Protector
by WSJ

Have you ever wondered why Rika's dad isn't around? How come Rika's so cold and hard? Why is her mom such a worry-wort? A powerful story about abuse, and learning to recover.

I don't own Digimon or the song (it's Martina McBride's), but Talli Nonaka is mine.

()()()()()

*She walks to school with the lunch she packed.*

Talli Nonaka, a fifteen-year-old at Odiba High School, whinced as somebody in the crowded halls bumped into her, unknowingly knocking the livid purple bruise that covered her left shoulder. Of course, it was invicible under her high-necked T-shirt, but then, that was the point, wasn't it?

*Nobody knows what she's holdin' back.*

Breifly she pressed her eyes closed, trying to block the tears and the memories at the same time.

A month before, she had come home from cheerleading practice to find her father, Lance Nonaka, threatening to beat her mother and seven-year-old sister Rika, who were cowering in the cornor. She had yelled at him to back off, trying her best to protect her mom and sister, whom she held so dear.

So he had beat her instead.

It had happened again and again, and eventually Mr Nonaka lost intrest in her mother, Rumiko, and concentrated on threatening Rika, because he knew that Talli would stick up for her. And she did. She had no regrets about protecting her little sister, even if it meant taking the harsh beatings herself.

*Wearin' the same dress she wore yesterday,*
*She hides the bruises with linen and lace.*

Back in present day, Talli opened her eyes to find she was one of the last people in the hallway. Squeaking in surprise, she grabbed her books and skidded into her Biology class just before the bell rang.

The teacher was passing back the tests they'd taken the week before, and as she placed Talli's A+ paper on her desk she squeezed Talli's shoulder...and the bruise.

Talli writhed in pain, and the teacher glanced at her in surprise. Here was a strait-A student, captain of the cheerleading squad, and the most popular girl in school. Through the thin material of Talli's shirt, she saw the unmistakable purple of a bruise, as well as the masked pain in Talli's eyes.

The teacher bit her lip in sympathy, and moved on to the next desk.

*The teacher wonders but she doesn't ask.*
*It's hard to see the pain behind the mask.*

That night after her shower Talli stared at her naked form in the mirror. Purple and black bruises covered her back, chest, and legs. Her father knew better then to hit her face or arms, because they were easily seen, and people would wonder.

She toyed with the small bit of metal in her hand. A knife, sharper then hell and brightly polished. She had spirited away from her uncle's collection of hunting knives when they'd gone to visit him last weekend. It would be so easy just to draw it across her wrists, and then there would be no more beatings.

For her, anyway. But if she died, he would just turn to her mother, or worse yet, Rika. Who would protect the fragile girl if Talli wasn't there?

She sighed and slipped the knife back into her drawer. She had to endure. For Rika.

*Bearin' the burden of a secret storm,*
*Sometimes she wishes she was never born.*

As her eyes slid closed in sleep, three new bruises rising livid from her skin, Talli began to work on her stories, as she always did to take her mind off the pain. She knew she would never be able to write them down, her father would find them, but she was always free to imagine in her head.

'Slowly the fox-like creature crept through the under-brush, ready to defend its charge from anything. The small child clung to its back, trusting it to keep him safe...'

Talli was never able to get very far before falling into an exhausted sleep that never left her rested enough.

*Through the wind, and the rain*
*She stands hard as a stone in a world*
*That she can't rise above.*
*But her dreams give her wings*
*And she flies to a place where she's loved.*
*Concrete angel.*

The next night, Talli again found Lance towering over her sister, brandishing his belt like a whip. He had his back to the door, and Talli, as he spoke to Rika.

"Come on child, get up, you can't be *that* weak, can you?"

Talli felt her blood begin to boil, and she grabbed him by the shoulder, swinging his burly frame around. "Rika is the very strongest child I know, and one day she's gonna be the greatest. You'll see, and then you'll be left behind in the dust."

He snarled at her, and the next thing she knew, the belt had slapped her a stinging blow across the cheek. But Rika was safe. She had dashed between Mr Nonaka's legs and ran to their mother in the kitchen, where they always sat huddled together while Lance beat Talli back in the bedrooms.

*Somebody cries in the middle of the night.*

Talli screamed as her father's fist crashed across her face again. She could feel her cheekbone shatter, along with her nose. The blood trailed down her lip as she collapsed to the floor. He brought his hard work boot down onto her back, and she could feel ribs cracking.

*The neighbors hear,*

Henry Wong lay huddled in his bed as he heard the screams coming from next door. No longer able to stand it, he jumped out of bed and raced to his parents' room.

Mr Wong was fast asleep, but Mrs Wong was sitting up reading, trying not to wince at the screams, not even noticing the book she held was upside-down.

"Mommie," he wailed, tears pouring down his six-year-old face. "Somebody's hurted-ing."

Mrs Wong patted her son on the head as another scream broke through the silence of the woods where their two homes were the only ones within miles. "It's all right Henry dear, they're just watching scarry movies. Go back to bed."

*But they turn out the light.*

Henry sniffled once, but nodded and crept back to bed. He knew that they were *not* watching movies. Rika said they didn't have a TV.

