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No Girls Allowed (Digific, Ch. 19)

Title: No Girls Allowed
Author: Schnickledooger
Rating: T/PG-13
Genre: Romance/Humor
Summary: Jun keeps popping up in the most unexpected places. Tai is not pleased, especially when it gives his friends the wrong impression. AU Season 02 time-line and events. Plotage Explosion past Ch. 17. Starts off light and fluffy, gets serious as end nears.
Word Count: So far... 100,000+

Ch.1 Revenge
Ch.2 Backfired
Ch.3 The Way To A Man's Heart Is...
Ch.4 Love Is A Jealous Thing
Ch.5 Night Out
Ch.6 Eternal Darkness Of The Cluttered Mind
Ch.7 All The World's A Stage
Ch.8 Elementary, My Dear Jun
Ch.9 The Melancholy Of Taichi Kamiya
Ch. 10 All's Fair In Love And War
Ch.11 So Much For My Happy Ending
Interlude
Ch. 12 Accidentally In Love
Ch. 13 Just To Let You Know I Care
Ch. 14 With You
Ch. 15 Take My Hand
Ch. 16 Poisoned Bond
Ch. 17 Tidal Wave
Ch. 18 Centrifugal Motion


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

A/N: Sorry, folks, everyone does not find out about Tai and Jun here. It's been moved back until next chapter.

Ch. 19 More Than Useless

Tai's line of vision was enveloped by a violently swirling purplish-black storm of sizzling, dark energy.

It spread outward in a wide, sweeping arc taking on the appearance of countless bats screeching devilishly as they rode the wave of dark energy that had been aimed purposefully at the defenseless civilians who stood shocked and numb with fear at the horrifying spectacle they had become the unwitting stars of.

A heat-shimmer tore through the air as orange-red flames projected themselves over the coolness of the ice and collided with the storm of dark energy, scattering it into all directions except the path intended. A giant, orange and blue-striped T-Rex rose up from the ground, teeth bared, and roaring a furious challenge as he took a protective stance in front of the humans, shielding them with his huge bulk.

"Oh, how touching! Defending the ones who were so quick to persecute you before?" LadyDevimon laughed mockingly before her face twisted into a disgusted sneer. "I really… HATE those who think themselves so noble!" she screamed launching herself at the one responsible from obstructing her from her prey, her left hand transforming into an elongated spike, which the sharp tip was dangerously pointed at the vulnerable spot of the dinosaur's under-belly.

Greymon's jaws gaped widely as he shot his head forward with an astounding agility, seized the Darkness Spear between his teeth and crunched down, snapping it in half. LadyDevimon shrieked more out of surprise than pain as her weapon dissolved into data and she flew wildly backwards clutching her left arm to her chest, her hand having returned to normal.

"So ill-manneredly!" she hissed, her two pairs of red eyes narrowing thinly as she quickly assessed her opponent. "A true gentlemon never retaliates on a lady's attack!"

"Call me an uncivilized beast then because I'm going to rip your head off and chew up your remains," Greymon growled returning the crude banter.

LadyDevimon laughed delightedly at that as if death threats were compliments she loved to receive on a daily basis. "Hahahahaha! Oh my! One of you goody-two shoes Chosen Children's partners has a dark side! How marvelous! Such a shame you're not going to be able to reach your full potential before I destroy you!"

"Wrong," Greymon snarled, a familiar blood-thirsty glint seeping into his eyes. "The one who will be destroyed… is YOU!" he cried lunging towards her in a thundering charge, stomping one large clawed foot after the other heavily upon the ground until he reached the skating rink, slipped on the sleek surface and went cascading head over heels across the long stretch of ice.

The only small fortune about this particularly bad stroke of luck was that LadyDevimon was too busy rolling about in mid-air laughing hysterically at such an un-cool spectacle to even bother attacking or paying attention to the rest of her audience.

Tai called out his partner's name anxiously, but his voice was lost by the frightened shouts of the people around him as they rushed past in an effort to escape the park's boundaries away from the "evil alien freaks". He was aware of his arm being insistently tugged on even through the crowd's mad jostling and turned to see Jun's hands grasped about it, her face riddled with worry and fear.

"Let's go," she said, her voice hitching slightly, her fingers trembling about his arm. "He'll be fine, right? You've beaten Digimon like this before!"

"But he's only a Champion right now and she's an Ultimate!" Tai protested, Jun's expression unwavering as she did not comprehend the meaning behind his words. "She's stronger than him! He won't last long against her attacks!" He struggled to throw off her hands, but Jun maintained a firm grip.

"So-so-so… what?" Jun demanded, a desperate tone leaking into her voice. "I'm sorry I don't understand and only have stupid video games to go on, but isn't that what you guys did at the concert? Level up or something!"

"It… it's not that easy," Tai said, remembering the last time Greymon had tried to digivolve and couldn't.

Because I was too weak.

Or the time on Server where he had forced Greymon to digivolve.

Because I was stupid and wanted power, and because I was too weak.

"I cannot believe a heart would be wasted on someone like you," BlackWarGreymon's words drifted back hauntingly.

"Thanks for laugh, Striped Rump," LadyDevimon commented, her insidious laughter finally subsiding. "Pity you aren't strong enough to back up your words with actions. I think I would have enjoyed our fight. I'll just have to seek my pleasure elsewhere!" she shrieked, her eyes lighting upon the crowd of frantically fleeing people with a sadistic gleam.

"Darkness Wa—AUGH!" LadyDevimon let out a strangled curse as she was interrupted midway by the ball of fire that whizzed upwards knocking her arm aside and her attack off-course.

