Promise

He made a promise to himself to move on. Only, it didn't work out that way. Kouji's POV

Kouji M & Satomi M

Rating: K+

Genre/s: Family


Before I went to the Digital World, I had made a promise to only call my step-mum 'Mum.' Reading that, you'd probably jump to the conclusion that my father asked, or forced, me to make that promise.

Bluntly put, that's not true. Sure Dad wanted me to accept Satomi as a part of the family, to be nice to her and not push her away as my previous frost attitude attempted to do, building a glacier around my safe haven...which had at some point slowly but surely begun to melt, showing off the new budlings sprouting underneath, little stems sparkling as light bounced off the water droplets that had once been their prison and their reprieve. But he knew he couldn't expect me the instantly warm to the idea; even a small ice cube takes time to melt, even if you put it in a furnace. Change isn't instantaneous...at least, not that kind of change.

It's not like we had the best father-son relationship ourselves. Being a single parent in any circumstance is difficult, but I never truly understood nor appreciated it until I looked back at my childhood.

My father wasn't the picture-perfect Dad, but that was no less than expected. The earlier memories are a blur; do you remember what you did when you were two or three save the embarrassing stories some parents or older siblings like to recount to see what they call a 'cute' blush form on your face? Yeah, I didn't think so. But later, as I grew to about six or seven, things remained perpetually the same, so I doubt there was much of a change.

Dad worked as a lawyer in a government-centred firm. It wasn't as glamorous as it sounded, but bankrupt businesses and scandals within the public sect of the Tokyo-division tended to keep him away from more personal involvement with family and friends. He was good, but not the best, so there were times when he would lose a case and mope. And like most adults without a wife (and perhaps even some with one), he would drown a few too many glasses of sake and sleep his way through the night.

In between that and school on my part, he would spend time with me. On Sundays, when he didn't have a case to work on, we'd go out to the seaside and spend the day on the shore, fishing, relaxing, and catching up on the week. It was one of those father-son rituals we enjoyed, though they grew scarcer when we moved from our initial house an hour from the coast.

We moved around a lot after I turned four. I don't think I finished a full year at any school before we had to leave again. It was all a part of my father's job, but it made it hard for the both to settle anywhere. At least Dad had his team; any friends I made were lost when we moved again. I guess somewhere down the track, I gave up on trying. I kept to myself, taking up a mask and building a fort to hide behind...because that was all I was doing: hiding. And through that, I became rather bitter. But at the time, I never noticed. All I noticed was my father's flaws: staying out late while leaving his son at home, the constant shifts that no doubt affected my performance...there were times when he was too busy to come to school functions, award ceremonies (not that I had the time to win many), and the martial arts competitions I always threw myself into.

I started lessons when I was five, at a local dojo that was just opening. From there, I shifted from one instructor to another, learning everything from judo to kendo to the art I disliked the most but was still important, meditation. Despite other interests I gained and lost in my childhood, like the guitar I lugged around like dead weight and the numerous books that were returned to the library without being read, my passion for the martial arts remained. But perhaps passion was the wrong word; it was something that passed time, and it was a direction to pent up energy I didn't have much else to do with. But passionate? Maybe not.

Father's day was one my father was rarely home for...coincidently. We always used to make presents in art: little things like frames and painted mugs, things elementary school children can make and give their Dads. Childish maybe, but it was the thought that mattered. At the beginning, I used to bring mine home, but it would always be the next day, or the day after, or perhaps even the week before he would actually get the chance to see them. He never did; somewhere along the way I would get fed up and throw it in the trash. And eventually, I think by the time I was eight, I stopped bringing them home altogether.

People say we see the most faults in those we care about, and that's certainly the case here. But it's not always true. But needless to say, it affected our relationship; Mother (my birthmother that is) says I'm overly cynical. If I am, that's certainly not a trait I've acquired from my father. He may not be the world's most doting father, but he's shown he cares more than I ever have.

And through all that, my father succeeded in raising me himself for six years. Towards the end though, things changed. Dad was never the 'stay home' type. He always worked at least five days a week, sometimes six, sometimes weeks on end when his job called him further away from home (and at that point in time, I reluctantly used the term) than was practical to travel to and from each day.

