, there was no need to "deal" with each other, and this turned out to be a very large handicap for the younger kids later on. The 01 crowd is a more tightly-knit group of friends due to this, plain, simple and true

I hope you have enjoyed this fic as much as I have had writing it! Yeesh, I go on unwilling-hiatus for a month and the hits go over 3000! Lookit the fav and alert list! *froths at the mouth in pleasure* Now that it is finally completely over, I hope everyone who can actually submit reviews on the whole now. I know some people have trouble expressing their opinion unless the fic is finished. I'd like to hear from everyone! A fanfic author gets paid only in feedback, don't forget. And that's a wrap, folks!

Update! I have written a short omake (unofficial side story/ending) to this fic if anyone is interested in reading it. The link to it should be the first one in my profile if you want to check it out.