Greymon crouched on the ice, kneeling with all his weight resting on one knee to keep his balance, his sides swelling as a deep rumbling spilling from his open jaws signaling another powerful Nova Blast on the way.

"I'll give you points for sheer tenacity," LadyDevimon said, her irritated scowl morphing into a smirk. "Try and keep up with the pace, ne?"

Both Greymon and Tai's eyes widened in horrified shock as they realized her intentions a split second too late.

Three Darkness Waves, each fired directly after the other went spiraling viciously through the air like tidal waves merged into one enormous tsunami that threatened to come crashing down and drown its victims.

"GET DOWN!" was all Tai had time to yell in warning to the crowd—hoping fervently that they heard him over their screaming—before he was bowled over himself by a fierce tackle around the waist.

He hit the ground on his stomach, the air squeezed breathlessly from his lungs at the impact, felt all the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as a mighty surge of energy sped overhead, saw the briefest glance a brilliant streak of purple, heard the shrill bat screeches and the flurry of wing-beats, all other sounds gradually fading until his ears were ringing with an eerie silence.

The first thing he noticed as his senses slowly returned was the odd pressure just above his middle. He turned his head to see Jun stretched out beside him, her face pressed into the shoulder of his coat and her arms encircling his waist tightly. Casting his eyes about, he took in the sight of people lying on the ground, their bodies huddled in a ball or hunched over with their hands covering their heads or curled protectively around a dear one.

They were all unmoving and frightened, but very much alive. The only damage LadyDevimon had done was to bar the exit-way from the park by felling several trees. Her attack had gone awry on purpose.

She could have destroyed all of us… why didn't she? Tai wondered.

"She's toying with us!"

Tai glanced back sharply at Jun. She had lifted a stark-white face up from his shoulder to reveal a pinched, angry expression.

"This is nothing but a game to her! It's like when we dangle a shoelace in front of a kitten! She's getting her kicks off of it!" Jun cried furiously.

"LadyDevimon seems to enjoy taunting her opponents more than fighting them..."

Greymon roared ferociously, the muscles in both his hind legs bulging as he rose up on them, thickset as a sturdy oak tree, and blasted out several volleys of molten fury upward in a rapid succession that LadyDevimon dodged with nimble ease.

"It's useless, you overgrown reptile," she said her words punctuated thickly with boredom. "Unless you can sprout a pair of wings, the victor… IS ME!" LadyDevimon crowed triumphantly as she sliced through the air like a strike of black lightning, her outstretched clawed hand connecting solidly to the dome of Greymon's horned helmet with a powerful force for one so lithe.

There was a horrible crack, as loud as thunder, as the T-Rex was slammed violently down onto the surface of the skating rink, shards of ice flying up in a spray of crystalline, jagged pieces at the heavy impact before falling down in a glittering shower to imbed themselves in the dinosaur's skin in a vicious, needle-like fashion.

The terrible, pained groan that emitted from Greymon branded itself inside Tai's head like a searing prod from a hot-iron poker.

"Greymon," he whispered, trying to stagger to his feet, but Jun was clinging to him now, her weight dragging him back down to his knees. "Let go," he said, attempting to pry her clasped fingers from around his waist and frowning when the girl refused to yield even an inch. "Let go!" he shouted in a panicked voice redoubling his efforts, no longer caring how rough he was. "I have to help Greym—!"

A pair of lips pressing themselves over his own made the words die in his throat. It was more forceful than the last three kisses they had shared with none of the sweet tenderness he remembered. This one was full of sadness, fear, and want and it seemed to last forever. Finally, Jun broke contact and pulled away, her brown eyes stinging with tears that she was obviously trying to hold back. The girl let her head drop into his chest, her shoulders quivering. "I'm sorry," she gasped, her voice high and thin with a carefully restrained fear. "I'm sorry—you can hate me if you want… but I won't let you go out there!"

She wasn't scared for herself, Tai realized abruptly. She was scared because he might get hurt, seriously injured, even killed.

But unless LadyDevimon was dealt with, they were all doomed anyway. He wasn't even sure he could help Greymon at this point. If Greymon had been able to digivolve further, he should have already done so by now. It wasn't for lack of energy, Tai knew—he remembered seeing Agumon eating those steamed dumplings before. So it had to be him who was the problem, him who courage had completely deserted…

"To the victor… go the spoils!" LadyDevimon cackled madly as she dove towards the humans she had helplessly corralled. "Which one of you insects should I play with first?"

A towering wall of fire—resembling very much the flames that DarkTyrannomon had ignited at Matt's concert—exploded in front of her, providing a raging barricade from her intended victims.

"This… fight… isn't over yet," Greymon growled as he slowly pushed himself upright, his entire frame shaking in exertion, but the smoldering glint of determination was still shining in his eyes.

Greymon wasn't giving up. Though he was out-matched in every way, he hadn't lost his resolve to win even when the situation looked hopeless.

Tai clenched his jaw, feeling chagrined. Perhaps, he couldn't help Greymon, but there were others who could. He dug in his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, turned it back on and punched in Izzy's number on speed dial.

It seemed like an eternity for him to answer, but in reality, it must have only been six rings before both parties were connected.

"Finally you pick up!" Tai and Izzy shouted in unison. "You have to come help—what?"

"What do you mean by that?" Tai asked, a foreboding feeling settling over him. In the background on Izzy's side, he could faintly hear the familiar sounds of screaming, battle cries, and oddly, what sounded like the roar of fast-moving water.

"I've been trying to get a hold of you since this morning!" Izzy's voice yelled into the receiver. "Everyone was going to trail one of the children Oikawa implanted Dark Spores in! But you hung up on me and then when I called your place, your mom said you had gone out, so we just went ahead without you!" There was a nearby clang of metal and Izzy's muffled cursing. "I think he waited until we were all separated until he chose to attack! By the time anyone arrives, he's already worn down the other person's Digimon so they can't help! And his special ability is water-based so almost everyone's out of their element already!"

