A/N: Courageous acts defy the laws of time and memory, but the person's heart is often plagued by reckless desires for gratification.
It felt as though his heart was being torn from his chest.
Heat and pain shot through his body from his chest, feeling more like a pit than anything else. He could feel himself falling, yet his voice did not allow him to scream, the pit within him taking that and returning pain for the effort. His eyes refused to allow the light in – he couldn't see anything. Beyond the pain, he joked in his mind about how he had been sent to purgatory for calling Sora a tomboy, mostly to calm himself as the pain slowly became lesser.
Even so, the joke struck like a small nail in his pained heart. Finally, he felt himself drifting off, his mind going misty and fogged by sleep.
But this bliss did not last long, Tai feeling himself pressed to something when he woke from his slumber, something soft beneath him, cradling. Opening his eyes, nearly blinded by the light, he found his bed beneath him, his blanket tightly wrapped about him as though he were a mummified pharaoh. Against the warm security of his bed and sleep, Tai struggled from it, nearly falling onto the wooden floor of his room.
How had he got there was beyond him – a question for tired and weary minds like his. He enjoyed this feeling usually after having been able to sleep and dream. He had many strange ones he held very dearly – ranging from Agumon pretending to be a model and then coming to life to a horrible one where he lived with all of his Digidestined friends, memorable because he beat Matt up in every single version of that one and win Sora.
Not that he would tell anyone that. Kari might have her little suspicions that she thinks she hides well, but not well enough.
Shaking his head free of these manacling thoughts, he looked about and got to the question of how he had gotten there, looking first to his computer that had so often pulled him into the Digital World two years ago, but with no luck.
He wandered over, imagining what Izzy would do and realising that going on the computer was not so strange. Perhaps the date would tell him that he had simply dreamt the entire thing. He pressed the power button of the computer, sitting at his messy desk and brushing several food wrappings aside as he waited, the whirring of the machine slow to pick up.
The light of the monitor flashed on, presenting him with the blue screen it usually got when it crashed, Frustrated, he began to hit it atop the head, wondering why it refused to work. Finally, the main screen came up, but not as he remembered it.
The icons and display were all gone, and confined within the screen was a wallpaper that was not his, but something strange – a sort of heart outline, but with an attempt to be awesome. He pondered how to correctly dispose of Kari for this later, feeling both bitter and embarrassed by it.
But the desktop icons were gone as well, and the clock was set to '00:00' with no movement of the seconds. He wondered if hitting it had broken it when some text appeared on the screen without warning within the confines of a white window.
For the courageous hearts to join with friendly hearts, sacrifice is need, and the love to
perform the act. The heart is spawned by the dark, yet courage is the light – dare you face
your memories and reclaim what you have lost?
'What's this?' he chuckled to himself. 'Kari and her hearts… girls.'
When he had read the text again to check this lunacy for meaning, a small message and two buttons appeared below it.
Are you ready?
I'm ready for anything!
I think I need a minute…
'Kari,' Tai shook his head, feeling exhausted by the message, 'are you being serious?' he looked to the mouse, moving it about, but nothing happened on the screen. Taken by a sudden urge, he rolled his eyes and pressed the top button in jest. 'Wonder what she's put on this thing.'
But the next thing he knew, he felt himself sucked into the computer, falling into blackness once more with the small window of light getting smaller as he floated downward. Confused, he barely noticed as his feet planted into the space, a solid grounding formulating from what looked like shards of glass of all things, gathering together beneath and around him in a sea of endless white.
'You're here. At last.'
'Who's there?' Tai called out, finding that nobody was anywhere to be seen. 'What's going on?'
'Don't be frightened – within the confines of your heart, no harm can come to you.'
Tai pointed to his chest, feeling a little burn inside it, but maybe it was just heartburn from surprise or something – yes, that had to be it.
'This is very real,' the voice said from nowhere in particular. 'Imagine the thing you desire most, and it shall come to you.'