He never left me alone though. He'd hire a baby-sitter (a term I despised for many reasons) to "look after me" I believe were the exact terms. In the privacy of my own mind, I'd scoff at the imprudent idea, but really I'd needed it more than I had realised at the time. To close myself off from the outer world is one thing, but to be alone completely would have been a close in disguise. And despite me, my father knew that well. Perhaps it's a parental instinct, but he always knew more about me than I ever recognised, even now.

They say we never really appreciate what we have until we lose it, even for the shortest time.

The world however is not so perfect to be contained within a defined parameter. In other words, no knowledge is absolute.

Anyway, as I was saying, as my ninth birthday approached, Dad started to date Satomi.

She had babysat me for a while, when we lived in Setagaya, and afterwards Shinjuku, then again when we moved to Shibuya a few years later. Dad liked her especially for some reason, and to be honest, I didn't mind her as a person. She was the annoyingly girly nanny I sometimes wound up with, and she could cook great, something neither me nor my father had ever managed to master. But I didn't like the way Dad looked at her when he came home, exhausted from the day's work. And I liked it even less when they began going out. Don't get me wrong, I was glad in a way that my Dad was getting over Mum's "death", but the fact of the matter was that I wasn't. And Dad falling heads over heals for someone else felt like he was betraying her.

They got married at my ninth birthday, and Satomi lived with us permanently. The upside was that put an end to annoying babysitters; the downside was that it felt like Satomi was trying to replace my mother.

She told me many times she wasn't, that she was just trying to find her own place in the family, but it was a concept difficult for me to accept at the time. I certainly didn't make it easy for her, that's for sure. While I had no objections to her personality or any other part of her, I didn't want her taking a piece of my father's heart, a place to me was reserved for only one person.

That caused the major rift in our relationship, between my father and I. We didn't spend all that much time together as it was, and when Satomi came into his life, it became even less. Things finally began to settle, but I didn't change my ways. Still, even as I spent three years in the same place in the world, I didn't push myself forward, nor reach out.

Seeds, when you plant them, grow. They radiate out and burst from the earth, covering the ground with their stems and leaves, and sometimes flowers too. Trees continue to grow, never limited by anything save their own size, and those who can weather all seasons, living infinitely. But I remained stagnant; I rejected the chance to take down my barriers and try to belong somewhere. I wasn't ready to let go.

It earned me an antisocial reputation to be sure, but it didn't bother me. Or so I told myself. You know, I thought it so often that I almost started to believe it. I would have, if I liked wandering in fantasies like my brother, burrowing into books and drawings and the occasional manga. But I was a realist. I didn't hide myself behind false truths. So instead, I hid behind the fortress I built for myself. A fortress that shattered in the digital world.

They say that promises, whether they are meant to be kept or not, always are in the end. But language is a rather ambiguous tool; promises are not always upheld to the extent and sort we wish or expect. But they have power, and so I made one. To myself.

I was making myself miserable, and my family too. By the time I was eleven, I decided I had hung for too long to the past. My mother was dead; she was never coming back. And while Satomi was never tying to take her place, she was, as my father said, the one doing the main aspect of 'raising' me at this preteen stage, and I should at least show that respect.

I think it was about that time when I realised how hard she was trying too. Always, she'd have a snack ready when I got home, only to receive a handful of thanks over the long days. At least once a week, she'd make my favourite dinner, even when Dad playfully made a grimace by the fourth week. I'd leave my room on the slightly messy side at times, and she'd clean it up, better than I ever had. She'd chide me when I was reasonably late, attempt to help when I struggled (though I usually turned her down), and brought Hogosha for me after I had wistfully stared at the dog behind cage bars in a passing petshop. And my mother's photo, she always polished it, making it clearer than any other photo in the house, even when it was the one that kept her place in my heart.

When I finally thought about that, I felt bad. Dad didn't need me holding back his happiness, and Satomi had done nothing to deserve that coldness.

And so I made a promise to myself.

They say your parents are the ones who raised you. Having raised me for a total of five years, Satomi I think qualified. So I decided it was time to move on, like my father had, and give this new woman in my life the respect she deserved.

I promised to call her my 'mum.'