"What are you—" Tai started to say, because surely what he thought was happening couldn't be actually be as bad to happen simultaneously, right?

"MarineDevimon!" Izzy shouted, spitting the name out with startling vehemence. "We're all over here at Tokyo Bay fighting MarineDevimon except you! I know Greymon's forte isn't swimming in the ocean, but he could at least hold up one of the hospital buildings' structures and keep it from collapsing while the younger kids deal with the enemy! We're trying to get all the civilians evacuated, but some can't leave because they're on life support! Where the hell are you?"

"In…Ueno Park's skating rink being held captive by LadyDevimon," Tai was almost too ashamed to admit.

"WHAT?" Izzy screeched into his ear.

"You're trying my patience, you barbaric fossil!" LadyDevimon's voice shrieked above the roar of the fire wall, just as a wave of dark energy sliced through the flames wickedly, allowing her slender figure to slip through the thin opening. A dangerous smile broke out across her face as he saw to her satisfaction that her prey had not escaped while she had been temporarily detained.

"You little pests can thank Lava-Breath over there for spoiling my good mood. Now, I'm afraid I won't be nearly so merciful when you beg me to please let you die!"

"Look out!" Jun cried. Then Tai was being dragged to his feet, they were both running away—people were jumping up from their protective positions on the ground trying to make themselves harder to take out than a sitting target. Tai chanced a glance above—saw the Darkness Wave come plummeting down from the sky—saw that it wasn't off course this time—it was going to definitely hit…

The world flashed purple. The ground buckled beneath his and Jun's feet throwing them to their knees, and it was raining… raining pebbles, clumps of broken earth, particles of ice, handbags and shoes, and Tai had to shut his eyes after that because he didn't want to see, and diabolical cackling filled the air overhead.

Eventually though he had to at crack open one eyelid, his vision still slightly tinged purple, saw his cell phone lying a few feet in front of him, Izzy's voice calling out his name frantically, reached one hand out towards it…

And the point of a long spike skewered straight through the device, electricity fizzling weakly around the tip before the cell phone finally died, cutting off Izzy's voice.

Tai looked up knowing at what he would find. LadyDevimon stood over him, her mouth stretched into a sinister smile.

"You…" she said regarding him carefully. "The one everyone wasn't letting pass. The one with the Agumon. Is Striped Rump your partner?"

There came a terrible, roaring and suddenly Greymon was charging towards them, red-eyed in rage, having dashed unheedingly through the center of his own Fire Wall and across the now mostly-melted skating rink, flinging back his head and yawning enormously, exposing rows of jagged teeth. "GET AWAY FROM HIM!"

LadyDevimon cocked a cruel, cold grin—then the ground was once more falling beneath Tai's feet as he was jerked up, the cool bite of metal digging into his flesh, and LadyDevimon was holding him with his back against her chest as she yanked harshly on the chain she had slipped around his neck like noose.

"Back off, Lava-Breath, unless you want his severed head as commemoration!" she snapped as she flexed red-tipped claws around his throat dangerously.

Greymon halted his mad charge, skidding slightly on the wet surface. His sides and shoulders were heaving furiously. "Hurt him and it will be the last thing you ever do," he snarled in warning.

LadyDevimon laughed mockingly. "Oh, I highly doubt that. I could take an old fossil like you out easily. But I've always wondered…" the sharp, little points of her red-tip fingernails tracing almost lovingly across the skin of Tai's neck. "What would happen to you Digimon if one of your precious partners didn't survive?"

Greymon went still and Tai cursed inwardly, gasping for air as the chain around his throat was tugged back sharply just short of suffocating. This was exactly the kind of situation he had not tried his best not get himself in ever since that Christmas Eve night. Yet here he was, dangling like some fish caught on a hook, all his struggles to get away feeble and useless and Agumon's worst nightmare about to come to pass.

"Would you just dissolve into data?" LadyDevimon continued to address the frozen Greymon as she tightened her grip on the chain, ruthlessly squeezing what little breath Tai had managed to draw in from his lungs. "Or would you finally become free of this pitiful human holding you back from your true potential? To achieve greater power? Wouldn't you like that more than wasting your time and energy protecting an inferior being like this?" Something sharp pricked at his neck, almost breaking the skin but not quite so. "Why don't we find out?"

Dazed, Tai looked up through the heavy curtain veiling his senses and saw LadyDevimon staring down at him, an insane smile gracing her features, felt the clawed hand around his throat shaking in excitement at the life it was going to steal in one second more. Reality was slipping away. It was difficult to think, difficult to care about anything other than succumbing to that comforting darkness that was waiting ever-so patiently just beyond the edge of consciousness…

"YOU WITCH!" a voice pierced through the veil, vibrant and clear and full of anger.

LadyDevimon screamed—like a thousand nails scratching across a chalkboard—and just as swiftly as he had been ensnared, Tai was let go. He staggered forward a couple of paces, seeing spots and gasping for breath, his hands scrabbling upwards to grasp at the chain that now hung loosely about his neck to bring it up over his head and fling it away as far as possible. Confused, he looked behind him to see what had caused his captor to release him so abruptly.

It was Jun.

Clutching the handle of a switchblade in her right hand.

Standing in front of a pile of long, sheared-off silvery-white locks.

"INSECT! INSECT!" LadyDevimon screamed, her face scrunching up in a terrible, blinding fury, the remains of her hair sticking out from underneath her stitched hood in sad, scraggly, cropped-ends. "HOW DARE YOU MAR THE BEAUTY OF ULTIMATE EVIL? YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A FLEA! AN IRRITATING, INSIGNIFICANT FLEA! DIIIIIIIIIIIIE!"