The endless white burst about him like a balloon, and began twisting until finally it took shape as the Kamiya residence again, only that he was in the living room this time. But beyond his surprise, he immediately saw the intruders in his home, yet they were so vividly familiar it was unbelievable.
Sat on the couch, huddled together happily and watching a heated soccer match with a friendly but determined debate ensuing between them were three strangers, one a man with bushy hair, another a shorter woman with auburn locks and between them… he craned over their shoulders to see what they were both cradling…
A boy, small and frail, yet pointing and trying to dance when a goal was scored by what was clearly his father's team, the mother complaining and pouting in the way she always did…
Was he dreaming?
He stepped back, remembering the dividing factor between the possible reality before him, the family and room torn asunder like a photograph and the colour melting away and swimming around him.
'What… is this?' he stepped back again, but there was no footing – he struggled for balance. 'N-no… no, no, no… NO!'
He fell back into the sea of colour, struggling against the pull that dragged him further down, falling quickly into a shifting sea of dark and light until finally he bumped off of the ground softly, still winded by the shock and surprise that he had survived.
He turned and got to a knee, noticing what was beneath his gloved hand – like a stain-glass floor, it was bright, even when all around was black. Upon it was an image, although his perspective did not help him in working out what it was he was looking at.
The edges were rounded and far-reaching – perhaps a rooftop?
'Your heart is lost in the chaos outside,' the voice said from nowhere. 'Weakened by your doubt, it could not handle the strain that brought you from your home. As it is, your heart is lost, your body a cage and your very mind the prisoner.'
'My heart's lost?' Tai almost felt like laughing as he clambered to his feet, but something about the entire setting around him suppressed it, and made him listen. 'So, what – I'm like Matt and Sora? They told me they were lost in some cave or something stupid,' he shuddered at the thought that sprung into his head at that. 'Gross… were they kissing then, as well?'
'Do not doubt your friends. They struggle to keep the shell outside safe whilst you try and regain your heart here. There is such horrific scarring, and it may take time…'
'Excuse me,' Tai waved at the dark overhead brightly. '"Scarring"?'
'Scarring,' the voice echoed. 'Your heart is strengthened by the courage it contains. Yet you are troubled by memories that you have ignored during your travels. These created the cracks that ultimately led you here, to this place of slumber and healing.'
'So I'm not lost,' Tai snapped his fingers, smiling at the hole he found in the situation. 'I'm here in that thing you said-'
'These memories must be faced, if you are to recover what is yours. Only acceptance of the pain will allow your body to regain what it needs. Are you ready?'
'Er…' Tai scratched the back of his head, unsure. 'You want me to look at my memories? That's – well… nice an' all, but-'
'Are you ready, or do you need a moment to prepare?'
Tai groaned at the technique so like his mother's own to get an answer from him.
'Fine, whatever… do this… whatcha-ma-thingamy…'
'Let us heal the pain and reclaim that courage so desperately needed in this perilous time.'
But the light flashed around him, blinding his eyes to what was happening. By the time he could see again, he was in a much different place. A place he sometimes dreamt of, but never spoke of. Not after what happened.
The tides rippled and churned calmly, the sun beating down upon the beach and its golden sand. But that was not the centre of attention – the large, motionless friend was, twitching fragilely like a new-born, the ghastly head-wound robbing him of his dignity, precisely as Tai remembered thinking when it had happened.
Whamon was beached, digital code breaking from his form like some form of smoke, his twitching becoming less and less…
'This first scar was most painful. Your first experience of death – at least where you felt shame and pain for a fallen friend, not the rage that quaked in your heart when your sister's protector fell…'
'Why are you showing me this?' Tai trembled with withheld anger, yelling at the sky, 'WHY?'
The word echoed, but not in his voice. It was a small, tiny and broken voice, filled with choked sadness. He looked over to Whamon again, feeling pain double by the sight of his dying friend, and also by Mimi's quaking form, on her knees before him, he tears mixing in with the salty-water of the beach and sand.