I remembered the first time I had done it; she had looked so happy, I could have sworn I saw tears forming behind her glasses. Instantly, I felt awkward, thinking this was a ridicules thing to have done, but then she hugged me with such fervour that that thought was forever driven from my mind. From there, I started trying to do small things, trying to move on and accept her as a part of the family.

Dad understood. I think he was pleased I was finally making an effort, because he stopped trying to push us together. Satomi certainly did; she smiled like always, but there was a new light in it, and she never forced anything...unless it was the chores I distasted. After all, we all have those.

I never said sorry, not for pushing them away, not for the three years I had stolen from. Not then anyway. Part of me was still bitter, but I couldn't help that. Rome wasn't after all built in a day. Seasons change gradually; the sun always takes time to rise and set. Trees take time to reach maturity. The planet didn't become as it was in a moment. The point is, things that matter take tine. Especially those things we want to make permanent.

I was taking baby-steps with my family; I hadn't even considered the matter of friends. So when I arrived in the digital world, I was about as sociable as a brick wall. Not that it mattered; Takuya, Zoe, Tommy and JP attacked that wall with a sledgehammer, or a steel battering ram.

And for the first time in my life, inside Sakkakumon, when I faced my death, I realised all the opportunities I had thrown away. I realised where pointless bitterness had lead. I realised what I had lost.

Too late, I thought. I was dead. Gone.

But I wasn't. I got a second chance. And I left that beast with the full intent of not wasting it.

I pursued Duskmon then; something about him had perked my interest. I saw the lone boy within, as though looking through a mirror that could pierce glass, fog and any sort of internal barrier one could through up. It was as if I was seeing myself.

I followed; he fled. Our swords crossed time and time again with both of us futily searching for answers and never getting them. Until Ophanimon reached out, and he shouted those answers at me, with the same bitterness I had nursed for all those years.

And my convictions, so recently solidified, wavered once again as a new truth shattered old.

But in the end, nothing changed. My birthmother was alive, living...but her relationship with Dad was dead. She raised Koichi, just like Dad and Mum (I'm talking about Satomi here) raised me; I didn't have the right to call her Mum. That was my brother's right.

I was in denial the first time I heard. After all, this was one of my greatest adversaries screaming this across a battlefield. Why should I believe it? All sense told me know, but my heart refused to let go of the image I had seen, of the boy who looked so much like me, drowning in sadness and disguised hate as I had lost myself in bitterness and anger. And that very same heart took those words as the truth.

As I told Takuya, I had known the first time I crossed swords with Duskmon. Something within him had strung some chord in my subconsciousness. There was just something about him, only I couldn't place my finger on it till he told me himself.

After belief came a new bout of anger, but it quickly quietened. I wondered, in a sort of disguised rage, why my father had lied. Why he claimed my birthmother dead, and my brother non-existent. But then the promise I had made struck, and I forced that down. Not for the only reason either; I had seen what anger had done. Sometimes, seeing it saves you from following the same path, and seeing my brother as Duskmon turned me forever from wandering too deep into such a road.

Mother was the one who gave you life. Mum was the one who helped it grow. They weren't always the same people, and it didn't mean I couldn't have them both in my life. As for Dad...there was more than one definition of life once a cooler head thought about it. They fell out of love, and with the time Dad got to himself with a straight head, it was almost impossible, especially during the earlier stages, to have maintained contact. For peace of mind, or whatever reason, they had chosen not to.

Now that was a good rational explanation. And it turned out to be the truth too, once I got back and confronted him. He was rather apprehensive when I asked; I think he expected me to be angry. Before, I would have been.

But as I had said, promises are meant to be kept. Sometimes, they are at face value. But here, I think it held a part of me I may have otherwise strayed from. It certainly started me on a road that spanned as destiny took my hand...but promises are such simple things in the end.

Words, but words easily misunderstood.

That's the funny thing about them; you could take them a hundred different ways, and depending on what you use them for, they could lead you anywhere.

I had made a promise to move on. It may not have worked out that way, but in the end, I gained far more.

And so there you have it. The tale of a promise I had made to myself.

But if anyone shows this to Takuya, they'll find out first hand that my 'passion' for martial arts hasn't quite faded. He for one will never let me hear the end of this.

After all, words are one thing. Their meaning is something perhaps only the one originally intending them truly understand.