She propelled herself through the air, her red-clawed hand angling in a vicious slant as she shot out her arm intending to strike straight through the girl's chest…

"Static Force!"

A sizzling white-hot ball of energy came shooting out of nowhere. LadyDevimon barely had time to switch tactics and deflect the attack with her Darkness Spear, and she was still blasted backwards a couple of feet.

Silphymon soared over the park's foliage and flew in a brown-and-white blur along the ground until he reached the barrier LadyDevimon had created. Wrapping his arms around one of the wide trunks, he tossed felled tree after felled tree aside as if they weighed nothing until a path had been cleared.

"What's wrong with you?" Aquilamon and Gatomon's combined voices floated out of the Digimon's mouth as the humans huddled together in small, clustered groups like frightened sheep and refused to step one toe closer to this new monster that had appeared. "Move your butts now!"

Only the all-too familiar sound of LadyDevimon's vengeful screaming as she recovered from the surprise attack spurred the people into motion. They ran past Silphymon as if being chased by a demon straight out of hell.

Which really wasn't too far off the mark as LadyDevimon rose up looking like a living nightmare from a gothic painting—an incensed valkyrie on the path to send her victims to the afterlife. Her ragged, holed wings were unfurled behind her vast and immovable like a ship's sail on calm before the storm. Her narrowed red eyes—both pairs—were glowing crimson.

"Enough games!" she spat, her gaze focusing on Silphymon. "I'll end your heroic delusions of grandeur right here!"

"Bring it, bitch!" Silphymon retorted, Gatomon's voice rising over Aquilamon's with greater intensity.

The two collided in mid-air as they flung themselves at each other not even bothering to invoke their special attacks and reverting to the old-fashion rough-and tumble way of fighting instead: with claw-scratching, kicking, biting and rude name-calling.

It was a Digimon version of a human cat-fight.

It still didn't top the one he had seen five years back with LadyDevimon and Angewomon though. Bummer, Tai thought watching it, absent-mindedly rubbing at his sore neck.

"Are you okay?" Jun gasped, rushing over to him worriedly.

"Where'd choo gidda knife?" Tai wondered, finding it painful to talk, his voice sounding hoarse and gravely.

"Wha—oh," Jun said appearing to notice the weapon she held in her hand. She blinked at it for several seconds as if unsure how it had come to be there. "I must have picked it up… off the ground… from one of those peop—" the words died in her throat as she started to shake uncontrollably.

Tai wanted to comfort her—except that he found his body had begun to shake without stop as well. Was this what they called the after-effect of an adrenalin rush? Of surviving a near-death experience?

LadyDevimon shrieked in pain as Silphymon ducked her swiping claws and nailed her with a wicked right hook under the chin that sent her flying backwards.

"Time to finish this!" Silphymon shouted collecting a ball of energy in his hands. "Static For—hey, what are you doing?" he exclaimed startled as Greymon shouldered violently past him and into his attack-range.

"Outta my way!" Greymon roared, swinging his thick tail to shove Silphymon aside and running in a savage dash at LadyDevimon. "This is my fight! Don't interfere!"

"Grey-mon… s-stop!" Tai croaked out, but his throat felt raw and the words didn't carry far enough. Tai didn't think Greymon would have listened to him anyway at that point.

"I applaud your sheer stupidity, Striped Rump," LadyDevimon cackled, seizing the opportunity as the T-Rex placed himself between her and Silphymon in his mad charge, effectively creating a shield. "Darkness Wave!"

Tai could only watch helplessly. His limbs felt too weak to move. He had no more voice to scream. He couldn't believe it was going to end like this. That Greymon could be so blinded by rage that he would let it override his common sense. That even at this critical point, he couldn't dredge up one iota of the component needed to help Greymon digivolve.

I… really am… useless, Tai thought numbly.

The Darkness Wave struck its target.

A humanoid beast man Digimon with tufted cat ears attached to his visor and feathered arms that had thrown himself into the attack's path at the last moment.

Silphymon hung poised in the air for a second… before exploding into a fine black powder—like the kind that lingered after fireworks fizzled out their brightness.

Greymon had stopped in his tracks, his eyes wide as the terrible reality of what had just occurred slowly sunk in.

Tai stood locked into place staring at the falling particles with a tight, pinched feeling in his chest. It was all his fault. Oh god, what was he going to tell Kari and Yolei?

LadyDevimon was laughing, basking in her victory and relishing the looks of devastation and anguish painted vividly across her remaining audience's faces.

"Far too easy," she clucked almost pityingly, curling her clawed hands in preparation. "Which one of you little worms is next? Hahahahaha!"

She was still laughing when the unexpected blue-white ball of energy was blasted through her chest.

"H-how?" she choked, her eyes twitching as she gazed down at the gaping hole that was rapidly starting to expand as her data was eaten away.

"Dual Sonic," Silphymon was generous enough to explain in his adversary's final moments as he appeared over her right shoulder. "You only took out my duplicate."

"From behind," LadyDevimon hissed in disbelief. "You got me from behind. What happened to that sense of honor and nobility you and your partners take such pride in?"

"Sometimes you gotta be bad to be good," Silphymon grinned cheekily, a purr evident in his tone. Gatomon was really enjoying this.

"Insect," LadyDevimon sneered defiant to the last. "Insects! All of you! Lord Daemon will avenge me! Wait and see! Your precious world and everything you hold dear will cease to exist!"

Her threats were cut off as she dissolved into a shower of data that scattered like black raindrops that evaporated into thin air.