Whamon twitched in a pathetic way – it was hard to see one so proud and strong and noble just die like this, let alone for a second time…
'Mimi… you've got to give him some space… he's a big guy…'
Joe had a hand on her shaking shoulder, one which wasn't shrugged off. His voice was broken, but with more reservation about his feelings. He had always been the introvert, but Tai had never seen his composure as broken as it was now. He didn't remember this part, if he was at all honest.
Had he ignored it, as the voice said?
Had he been that much of a jerk?
'Matt… what's happening to him?'
Matt and TK appeared, the little brother cuddling at his elder's knee unashamedly before the sight of death. He had only been eight… and yet he looked like he understood, full-well…
'TK, remember that he was a good Digimon. Never forget him. Ever. Do that and he'll never be gone. Got it?'
Stern as he had been then, Tai saw now that Matt's rough, unrefined brotherly-demeanour was an act, to hide his personal weakness from his dopey little brother. Tai was also older now – he knew that those words were a little harsh for an eight-year old kid's ears, but the meaning in them was deep. The boy nodded, and watched Whamon with silent sniffs and watery eyes.
Then Izzy and Sora appeared a little behind Joe and Mimi, the pair silently watching, not blinking. It was their own way, Tai supposed. They were both considerate to a fault, and did not want to disgrace Whamon's last moments with crying. How he understood was irrelevant – he just did.
And then Kari appeared, trembling from head-to-toe. She always acted like that when she was scared. It took a lot to break her, but Whamon's sacrifice was beyond reason or logical thinking – there was no room for watching while unfeeling. Her cheeks were watered by tears, her raggedy breaths the sign of cries she didn't give loudly, Mimi's the only ones filling the salty air around them.
Tai watched all seven silently as the digital code began breaking off into the sky, Whamon fading slowly but surely, Mimi inconsolably trying to reach him, but Joe's arms wrapped around her, holding her back. She fought, but didn't look. He watched calmly, but his eyes couldn't hide the pain behind his glasses. Tai could see it, clearer than he remembered.
And then, Whamon released his final words, words that still haunted Tai and the others in their anniversaries. It had been on his mind for a moment earlier that very day.
'Digidestined… save this world…'
'WHAMON!' a few of them shouted before realising as the giant whale vanished. The water twisted in a strong tide to fill the vacuum he had occupied, as though the ocean water was waving him off like an old friend. 'Whamon…'
Tai eyes began to sting, his throat constricting. He wiped at his eye when suddenly, he appeared, and time seemed to freeze in place.
He stood at the very front of the team, his eyes fixed upon the indent in the sand his friend had left, watching it slowly fill again under the tide. Tai couldn't believe what he saw – he spotted tears under his younger-self's eyes, but everyone was too distraught to notice or care. Matt, Izzy, Joe and Sora were the only ones like he was to regard the beach silently; their faces were strained or eyes watering. The pain of that day came back quickly, and so too did the memories of what he had thought that day in his sadness.
He saw it flash upon his younger-self's face – the pain, the realisation and the brave-face he knew he had to wear like a mask. It took a few moments, but he watched as he adopted the goofy grin, looking down at Kari by his side and holding her close while scraping and shifting filled the air.
Mimi moulded a dome atop the sand, grabbing something Joe handed to her – the two wooden sticks they used to make a fire sometimes. It had been with them, as he had. It was only fitting.
Mimi put them upon her knees and pulled a spare hair bobble from her dress, using it the tie the sticks into a cross. She placed it into the mound and clasped her hands in prayer. Nobody objected, nobody joined in – exactly as Tai remembered.
'Mimi, what're you doing?' his younger-self asked in at tone that hinted at strength he didn't feel despite being older. 'We need to get a move on…'
She did not respond or break the muttered prayer.
'Mimi…' Sora echoed, though she looked nonplussed in arguing. 'We need to move…'
But she ignored this and pulled two more bobbles from her pockets. Joe understood in that way he had, and spied four fallen branches of the trees that gave entrance to Puppetmon's forest. He returned with them, two more markers having been fashioned, and summarily completed with the crosses.