"God," he whispered. "Please help Rika."

(A/N: Yes, I know the Wongs are probably Buddist, but humor me, ok?)

*A fragile soul caught in the hands of fate,*

Finally Mr Nonaka disided he had beaten his "rebellious" daughter enough, and left the room. As soon as he was gone, Rika ran in, and choked back a sob at seeing her sister crumpled on the floor, broken and bleeding.

She dropped to her knees and gently moved her sister's head to her lap, letting the tears fall freely. One plopped onto Talli's misshapen nose, and slowly she opened her eyes. Her breath came hard, and was labored, but she moved a hand to caress Rika's.

"Are you ok Tal?" Rika asked, trying to stop her sobs.

Talli didn't answer, but instead said, "I love you Rika."

"I love you too." she answered.

"No matter what, I'm always going to protect you. I promise," Talli paused, and coughed hard, fighting to get breath into her body. "I promise. In one form or another, I'm always going to be here for you."

"As an angel?" Rika asked. She had always been enchanted by angels. Their soft warmth and glow, their beautiful gowns and wings...

Talli managed a weak smile. "Maybe."

*When morning comes it'll be too late.*

Both could hear shouts coming from the living room, where Rumiko was ordering her husband out of the house. SHe had finally had enough. They screamed and yelled for what seemed lake forever, and finally there was a crash as Rumiko picked up a vase and hurrled it at Lance. The door slammed soon after.

About a minute later Rumiko stepped into the room, tears staining her face. She kneeled down and put a hand on Rika's shoulder. "He's gone," she said, sounding happy in the midst of her tears. "Gone for good."

Rika looked up, violet eyes surprisingly dry.

"So is she."

*Through the wind, and the rain*
*She stands hard as a stone in a world*
*That she can't rise above.*
*But her dreams give her wings*
*And she flies to a place where she's loved.*
*Concrete angel.*

Six years later, on September 16, the anniversery of Talli's death, thirteen-year-old Rika stood in front of her grave, a bouquet of yellow roses in her hands.

Talli's grave was beautiful, and Rika visited it whenever she could, not just on Talli's death-day. Strangely enough, she had never told Henry or Takato about Talli, or Renamon either. Henry knew she had had an older sister, of course, since they'd been neighbors forever, but Rika and her mother had told the Wongs that Talli died of lukiemia.

Rika supposed she had never told anyone the real reason because it was her own special secret. It was special to her that her older sister had died defending her. It made her feel truelly loved.

*A statue stands in a shaded place,*
*An angel girl with an up-turned face.*

The marker for Talli's grave had been custom made by an artist friend of Rumiko's. It was a beautiful girl wearing a long, flowing robe, with graceful, feathered angel wings. Her arms were open in a gesture of warth, and she smiled love at anyone who passed.

And even though the artist friend had suggested it, Rika and her mother had desided that the statue shouldn't look at all like Talli. But the angel did have a scar that ran along one cheek, right where Mr Nonaka's belt had hit Talli at the beginning of that last fight. Rumiko had agreed that it did need *some* tie to Talli, so the scar had been it.

*A name is written on a polished rock,*
*A broken heart that the world forgot.*

As Rika stood staring at the gravestone, two shadows fell on either side of hers. She looked up to see Henry and Takato, their faces full of concern.

"Rika, are you ok?" Henry asked, putting a hand on her shoulder. "We're here visiting the small 'grave' that Jeri made for Leomon, and we saw you all alone over here."

"Yeah, you look like you're in another world, and I'm not talking about the Digital one." Takato said.

Rika bit her lip, and her eyes filled with tears. She had been trying to keep her pain to herself, but now she realized the error of that philosophy. Talli's story came pouring out, along with a tirade of tears.

*Through the wind, and the rain*
*She stands hard as a stone in a world*
*That she can't rise above.*

When she had finished and her sobs had been reduced to sniffles, Rika tried to pull away from the two boys, ashamed at her emotional outburst. But Henry only tightened his grip on her shoulder and Takato moved in close on her other side.

"Rika," said Henry, gently admonishing. "Talli's story shouldn't be kept a secret. You need to tell others about her couragousness and love for you. Write it."

Rika looked up, surprised. "Write Talli's story?"

"Why not?" asked Takato. "You said that Talli herself was a writer. Who says you don't have talent?"

Rika smiled a small smile. "Maybe I'll try..."

*But her dreams give her wings*
*And she flies to a place where she's loved.*
*Concrete angel.*

Renamon smiled from her place out of sight in a nearby tree, her sharp ears catching every word. A single tear dropped from her foxy eyes, landing on her gloved hands that covered scars, scars that still showed, even after being reborn.

"I told you before Rika," she whispered, knowing that no one could hear. "In one form or another, I'm going to protect you."

()()()()()

What do you think? I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat just *writing* it. Sorry for the fluffy-ness.

Dedicated to anyone who's been abused, or knows someone who has. Don't be afraid to reach out to them. Talli could have survived, so could've many others who haven't, because people have known, like the Wongs and Talli's teacher, and yet done nothing. If we take a stand, so much can be saved.

~WSJ, Mistress of Angsty Fluff