Silphymon landed on the ground in front of Tai and Jun. "Are you alright?" he demanded.

Tai nodded finding it hard to speak, whether because of the clog of emotions swirling inside him or because of practically being strangled to death, he wasn't quite sure. He was just glad to see Silphymon in one piece and that he wouldn't have to explain to his sister and her friend how he had indirectly gotten their partners deleted due to his complete incompetence.

A pained moan came from somewhere in the close vicinity behind them. Jun whirled around with a startled gasp. "T-those people who got hit… they're still—I've gotta call 119!" she cried, hope seeping back into her eyes as she punched the emergency number into her cell phone.

Silphymon sprinted quickly over to where the sound was issuing from, searching for survivors from the few bodies that lay strewn across the ground, ready to give whatever assistance he could until professional aid arrived.

A flash of orange light caught Tai's attention from the corner of his eye. He turned to see that Greymon had de-digivolved back into Agumon. The small, orange dinosaur remained in the same spot, his expression quite flat as he stared blankly out into empty space.

"Agumon," Tai said quietly as he walked slowly over to him. "Agumon…"

"Why," Agumon spoke suddenly, his voice low and guttural. "Why are you holding back?"

"What?"

"You're afraid to let me fight," Agumon stated turning his head sharply towards him. "I try my best to protect you, but I always fall short because you don't believe in yourself anymore!"

There was a lump growing in Tai's throat now that had nothing to do with LadyDevimon's chokehold on him.

"That may be true," he reluctantly admitted. "But you take unnecessary risks. There's a difference between defending and attacking recklessly. What you did back there was retaliation for LadyDevimon humiliating you and Silphymon could have gotten destroyed because of your hurt pride!"

"If I had been able to digivolve, I could have defeated her easily! Whose fault is that?" Agumon cried. "Not mine! I tried, I tried, but you blocked me!"

There was something in Agumon's words that Tai knew he should find odd, that he didn't quite understand, but a small crack had splintered down the wall he had carefully constructed around his emotions.

"Say your only aim is to protect me all you want, but don't you ever use that excuse for attacking just to prove who's more powerful!" Tai ordered crisply. "Recklessness like that will get you destroyed!"

"She had you by the neck! She was going to kill you! And still I couldn't do anything!" Agumon burst out, angry tears leaking from his eyes. "Was it recklessness or just desperation?"

Greymon must have been just as terrified, if not more, than he had been at the prospect of him dying. Tai reached out a hand towards him—and felt as if LadyDevimon's claws had pierced through his heart—as Agumon twisted away from his touch and dropped his gaze.

"You not only don't believe in yourself…" Agumon whispered, his small frame huddling inward miserably. "You've given up believing in me."

The universe collapsed around him. Tai felt a slow, creeping coldness carve its way inside him that was not the work of the wintry breeze that had picked up. He felt like he sinking into the icy, melted slush beneath his feet, into an oblivion of numbness, but he was too tired, too anguished to bother fighting against it anymore.

Beep! Beep! A car horn sounded nearby.

"Tai! Agumon! Up here!" a voice shouted.

Tai brought up his head, looking for the speaker with a blurred vision—saw his sister and Yolei waving frantically from the top of the observation deck of the skating rink. A yellow car that was parked behind them had to move forward out of sight to allow two ambulances, a fire truck and small brigade of police cars to pull in behind it.

"I'm the one who called them,' Jun said coming to step up beside him. "They're going to want to speak with me…"

"Hey, let's go before we run into them!" Silphymon ordered before reverting back into Gatomon and Hawkmon. A cat and bird would be less conspicuous at the moment to any human on the lookout for "aliens" or "monsters".

"Just call me to let me know what's going on and that you're okay," Jun requested, lifting one hand to cup his cheek gently. "You don't… you don't look too well…"

"Shake a tail, you two!" Gatomon called over her shoulder as she and Hawkmon fled out the ruined skating rink's exit and down the park's pathway.

"Later," Tai whispered hollowly because that's all he could get out right then. His thoughts were a swirling jumble of chaos, he had lost had sense of coherency, and he refused to let himself break down in front of her.

Agumon had already taken off after them, and even as fast as Tai ran, with his longer human legs and stride, he still couldn't seem to catch up.

But somehow, that didn't surprise him at all.

oOo

The car ride to Izzy's apartment took place in mostly silence. There had been a few tentative questions from Kari and Yolei to which Tai replied in clipped, cryptic answers that gave no more room for discussion. He sat up front in the same yellow car he had glimpsed before, the driver turning out to be Joe's brother, Jim. Agumon sat in the back seat between the two girls and their partners—Tai could see him in the car's rearview mirror—his face was downcast and sullen. Whether sad or angry, the small dinosaur didn't utter one syllable to anyone the entire journey, which took more time than it should have due to Tokyo's massive traffic congestion as well as detours for roadways being blocked off due to the sudden monster attacks.

By the time Jim dropped them off, a full hour had passed. The rest of the Digidestined had already regrouped there. They had sent a message via D-Terminal letting them know that Shakkoumon had finally dealt the finishing blow to MarineDevimon.

It didn't surprise Tai that it one of the younger kids' partners that had been proclaimed champion of that battle much either.

Kari pushed the door to the Izumi residence open to reveal the anxious faces of their friends that broke out into smiles of relief when they all entered looking only a little worse for wear.

Agumon pushed past him, strode by everyone and made a sharp turn into the living room. The sliding door to the balcony could be heard slamming open and shut a few seconds later.

His own partner couldn't even bear to be the same close proximity to him… that fact hurt more than any physical injury Tai had ever received.

"What's up with Agumon?" Gabumon voiced out loud.