'That one's for Wizardmon,' she whispered weakly, Mimi's gloved finger shaking in the direction of each mound as she supplied a name, 'that's for Pixiemon, and this one's… this one's for Whamon…'
'Oh, Mimi…' whispered Sora, shutting her eyes tightly.
'I don't…' his throat felt parched all of a sudden, and he looked longingly toward the skies above. 'I don't remember it like this.'
'When the heart is scarred, it tangles the chain of memories to create false memories that help it hide from deeper pain.'
'Mimi, c'mon,' Tai's younger-self was saying in a forceful but not ignorant way. 'We have to go.'
'Give her a minute, Tai,' said Matt. 'Just leave her alone.'
Matt's voice was icy, and Tai remembered exactly how he had felt by how his other was looking, foul realisation that Matt was an arrogant pencil of a singer even earlier than he had imagined had gone unnoticed until now.
'Oh, back off, Matt,' his memory said harshly. 'You know it too – we need to move. We don't have time for this stuff.'
He didn't think he had sounded unreasonable, only sensible. It was better leadership than any of the others were giving. And yet they all looked back at him darkly, even Izzy. Worst of all, Sora looked disgusted by the undeniable fact he had probably saved her life that day.
Mimi looked back at the double, but Tai felt those bold chocolate eyes burning at him through the tears. 'Just stop it, Tai!'
'Yeah,' Matt growled, suddenly plucking up the courage to respond when a girl was on his side. 'Stop pushing us! Who died and made you leader, anyway? Give us a minute to remember our friends!'
'I'm saying we have to go so that we can remember – because we won't have harpoons in our hides!'
Tai remembered that MetalSeadramon had an escort of fish-Digimon that did have harpoons.
'Tai, just grow up, will you?' Sora sniped cruelly, with that stupidly arrogant tone she got whenever she was around Matt. 'Seriously, don't you have a sensitive bone in your body? Be more like Matt and just calm down! It'll only take a minute!'
Like the restaurant when he had been told to disengage, she had been wrong in him being wrong and Matt being right. He looked between the younger pair, seeing that there was something sparkling in their eyes that he had not seen before they were dating… had they been in love then, too?
Was that why she defended Matt and fought his battles in that annoying way she had?
He had always admired her strength, but remembering how she turned that against him, betrayed him even…
His younger's body cracked like glass and fell into the beach's sand, shards swept silently away by the tides while the scene dissolved around him, returning him to that strange tower's roof, crafted of stained-glass.
'The first crack was made then. And if we align it with the others you have, it is no wonder your heart is broken… it is shattered, and only acceptance of truth will let you reclaim what it yours.'
'Why… why am I seeing this stuff?'
'Only courage can guide others, but courage needs friendship. Hearts must unite, and battles must be waged together, not alone.'
'Friendship? You talking about Matt?'
'You must choose. Will you face your memories and scars, or will you let your broken heart delude itself even longer, perhaps for all eternity in this place?'
Again, it had used his mom's secret technique for making him do something.
'Fine. Let's get this other with already.'
'Your path is chosen, as the path has chosen you.'
There was a sharp 'pop' in Tai's hand, and a sudden weight he nearly failed to grasp in his surprise. In his hand was a black and red-trimmed sword, the end curling out into a twisting protrusion of flame, the tip of it round like a key.
'What's this thing?'
Tai regarded the odd weapon with reservations, struggling against the weight bearing upon his wrist while wondering why he had been given the weapon at all. Then, from his nape, he sensed a dangerous cold, biting at him.
Twisting on the spot, he spotted a large shadow that twisted and wrapped about its own shape, growing without form, rather like some blight of living ooze. He backed away a pace and then several others when the shadow constituted itself before him as a tall, strong apparition, shaped like WarGreymon, the slits for where his eyes should be blindingly yellow and without spirit.
'And now, you face the very darkness that has nested within the cracks of your shattered heart. Have courage.'