"Never mind that—why did LadyDevimon decide to attack the skating rink of all places?" Sora demanded shooting him a disapproving glance. Izzy must have told everyone. "Did you and Agumon draw attention to yourselves in any way?"

Straight on the money, Tai thought walking past her not in any sort of mood to receive a lecture at that point.

Sora caught the sleeve of his coat as he passed by. "Wait," she said pulling on it. "At least have the decency to—" she gasped and let go abruptly. Tai didn't have to turn his head and look to know that everyone was staring in horror at his neck which had been exposed when the collar of his coat had ridden down lower due to the fabric being stretched.

He didn't provide an explanation and continued down the hallway until he reached the bathroom where he slipped inside. He stood behind the closed door for several seconds resting his back against it, listening to his friends' voices that were drifting faintly through the wood.

"What happened?" Sora. She sounded distraught.

"I-I don't know." Kari. "We arrived too late to see… but I think Tai and Agumon had a fight."

"We know they were in a fight—" Davis.

"No, with each other." Yolei. "I haven't heard them say one word to each other since we picked them up. They wouldn't even look each other in the eye."

"Maybe Jun can tell us." Gatomon. She was being such a helpful little kitty today.

"What?" More than person sounded surprised by that bit of information.

"Well, she was there at the skating rink with Tai and Agumon. Maybe she knows what's wrong."

"Do they think they met there on purpose?" Ken.

"HELL NO!" Davis. Apoplectic.

"I guess we could… call her…" Kari sounded unsure.

And just before the briefest flashes of panic started to flutter in Tai's stomach…

"Don't do that." Izzy's voice stated very firmly.

"Why not?" Yolei. Sounding curious.

"Just don't."

Tai moved away from the door when the voices merged into a dull murmur as his friends started over-speaking each other. Unbuttoning his coat with sluggish fingers, he let it fall off his shoulders to the floor as he stood in front of the sink for a short while before working up the nerve to look in the mirror.

His face was smudged with dirt, most likely when he had been hurled to the ground so many times. The shadow of a mask was beginning to form under his eyes that looked sunken and glassy. His nose was already swollen red due to the cold and the fist that had knocked into it. But what made him pause and do a double-take were the mottled purple and blue bruises in a circular-shaped pattern that wove their way around his throat like an indecorous necklace. Tai ran one finger over the darkened skin in morbid fascination, hissing as pain flared up at even so light a touch.

There came a light tapping at the door. "Tai? Tai, it's Joe," the boy's voice drifted through sounding concerned. "I won't ask any questions, I promise. Just… just let me take at look at your neck, please."

"The door's unlocked," he mumbled.

The door swung open as Joe stepped in and shut it behind him. Cautious eyes roved over Tai before they seemed to steel themselves determinedly. Tai recognized the look that Joe had developed over the years. He had nicknamed it Obsessive Doctor Mode. There was absolutely no use arguing with Joe when he was like that.

So for the next ten minutes, Tai sat in silence on top of the toilet tank, his feet resting on the closed lid's seat obeying Joe like a mindless marionette: "tilt your head this way", "look up for a moment", "nod if you can feel where I touch", "tell me if this hurts."

More than once, Joe had glanced up at him closely in between rubbing a salve gingerly onto the affected areas and wrapping a gaze cloth about his bruised neck. The boy's mouth had opened and closed several times as if he had been about to speak and then thought better of it.

Tai was glad. He didn't want to explain. Because there was nothing left to explain other than what the bruises on his neck stood for: a badge of weakness branded into his skin for all to see.

Agumon was still out on the balcony when Tai left the bathroom a couple of minutes after Joe. He could see the small dinosaur's figure behind the glass doors, Gabumon beside him. The rest of the Digimon were sprawled on the floor of the living room resting or eating the food that they had been given after a hard day's battle. His friends were in the kitchen talking in hushed undertones that all but ceased when he appeared.

There was a pot of coffee perking on the stove top filling the air with a rich, nutty aroma. Tai walked over and poured himself a cup, gulping down the hot, black liquid without so much a word to anyone. The taste was unfamiliar and bitter… much like the dark, brooding feeling that was uncurling from the shadows of Tai's heart where he had hidden it away for so long.

There was an apprehensive silence that lasted several seconds before Davis voiced the question that was on everyone's minds. "Taichi-sempai… w-what happened?"

"What do you think happened?" Tai retorted coolly, his tone edged with a sharpness that surprised even him. "Agumon wasn't strong enough to fight his opponent—again." The coffee mug had started to shake in his hands. "I couldn't help him digivolve—again." Tai tightened his grip with such force that his knuckles turned white. "We were both completely useless—again."

His face wasn't turned directly towards them, but he could still see his friends' expressions out of his peripheral vision: their looks of concern and sympathy. God, they were pitying him! The dark feeling inside him swelled up—like a small thundercloud that threatened to explode into a violent typhoon— as his blood began to boil at the thought.

"Tai," his sister started to say in her best consoling voice. "Tai, it will be alright. You'll see—" She took one step towards him, her hand stretched out in a comforting gesture.

That was all it took for the typhoon to break loose and unleash the volatile emotions Tai had long kept locked away.

"Who exactly are you trying to fool?" he exclaimed abruptly, slamming his mug down on the countertop viciously enough that it splashed coffee everywhere including the back of his hands. Red marks appeared as the hot liquid burned his skin, but Tai took no notice. The rage that had overtaken his senses burned fiercer.

Kari had stopped in her tracks looking shocked at his outburst along with everyone else. Tai never yelled at her—hadn't for as long as she could remember.

"It's over! We already completed our destiny five years ago just like we were supposed to do!" Tai yelled, words he hardly knew what he was saying spilling free from his throat. "We have no further value or purpose anymore! We're just an unneeded hindrance!"

"T-that's not true," Kari protested feebly. "W-w-we…"

Twisted, sardonic laughter flowed out of Tai's mouth. "Oh, of course not," he said mock-apologetically, his lips curling into a leer. "I didn't mean you. Not you or the rest of your teammates," he said running a swift eye over Davis, Ken, Yolei, T.K., and Cody who were all staring at him with something akin to disturbed uneasiness. "Just us older kids, the eyesores of the Digital Sovereigns."

There. He had finally said it: what had been eating away inside him ever since that day five years ago when they had given up their Crests. It lay exposed in the open now, bare and ugly.

Joe, ever the responsible one, took his turn at trying to reason with him. "Tai—"

Tai didn't give him the chance to expound. "Don't act like it hasn't crossed your minds. All of you!" he declared with a blunt vehemence, pointing an accusing finger in his friends' direction. "I know better."

He could see the embarrassed, ashamed blushes breaking out across Sora and Mimi's faces; the frown-line on Matt's forehead; the way Joe's eyes had disappeared behind the glint of his glasses and his mouth having set into a firm line; Izzy's slightly tilted head as he dropped an unfocused gaze to the floor.

"Face the facts: we've been replaced. The digivices have evolved. The digivolution process has evolved. We're nothing more than outdated hanger-ons who refuse to let go of the past!"

Kari backed away seeming frightened by his ferocity in his words, at his face twisted in an anguished fury.

"Taichi-sempai, what are you saying? We're a team, remember? All of us!" Davis cried stepping in front of her and holding his hands out in a placating manner. "We can't win unless we're all togeth—"

"Do you really think you're worthy of that Crest you stole from me?"

The words hung heavy and crushing in the air with no chance of taking them back. Davis reeled backwards as if someone had scored a solid punch to his gut, his eyes wide and his face drained of color.

Dimly, somewhere through the burning rage that had swept over him, Tai knew that it wasn't quite true. That it had been a Digimental, not a Crest that had been bequeathed to Davis, but that didn't matter. It was his symbol, it was his place the boy had taken, replaced him. Tai knew he should have felt remorse at not keeping a firmer clasp on his tongue. That some resentments should remain a secret forever. However, it was too late. Davis stood frozen in place looking stunned beyond any coherency as a collective gasp of disbelief was exhaled by the rest of the Digidestined.

A depraved thrill raced through Tai at the sight sweeping away any traces of guilt that were beginning to blossom. Why had he repressed his emotions on this matter for so long anyway? Why had he bothered to put on a charade and act like he was happy when he had been feeling so dejected and miserable? He just wanted to hurt someone until they felt just as bad and angry as he did right now.

"You've got nothing on me," Tai proclaimed coldly, his narrowed gaze drilling into Davis' own horrified one. "You think you know the Digital World pretty well now? You haven't been through half the experiences that I—we all," Tai indicated the older Digidestined with a wide sweep of his hand, "have shared! With you it's nothing but school, save the day, go home, save the night, hang out, go to sleep, rewind! You wouldn't have lasted one day in the Digital World we were thrown into! But we survived! And we did it without any information on where we were or what we were doing there for the longest time! So what makes you so special?" Tai spat, advancing furiously to where Davis was rooted to the spot and grabbing a fistful of his shirt. "What is it about you that made the Digital Sovereigns decide we weren't good enough to save the world a second time? Or maybe…" Tai's mouth curved into a grin as a thought occurred to him. He pressed his face closer to the boy and whispered chillingly, "Maybe we were becoming just too darn hard to manipulate and they needed to find easier pawns. What do you think… Davis?"

"Let him go!"

Tai turned his head to see who had spoken.

It was Ken. Guilt and anger plastered clearly across his face. "We're not… we're not pawns!" Ken shouted, his violet eyes flashing wildly.

"That's enough, Tai!"

A hand closed down upon his wrist and jerked away his hold on Davis' shirt. Tai scoffed contemptuously as he saw it was Matt who held him a clamp-like grip.

"Not on my side, Matt? I thought you'd be at least. He stole your symbol too—"

The muscles in Matt's right arm bulged slightly as he clenched his hand into a tight fist and drew it back in preparation…

"Going to knock some sense into me, Matt?" Tai said cocking a half-smile. "I would advise against that. Agumon would prob-bably c-chew your a-arm off, hahahaha!"

Then he was laughing, laughing because suddenly everything was so incredibly funny. The argument between him and Agumon was still fresh in his memory and it still seared something painful, and here he was causing strife among his friends, the very people he should be turning to for help instead. So he laughed—each mad, demented cackle that bubbled out of his mouth most likely eradicating whatever vestiges of respect anyone had left for him—laughed until his throat was hoarse and his lungs breathless and everyone was staring at him as if he were a freak show that escaped from the circus; laughed until something spilled down his cheeks in thin, zig-zagging rivers shocking him to the core at its warmth because he hadn't noticed before how horribly cold he had felt…

"Damn it!" Tai cursed lifting a shaking hand to run across his face in one smooth motion. It managed to wipe away the wetness that was already present, but failed to stop more moisture overflowing from his eyes. He staggered backwards hurriedly away from everyone, bumping into the kitchen table and toppling a chair over to the floor. A sob worked its way out of his throat despite his best efforts to contain it. "D-damn it!" he swore again, tripping slightly over his own feet and clutching the edges of the table to keep his balance.

Tears that wouldn't stop continued to pour down in a steady stream down his face and the only thing Tai could do to hide them was to turn his head away from everyone's wide-eyed stares. The violent maelstrom of anger inside him had all but dissolved. There was nothing left but a sick, nauseating feeling of a knot twisted in his stomach, the shivers that shook his shoulders, and his throat constricting tightly. Nothing left to feel except the blood rushing madly to his face in humiliation at being caught looking so pathetically weak.

"Would you finally become free of this pitiful human holding you back from your true potential? To achieve greater power?" LadyDevimon's voice floated mockingly back inside his head. "Wouldn't you like that more than wasting your time and energy protecting an inferior being like this?"

Nothing left to feel except an appalled, disgusted shame at himself for lashing out his own frustrations at those who were not to blame.

The room was quiet, the air still, the only sound was the badly-stifled gasps that slipped free from Tai's mouth. The silence seemed to stretch forever. No one moved, no one spoke. Tai didn't blame them. He had made a complete ass of himself and insulted the bonds of friendship that wove them all together so intricately. He wouldn't be surprised if none of them spoke to him ever again.

But someone did speak.

"Taichi… sempai…"

There was a soft, hesitant touch on his jacket.

And Tai struck out his arm and slapped away the hand offering him forgiveness because he did not want it, did not deserve it, and no one, no one should see him in such a broken state like he was now.

"Go… away," he managed to rasp out, his voice splitting down the middle. "Leave me alone."

He didn't know how long he stood there, his backed turned to everyone, gripping the corner of the table with trembling, white fingers and staring at the surface in front of him which had several small, circular blotches that were staining the wood a darker color brown.

In the background faintly, he thought he might have heard the murmur of voices, a general stomp of feet and the apartment door close, but it was hard to make out past the beating of his heart that was resounding deafeningly in his ears. Suddenly, he wasn't just shivering from spent nerves, and the heat rising behind his eyes and making his head throb and feel leaden wasn't just from anger. He barely had time to wonder why everything was fuzzy, why the room was spinning, before all the energy in his fingers seemed to evaporate and his hold on the table was ripped away, and he was falling sideways…

Arms came to catch a hold of his shoulders and help him stay upright.

"Joe says you have a slight fever," Izzy's voice came as if at the end of a long tunnel. "Though I'm afraid that's still no excuse for your behavior a few minutes ago."

The next thing he knew he was lying in a bed with no recollection of whatsoever of how he had gotten there and Izzy was pressing a cold compress to his forehead, muttering under his breath something about "people repressing their emotions until they crack spectacularly… not healthy".

"Davis must hate me," Tai whispered bleakly, clutching the covers with a quivering hand.

"He doesn't hate you," Izzy sighed. "He practically worships the ground you walk on."

"Not after what I said." Tai flung one arm over his face to prevent Izzy from seeing the water welling up in his eyes. He had cried in front of everyone enough for one day. He bit down on his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. "And I can't even blame a stupid Virus for it."

"Humans have Viruses of their own," Izzy stated quietly. "Selfishness, jealousy, fear—I'd say those are three very dangerous ones—the kind that causes the most harm."

To Be Continued…

A/N: So, this chapter marks No Girls Allowed one-year anniversary!^^ Woo-hoo! That's got to be a new record for me. I never have stayed with a fic for more than a year. Most of my chapter fics are incomplete or I finish them within a month or two. (But then they're never this long). So this feels awesome! I didn't make the deadline that I set for myself, but then this chapter is overly long (twice the length as usual) so I hope that makes up for the lateness you all had to suffer.

Wow, usually I try and put some light humor in scenes to lighten the mood, however reading back on what I have written… so angsty! Holy—just wow. I'll have you all know I got so depressed writing out Tai's emotions, I had to take a break many a time and go watch some crack. My remedy for curing my sadness? Ouran Host Club. Oh yeah—that anime can put a smile on anyone's face on the darkest day^^ It actually wasn't that hard finding source material to spur my angst muse on. All the anime I'm watching right now be it new or old is like smothered in it. I have to dig deep through my memories to find some fluffy humorous shows.

Ahem, anyway, did you like the fight with LadyDevimon? Did I write the actions scenes believingly enough? More importantly, were they enjoyable? (I'll admit I had a ball writing LadyDevimon. I like writing characters with a personality like hers). I'm still trying to flesh out how I write action. I'm better dealing with the emotional side of things. Poor Tai. Don't be too mad at him, Davis-lovers. He's had a very rough day and he's already feeling guilty enough as it is. Don't worry—if all goes according to the Great Muse's Plan, Tai should redeem himself in the next chapter. But then with me, you never know. It might take two more chapters… but it shouldn't.

As for Tai and Jun's relationship being found out, I had an author's note at the top, but I'm sure some people didn't see it, being so eager to read the new chapter, so like I said up there, I apologize. The chapter was too long to fit it in. But really, just how dense is everyone when they found out Jun and Tai were at the park together and still didn't connect the dots? They're in denial. Deep, deep denial, lol. I have the scene all played out in my head and it shall be of epic proportion and will most definitely be worth the wait, I promise! And it should be in the next chapter. I just have this bad habit of lengthening scenes and then I can't fit everything I want in.

Fun Facts: I didn't write out Silphymon and LadyDevimon's name-calling as much as I wanted to, because the only ones that came to mind were the ones in the song "U.G.L.Y". XD You want to hear them go at it, just listen to that song, hahaha! And of course, the title of this chapter gives homage to Reliant K's "More Than Useless", which is pretty much what Tai is feeling at the moment.

P.S. I've noticed people have been sorely missing Tai's Haiku Corner. Kekeke, you'll get a plethora of haikus soon to make up for lost time!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this! Please review and share your thoughts and favorite scenes. I love hearing what you liked best and it's the only reward a fanfic author gets. I like knowing what my readers think and feel. Thank you!^^

On to the next chapter: Be My Escape


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